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Ducks not laying, winter water solutions

 
Destiny Hagest
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Location: Little Belt Mountains, MT
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I have a few questions about ducks, and after perusing the forums just can't quite find the solution I'm looking for. So here we go:

Climate:

Central Montana, zone 3b, first and lost frost dates around Sept 3 and June 6, respectively. Heavy annual snowfall of around 110". Montane, elevation about 3,800 feet. Hot, dry summers, low humidity. Acidic soil.

What we have:

3 adult Peking females
2 juvenile Magpies (unsexed)
1 juvenile Khaki (unsexed)

Enclosure:

We rent, so we don't like to free range (they've wandered into our neighbors' yard before). Right now we have them in "the duck paddock", with a kiddie pool for wading, a rubber bowl for drinking, and an enclosed shelter filled with hay. We'll be moving them into the garden in a couple of weeks to work the soil and eat the greens that are left over, and likely insulating our hoop coop to be their new, more portable house.

Feed:

We give an assortment - raw oats from a ranch up the road, meat bird pellets (chicken food), and raw wheat (again, local stuff), and the occassional greens or sunflower seed fodder. When the weather's nice, we free range the pekings, but the other 3 will just wander off. We need to get them in a paddock shift system, but with winter pretty much here already, it's time to just get them situated for the season.

Problem #1

The Pekings laid an egg a day apiece roughly when we first got them (a few months ago, they were already fully grown, age unknown). They went through a molt for about 6 weeks, no eggs, then started laying again. I'd guess they haven't laid in two months now. There was a heavy molt, but now that that appears to be over, still no eggs.

These ducks are funny and charismatic, but almost seem too big for their own good - they seem to have a hard time walking sometimes, and they remind me of a cornish cross that's allowed to live past the 8 week mark, just too big to really function. But I can't decide if that's really a part of the problem, or some other underlying issue.

I don't want to have to butcher, but these girls go through a TON of feed in a day, and living in 3b, there are only so many things I can do here to grow food for them. We rent on a limited parcel of land, so options are tricky.

Problem #2

Winter water - how do you do it without winding up with an ice rink in your yard from dumping it? The ground here stays frozen at least 4 months out of the year. I get that I could provide them with a large heated dog bowl (we have electrical access at least), but I have a feeling this is going to get messy fast.

Problem #3

Feed costs - I feel like our feed is not ideal right now, but I'm hard pressed to diversify it any more than we already have. We have a grow area setup upstairs, so I'm going to try to get some greens going to put in planters in the windows of our interior, but that's about it. fodder system will continue, but worm bins, as many have suggested, won't really be possible unless we do it in the greenhouse, which will definitely freeze without an auxiliary heat source or compost pile, which we don't really have because we feed everything to our chickens.


So now I'm wondering if ducks are even really practical in this climate? In keeping with the ideas of permaculture, and working within nature's natural rules, am I just trying to make something work that maybe isn't designed to work in this climate? I suppose the local waterfowl fly south for good reason
 
Marissa Creston
Posts: 29
Location: Flathead, Montana
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I know you are renting, but what is the possibility of digging a small hole for the purpose of winter water disposal? If so, you might want to dig a narrow hole that runs deeper than the frost line and insert a perforated pipe into it. As long as you place an insulated plug inside (a pool noodle might work) and/or an insulated cover over the top, you should be able to infiltrate water all winter. Of course, this supposes that you have access to a post hole digger, manual or otherwise.
 
steve bossie
Posts: 248
Location: Northern Maine (zone 3b-4a)
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im in zone 3b and have kept chickens and ducks through our harsh winters. the ducks actually take the cold better than the chickens do. for water i used  a large metal dish with a small pond heater in it sitting on a block of wood. i place a piece of plywood cut about a in. bigger than the top which i cut out 5 slots just big enough for their heads to get in to drink. if left open ducks will try and bathe, making a mess! i put a brick on top to keep the plywood from moving. had got down to -35f a few times with no water freeze up! once you go below 15hrs of daylight your ducks will start to lay less and less. to fix this i put a hanging lamp with a 12w dimable led light on a timer so they get about 17hrs total with the natural daylight. i use led as its cheaper on electricity and gives off no heat so the birds remain cold hardy. when its forecast to go -20f or colder i put a 150w heat lamp to come on the coldest time in the morning and help heat them some in their nests. hope this helps. good luck!
 
steve bossie
Posts: 248
Location: Northern Maine (zone 3b-4a)
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i also get  bread from a local bakery that has expired. get a whole barrel for $7! if theres one near you this could help you feed them for pretty cheap! ducks , esp peking do eat a lot!
 
