Please, please, please lock your ducks in a secure covered pen every night.
The night you forget or "just don't feel like it" will be the night the local predators discover your ducks.
My birds are ALWYS in a fenced yard. And that yard has an outer perimeter fence that is 4 feet high, as tight
to the ground as possible and also has 4 strands of very hot electric wire on the outside to ward off predators. There's
a reason the term "sitting duck" means a helpless victim!
Ducks need access to shade even in cold weather. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A folding chair will cast a shadow
big enough for 2 ducks.
I change all water on a daily basis.
They need access to water deep enough to rinse their nose and eyes, but shallow enough to climb out of. (Remember, I have
had one drown who climbed into my gooses’ bucket, but could not climb back out the steep sides.)
If food is available, they MUST have access to water to prevent choking.
All feed for ducks should be WITHOUT medication.
Inspect all feed for mold and/or bug infestation. Just because it's a new bag, doesn't mean it's clean.
DO NOT use moldy or bug infested feed. It can sicken or kill!
Don’t make their housing too airtight. A windbreak and a dry spot to rest should be sufficient to keep them warm
in our usually mild winters. I have been told that too warm a house will cause illness.
I provide my ducks with swimming water year round. Winter in central Virginia isn't usually too bad. At
worst this means hauling water in buckets in the morning and hoping the hose will work in the afternoon to rinse and drain
the pool. I've only had a couple days they had to go without their bath. My minimum goal is to get them
bath water at least once a week. A dirty duck is a poorly insulated duck who doesn't shed water in bad weather.
Indian Runner ducks are excellent foragers and are almost always on the move. They will find much of their own food
if they have access to plenty of grass and other places to search for bugs and little critters.
They seem a bit timid and easily frightened but they herd well and will trust you if you are quiet and slow when working
around them. This includes anytime you need to catch them. One wild chase around the yard will quickly destroy
a good trusting relationship. If they need to be caught, calmly walk them into a small pen and slowly corner them.
Quiet and slow are the keys to maintaining a trusting duck.
A nest box 18”x18”x18” should be available by early February so they can get used to it before they begin
to lay in late Feb. or March. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just provide a dark corner where they feel safe and you can
easily gather the eggs and change the nesting material. If they are not let out in the morning until 8:00AM, most of the eggs
should already be laid. Or you can do what I have decided to do - just make the entire floor of their night stall
out of wood! My girls over the years always used the nestboxes for just a little while and then would lay anywhere around
the pen they happened to be. This meant they dug down into the gravel beneath their bedding and churned it all up into
a big mess. I compost my used bedding and put it on the garden so we wound up with gravel in out compost - not cool.
Now, I have just a few ducks left and only one stall that is 8 x 8 and it doesn't matter where they lay because they hit plywood
rather than gravel or dirt. Their water bucket is on a wiremesh platform, so the plywood, which is on a thick layer
of gravel, has stayed dry and clean. Hurray!
The following probably applies more to young ducks than to adults: If they have been without water for some time, they
should be given lukewarm water first before being allowed to play in large quantities of cold water. They seem to be able
to chill themselves from the inside and will be found looking “drunk” or even lying flat out on the ground if
this has happened. They need to be put in a quiet place with a heat source and the room to move to cooler spot if they get
too hot. (You want to slowly WARM them, not cook them.) If they are saved, they should look good as new in a few hours.
I used to feed my ducks free-choice and always kept the feeders full. But now I give only measured amounts twice
daily. So they still nearly always have constant access to their food. Some sources recommend feeding only
what can be consumed in 5 minutes, but I have found my ducks gulp down pellets so quickly that they spend the next 10 minutes
trying to swallow. This doesn't seem like a wise method to me. Since my ducks have access to a large grassy yard
all day, they pop into the night pen periodically throughout the day for a quick bite and then run off to forage again.
So they get plenty of exercise and don't get overly fat, although I'm sure they are heavier than they should be if I wanted
to show. But seem to be the perfect weight for breeding and general good health.
I made the change from total free choice feeding in 2011 when one of my young hens prolapsed in late September. She
was NOT trying to lay an overly large egg. She was actually trying to lay two eggs in one sitting! She was NOT
on a high protein diet, nor was I using artificial light. I was actually feeding a rather low protein level and a low
corn content in order to try to keep them from getting fat as they always had in the past on the Duck Grower I had used for
years. But she was slightly slower to mature than some of my other hens, one of which began laying the day they all
turned 18 weeks old. When I got that first egg, I unthinkingly increased their feed to full out free choice essentially
overnight. The sudden increase in their access to feed apparently caused the prolapsed hen to start laying all sorts
of strange eggs. She did lay several unusually large double-yolked eggs, but she has, more alarmingly, laid 7 sets of
two eggs in one sitting! This is called Erratic Ovipostion and Defective Egg Syndrome. ( http://www.avian.uga.edu/documents/pip/2002/0302.pdf ) One egg has a very thick, rough, chalky shell and the second one as virtually no shell at all. Luckily,
the other hens were more mature than her and are doing just fine. She is too, so far, but she is still prolapsed and
is not co-operating in quitting laying yet. Which she must do in order to have any hope of recovering from the prolapse.
She and the hens keeping her company in sickbay are eating essentially just oats until they finally stop laying!
My normal adult ducks have been eating the following available in limited quantities twice daily:
- either PURINA Game Bird Flight Conditioner or PURINA Game Bird Maintenance Chow or PURINA Game Bird Breeder Layena
- all with up to 25% oats or oatmeal in order to control the protein level depending on their needs and body functions at
that time of year.
- Crushed Oyster Shells - free choice
- Granite grit - free choice
- Pasture forage for grass and bugs (during daylight hours)
- A small bit of cracked corn or scratch (VERY cold weather only)