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How to make ducks oily sooner?

 
Devin Smith
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I've raised several successful hatches of ducks. However, they are very difficult to take care of. I have to give them a bath a day for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Is there any way to make them oily sooner like there mother would so they can enter the pond sooner without drowning?

Is there some sort of oil that would mimic the mother's preening oil?
 
Zach Muller
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Hey devon welcome to permies. I am gearing up to get my first set of ducklings next spring so i am only researching at this point, but from what i have gathered you can give the ducks a very shallow pool of water, like a water dish to play in and bathe themselves. Does this not work with your ducks?
I would be weary of trying any other oil to waterproof them, or any soap to wash them, but maybe some more experienced duck raisers know better. One concern is their muscles might not be ready to swim in a deep pond, even if you oiled them up before their glands started producing.
 
Devin Smith
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Hey Zach,

You are sort of right. I could definitely give them a shallow dish of water. However, I'm raising about 25 ducks at a time. A shallow dish of water becomes a shallow dish of mud and poop in seconds. Also, if I am putting them outside to play in the colder months as I am now, a shallow dish of water that they can wet themselves with is a death sentence. A duckling cannot regulate its body temperature until as late as 10 weeks without the aid of its mothers oils.

I've had a few die just from a light rainfall and mild breeze despite their play area having a roof and some plastic added to cut the breeze.

Right now my current regimen with the ducks is as follows:

1. Take all ducks out from rubbermaid tubs fitted with wire floors and place them in a tub to transport.
2. Transport them down the hill where there is more grass and sun.
3. Place them in a rabbit tractor and move it a spot over onto fresh grass. This helps keep them from getting too disgusting and muddy.
4. Feed them and fill up shallow waterers that don't allow for bathing.
5. Come back at night to pick them up.
6. Bath time in the human bath tub with food.
6. Return them to their rubbermaid, wire floor tubs under heat lamps to dry off and sleep.

If my ducklings had natural oils like those ducklings with mothesr, they could just stay outside and play in a pool in the rabbit tractor until they were trained where to stay. Water and breeze wouldn't kill them.

 
Zach Muller
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Devan, yeah it sounds like a challenging situation, that sure is alot of work. If you add your location to your profile then people will know better how to respond with climate specific stuff. I have heard ducks arent very cold hardy, but i did not realize a slight rain and breeze could take them out. Down here where i am we see a lot of ducks that have migrated south, but even still i have been waiting for warmer weather to start things out.

Is there any way you could get some adult ducks to do all this work for you, and supply the oil? I have always done that with my chickens and they are very un intensive labor-wise. I have noticed they lay off the hatching in the winter months, which avoids a lot of the issues I would have trying to raise chicks in the winter. It would require a whole new structure and system, but it might be worth a shot considering how labor intensive things are now for you.
 
Devin Smith
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Zach,

I am in Western, NC in the mountains. This October has been anywhere from 35-80 degrees where I am. It's a very unpredictable month.

I want to be very clear so I don't dissuade you or anyone else from raising ducks. Ducks are VERY fragile (and expensive to feed) when young. However, after about 10 weeks of age they are practically indestructible and free.

While I have chickens getting coccidiosis or wry neck or Mareks, my ducks are chugging along without a problem. I raise Khacki Campbells and they lay all year long, even when my chickens are taking a break.
While I freerange both chickens and ducks, the ducks only require about 1/4 of the feed that the chickens do. They find most of their food in the form of insects and duckweed from the ponds and river. They lay every morning in the coop so I never have to search for eggs. The ducks even come home from foraging every day at 4-5pm like clockwork. They are like the Rain Man of the animal kingdom. They are very organized and predictable once they mature.

While I love them both. Overall, I highly prefer my ducks to my chickens if only in an economic and convenience sense.

Anyway, I think you are right. I have weighed heavily on the situation and have decided to only let the mothers hatch the ducklings from now on. I'll have to use a broodier breed. I have a Pekin and a Swede that might do it. I'm starting to realize it is much easier (and cheaper) for the mothers to raise ducklings for me than for me to do it myself.

However, I really want to find an oil substitute for the time being to try out.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I feel like a horrible duck-keeper. We raised two batches of ducklings, five of them from four weeks old, and four ducklings from a day old. We never bathed them until they had their mature feathers. They had clean bedding, clean water to dunk their heads in, and a heat lamp. They never got sick. Do they really need a bath if you keep them dry and warm and clean?

I'll be the first to admit, though, that it's a lot harder to keep 25 ducklings clean and dry than it is to keep four ducklings. Also, we kept ours mostly in the garage in a large (4x4 feet) container, and only put them out for limited times when it was really warm. I would bring them pelts of grass (full of worms and bugs), snails and slugs, as well as dandelion and other greens. Not the most natural upbringing, but they are good foragers and healthy...
 
Burra Maluca
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It might not be the oils that are the problem - it might be the actual heat supplied by the mother. Are you supplying any heat for them?
 
Devin Smith
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Burra- They receive heat every night with the heat lamps. With all due respect, this is my third flock of over 20 ducklings. I know that a jumpstart on oils is all they need to be more hardy. I simply can't believe there isn't a product or innovative solution out there.

Nicole - A few ducks should stay relatively sanitary with a clean water bowl to dunk their heads in. The main thing with ducklings is that they have water deep enough to clean their nostrils out. I've never allowed it to get that bad, but I hear they can become pretty ill if their nostrils can't be cleaned. I always use bathtub time with mine because the more a duck is exposed to water, the more they are putting their developing oil glands into practice. Also, it is really therapeutic for them as they are pretty cramped in their night time containers. In my experience, getting them outside in a rabbit tractor and swimming in the tub helps keep them from nipping each other and tearing out feathers. The longer it takes to be fully feathered and oiled, the longer it takes to go outside and be free and out of my hair for the most part. Then it's on to egg laying and meat making!





 
Burra Maluca
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There's a thread about this on the backyard chickens forum that you might find useful. Here's the link - http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/885830/oil-for-ducklings Their verdict seems to be that the problem is that artificially raised ducklings will wear their feathers out on the wood chips in the brooder, and that oil/wax itself is not the issue.

A good permaculture solution might be to invest in a couple of brood-ducks. I raise muscovies, and they are excellent at raising babies. I even have one duck that seems to go broody every time she sees a nest with enough eggs in it to be worth sitting on. A duck like that might save you a lot of work.
 
Devin Smith
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Burra - Thanks for the thread, but now I'm just really confused. It seems they are blaming wood chips for ruining the down feathers and claiming mother's oil isn't a factor?

My ducks don't use wood chips. They are either on a wire floor, on soil and fresh grass, or in the bathtub throughout the day. Also, in nature, the mother duck places her oil on the ducklings which prevents them from getting waterlogged and allows them to swim immediately.

Here's a general post on the subject: http://www.localharvest.org/blog/30404/entry/duckling_s_first_swim


 
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