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Just starting out with ducks

 
Kalin Brown
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I picked up 3 welsh harlequins yesterday. This is our first experience with ducks. We have a small 1/4" acre urban lot and got them for eggs and slug patrol. 3 is all we are allowed by city bylaws. I foresee a couple of challenges.

1. Socializing them with our dog, and our dog with them. Worst case scenario they get free range of the whole property while I am at work, and then get herded into the 1400sqft fenced garden area when I get home in the afternoon.
2. Teaching them to lay in one area. Not looking forward to an easter egg hunt every day to find where they've been laying. Too many places they could hide their eggs. I might have to go brush under some of the thicker shrubs so I can get to them.
3. Herding them back to their duck house in the evening. It went ok yesterday, certainly better than I had expected... although one of them leaped onto and knocked over a tomato plant in the process. I am sure it will get easier as they get to know us and associate going to their house with treats and food.

What have been some of your challenges first starting out with ducks? What has made the whole process easier for you?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Teaching them to come for food/into the house at night is hard. We have a giant salmonberry patch in the middle of their yard, and for months it would take two of us to get them out of the brush and into their house. I think a large part of the problem was that we were scaring them (which worked for about a month to get them out of the brush, then they just hunkered down). You can also keep them in the house for a day so that they learn that it is home.

Other tricks to herding them is using one bowl for food helps, and singing a song while you feed them helps, and luring them with bits of food also helps in the beginning. Also, carry the bowl of food when you're trying to lure/herd them. Soon they'll follow you when ever they see it. For a while, to get them used to it, you can feed them only in their duck house, to train them that that is the place for food.

Now, whenever the ducks see me (especially if I'm carrying any sort of bowl), they come running. My ducks free range when I'm home, and then I herd them into their enclosure when we are going to be gone. Feeding them a little and singing their song really helped get them to come running into the enclosure. I used to herd them, now they all actually follow me and try to trip me!

One nice thing I noticed is that if you end up adding a duck to your flock (due to a death), the new duck will take maybe three days to a week to get trained to the same level as your other ducks. Which is really nice!

As for getting them to lay in their house, adding some nice nesting boxes helps, and so does keeping them in there until 9:00am. Also putting a fake egg in their nesting box (golf balls work, but not as much as the fake eggs). Having said that, my ducks may very well be laying in salmonberry bushes all over the property, and I would never know...
 
Kalin Brown
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Teaching them to come for food/into the house at night is hard. We have a giant salmonberry patch in the middle of their yard, and for months it would take two of us to get them out of the brush and into their house. I think a large part of the problem was that we were scaring them (which worked for about a month to get them out of the brush, then they just hunkered down). You can also keep them in the house for a day so that they learn that it is home.

Other tricks to herding them is using one bowl for food helps, and singing a song while you feed them helps, and luring them with bits of food also helps in the beginning. Also, carry the bowl of food when you're trying to lure/herd them. Soon they'll follow you when ever they see it. For a while, to get them used to it, you can feed them only in their duck house, to train them that that is the place for food.

Now, whenever the ducks see me (especially if I'm carrying any sort of bowl), they come running. My ducks free range when I'm home, and then I herd them into their enclosure when we are going to be gone. Feeding them a little and singing their song really helped get them to come running into the enclosure. I used to herd them, now they all actually follow me and try to trip me!

One nice thing I noticed is that if you end up adding a duck to your flock (due to a death), the new duck will take maybe three days to a week to get trained to the same level as your other ducks. Which is really nice!

As for getting them to lay in their house, adding some nice nesting boxes helps, and so does keeping them in there until 9:00am. Also putting a fake egg in their nesting box (golf balls work, but not as much as the fake eggs). Having said that, my ducks may very well be laying in salmonberry bushes all over the property, and I would never know...


I sure I hope I can manage to train them as well as you have trained yours! So far it's not going very well. I can't lure them with food because they wont come near me even for food. If my husband is also home (which he isn't always as he works shift work) we can herd them. If its just me, my best chance is to catch them hunkered down in the jerusalem artichokes and carry them to their house. They're ok once I've caught them, but they don't like to let me get that close. I think I am going to move their house today so it is beside a fence they like to patrol back and forth by, and then put up another wire fence angling away from the house a bit to create a sort of funnel... then I can just herd them toward their fence and along it until they get funneled into their house. It'll be so much less stressful for the ducks than me chasing them all over the yard or garden trying to get them to go where I want or having to catch them. But maybe some day they will follow me for food, or come when I have a food bowl. It just doesn't seem likely at the moment. They had already reached laying age when I got them. I'm sure it would have been easier raising them from ducklings... I'm not as worried about the egg-laying situation now, as our dog has already proved he can find and retrieve them without breaking them for us. So even if they lay them out of the area we have provided its not too big a deal. So glad we taught him the "find game" when he had an injured knee and needed something to occupy his time while housebound...
 
