Ducks in my garden
August 15, 2017
Like most gardeners in temperate climate, we have a lot of slugs roaming around, devouring tender vegetables and flowers. Slug repellents don’t really work, which means the only environment friendly option was, to find a slug eating predator. One of the best (if not the best) creatures that feeds on slugs are ducks. I got several Indian runner duck eggs, bought cheap Chinese made egg incubator an hoped I can make them hatch.
Duck eggs are rather easy to incubate. It takes a bit longer for them to hatch, compared to chickens. Optimal conditions to incubate duck eggs are 37.8°C at 55% to 65% humidity during first 12 days. Then, humidity needs to be increased up to 60-70% until day 24. All that time, eggs need to be turned at least 3 times daily. From day 25, eggs should not be turned and incubator should remain closed. Humidity should stay above 80% and temperature set a bit lower to 37.4°C. At that point, internal pip occurs which means the ducklings break the internal egg membrane and start breathing air from the air cell. When they pip externally – they break through the egg shell, humidity must remain high. If humidity drops, internal membrane can dry out and entangle the small duckling. As it can’t remove the dry rubbery membrane, it usually dies without proper assistance.
I never tried incubating eggs of any kind before and decided to buy cheap-ass incubator without humidity sensors. I had very low expectations and planned on buying ducks when I finally fail with the incubation project. Luckily I didn’t fail. I learned a few lessons during that month. The first one was around day 7, when I threw out an egg that was developing completely OK. It happened that I couldn’t see the embryo properly when I candled the eggs and I decided to make some room for other eggs. Later on, I bought external humidity sensor and tried to get egg cell large enough. I failed with one egg, and got two all the through. The second one hatched on day 30 and had yolk sack infection. Duckling died in a few days. The first one was healthy as young duckling can be.
I bought infrared heater lamp and used an old cardboard box to make a brooder. Since there was only one duckling inside, I didn’t have much issues with droppings and spilled water. I thought I did, at the time, but later I found out what multiple ducklings are capable of. Nasty. I gave it chicken starter feed and any insect I could find around the house in the spring. Young ducklings have extreme appetite and they grow very fast. At the end of second week, it got warm enough for the duckling to go out and roam around freely. It didn’t search for food much and avoided the pond, but it loved being outside. It imprinted on me a lot, so I decided I need to get a few more ducks, so it gets proper feathery company. I bought 3 ducklings that were the same age, but they were all small, had leg issues, missed feathers and shown nutrition deficiencies. I placed them all outside into their duck house, because temperatures outside got cozy enough for them to remain outdoors.
2 of the maltreated ducklings died during first week, both suffocated, because they were not used to have enough food and they never drank water when eating. The third sickly duckling remained alive and started growing insanely fast. It gained a lot of weight as well and started having even more leg related issues. I started giving them more yeast to increase niacin intake (vitamin B3), but it only got worse. Later I figured out it was just gaining size and weight too fast for its legs to keep up. As both ducklings started showing signs that they are males, I needed female ducks. I can always replace one drake with a female if there’s problem when they start mating. The seller of three sickly ducklings offered me 3 replacement ducks (at that point the remaining duckling wasn’t able to walk at all and I was certain it will perish as well). Luckily, all three were females! Now I have five ducks, one beautiful, large drake I incubated, one fat and lazy drake and 3 small lady ducks. Hope they will remain living in harmony when they reach sexual maturity in a month or two.