I’m getting ahead of myself starting with this picture, but it’s the first thing I wanted you to see. I’ll start from the beginning. In the wintertime, while we were still dreaming about spring, and planning which breeds we wanted to get for the few chicks we’d be adding to our homestead- a sudden inspiration came to me. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Suddenly, I wanted to order a few ducklings as well. (I was so excited about the idea, I took that as a sign.) This surprised me because we had tried raising ducks here before and it didn’t work out so well for us. I really wanted to make it work, I wanted ducks to be the ideal animals for this place, but the reality of it is that they weren’t at the time. Bracken was a baby and even though the ducks were my idea in the first place, Jeff ended up taking care of them entirely. He hadn’t been very excited about the idea, telling me about how messy their poops are. Then I’d reply about how great they’d be because of this or that. (They eat slugs! They’re perfect for Oregon weather! They love the rain! They’re great at ranging for their own food. They’re much more disease resistant than chickens are. We love duck eggs. Plus, they are just so darn cute– am I right? I could keep going.) So we got Runner ducks. We didn’t get a chance to get them acclimated to us while they were young. With so much on our plate, we didn’t spend as much time with them as we would have liked. They were so skittish they would go running every time we showed our faces. It made us miss chickens and the way they would come running to us every time we brought food. We hoped the ducks would come around, but they didn’t. Jeff let them out of their home every morning and put them away every night. It was messy. We tried letting them range around the garden, thinking they wouldn’t eat everything in sight like the chickens and would be great bug patrol, but they ended up eating and trampling the place. Oh well. But besides all those reasons, it just wasn’t working out. We had ordered twenty, a mix of males and females, and planned on keeping the females for layers and harvesting the males. We ended up harvesting some of the ducks for our freezer and the rest went to a new home with a friend. (I’ve written about all of this before, as some of you know, and go into more detail in this post.)
Anyway, that was then. I thought maybe it wasn’t the right time. Perhaps if we tried a different breed? And maybe if we just got a few ducks (rather than twenty), to live along with our chickens. Then maybe ducks would be a good fit for us here. I had seen some people raising chickens with a few ducks in the mix, living along with them. It seemed like a great idea to me. I asked some farmers their thoughts, out of curiosity. One of my concerns was that I didn’t want to buy separate feed for the chickens and the ducks. Could we feed them the same thing? In an e-mail conversation with Diana, of Scratch and Peck Feeds, I asked her about it. I want to share her reply here because I thought some of you might find it helpful as well.
“Yes, you can feed ducks our feed with one caveat. When feeding the Starter add some organic nutritional yeast to up the niacin as ducklings need more than chicks at the start.
Niacin supplementation is important during the starter/grower phases, but not so much afterward. You’ll see a huge spike in growth (and food consumption) at week three so protein should be decreased to approximately 16% between three and nine weeks – unless you are raising broilers and want maximum growth. Chicken Grower 16-17% protein can be okay during this phase because the calcium content is no more than 1%. (Or you could dilute chick starter feed with whole or rolled oats to lower the protein content.) Ducks are close to their adult weight by nine weeks and grow slowly between nine and twenty weeks so you can continue to feed them our grower feed and even dilute the protein a bit if you like by adding oats. Generally speaking, ducks will begin laying at around 20 weeks so you can start feeding them chicken layer at 17 or 18 weeks. Laying ducks do well on chicken layer feed.”
Knowing the ducks could live in the coop with our chickens and that we could feed them the same food (with some added nutritional yeast, which is good for the chickens as well, anyway) answered my questions. I mentioned the idea to Jeff and he was willing to get a few ducks and see how it worked out. We decided to try a new breed this time- Khaki Campbells. We ordered three, but decided to get four (and there was just one extra when we arrived at the feed store to pick them up on Friday, which worked out perfectly.) Bracken had been looking forward to that day, asking when we were going to get our ducks. He was so excited! Chicks are cute. But ducklings? Ducklings have to be one of the cutest baby animals on the planet. Truly, so cute. When we got home, we thought the cardboard box was going to be a bit small for everybody. It was time for the chicks to be movin’ on up. Jeff found a plastic tub near the compost pile out back that was the perfect size. In the cardboard box we had been using cedar shavings for the bedding and it was driving me nuts. I couldn’t clean their water and food fast enough, the cedar shavings were everywhere and making such a mess. Plus I was afraid they would eat the smaller bits. When we came home with the ducks, we also came home with new bedding- wood pellets. Pine pellets to be exact. They smelled heavenly! Bracken helped me spread them in their new home. We set the new home in a nook between our bathroom and main living space. We moved the water and food over and set up the light. We put the ducks in first and then brought the chicks over.
Upon seeing this, Jeff declared that the chicks needed a new roost so they would stop using their feeder.
While Bracken and I watched all the fuzzy activity under the warm light, Jeff came back in a few minutes with a little wooden roost.
It was in use before we even set it down all the way.
“Hey- you lookin’ at me?!”
I found out you’re supposed to provide chicks with chick sized grit from Day 1. We also brought some of that home from the feed store. I was going to put it in a dish and realized that would get messy fast, so I’ve just been putting it at the end of their little feeder so they can take as much as they’d like. I was afraid if we mixed it in their food they might get too much.
I love to watch them drink!
Notice anything in this picture? The duckling decided it wanted to go on the roost with the chicks!
I thought it was pretty funny.
Look at those feet!
The ducklings don’t just drink the water, they like to play in it.
We love every time we see all the chicks and ducklings sleeping together.
Bracken loves to hold them all. With his constant attention, they’re getting more used to us all the time.
They drink and then eat and the food bits stick to their sweet, fluffy little faces.
Bracken (mr. blueberry lips in the background) is very gentle with them.
(We’re always reminding: hold with two hands… gently.)
I was afraid the ducks were going to get a bit picked on by the older (by one week) chicks. But there are a few rascally ducks that do most of the bothering. I love watching them all interact with each other, hoping they’ll all become good friends. Each day Bracken and I fill up their feeder (with Scratch and Peck Naturally Free Starter, diatamaceous earth, nutritional yeast, and a bit of grit on the end.) I clean the water out all day long. It doesn’t get as messy as it did with the cedar shavings, but it still gets messy with the wood pellets. How they manage to do that, I don’t know. It seems as soon as I set the water down, it’s messy again. I add a little apple cider vinegar each time. Since we’re not using any medicated feed, I feel it’s extra important to keep their living space as clean as possible to keep them healthy.
So, four little ducklings have been added to our family and we’re all pretty happy about it. My mom already has many suggestions for names (to name two: Flossy- a family name, and Rhubarb.) I’m in love with the name Fennel (we named one of our goats that before) and think that one of these little ones will end up with that name. Of course we’ve been picking out names for the chicks too. As soon as we can tell them all apart a bit more, it will make the naming part easier.
Now, when asked if we have any animals at home: “chickens, ….and four ducklings.”