Miranda Converse
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If their house is big enough, I would leave them in there for about a week so they know that is home then start letting them free range again. One of the biggest realizations that has helped me out so much is that ducks do not like to go to bed before they are ready. I basically have to wait until the sun is already setting before putting them to bed. Once it's dawn, they tend to start meandering towards their pen and usually will gather around the entrance or just go in on their own. Then all I have to do is walk towards them with my arms out and they just walk right in.

I would absolutely stop chasing them and picking them up. It's not easy to gain a ducks trust and it's even easier to lose it. If you have to herd them, walking slow and steady towards them, with your arms out is the best way. If they start veering to one direction you just take a small step in that direction and they will turn back on course, if you go too fast they will overcorrect in the other direction. It takes some practice but after a while they will realize you are just trying to get them to bed and they will head that way when you walk towards them.

As far as eggs go; I spent months trying to get my ducks to lay in the coop and finally I figured out if I just left one of their eggs behind (I guess they could tell the difference between their eggs and the wooden eggs I tried), they would lay in that spot like clockwork. I just make sure I don't leave the same egg everyday. If I take all of the eggs for some reason, they will all lay in random spots until they collectively decide that one spot is better than another and they will get back to laying there like clockwork again. Might sound weird to leave an egg out all day but if you think about it, a bird will lay eggs for up to a week before sitting on them to hatch and they are still fine.
 
Kalin Brown
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Miranda Converse wrote:If their house is big enough, I would leave them in there for about a week so they know that is home then start letting them free range again. One of the biggest realizations that has helped me out so much is that ducks do not like to go to bed before they are ready. I basically have to wait until the sun is already setting before putting them to bed. Once it's dawn, they tend to start meandering towards their pen and usually will gather around the entrance or just go in on their own. Then all I have to do is walk towards them with my arms out and they just walk right in.

I would absolutely stop chasing them and picking them up. It's not easy to gain a ducks trust and it's even easier to lose it. If you have to herd them, walking slow and steady towards them, with your arms out is the best way. If they start veering to one direction you just take a small step in that direction and they will turn back on course, if you go too fast they will overcorrect in the other direction. It takes some practice but after a while they will realize you are just trying to get them to bed and they will head that way when you walk towards them.

As far as eggs go; I spent months trying to get my ducks to lay in the coop and finally I figured out if I just left one of their eggs behind (I guess they could tell the difference between their eggs and the wooden eggs I tried), they would lay in that spot like clockwork. I just make sure I don't leave the same egg everyday. If I take all of the eggs for some reason, they will all lay in random spots until they collectively decide that one spot is better than another and they will get back to laying there like clockwork again. Might sound weird to leave an egg out all day but if you think about it, a bird will lay eggs for up to a week before sitting on them to hatch and they are still fine.


Believe me, I wouldn't have been picking them up and taking them to their house if I could avoid it. But I can spend literally an hour trying to herd them and get nowhere because they just do circles around shrubs and sheds and whatnot and I really don't want to leave them out to be eaten by a bear or raccoon, both of which we have plenty around. I have to make a funnel by the fence where they already like to hang out and move the house so I can herd them down the funnel and into the house. It's the only way I can see that won't be stressful to the ducks and will allow me to keep my sanity and not still be out in the yard well after dark with a flashlight trying to get them to bed. My husband is home again today, so we will be able to move the house (I can't do it on my own.)
 
Kalin Brown
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Kalin Brown wrote:
Miranda Converse wrote:If their house is big enough, I would leave them in there for about a week so they know that is home then start letting them free range again.


How big is big enough to leave them in it for a whole week?
 
Miranda Converse
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Kalin Brown wrote:
Kalin Brown wrote:
Miranda Converse wrote:If their house is big enough, I would leave them in there for about a week so they know that is home then start letting them free range again.


How big is big enough to leave them in it for a whole week?


Well I have a pen that's about 8x24ft and I would feel alright leaving my 10 ducks in there for a week if I needed to. I would think that 3 ducks would be fine in something a bit smaller as long as it gets some sunlight and fresh air. When I first got ducks, I had 3 and they stayed in my entryway (little area receded into my house) for a month or two. That area is maybe 4x8. Not sure of your setup but if you just have something like a chicken coop, you could easily build them a run with a couple t-posts and the black net fencing. I don't recall the name of the fencing but it's fairly cheap and super easy to put up. I got a couple rolls from lowes for my garden. Just make sure you don't get the deer fence as that is made like fishnet stockings and super easy for things to get tangled in. And if you go this route, you'll still want to put them somewhere secure at night but they'll be in a much smaller area so easier to coral...
 
Kalin Brown
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So... the funnel worked great last night! I was able to put the ducks to bed by myself in less than 5 minutes and without stressing them out at all. By the time they had been funneled down far enough to realize there was a fence on the other side of them it was too late and they just continued on down into their house without fuss, I closed the door, gave them their food and that was that. Whew, what a difference!
 
Miranda Converse
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Awesome, I'm glad you got it worked out!
 
Kalin Brown
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So it has been a week or so and I no longer even need the funnel. The ducks put themselves to bed at night and all I have to do is go out and lock up. They have become one of the easiest animals to care for, and a lot quicker than I imagined!
 
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