It turns out I am not immune to the charms of animals, particularly feathered or fur ones, and even less so to the kill-you-with-cuteness wiles of baby versions. Shocker. It is why we live out here on Fivehills, it is why I have a revolving door of fostered/adopted pets, it is why I wrote this book to start with. But I should also acknowledge it isn’t always sweetness and light; there are some hard lessons to be learned from owning and rearing animals in their various shapes and forms and far be it from me to be less than transparent.
“Don’ts” seem like a tough way to teach stuff, but I learn most things the hard way. Sometimes that’s the best way to get something drilled into your head, and sometimes it offers up an opportunity to become a teaching lesson to other people as well – and this is what I tell myself. Today I’m passing on what I’ve learned from raising ducklings – all things I couldn’t find from books…”The Dont’s”
This is the third time we’ve had ducklings. The first time I raised three ducklings under a heat lamp. One of those ducks then raised a clutch of eggs, and one of those now grown ducks hatched a clutch last month. There was also a clutch of eggs raised to hatching point somewhere in the middle there, none survived…they have become part of my “Don’t” list also.
- Don’t assume your duck mother knows what she is doing the first time. Duck broodiness is a physical thing – it doesn’t make the duck a natural mother. If she sits long enough to hatch the eggs (28 days), watch her closely.
- Don’t interfere with the hatching process, it’s survival of the fittest and hatching is the ultimate first test. I know that’s harsh, but believe me when I say very few babies who are helped out of their eggs by people, ever do well. Even incubator eggs do better when the baby hatches without help.
- Don’t let mother duck remain on eggs after three days of the first one successfully hatching, if she is still stubbornly sitting. In this instance, mother duck is likely to remain on the eggs to the detriment of her newly hatched ducklings; remove the remaining eggs.
- Don’t keep other ducks/drakes in the same enclosure – remove them to a different one for at least a week or two, even if he’s helped raised ducklings before. Finding two ducklings with their heads bitten off was a fair indication that the drake was protecting his ducks from the intruders. Eventually he will understand they are his young, but in the middle of the night he may just attack first and ask questions later.
- Don’t keep a deep water source around the ducklings. Ducklings can’t automatically swim. They get oils from their mothers feathers and gradually become waterproof, but if mother hasn’t access to a regular bath, she loses these oils as well. As the ducklings grew, I graded up through a range of stainless steel dog bowls, which they could easily stand up in and then once they were free-ranging, I double checked the depth of the containers in their yard. The largest duckling still managed to drown, because I hadn’t thought to put back a large enamel bowl (see above) in it’s ‘hole’ properly – without the tilt to make it easily escapable – little thing must’ve worn itself out trying to get over the slippery side. I’ve since put in a terracotta pot plant dish thingy, that provides a little grip for webby feet.
- Don’t let chickens and especially roosters have access to ducklings until they are duck sized – chickens and roosters no matter their nature, can devastate ducklings with their sharp beaks, claws and spurs.
- Don’t forget protection from above. Fluffy yellow, black, grey, blue, what have you, things are interesting to silly dogs, cats and carniverous birds. Ensure there is protection from overhead eyes too.
It’s always a learning journey when there are animal life cycles involved, and to be honest, I often wonder how on earth they breed and survive so well in the wild – do you know?
What have you learned the hard way?