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Ducks Are Not Like Chickens

by @ 4:34 pm on May 28, 2014.

That seems like a no-brainer right? And yet it still came as a surprise to me. Allow me to backtrack.

Once upon a time (October 3, 2012 to be exact) I bought a trio of Khaki Campbell ducks.

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They grew up through the winter, and at one point one of the hens disappeared, leaving me with a pair. But the pair held on, and by the following spring Khaki Duck was trying to set a nest.

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Poor thing tried and tried, but a certain hound dog kept finding and eating her eggs, no matter how hard I tried to barricade the nest. We have one very determined hound dog.

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Four times that hound got the eggs. Khaki Ducks fifth try was just too late in the fall, and she gave up once it got cold.

Backing up again, last summer we went to Hovatter’s Zoo, which was a neat place and a lot of fun. (Stick with me, this really does relate.)

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They had a pond with a bunch of Muscovy ducks. Ern commented how meaty they looked and that it might be nice to try having some. Of course that set me immediately to looking for some. I kept coming up empty. I finally found an ad on Craigslist for ducklings near Parkersburg. 2 hours away, this normally would have been well outside our travel radius. But it happened we would be heading through in a few days (on September 22) to pick up Ernie’s new wood cookstove.

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I called 2 days in advance and arranged for the guy to save me half a dozen. We left it that I would call when we got close. The day came and I called. No answer, so I left a message. I tried 4 more times and the coward never bothered to answer or call me back. I get that cash talks, and holding them for an unknown when someone else was there first with cash would be hard. I sell things, and I get that 99% of people are complete flakes. But he could have at least returned my call and told me. So I was pretty bummed.

As it happened, just past Parkersburg we’d seen a sign outside a house: ducks for sale. By the time we were coming back through it was apparent I wasn’t going to get my Muscovy ducks from the first guy. I thought dang it, I’m coming home with SOMETHING! So Ern stopped for me. I forget what all he had, but what caught my attention was Welsh Harlequins. So I got a young pair of those.

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All four made it through the winter, and Welsh Duck started laying this spring. Once again, Khaki Duck began work on a nest.

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Time went by, and by some miracle the hound dog left her alone. Mostly. She started with 13 eggs. A few days before her remaining eggs hatched, I saw the hound skulking out from near her nest. I went up and found an egg outside the nest with the shell half off but the membrane intact. We opened it, and inside was a mostly formed duckling. Chester was also up there earlier, so I don’t really know which to blame. But it was a good egg till something removed it from the nest. So we put an electric wire around Khaki Duck to keep her safe for the last few days.

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Lo and behold, a few days later there appeared 3 ducklings.

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Ok, we’re almost to the point. Really. One more back story – I’ll keep this one short. Last summer I had one broody hen. Her first try she nested in the calf pen under the steps to the hay loft. The calves, in the only time they’d ever done it, knocked the steps loose and trampled the nest. Her next try was on top of the hay in the hay loft, and this proved a good spot. She hatched 3 chicks.

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From the start she was good at keeping those chicks right near her. I went ahead and locked her up with them for a couple weeks, but I don’t think I needed to. Moreover that maybe I shouldn’t have. I lost 1 of the chicks while they were locked up, and after that just turned them all loose to let nature take its course. That chicken was a true mama hen and did a good job looking after her brood. The remaining chicks grew up. One became my herd rooster for a time, until he died a few weeks ago (he just keeled over on me). I still have the other, a nice little hen.

And FINALLY, that brings me to my point. With that hen being my only experience with fowl raising, I assumed mama duck would do the same: keep her ducklings close and watch over them. And this is where I learned that ducks are not like chickens. The first day, Khaki Duck just left the ducklings in the nest while she went to eat. The second day, she took the ducklings to the greenhouse, stuck them in the weeds, and heading to the calf barn to eat. Ok, I thought. So ducks aren’t like chickens. Maybe they’re like cows, and the ducklings will hunker down and stay put till mom comes back. Nope. A few minutes later here they come, quacking away across the middle of the barnyard.

So I learned that ducks are just ducks. And they’re stupid. But that last part is no surprise. She wasn’t very good at keeping them close, but she did at least get feisty when she noticed something too close (the chickens are sure learning to keep their distance!). I debated, but left her alone. The 4th day she was down to 1. I don’t know if something got the other 2 or if the male ducks killed them. The drakes were pestering her like crazy and were picking on the remaining little one pretty hard. Ern helped me catch them both and put them in the bottom of the chicken coup (my only free cage space!). That worked for 4 or 5 days, but then one of the kids let her out yesterday. I lacked the energy to catch her, so she’s in her own. As of this morning she still had it with her and was doing a much better job of keeping it right beside her.

Maybe most ducks are like chickens, and mine just had to figure it out, this being her first nest. I don’t know. Welsh Duck is setting a nest right now. Friday will make 3 weeks, so she’s not far from getting hers hatched. From the start this time I plan to catch her and the ducklings, and try to keep them locked up for a couple weeks. Once they get a little bigger to keep up with her better, I’ll let them free and hope for the best.

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