Our first experience raising ducks began in 2011. That year, the first week of June we received our first shipment of Welsh Harlequin ducklings at our local post office. In addition to the WH ducklings, we were also sent one White Appleyard, a “bonus” duckling. As it turned out, one of the WH’s died in transit, so we had a total of ten.
Tim made a great brooder box for them, made out of a shell for a car-top carrier we found at a local recycle place. We still have this box and have used it for all of our ducklings.
Tim got to work designing and building a house and pen for the ducks. It was pretty great! It was so deluxe, one of our friends called it “Duck Med”. It fit our needs perfectly, and was just off the side of the garden to allow the ducks easy access to the garden when allowed. We found that they were fine in the garden as long as the plants were not too small (too easy to eat) or not too close to harvest. We found that the ducks really liked our tomatoes, but left most other things alone. The garden had raised beds, so many things were too hard for them to reach, and they rarely jumped up into the beds.
As the ducklings grew, we waited anxiously to find out how many hens and drakes we had. Our plan was to keep the hens for eggs and butcher the drakes for meat. Finally, at about five weeks of age, some of them began to quack (the hens), others had curls on their tails (the drakes). Eventually we determined that there were four hens and six drakes. They continued to grow, and at about nine weeks of age, four of the drakes were butchered. We kept two, because they were cute, but eventually they became dinner as well. We didn’t really name these ducks, but since we had colored leg bands for them to tell them apart, they were known as Pinky, Orangie, Greenie & Blue.
We began adding light to their house in October to increase their “day length”, hoping they would lay as soon as possible. It was on a timer, allowing them about 13-14 hours of light per day. The house was also warmed with a heat lamp on the coldest of nights. Finally, at 27 weeks of age (mid-December), we got our first egg, and by 30 weeks (early January) all the hens were laying. By the end of January, we were finding four eggs nearly every day.
We kept a kiddie-pool for the ducks in their paddock. They enjoyed splashing and dunking, and were a lot of fun to watch. Usually in the evening they enjoyed peacefully floating in the pool, even when it was cold and snowy. We kept the pool out for them in the winter as much as possible, but when it began freezing too solidly, it was put away until the weather warmed up in the spring. When the weather was colder, I only cleaned the pool every 5-7 days; in the summer it was cleaned every 3 days or so. Tim put a spout on the pool, which made it easy to drain. If we could have figured out how to get that duck-water into the garden it would have been great—as it was, it drained out near some trees that I’m sure appreciated the fertilizer.
About a year later (2012), we added two adult, white Pekins to our duck family. We saw them on Craigslist and couldn’t resist. Those big, white ducks are awful cute. One of our WH girls had been acting a bit sickly, and we weren’t sure how long she’d last. She died about a month later, so we were glad we’d increased the flock.
Each year, the ducks stopped laying right at the end of July or first of August. They would molt & take time off until October or November, then with the added light in the house, they laid eggs all winter, until the following August. We enjoyed having these ducks, watching them play or just float in the pool, or finding them occasionally going on “walkabout”–leaving their comfortable pen and yard area to explore. They were great bug catchers. They loved to catch the grasshoppers, and we found that we had few problems with the grasshoppers while our neighbors complained about them.
The ducks continued to do well as time passed, until 2014, when we began to find some eggs I called “duds.” These eggs were soft, without the hard shell, all encompassed in just the membrane-like sac. Sometimes they were smooshed, other times whole. Sometimes they had some shell-like mass hanging off the end of the egg, as though the duck just couldn’t get it all together. I finally determined which duck was doing this (one of the Pekins), and we retired her. I wondered whether this may have been caused by inefficient calcium, except that the other ducks didn’t have this problem.
As we began to prepare to move to our new home, we sold these ducks in October of 2014. We were spending many weekends at the new property, taking the other animals with us, and it wasn’t worth getting someone to care for the ducks while we were gone. We thought that a better transition would be to start all over with new ducklings after we moved permanently.
Below are links to the blog posts following the progress of these ducks found on our old blog, “Golden Gaits Garden”:
Decision: Chickens or Ducks?
The Ducks Have It
The Ducks are Here!
Duckling Brooder Videos: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
First Time Outside & In Water: Video
The Duck House (Duck Inn): Video
Whitey & Growing Ducks
Ducks Greet the Day: Video
Three Weeks Old
Duck Yard & Pool: Video
Four Weeks: Feathers & Quacking
Males, Females, Gold & Silver
Duckling Antics for Calvin & Charlie: Video
Four Quackers & a Mystery
Changes: Drakes & Ducks
Changes: Yard 2: New Video
Ducks Say “Good Morning”: Video
Drake Day (D-Day)
Now We Are Six
Duck Dinner: includes recipe for BBQ Duck Marinade
Welsh Harlequin Ducks at 17 Weeks
First Snow: Video
Ducks at 22 Weeks
First Egg!!! 27.5 Weeks of Age
Egg in the Nest Box
Three Ducks A-Layin
Four Ducks A-Layin
Almost 100% Production
Two New Ducks: Pekins Added
6 Minus 1 = 5
Ducks 2013: Third Year
Ducks 2014: Fourth Year