Raising ducks: Day one

a baby duckling

The ducklings arrive via U.S. Mail from Clearview Hatchery in Gratz, Pennsylvania. Most hatcheries have larger minimum orders, but Clearview would send us as few as six, which is what we wanted. Well, ok: they only charged us for six, but they sent an extra duckling. Number Seven is not marked, so we’re guessing it is female, but when we may find ourselves with a drake when their feathers come in. Until then, there’s no reliable way for an amateur to tell.

The post office was supposed to call when the ducklings arrived so I could go and pick them up, but they may have called while I was checking email and the line was busy, so in the middle of the afternoon a special-delivery mail car pulled into the driveway. When I went outside the driver called out, "I bring you good tidings of great joy!" No, I am not making this up. He had never delivered poultry before and was more excited than I was, I think—our post office is in west Durham and most of its routes are fairly urban. I opened the box, which was about 12"x14" and weighed less than styrofoam peanuts, in the driveway to make sure the ducklings were all there and ok before the mailman left.

I had been a little nervous about ordering ducklings through the mail, but people have been doing it this way for decades, and it is often the only way to get rare breeds of poultry (which means nearly any breed of duck). Just before ducklings and chicks hatch, they absorb the rest of the yolk from their egg, and that sustains them for a day or two. And I was very happy with the job done by both Clearview Hatchery and the Postal Service. (I know that for people who raise poultry this is pretty mundane stuff, but I am still amazed at how smoothly and efficiently it all went.)

Once inside I set them in the baby pool (read about our brooder setup), turned on the heat lamp, and gave them food and water. Everything we had read said that you should dunk their bills gently in the water to make sure they find it, so I did, one by one, and one by one they all got annoyed and scurried to the far side of the pool. They found the water, and the food, on their own a minute later, and they warmed up quickly.

Later in the evening I chopped up a few leaves of spinach finely and floated them in a dish of water. The ducklings absolutely loved this, which is good, because in a month when they move outside we want them to forage and eat vegetable scraps from the kitchen.

For the moment, about all they do is eat, drink, sleep, and poop, but they are already noticeably stronger than they were when they arrived. They also spend a bit of time milling about and trying to preen themselves—I say "trying" because if they aren’t careful doing it they tend to fall over. Occasionally one will get "the crazies" and run a lap around the perimeter of the pool, and a few of the others will follow. On one lap the whole group went together. They are amazingly quick for their size.

They also immediately tried to swim in the dish of water I used for their greens. You would have to say they took to it like, well, a duck to water.


Click any of the photos below for a larger image.

duckling One of the ducklings on her first evening at the Halfway Homestead.
seven ducklings All seven ducklings, making good use of the chick waterer (left) and feeder (right). At lower left is a second dish of food I put down to help them find their food. The red light is from the heat lamp.
group shot I turned the heat lamp off long enough to get a few good photos. Here’s another group shot.
three ducklings Three girls posing.
dinnertime Dinnertime. (Actually it is nearly always dinnertime.)
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