Wacky Wanderers

exploring on the road as a family

Duckling Saga

We finally have some sweet “little” ducklings living here with us at Crow Farm. They were roommates with the bunnies in the sunroom and seemed to tolerate one another just fine. As always having ducks came with it’s own list of projects and then we threw on a couple more tasks to our list…just for fun!

Duckings:

We have been on a mission to get ducks for quite some time now. By “we” I mean the girls and I. Justin comes along for our wild rides! Soon after we bought Crow Farm we decided we wanted to try having ducks rather than the typical chicken. I was excited about having duck eggs on our farm and ducks seemed to have a more comical, silly personality compared to chickens. Plus, they don’t have a sharp beak to peck at you quite as viscously! Does having your eyeballs pecked out by a chicken scare anyone else, or is that just me?

I started looking for ducks at the local farm stores and hatcheries in Oregon where I came up mostly empty handed. The hatcheries I called would not allow me to come pick up ducklings. They insisted on shipping them to me in the mail which I wasn’t fond of. On top of this they had a 25 bird minimum and I only wanted 6. To make things even more complicated I wanted 2 of 3 different breeds so we could get a feel for what breed we liked best. I was in search of Khaki Campbells, Indian Runners and Cayuga ducks who all have various perks such as being good layers, pretty feather coloring, neat egg color (Cayuga’s eggs go from white to black throughout their laying years) and temperament.

I finally found a small farm store in Eugene that was selling the various duck breeds I was looking for, with their delivery dates spread throughout 3 months. The first batch was ready the first week in February. The girls and I were so excited to go pick them up! I called the night before just before closing and the store said they were still planning for the ducking arrival the next day. I prepped for the little sweeties by getting all the necessary supplies. The store said they were only getting 25 total so we wanted to be sure we were at their door when they opened at 8am. We arrived, the ducklings did not. The store was confused and didn’t know why the ducklings didn’t arrive at their scheduled 5am time slot but said when this happens the ducks/chicks will come in at the noon delivery slot instead.

The girls and I decided to stay in Eugene for fear we’d miss getting ducks if we went home in between. There were 5 other people waiting at the farm store door upon arrival as well, all eagerly awaiting the ducklings. The girls and I did schooling from the car with the supplies we had and waited the 4 hours until noon. Still NO ducklings! We were deflated and decided it would be best to go back home. Thankfully I had emergency granola bars in the car and had packed some fruit for a snack. We later found out that all the ducklings and chicks that were sent within that week all tragically died due to the unusually cold weather that swept through the US. It got so bad that the USPS actually put a ban on all livestock shipping. So very sad for those sweet little birds.

The next place I found ducklings was from a larger chain farm store and they were due to arrive the second week in March. The ducklings were more expensive but they were sexed prior to delivery. We weren’t interested in getting any drakes (boys). However, when I called the store the evening before they were scheduled to arrive they told me the hatchery had changed their order and the ducklings would be a straight run (boys and girls). Crumbs!! I thought, “Well, I’ll just vent check them at the store.” This was just before she told me specifically that customers were not allowed to touch the birds until they were purchased. Double crumbs! I decided to get 3 of each breed to account for any drakes we got.

The girls and I geared up again, this time with our school bag with us just in case and some extra food. We were at the door, cardboard box and hot potatoes (to warm the little ducklings on the drive home) in hand, at 8am when they opened. NO ducklings! Heavens, not again! They thought they might arrive around noon when the next mail truck came in.

The girls and I got a couple errands done as we could being COVID cautious but ended up waiting, mostly in the car, for 6 hours!!!! I kept calling to check in with the ducking delivery and over and over they kept telling me, “Any time now.” Boy was I glad we waited though. When the time finally did come and they arrived so did a whole flock of people. Things started getting kind of nasty! People were shouldering ahead of each other shouting, “I was here first!” Thankfully because I had been calling almost every hour for 6 hours checking in with them about the ducklings they let us have first pick. And by “first pick” I mean the store lady grabbed the number of duckings within each breed that I wanted. They were very specific and strict about nobody touching the ducklings or choosing which one they wanted. Probably wise with how nutty people were acting! By the time the girls and I got to the register (about 3 minutes later) the lady announced the ducklings were gone! You’d think stores would order more ducklings with them being in such demand. The girls were in heaven snuggling with the ducklings on the drive home. Those sweet little ducklings fell asleep in their hands. So precious!

