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Ducks always molting--Why?!?!  RSS feed

 
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Update 12/29/2016: They've been laying and not molting for months now. YAY!!!

As I mentioned in this thread: https://permies.com/t/56524/ducks/critters/Ducks-lay-days-stop-months, my ducks just aren't laying. I've noticed that for at least 6 months, my ducks have not been laying (there was only two weeks during this whole spring/summer in which we got 5-7 eggs/day). They've been pretty much molting non-stop for 4 months. Currently, my seven anconas and one Golden 300 are all molting, leaving only my two runner ducks not-molting. It's been like this for months--some will lay, then go into molt just as others come out of molt. And, when they molt, they don't lay eggs.

It appears the ducks will only last about maybe 2 months without going back into molt...and then take about 2 months to finish molting.

Does anyone have any ideas as to why a ducks would molt this much, and why they wouldn't lay eggs while molting?

Here's background on the ducks. I have 9 female ducks that are 1-2 years of age (Four are 2 years old, 5 are one year old). We have one drake (so there's not too much pressure/stress from him). About 3 weeks ago we introduced a chicken pullet to our ducks (and went from 4 egg/day to 2 eggs). They are fed Organic Scratch and Peck feed. I feed them 7-8 cups of feed/day (about 3 pounds). I've continued to feed them more and more feed/day, and they look healthy but it doesn't seem to make any difference. They free range (though recently they'd been huddling on our patio all day due to a nearby bobcat. So they spend most of their time in their 1,700 sqft yard). They don't appear to be hiding their eggs anywhere, as we cooped them up once for two days straight (we went on vacation), and they laid the exact same amount of eggs/day as they did when let out at their normal (10:00am) time.

Any help would be much appreciated!
 
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Generally, ducks go through two molts a year. Before breeding season, the drakes will go into a partial molt to change from their basic plumage to their breeding plumage. After nesting season, both ducks and drakes will go into their full molt. Your ducks are likely going through their summer molt right now. (Mine don't lay during their molt either.) Normally, it only takes a couple of weeks for ducks to replace their body feathers. And perhaps another three weeks to replace their flight feathers. Although this process can be significantly delayed if they are not getting enough protein. What percentage are they getting in their feed?
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'm pretty sure some of them at least have molted twice this spring/summer, and they take so long to grow their feathers. Looking back at my older thread, I though some of them had molted twice from October until March. And, since March, they've molted again. Since October, there has always been at least two or three ducks molting/growing feathers at any given time. It's crazy!


This is their feed: https://www.scratchandpeck.com/shop/naturally-free-grower/, which has 17% protein. Metzer says laying ducks should get 17.5% (http://www.metzerfarms.com/NutritionalRequirements.cfm), and Holderread says 16%
(page 231 of Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks), which makes me think that their feed should be sufficient in protein. Right? They have (and eat) lots of bugs, slugs and spiders; so I would think that would also supplement protein. And, since I have it laying around from raising our chicken, I've been adding 1-2 cups of the chick starter feed, which has a protein content of 20.5%. The lady I bought my most recent three ducks from fed her layers broiler--and so probably 19% feed. And, I've also seen people cutting the grower feed with corn to reduce the protein amount. This all makes me really confused as to how much protein they should be getting. What percentage protein do you feed you ducks?

Thank you so much for your help!
 
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It might not be that helpful for you, but since you asked, this is what I do:

I only "feed" my ducks in the winter. They have free access to the feeders, which I fill with whatever is on sale at the feed store. So the percentage varies. In cold weather, I supplement this with scratch grains in the evening. And I give them as much as possible for as long as possible from the garden. Everything from brussels sprouts to winter squashes. But then I am not looking to increase egg production. They can have the break. (I wish I could afford better. But that is the truth. And I am working on growing more of my own feed so I won't have to buy any in in the future.)

My ducks free range during the growing season. They have access to 20 acres but they probably only use a quarter of that. They are particularly fond of drilling in the wet spots under the impact sprinkler. (When I bought this property, it was an old, abused, and weedy hayfield. It is getting better, but the grass still goes dormant in the summer if I don't use some irrigation. And I need the grass to feed the geese. They won't eat anything but lush new growth. Plus, there is nothing like cold deep well water to keep the flock cool on a hot summer day.) The ducks do still get plenty of extras from the garden. They love strawberries! And some scratch grains.

I can't think of any good reason for your ducks to go through repeated moltings like that. Perhaps it is a silly question, but have you checked them for mites?
 
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...and why they wouldn't lay eggs while molting? 


It takes a lot of protein to lay eggs.  It also takes a lot to moult.
Birds cannot do both at the same time.
It is either eggs, or new feathers, but NOT both at the same time.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Marissa Creston wrote:It might not be that helpful for you, but since you asked, this is what I do:

I only "feed" my ducks in the winter. They have free access to the feeders, which I fill with whatever is on sale at the feed store. So the percentage varies. In cold weather, I supplement this with scratch grains in the evening. And I give them as much as possible for as long as possible from the garden. Everything from brussels sprouts to winter squashes. But then I am not looking to increase egg production. They can have the break. (I wish I could afford better. But that is the truth. And I am working on growing more of my own feed so I won't have to buy any in in the future.)

