As my husband, Farmer Davis says, theres no cuter baby animal in the world than a duckling. This was not even 5 days after getting our first baby chicks. I wish I could say I had a leg to stand on in the argument of whether or not we would get ducklings so soon after getting chicks, but I did initially say I would spend a year researching and then I did go get our first chicks while he was out of town. Basically I had lost the argument before it even began, he was getting his ducklings and I had no idea how to raise ducks or how different they in fact are. Here are some facts that no one really tells you when you are reading about ducks, sure they are cute and funny to watch, they are way more hardy than chickens and they even lay more eggs for longer. But what no one tells you is they are disgusting, smelly, mud making, hole digging, plant killing, water splashing mess makers that rival a couple feral toddlers who smear their diapers on the walls. If you can deal with all that then ducks will be just fine for you!
Now that you’ve heard the real truth, let me break it down for you and explain. We decided to find a Pekin duck breeder locally, but the closest one with ducklings available at the time was an hour away. I made the call and found out she had 2 week olds and 4/5 day olds, so we made our appointment. We loaded our kids in the car and drove up there the very next day. We arrived at this beautiful vintage farmhouse, it had this amazing grass yard, a little fenced in pond area with 4 perfectly white adult pekins floating along. We followed the breeder to where she housed all the ducklings under the heat because the mama ducks didn’t hatch them out, they were incubator hatched. Farmer Davis was right, they were the cutest things I’ve ever seen and heard. There were about 20 in total to choose from and she explained that she doesn’t sex them at hatch so it was a 50/50 shot at getting girls, we later found out we ended up with 2 boys. We let the kids pick out 2 tiny yellow ducklings, loaded them into the box and headed home. The poor ducklings quacked the whole way home and were so terrified of us. No one really tells you that if you don’t hatch ducklings yourself so they imprint on you that they will always be a little scared of you. What is imprinting? Geese are the only animal who’s imprint is stronger than a duck. When a duck is growing in the egg, they can hear the sounds and voices around them, for most ducklings its their mother duck. Once a duckling hatches they know that sound and within days they will imprint on the sight of their mother also. Its a bond thats created to keep the flocks together, the babies will grow up with their family and always stay together. Like I said its stronger than any other bond, stronger than a dog to a human. When we hatched our own ducklings in 2015, they imprinted on Farmer Davis and would sleep under his beard, the best way to explain it is that they didn’t just think he was their mom, they knew it. A full year later, they still follow him around, they know he is their person, when they hear his voice they both start quacking until he goes to calm them down and acknowledge their presence.
So we get home with these scared little yellow fuzzy loud ducklings, we decided to keep them in a plastic bin with a wire lid for good ventilation in the laundry room with our chicks. Since I had gone with medicated feed for my chicks, I had to go buy non medicated feed for the ducks because they can’t have the medicated feed. aside from that I set it all up the same, clean bedding, a bowl so they could dip their bills all the way into the water and a deeper dish for food. Lesson one, ducks of all ages will attempt to get in their water, no matter what the size! Within an hour the water was dumped and the tub was soaked. Since new ducklings are all down with no feathers they need to be dry. Solution to this problem was to put a puppy pad under the shavings to at least help soak up some of the excess wetness. This helped for those first couple weeks while they were inside. The poop and smell problem also comes immediately. Let me tell you the biggest difference between chicks and ducklings is that chicks have the tiniest little poops for several weeks, ducklings come out of the egg pooping these huge very wet stinky and messy poops, mostly due to the size difference but also because duck poo contains more water than chick poo. There is only one way to combat the smell and mess, cleaning out the shavings every day, and as they grow you may have to do it twice a day.
We made it to 10 days old without any incidents, we had done as much reading on ducks as we could between what we call our poultry bible and Storey’s guide to raising ducks. We were fairly certain we would not kill them by letting them go for a swim so we put 3 inches of warm water in the bathtub and put them in. Up until this point we had no idea if our ducklings were happy or not, putting them in the bathtub confirmed what happy sounded like. They were transformed into little submarines, splashing about and zooming back and forth. We had been told that domestic ducks would be fine without a pool or pond as long as they had a deep enough bowl of water to dip their whole bill in. Witnessing the complete 180 in their behavior confirmed that they may be able to survive without a water source but they would not live happily without it. We set out to find some kiddie pools for them because I was not going to raise unhappy ducks, I was going to provide them with their own oasis. Since they were still yellow balls of fluff we made sure to dry them off as much as possible before returning them to their bin to warm up under their heat lamp. We continued with the daily bathtub routine until they had enough feathers to play outside in a little tupperware tub I had originally purchased for my sons toys. When Farmer Davis built the garage brooder box for our chicks he made it 2 sided with hardware cloth separating the ducks from the chicks, so each side was 3’x4′ with two separate lids. What I didn’t know was that over the first 6 weeks of having ducklings that he was going to bring home 4 more. When our Pekins were about 4 weeks old, he showed up with two 3 week old Khaki Campbells that were half the size of the Pekins. Then a few weeks later he brought home 2 brand new Ancona ducklings that were the tiniest of all the ducks we had gotten. I was smitten by these two yellow and black spotted ducklings. My first experience with love of a duckling.
Here we are a few weeks into the whole experience, we have the ducks and chicks separate because if chicks get wet they can die from getting cold and ducks make such a big mess of water. At this point we had the chicks in their brooder, we had the Khaki’s and Anconas in the duck side of the brooder and the gigantic Pekins we had to move into a makeshift house of linoleum flooring and the kids outdoor playpen. All the ducks were still scared to death of us however they would calm down and allow us to hold them, but we were learning that the ducks would be animals for watching and that was ok with us.
We were racing to finish the chicken and duck house at this point. Everyone was growing fast, stinking up the garage and making huge messes. Even I can admit that with all the disgusting messes and smells that came from those brooders, they provided hours of excitement, fun, laughter and cuddles. Stay tuned to read more about what happens when the chicks and the ducks are moved outside!