We noticed soon after we got home that one little duckling wasn’t moving around like the others and it was having trouble breathing. This was the one that our youngest had deemed her favorite. Within a couple hours of it coming to its new home it sadly passed away despite our attempts to feed it through a dropper. Oh, the tears! Our girls had waited so long to have these ducklings and went from being so happy to being so broken hearted. Our oldest kept saying, “That sweet duckling’s life was mostly in a box. It never got to walk on grass or meet the piggies.” Sadly this was true. Such a rough journey it must be for those little ducklings. The very next morning we noticed another exhibiting the same signs of difficulty walking and labored breathing, though the day before it had been moving about without any noticeable problem. We waited to bury the first ducking for fear the second would soon pass. Sure enough, by afternoon the second sweet little duckling passed away. We wrapped the little ones in cloth and buried them where they could see the sunrise each morning and decorated their grave with flowers. The girls painted a stone to mark their sweet short lives. Our little one woke in the night with sad dreams about the ducklings. Thankfully the rest seem to be doing well! We’ll see how many are drakes and how many layers we are actually left with. They are all just SO so very cute!! We know they won’t be little long so we are soaking it all in.

Preparing for ducks:

Once the decision was made for us to get ducks that set the ball in motion to create a more predator proof animal enclosure. We figured the pigs are bigger and VERY loud when they want to be so it was less likely for a predator to come after them. But, if tasty ducks are in the same area, they would make an easy meal for a predator. The saying isn’t “sitting duck” for nothing. Once the predator had a duck snack they would most likely come back and might be tempted for a pig snack too. The whole thing just seemed like a ripple effect so…on to more pole digging we went!

We created 8′ walls of fence posts and 2″x4″ metal fencing top to bottom. Each side (the piggy side and the duck side) has a pressure treated wooden framed wall and door for us to go in and out of. We also added netting to the top to deter birds of prey from swooping down and grabbing a bite. There are lots of turkey vultures around here daily. To add extra safety we also added chicken wire to the bottom 2 feet of the 2″x4″ fencing burying a foot of it along the sides to prevent predators from digging underneath the fence. If something really wanted to get in I’m sure it still could but we are hopeful that by having things this safe during the day and locking the ducks in the Quack Shack overnight we are covering our bases.

This brings me to talking about the next part of the enclosure. We decided to put a roof on part of it as well. We are hoping this will help with drainage off the barn roof, as there is no existing gutters on the hayfield side, and also act as a shade from the hot sun. Justin is leading in this part of the project for sure! It has been tricky doing this project on Justin’s lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. Often times we feel like little ants in a big world. It’s taking shape though, slowly but surely!

For the first short couple weeks of the ducklings’ lives they needed to be inside out of the cold. In the wild they have their Mama duck’s soft downy layer and body heat to keep them warm. They also get waterproofing oils from their Mama. However, in a domesticated setting without a Mama, the ducklings have to stay dry and warmed with a heat lamp.

The thought was the ducklings would stay inside our sunroom, with our bunnies already residing in there, until about 8 weeks when they would get their full adult feathers. What we DIDN’T account for was their growth exploding with vigor! I’m telling you folks, we could literally see a shocking difference between when we tucked them in at night to when we woke. As you can imagine this brought on lots of eating and pooping! By the time the ducklings reached 3 1/2 weeks they were bursting out of their indoor container. I created a good watering system where most of their water spills and poop were caught in a pan beneath their water but even so, 7 large ducks in an animal feeding trough was getting a bit crazy! Those ducklings needed to get outside!

Here we thought we had another month before we needed their home built outside but, alas, many hours and late nights later the Quack Shack was created. Master builder Justin designed and built the beauteous Quack Shack with a few helpers here and there. He did such a lovely job making it fit our space and needs perfectly! Door just big enough for a push broom to get into, no funky corners for bedding to get trapped in, door the correct size to later add an electric door if needed, hatch to open to collect eggs… this guy thinks of everything!

Even though the ducklings didn’t have their warm adult feathers yet we deemed it safe for them to move outside. The nights were no longer dipping down to freezing, we hung a heat lamp in there and were keeping careful track of the temperature within the QS and with a spy camera. Every good farmer has one these days, do they not? I also kept their water and food in there until the ducklings reached 5 weeks. Clean-up is now minimal for those cute things since I moved the food and water outside. Keeping their water clean is the only hurdle. Justin has something up his sleeve for this one! To be continued…

These ducks are getting huge and are so much fun to watch and hold. They are learning routines great too! In the morning the girls and I open the door and say, “Ducks in a row, out you go!” and they all head down their ramp and waddle over to me expectantly as I get them their water and then food. They eat some breakfast from our hands or containers and give themselves their morning bath in little tubs. In the evening when we want them to go to bed we say, “All ducks go to bed” and this is the absolute truth and it still shocks us, they all line up and go into the duck house. Once and a while they will crowd the ramp and one will fall off the side and have to make the journey again. Isn’t that crazy cool?! We trained them to do this obviously but I wasn’t sure training them would actually work! We go in their pen during the day to play with them but the combination of it being evening and us saying “All ducks go to bed” does the trick!

These ducks are keeping us entertained that’s for sure and boy do they grow fast! In the month that it took me to write this post my descriptions of them changed drastically from tiny, fit in the palm of your hand ducklings to giant duck taking up your arms.