My ducks free range during the growing season. They have access to 20 acres but they probably only use a quarter of that. They are particularly fond of drilling in the wet spots under the impact sprinkler. (When I bought this property, it was an old, abused, and weedy hayfield. It is getting better, but the grass still goes dormant in the summer if I don't use some irrigation. And I need the grass to feed the geese. They won't eat anything but lush new growth. Plus, there is nothing like cold deep well water to keep the flock cool on a hot summer day.) The ducks do still get plenty of extras from the garden. They love strawberries! And some scratch grains.

I can't think of any good reason for your ducks to go through repeated moltings like that. Perhaps it is a silly question, but have you checked them for mites?



I have not checked for mites! I will have my husband help me (hopefully today,  but it might be a while since he's working) and we'll look for mites. I never thought of that!

Feed costs are really high. It's frustrating, especially when the ducks are barely laying. Mine free range over about 2 acres...or at least had been until the bobcat came. Now they just huddle on the patio most of the day. But, even when they were actually free ranging, they still looked scrawny, so I've been adding more food. I wish I had the time/energy to process more of our own food for them. It's hard, because I read so much about how they would be laying like 250-300 eggs each per year, and it just isn't happening. We're not made of money, and it's hard feeding them more when money is tight. Thankfully they do have other benifits, like their fertilizer and how they've eaten almost all the spiders and slugs. I used to see spiders everywhere (take a step in the grass, and they would scatter and it would be like one spider per half inch!), and the slugs ate my garden. Now we no longer have the slug and spider problem. I just wish we had more eggs! And, I want them to be healthy, too, and all this molting makes me worry that I'm doing something wrong. .

John Polk wrote: It takes a lot of protein to lay eggs.  It also takes a lot to moult.
Birds cannot do both at the same time.
It is either eggs, or new feathers, but NOT both at the same time.



I can understand that, but then why do I read about people who's ducks keep laying through their molt? Or, that these ducks can lay 250-300 eggs/year each? That just can't happen if they molt two times for over a month each molt, right?!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Well, here's the next update. Our large "ancona" started laying her big green eggs. While our two faithful runner ducks kept producing. Those two have been laying for probably 3 months straight...and the only ones consistently laying. They started molting, but kept laying their light green and white egg per day.

Then, one of them choked on something and died . Then we just had our one big green egg. Then the Golden 300 started laying large white eggs. For about a week, we've been getting two eggs per day.

Except for the runner duck who is rapidly re-growing feathers, all the other ducks (5 anconas) look like they've regrown all their feathers...and none of them are laying...and most haven't laid since probably April (four months ago).

I really wish I knew what their problem is.

We only have 9 ducks now, 8 females 1-2 years of age. I've continued to increase their feed (8-10 cups=four pounds/day. That's about 3 pounds per duck per week, which is a pound more than the feed's manufacturer suggests: https://www.scratchandpeck.com/wp-content/uploads/Feeding-Guide-Ducks_2015.pdf) . I've been giving them most of their feed right before I put them away for the night, to encourage them to forage more. It's twice the amount of feed as I was feeding them in March, and there's two less ducks now then there were back then (they used to get 1.2pounds fermented feed per duck per week, now it's three pounds unfermented/duck/week. I had to stop fermenting because the heat was causing Khan yeast which my pregnant self couldn't stand smelling).

I just don't understand why they aren't laying!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Well, they finally all stopped molting, and for a little over a week, they've been pumping out 6-7 eggs a day! I have no idea how long it will last, as fall is upon us, but I'm going to continue feeding them like I have (8 cups of food: 2 cups in the morning, 1+ cup at 2:00 in the afternoon to lure them into their safe duck yard, and 4-5 cups a few minutes before I put them in their house, and then 1 more cup to lure them into their house). They all look well-fed but not overweight now, so hopefully I'm feeding them the right amount.

Here's hoping they keep up the good work, and don't start molting again!
 
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I wonder if they could be carrying too high of an internal parasite load?  Might be worth it to have a vet do a fecal float test. 

I think I'm going to try this natural autumn deworming protocol with my ducks, geese, and chickens:

http://www.moonlightmileherbs.com/Fall_Season_Herbal_Wormer_&_Alterative_BYP_Oct_Nov_2009.pdf

Basically it entails offering fresh pumpkin, chopped garlic, grated carrot, and dandelion greens.  The herbalist who wrote the protocol explained elsewhere that she developed this regimen while having a vet monitor the parasite load in her chickens and it was found to be beneficial. I figure it can't hurt to try that although my flock isn't showing signs of having worms.

Anyway, if you are still having trouble with them not laying even with the increased feed, consider checking for internal parasites.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thankfully, the ducks still seem to be laying happily for me, even with the days getting shorter. They haven't molted again, and I'm still getting 6-8 eggs/day, from 8 female ducks!

