THE 2016 SIX-PACK HAS RETIRED

Coco & Whitey – the last two

Our “Six-Pack” of ducks from 2016 is no longer with us. For various reasons, we have culled the flock one by one. Most of them were removed because they had stopped laying eggs, or laid only soft-shell eggs. We began raising our small, 2019 flock of ducklings while we still had two remaining “big ducks” from 2016, but in short time they were culled because they were just too crabby and no fun to have around.

Coco (Chocolate Runner) spent most of her waking hours hunched up with her feathers ruffled, quacking-quacking-quacking. Most of the time she looked like the right photo. It was unbearable.

 

Coco–scrunched & unhappy

Our other adult, Whitey, had been our best layer and generally a calm duck. But, after we’d culled two others, leaving just Coco & Whitey, Whitey began to quack just as much as Coco. Thinking Coco had infected her with crabbiness, we got rid of Coco first and attempted to calm Whitey down. Tim would sit on the ground to feed her out of a bowl located by his lap. At first, she would continue to quack and go hungry, because she was unwilling to come near. We tried holding her in our laps until she calmed down. A couple of days after starting this process, she was much quicker to come and eat quietly. There was some improvement, and we hoped she would return to being her calmer self, but even after a few days it just didn’t help calm her down. Whenever we would walk nearby or past her even at some distance, she would still quack like crazy. It just wasn’t worth the effort to continue working with her, not knowing if our efforts would calm her down.

With the baby ducklings growing, we decided to cut our losses with the old, and bring up the new flock without their influence. We are hoping these new ducks will be happier, quieter, calmer.

 

 

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2019 FLOCK OF FIVE

Coco & Whitey, 2 Remaining Ducks

The six ducks we’ve raised since August 2016 had dwindled down to two good layers, so we recently decided to get a flock of new ducklings to start raising while the two were still laying. As we awaited the arrival of the ducklings and began to raise them in the brooder, the two remaining layers became quite crabby and no fun to have around—perhaps they missed their friends or didn’t like being a flock of two. Since we had the new ducklings growing fast in the brooder, we decided to cull the remaining adults and start over. We just didn’t want the kids to learn bad habits from the big ducks (quacking uncontrollably whenever we walk near). Hopefully this new crew will be happier, quieter, and more friendly. We will work on that from the start!

We originally ordered four ducklings online from Metzer Farms. Metzer Farms now accommodates folks like us who only want a small number of ducklings. There is an extra fee for shipping small orders, but since we really don’t want 10 ducklings, we were willing to pay the extra shipping. We were able to get them sexed, and ordered females only.

Sadly, one of our baby ducklings didn’t make it through the first night at home. She was scrawny right out of the box, and not as active as the others. We had doubts she’d make it. Fortunately, Metzer Farms offers either a refund or replacement when ducklings do not survive the trip. They are unable to safely ship just one duckling, so she needed a companion duckling. They offer to send a “mystery” duckling free of charge, or one of our choice that we pay for. We chose a female of another breed we were interested in. They hatched just one week after the first 3, and we received them last week. Now we have 5 baby ducklings, growing fast in our care.

Metzer Farms’ website provides a nice comparison table of the duck breeds they sell, so we made our decision based on these observations. Our criteria for choosing duck breeds are:

  1. We want ducks that will lay the most eggs.
  2. We prefer calmer ducks that don’t quack too much.
  3. We want ducks that will forage and find their own food. We have 40 acres for them to explore, although they don’t go any farther than 1 or 2.
  4. Different colors. We want to be able to tell them apart at a glance. And Laurie likes pretty ducks.

We have chosen these five:

White Layer. One of the ducks we currently have is a white layer from Metzer Farms. She has been our most consistent layer and has a calm demeanor, even though she rates 6.7 on the temperament scale. (10 is high) She forages right along with the rest of the ducks, rated “Good” for foraging, and her all-white feathers make her easy to spot.

