The Quackson 5
Meet the Ducks! They’re all named Michael Quackson (except for Limpy, who is named Limpy.)
Hatching duck eggs is pretty easy when with an incubator. Even easier if the incubator as an auto-turner. But once ducklings hatch you need to brood them, usually inside. Ducklings are messy critters, and when confined, they can quickly get smelly despite regular cleaning.
When brooding ducklings indoors they need heat for a few weeks, which can be a fire hazard. This year alone I’ve seen a few reports from local chicken and duck keepers about losses due to burned down barns and coops.
To get away from the smell, mess and fire hazard we can go back to how it was done before incubators and heat lamps and employ a broody hen. For some (myself included) the broody hen was something I never wanted. They’re cranky, territorial, and they don’t give you eggs. Sometimes you don’t even know they’re broody, because they’ve built a nest elsewhere, so you find yourself suddenly missing a duck and put everyone on lock down in the run for a while in case the predator comes back. Despite this I’ve become a convert.
If you’re lucky, your hen will go broody in your hen house and you’ll have some fair warning that it’s going to happen. When I go to the hen house in the morning and one nest box of eggs is warm, that usually means that one of the gals has been getting some practice sitting in. Even if all the girls leave the house when I open the door, I take note of the early AM sitting, especially if it happens a few days in a row. I also make a point of counting how many eggs I get. There’s a hormonal change that happens when a duck goes broody, which will shut down her egg production and may increase metabolism, so trying to keep good logs of who is laying can tell you if someone is in likely to go broody.
Once you see someone start “practice” with a decrease in egg production, you need to decide if you’re going to indulge the behavior. Sometimes though, you miss these signs, or the ducks just skip to full on broodiness. If you enter the house or run and your duck fluffs up more than a stay puft marshmallow man, quacking at you like the dickens she may be broody. If so, try and set her up with a nesting location that will be safe and secure for her while she sits, and for easy for the ducklings to access in their first few days. Usually, you’ll want her to sit in the hen house, but if that’s raised up off the ground it can be difficult for ducklings when mom first leads them from the nest.
Sometimes, she’ll build a nest somewhere less than ideal. Maybe between some shrubs, behind a shed, or under a deck. If so, try to secure her with fencing, a dog house/kennel, or a duck fort made of cinder blocks, plywood and milk crates. I’ve seen all of these and more, and they’re generally successful. I’ll write a How To post on how to move a broody duck later.
Once your broody girl is sitting, it’s time to mark your calendar and play the waiting game. There isn’t too much to this part, but keep an eye on her. Make sure that any drakes around aren’t harassing her. Watch to see if she’s getting up off the nest to eat, drink and bathe. If she’s not, consider moving a small amount of food and some water near the nest so she can eat and drink with out leaving. If she is leaving, use the opportunity to candle her eggs. If some aren’t developing, remove them so they don’t go rotten and explode, contaminating the nest.
Just like with an incubator, things can go wrong. A predator could get your girl, or chase her off the nest to get the eggs. She could sit for three and a half weeks only to get up one day and not return to sitting. She could incubate them all the way to hatch only to have a drake kill the ducklings or sometimes even do it herself.
My recommendation is to have an incubator on stand-by through out the incubation and be prepared at hatch to separate mom and the babies from the rest of the flock… or steel yourself for the possibility of lost ducklings.
Ada, a.k.a. Home girl a.k.a. Brienne of Tarth passed away Tuesday after succumbing to injuries from an attack two weeks earlier.
Her death was unexpected and seems to have hit the flock hard as all the girls have stopped laying. Agatha is sitting on a nest, so hopefully some of her eggs are in there, though I may never know the lineage of the nest eggs.
When I started naming the ducks it was really just a way to describe them to my husband and as a way to denote who was who when telling stories about the ducks to friends and family. I started to name the ducks after characters, that matched their physical attributes or character. This worked well for a while, but didn’t really help when it came to simple record keeping.
From now on I’m using a system I’ve seen used elsewhere, that I’m adapting for my own use. This naming convention will have a few simple rules. Starting with 2016, flock members that are hatched from our stock and remain in the flock get a name beginning with A. Those hatched the same year from stock not from Heroux Potager are named with an R.
This allows me to very easily keep track of how old a duck is and where she came from. There will be a drive to continue to keep detailed records about the ducks, but I’m interested in trying this method.
|Year||Our Stock||Outside Stock|
Torticollis commonly known as Wry neck (a.k.a. crookneck or stargazing) is a symptom that affects many poultry species, and if not treated can be fatal. Wry neck isn’t actually, a disease, but it is a symptom of a few ailments. While it’s most common in young birds, it can appear in adults with nutritionally deficient diets. Affected birds cannot hold their heads up, have trouble standing, and may not be able to eat or drink with out assistance.
