Although it feels like an endless winter with snow covering the ground for most of the last few months, we’re actually closer to Easter than we are to Christmas and that means baby chicks and baby ducklings will soon be hatching.
While both birds have similar care requirements, ducklings have some specific to their needs and development. Before you take home a duckling or ducklings this spring, be aware of the care requirements for your flock to thrive.
Taking care of ducklings in a brooder
Young ducklings are left in the incubator until they are fully dry and actively walking around. After that, it’s off to the brooder box.
A brooder is a heated box that provides a square foot of floor space for each duckling that’s being kept inside. You can meet all your ducklings’ needs by following these tips:
- Heat source. Ducklings require a constant heat source to maintain the temperature in the brooder. You should use an infrared heat bulb encased in a metal hood hanging over the center of the brooder. Start out with the brooder light at a height so that the floor temperature is 90F. If the brooder is too warm the ducklings will gather in the corners of the brooder. If it is too cold, they will flock to the center, directly under the light. When the ducklings are about two weeks old, lift the lamp so that the floor temperature drops to 80F.
- Litter. The bottom of the brooder should be covered with an absorbent litter that is several inches thick. Crushed corn cobs, sand and shredded leaves all work well. Litter should be stirred frequently. Litter will also have to be changed frequently as ducklings spatter their food and water all around. Ducklings must be kept warm and dry until they are well fledged and have their waterproof feathers.
- Water. Clean fresh water should be provided in a shallow pan with a rock in the center. Move its location at each refilling to ensure the litter under the pan is well-stirred and dry
- Feed. Ducklings require a diet that provides 20-22% protein for the first two weeks and 16-18% protein from two to 12 weeks. Commercial feed mixtures are available. Check the labels to ensure quality. Feed should also be provided in a shallow pan. Start out offering a small pelleted (3/32 inch), coarsely crumbled feed or moistened meal as much as your ducklings want to eat. If you use a finely ground feed, you must moisten it with water or milk before serving. You should be able to form a crumbly ball when the feed is compressed in your hand after moistening. A new batch should be mixed for each feeding to avoid spoiling. After the first two weeks, you can start offering larger pellets (3/16 inch) and you can limit feedings to three times a day. Once they are a month old, ducklings only need to be fed in the evening and should be allowed to forage in a succulent pasture throughout the day. Additionally, they should always have access to grit, which aids in their digestion.
Moving out of the brooder
At about three weeks old, your ducklings will weigh about three pounds and be ready to be moved from the brooder to a pen with more space and a floor temperature kept at 75F. Once they have reached four weeks old and have most of their adult feathers, they can be let out of the pen and released into the grass during the day as long as temperatures are moderate.
If you’re worried about your ducks wandering away, you may be able to train them to come when they are called by using a duck call and scattering grain or succulent greens when they respond. This will help to lure them to their pen at night, too.
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