It's actually a bit tooooo many eggs for our family of three, but I'd rather have too many than none at all! I have a feeling that if I cut back their food any (I've tried doing a cup less/day) that they will all just stop laying again. So, I just keep up with the feeding. We've got a good 10 dozen duck eggs stashed up now, and that's with giving/trading quite a few dozen away! But, I figure if they stop laying again, we'll have eggs to keep us fed through that time.

Thanks for the heads-up on the parasites. I'll try that if they revert their always-molting/never-laying habit despite all the extra food!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Figured I should give another duck-update, especially since I've got more good news .

While we lost 1 duck (down to 7 laying ducks and one drake), we have continued to get 3-5 eggs/day. Our blue egg-layer stopped for a while, and just started up on Christmas. So while some ducks have stopped laying for a while, other's have continued or started back up.

We actually have more eggs than we can handle--yikes! My husband was diagnosed with Crohn's and egg whites mess with him. My newborn that I'm nursing had acid reflux which acts up when I eat eggs, and my 3 year old sure can't eat 5 duck eggs/day! I'm thinking we need to start selling/trading these eggs, because we have a backlog of about 140 eggs  . Anyone want some eggs?   

I currently feed the 8 ducks and 1 chicken a total of 8 cups of feed per day. They are also merrily chowing down on the frost-softened grass and whatever bugs they can find (they free-range for about 4-5 hours/day, and then go to their large pen until sunset, which is usually another 2 hours). So, if anyone is facing a similar dilemma as I had months back, there is hope!
 
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I've followed this post and your other one and I'm in almost the same situation you were before the ducks started laying.

Also in pacific northwest, 5 ancona hens and 1 drake. We also have a couple dozen chickens, so I don't have as precise numbers for amount of feed.
There is "unlimited" feed available at all times, which is the dry poultry crumbles in a big bin with the 3" PVC elbows to let the birds stick their heads in and eat without being able to waste all the food. I've seen the ducks use this as well as the chickens.

Additionally, once a day all birds are fed fermented feed which is a mix of layer pellets, scratch & peck grains, and sometimes additional oats because we have a big bag of them. The ducks always get plenty of this since the chickens seem kind of scared of them.

They also get human food scraps, some weeds from the garden, and have a couple acres to free range on that's a mix of light forest, and grass (though more of a lawn than a pasture now).

Except at night, they have access to bathing water.

One day we got our first egg, and got one egg/day for the next 2 days, and then nothing since. Similar to your situation, we tried keeping them in the coop/run area longer to make sure they weren't hiding eggs, but no luck.

I enjoy the birds and this is just a homestead operation, but so far the reality isn't matching up to the reports of ducks being serious egg layers.

So I'm curious if there were any changes that you attributed to getting them to start laying? I read both your threads but sort of seems like just stay the course, keep feeding them and wait? Unless I missed something?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Higher protein feed! Mine are molting now, and I'm getting 2 eggs from 7 layers. But, I've found they lay better while molting, and finish molting sooner if I give them higher protein feed.

I increase their protein 1 of 2 ways...neither of which I'm sure are the "right" way, but they seem to work:

  • Cat food! They LOVE eating/stealing my cat food. FOr a while, I'd put out an extra bowl of cat food in addition to their normal feed, and they gobbled it up. A bit expensive, though, and I'm not sure it's the best way to go


  • Mix in--or just feed--them chickstarter. It has a higher protein content, and I was told that with mixed age flocks to just feed for the youngest. I noticed that the ducks are often molting the same time they are rearing ducklings, and they seem to get back to laying faster if I give them the chickstarter. So, now I supplement with chickstarter when they're laying slows down.


  • Since I've started feeding them more, and giving them more protein when they're molting, I get 2-7 eggs per day from the 9 layers (two layers right now have ducklings, so I don't expect eggs from them). I get eggs all year round--it's just in the winter it's more like 1-3 eggs, and in the spring it's 6-8 eggs, and when they're molting it's 2-4 eggs.
     
    Robert Russell
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    Thanks for the info! We're feeding chick starter right now in the 'always available' dry food bin because we have a bunch of chicks hatched this spring/summer, and the ferment is that + extra grains too. But I have no idea what % of each feed the ducks are actually eating, or if they're filling up on greens as they forage. So far I've been following the technique of providing excess of everything and letting the birds choose - but maybe they're filling up on junk?

    I'll start doing some experiments to boost the protein levels for a few weeks and see if that helps. We've been feeding some cats that showed up under our house and have seen chickens devour cat food if the cats don't eat it fast enough, but the ducks haven't seen it yet.

    I'm also curious if you do anything intentional regarding calcium? It seems with chickens extra protein is for growing chicks, and the laying specific feed has additional calcium rather than protein. Do your ducks have any specific source of calcium available, or just what they get in the starter feed?
     
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    I supplement with both oyster shells and the crushed egg shells (I save the egg shells after I use the egg, dry them out on the woodstove or in the oven, and then add them to their oyster shells). The ducks just go over and eat the oyster shell/egg shells when they need more calcium.

    It's actually pretty neat doing it this way, because it gives a pretty good indication of which birds are the layers at any given time. If they're eating the oyster/egg shells, they probably laid an egg that morning!
     
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