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While in adult birds the condition is often the result of poor nutrition, it may also be a result of botulism or toxin ingestion or Newcastle Disease. In young birds, especially those hatched with the issue, it may be a genetic disorder, e. coli infection of the yolk sac, or a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin deficiency can be because of a lack of Vitamin E, Thiamine, or magnesium. If you have a duckling that didn’t hatch with this condition that is eating medicated feed, and you see signs of wry neck, discontinue feeding the medicated feed. Medicated feeds can interfere with thiamine uptake. (see Rehabilitation and Curing of Domestic Pigeons Exhibiting Signs of Torticollis)
When I see a duckling hatch with wry neck, I immediately break out a batch of Electrolytes + Vitamin solution.
For this I mix the following:
This mix provides Vitamins A, D-3, and E plus selenium. If you want, you can swap out the Nutri Drench for 2 drops Liquid Infant Vitamins, just not the ones with Iron. I couldn’t find the ones without iron, so my mix doesn’t have Vitamins C, or a B complex. That said, 2 drops of Infant Vitamins wouldn’t provide much in the way of Thiamine, Riboflavin, or B Complex once mixed in to the electrolyte mix so I’m not sure how much better infant vitamins would be. I give this by the single drop 3-4 times a day.
If the duckling was suffering because of a Vitamin E deficiency, then some improvement should be seen within a day.
As I mentioned previously, I have a duck on meds, whose eggs cannot be eaten for 6 weeks after her last dose. This is somewhat problematic, since this means that even if she’s healed, she can’t be returned to the flock, since I’d be unable to eat any eggs collected.
I was on BackYardChickens.com and it came up that marking (chicken) hens with food coloring was a thing that people apparently do. (NEWS TO ME!) Though I was somewhat skeptical since after a bunch of googling, none of the sources I found included photos of the end result, just descriptions of what the marked egg looked like and a few others chiming in to say they’d done it and it didn’t work.
I’m here to tell you that it CAN work, but you have to do it correctly.
However, this is what happens when you do it incorrectly:
The first time I did this I must have messed up when applying the food coloring because the next morning I had a duck with blue-green butt and bill. Over the weekend, there was only one egg laid, but it only had the faintest of coloring, little more than a pin prick (probably because all the food coloring ended up on her butt,) and the color was such that it was impossible to tell if the egg had just come in contact with some green-ish duck poop. The good news is that while she did get covered in food coloring, it all washed off pretty quickly, and I had to use leg bands to ID her the next afternoon.
Sunday night, while the rest of America was watching football, I headed out once again to my coop with my food coloring bottles. This time I decided to add a little bit of red to the blue, since the blue alone looks quite green when washed out. I think I managed to successfully mark an egg.
The question now is how long will the marking last. I’ll update as I find out more.
I managed to get Brienne in to see the vet late last week. Getting her there was a task in it’s own rite, but once we got there she calmed down, and seemed not to mind the attention that being a duck in a vets office brings. The diagnosis is that while she does have some necrosis of the leg tissue, it isn’t deep, so she’ll keep her leg. Had I not been able to get the swelling down, that may not have been the case.
Brienne and I came back home with an oral anti inflammatory, and a topical antibiotic. The swelling is gone at this point, and she seems to be back to her old self again, demanding that I let her out and feed her at 6:30 am. She still isn’t putting much weight on the foot, but she’s still healing. Unfortunately, the oral meds she’s on makes her eggs unsafe for human consumption for about 6 weeks, so she won’t be back with the flock for a while.
The rain we’ve had the last few days caused the stream to rise a bit yesterday. It also caused some trash to make its way downstream. I came home yesterday afternoon to a duck with a length of string wrapped tightly around her leg and tangled up with two saplings. I had to climb to the other side of the stream and cut the saplings to get her out. The string was so tight on her leg I couldn’t get my knife under it and ended up using nail clippers to remove and untangle the mess. Last night she seemed okay, though she was limping a little, probably from having her leg tied back for as long as it was. She was still limping this AM and I noticed that she’s now swollen as well (overall, her leg looks worse than it did yesterday, but I’m not sure how much of that is because I have better lighting and can see so much more of it.)
I’ve moved her to a dog kennel on the back porch where she’s set up and hopefully comfortable. So far, she’s eating, drinking and active. I filled up the tub and let her have a warm swim and she was moving her injured leg around quite a bit, even trying to use it to scratch her face. After her bath, she even preened herself. Standing up.
We’ve got a Vet appointment scheduled for Friday afternoon. In the mean time, more warm baths and epsom salt compresses. I’m really hoping that the vet has some good news. After the loss of Old Lady, two weeks ago, losing another hen would put the flock out of balance. If Brienne can’t be saved, then one of the drakes needs to go too, bringing the flock down to 3. Not bad for breeding, but not what I was hoping for.