Nicole Alderman
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I've read that Pekins aren't the best layers out there (laying only 140 eggs/year under optimum conditions with supplementary lighting, rather than 240-300 like the better layers.). So, even with supplemental lighting and lots of feed, they're only going to give you so many eggs . And, since they are such a large breed, they're going to need a lot of feed to make those eggs, especially as it gets colder and they need more to keep warm. So, the problem may not be so much the fact that you have ducks, but rather the fact that you have pekin ducks.

The question then becomes do you want to keep throwing feed/money at them as pets with benefits, sell them, or eat them. If you want to keep them, there might be some things to help them lay more. I remember reading (and being told by my feed company's nutrionalist) that winter is a good time to supplement with corn, because they need those extra calories to stay warm. So, perhaps adding in corn might help feed them for cheaper and maybe get them laying again. Adding a light can help with the egg production through the darker months, but that comes with it's own downsides, too (for me, power outages meant their light went out, which really messed with my poor ducks, so I stopped using supplementary light).

Also, I'm coming to the realization that it seems my ducks (6 anconas, 1 runner duck, and 1 Golden 300) will either lay next to no eggs if I don't feed them enough. But, if I feed them a lot (9-10 cups for 9 ducks and 1 pullet), they will all lay pretty much an egg/day. That's twice as much as I was feeding before, and so is rather expensive! But, at least now I'm getting eggs, whereas before I was spending half the money but getting no eggs. It seems like they're an all-or-nothing animal. Mine are still laying 6-8 eggs/day for 8 laying ducks, even as the days get shorter, though we'll see what happens as it actually gets cold and the days even shorter!

Oh, and like Steve said, ask and see if any food co-ops or groceries nearby have veggie scraps you could feed to your ducks. For a while, our local food co-op would give us their old veggies. It meant we had to cut them up, sort out the unedibles, and take off stickers. This was a lot of work, but it did give them free food. Also, as the food rots, it will bring flies (though probably not in your climate!). The food, if uneaten, will also bring rats (something I'm now dealing with since we lost our cat). 
 
Destiny Hagest
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I've read that Pekins aren't the best layers out there (laying only 140 eggs/year under optimum conditions with supplementary lighting, rather than 240-300 like the better layers.). So, even with supplemental lighting and lots of feed, they're only going to give you so many eggs . And, since they are such a large breed, they're going to need a lot of feed to make those eggs, especially as it gets colder and they need more to keep warm. So, the problem may not be so much the fact that you have ducks, but rather the fact that you have pekin ducks.


I was worried about this - they're such beautiful ducks, but not at all practical to keep for eggs it seems. I may see if someone would like to adopt them, rather than butchering them. I don't know if I have it in me at this point in the game.

Nicole Alderman wrote:Also, I'm coming to the realization that it seems my ducks (6 anconas, 1 runner duck, and 1 Golden 300) will either lay next to no eggs if I don't feed them enough. But, if I feed them a lot (9-10 cups for 9 ducks and 1 pullet)


That's about what we feed, if not more to the Pekins alone. And they're such crummy foragers! Our other three are always eating greens and rooting for worms, but these guys just lay around all day quacking for more feed, it's ridiculous!

Maybe I just need to start with rehoming the Pekins, and then building a flock of layers?

steve bossie wrote:for water i used  a large metal dish with a small pond heater in it sitting on a block of wood. i place a piece of plywood cut about a in. bigger than the top which i cut out 5 slots just big enough for their heads to get in to drink. if left open ducks will try and bathe, making a mess! i put a brick on top to keep the plywood from moving. had got down to -35f a few times with no water freeze up!


This is a really good idea - Steve, how tall was your container though? I'm not sure if I've seen a metal water trough that wasn't too tall for my ducks to submerge their nostrils in.

steve bossie wrote:once you go below 15hrs of daylight your ducks will start to lay less and less.


We live in a canyon as well, the winter sunrises are at about 1030 am, and sunset around 330-4, very little direct sunlight, and only about 8 hours of daylight. It's very challenging. We use lights for our chickens and were planning to use one for our ducks as well.
 
steve bossie
Posts: 248
Location: Northern Maine (zone 3b-4a)
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hi destiny! i got the metal dish at tractor supply . its 16in. by 4in. high got it sitting on 2 pieces of 2 by 6. i agree peking are not great layers. good meat birds but you sound like me. too attached to butcher them. if you want to start out come spring with laying ducks check out metzger farms webpage in cali. they have a hybrid 300 duck they have bred esp. for laying and they lay more than most breed of chickens. i really prefer ducks for all the above reasons. the smaller breeds aren't messy like peking are. it looks like you will need lighting for sure if you want them to lay in the winter. makes sure you get the eggs early in the am or they'll freeze! good luck!
 
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