 

Golden 300 Hybrid Layer. Also bred at Metzer Farms, this duck promises to lay 200-290 eggs per year. She rates high on the temperament scale at 7.7, but we hope that the other calmer ducks will keep her in check. She should also be a “Good” forager, and will be a brownish color.

 

 

Silver Appleyard. This breed rates 1.2 for the calmest temperament, and “Very Good” at foraging. She won’t lay as many eggs, 120-175 per year, but hopefully her calm demeanor and foraging will encourage the others to follow suit. She will have mixed colors of white and brown.

 

 

 

Black Swedish. This should also be a calm duck, 2.3 on the scale. She should lay 130-180 eggs per year and be a “Good” forager. She will be predominantly black with a white chest. This is the one that didn’t survive, and we will receive a replacement next week.

 

 

Rouen. These ducks are known to be on the calm side, a 4.5 on the temperament scale. She should lay 140-180 eggs per year and should be a good forager. She may lay blue-green eggs, and should be a nice looking, dark brown duck.

 

 

This will be our fourth time to raise ducklings. We hope to pay more attention to their care than we have for the past couple of flocks, and keep better track of things like lighting schedules to promote better egg production. We also intend to pick them up  and hold them more often, particularly right at first, which may keep them a bit more friendly and calm. At this point (two weeks in) we have a happy little brood of ducklings!

 

 

 

Winter Ducks

Our ducks fare well even in the winters here at 9,000 feet. Our temperatures can range from roughly +60F to -20F. The other day it literally started out at -5F and reached +60F in the afternoon! Most often the sun is out at least a portion of the day, occasionally not. Sometimes it’s quite windy, other times not. Sometimes there is snow on the ground, other times not. No matter the weather, the ducks will usually spend most of the day outside, and often out foraging for whatever tidbits they might find. Only on the coldest days they might spend a good portion of the time in their house, outside of the wind and cold.

Ducks are quite well adapted for the cold. As water birds, the rain and snow are no problem for them. Their feathers shed off the water, and their down keeps them quite warm. I guess that’s why we make coats out of down with water resistant outer shells for ourselves!

With these cold temperatures the water does freeze, and winter adjustments need to be made. There are different ways of keeping the water liquid. My best solution is to keep a water heater in the bowl. It is on a timer, and usually turns on around 3am, so they will have water to drink in the morning. I turn it on occasionally during the day if the water is freezing, just for an hour or two off and on. The timer we have makes it easy to adjust like that. We keep our bowl on a raised platform over a hole in the ground, covered with hardware cloth. Normally the water will slowly drain from the hole into the earth. In winter this hole fills up with ice and never melts, so I need to be careful to empty the bowl without spilling more water into (onto) this hole. Recently I got out the flame thrower, melted the ice under the bowl as much as I could without burning the frame, then raised the bowl off the frame with an additional support to keep it from freezing onto the frame. I’ve found it’s helpful to keep all snow cleared from around the bowl as soon as possible. If not done, it quickly ices up and makes it nearly impossible to lift the bowl for emptying and refilling.

Notice the wire frame over the top of the bowl–this is not only to hold the electrical wire up (it goes upward to the framework of the pen), but also to keep the ducks out of the bowl. I keep this deeper bowl for them in the winter so they my dip their heads into deep water and keep their eyes clean, which is important. On occasional warm days I will fill a pool for them to bathe, but that doesn’t happen often.

Inside their house (the duckagon), I keep a heat lamp for the coldest of nights. It is on a thermostat and also a timer. The timer is set for the thermostat to come on at about the time we usually lock them in the house at night, and goes off around the time I usually let them out in the morning. The thermostat is now set for around 28F. I don’t want it running all the time, just on the coldest of nights, and often I find that even when it’s pretty cold, it’s in the 30’s, probably due to their own body heat keeping the house warm. When they were younger and it was getting cold, it was used more often and set at a higher temperature, but they are big girls now and can handle more cold. I keep one of the vents (under the roof edge) open most of the time, only closing it on the coldest of nights, maybe when it’s under 10 or so.