Even with good news from the vet it’s likely the Brienne will be living on the porch for the next month, which starts to coincide with duckling hatches. More ducks in more places than I had planned for.
Yesterday afternoon I left work early to get home to do some duck chores since the temps were comfortably above freezing. I got home about an hour before sunset, and started to clear out the hen house. Usually when I get home, the ducks recognize me and come up for food, but not always, so I didn’t think much of it when no one greeted me at the coop and demanded their dinner.
As I mentioned, it had been warm, so perhaps they had some good foraging that day.
It wasn’t until almost sunset that I realized something was wrong with them. They were quiet. When I went to the stream to call them up I realized why: Mrs. Loudmouth was missing.
I searched, and found her body, intact, in the water downstream.
I believe that she was killed by a dog. The fact that she was found very nearby, and intact (not eaten) are in line with dog behavior. Everyone will be spending the next few days in the run, in case the culprit returns.
She wasn’t the nicest of the flock, but she was diligent. She certainly didn’t like me, but she eventually came to trust me. When going through my photos for shots of her, I noticed a pattern. She was IN a lot of photos, though not often the subject of the photograph. Instead, she was in the background, watching me. Because she was a good matriarch, and she watched over me closely when I was near the ducklings. When the ducklings were first moved outside, she was very protective of them. If I picked up a duckling, or even moved my hand too quickly to give them treats, she would commence an attack on my shoes. She mellowed out eventually, but always kept a bit of a distance, only eating peas out of my hand in late summer of 2016.
This morning I realized that it’s 2017, and I really need to think about hatching plans for the coming months. I’ll be trying to take better notes as my ducklings grow this year, so I purchased a 2017 journal from Amazon. This will be a combination garden and duckling journal, so I’ll go in and mark out my hatches and planting schedule once I have it fleshed out.
Preparing for the First Hatch
Before I can even set my first hatch I need to think about who I want to try to collect eggs from. I know that I’d love to produce more offspring from Brienne, her size alone puts her at the top of my list, but she’s got good markings on top of that. The obvious problem with Brienne is that it’s not clear that she’s laying eggs. We’re getting 2 eggs daily, but with 4 young hens, and 1 veteran layer there’s a possibility that the same ones aren’t laying every day. To try and suss out the “who’s laying” conundrum, I’m going to section off part of the hen house and isolate 1 or 2 hens each night. They will have to be in the house, and able to see the rest of the flock so a section of wire fencing should work fine.
Separating 2 of the flock at a time should make it easier to ID the laying hens. My suspicions are that the Old Lady is laying daily, with one other hen laying daily, or 2 others in rotation. Because of this, I’ll likely keep the Old Lady out of the separated group since I’m sure she’s 1/2 of the guilty party (I actually witnessed her laying back in Oct, so I know she’s been doing some of her part.)
I’m not sure if this is going to work, but I feel the need to try. It’s entirely possible that whoever is in the separated group may not lay in the early AM hours because she prefers the nesting box. If that happens I’m hoping that she’ll lay as soon as I give her access to the nesting box in the AM.
I’ll be updating this post over the next week, with egg counts from each group.
Night 1 – 1/6/2017
Night 2 – 1/7/2017
Night 3 – 1/8/2017
Night 4 – 1/9/2017
Night 5 – 1/10/2017
I’m pretty sure Brienne is the 2nd layer here. The first night, Lady Mormont broke through the barrier sometime during the night leaving Brienne alone. There was 1 egg that morning, and thinking that it could be either of the gals in group 1 I opted to have Night 2’s Group 1 just be Brienne.
Night 2 gave me no egg on the Group 1 side, but only 1 on group 2. The stress of being separated alone may be the culprit here.
Night 3 was VERY cold, so I opted to “reset” and not separate anyone. 2 eggs.
Night 4 was still very cold and I decided to keep them all together. 0 eggs.
Experiment Suspended after the death of Old Lady.
So you’ve had your ducks for some time, you’re getting eggs on a regular basis and it’s awesome… then you go out one morning and one of your ducks has a face full of yolk. Your duck has eaten her (or another ducks) egg! As disturbing as this may be to us we have to understand that this happens in the bird world from time to time. It can definitely be a one time thing. Some times ducks do this if the egg they’ve lain is cracked or broken during the laying. This would make sense in real world wild bird life, since as a bird this is just an invite to predators to your nest. In this case, there isn’t much to do about the situation except make sure the egg shells aren’t too thin and the nesting area has enough pine shavings or straw to keep the egg from hitting the floor too hard.
However, if your duck continues with this behavior then she may have a nutrition or behavioral issue. (more…)