The Retarded Ducklings

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These are 5-week old ducklings and they look horrific. There were 17 of these hatched and as of today there are 5 ducklings left. How can such a thing happen?

Three weeks ago our sow Number 1 farrowed. This meant all of my attention went to Number 1 and her piglets. I also became very busy with the boar Bootleg who became sick and didn’t eat for nearly 5 days. With all of my time devoted to the pigs, I delegated the feeding of ducklings to someone else.

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The result are these. These ducklings were overfed. Their crops expanded bigger than their bodies. These ducklings were also overfed with adult duck food: hog mash with rice hull mixed with chopped banana trunks. Such types of food given at enormous quantities block and damage the crops of these birds. This result to a distorted growth and shape of the ducklings and an appearance that make them look stunted or retarded. Their eyes are sunken and stark as if they were mad.

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A couple of months ago, I was able to salvage a group of ducklings from a similar morbid fate. I saw the signs of overfeeding: blocked crops larger than their bodies, stark look in their eyes, wet and unruly feathers. If not too late, the ducklings may be rescued by changing their feed immediately to one that is easily digestible, for example, a simple pelleted feed base that has at least 14% protein. To help the ducklings unblock their crops, I placed a small basin of sand and water in their pen. Ducks use sand and small rocks to aid in digesting and grinding food in their crops.

However, 12 of these duckling were beyond repair. The remaining 5 don’t look any better. I didn’t see the problem sooner. For some reason, no matter how many times we explain, our caretaker couldn’t quite understand why animals shouldn’t be overfed. Out of a great love for the creatures, she became quite capable of killing them.

So, if you’re keeping ducklings, don’t overfeed them. Ducks are natural gluttons and they will gorge themselves, something which can be fatal to young ducklings.

As they say, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. You can’t go on a holiday.

The Infanticidal Duck

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Several months ago, we decided to buy a pair of coloured ducks. Since all of your ducks are white (with the exception of Twisty which was given to us in exchange for one of our white ones), we thought it would be a good idea to introduce some colour into the flock.

The pair are adults, mature and suitable for breeding. Because of their colour, we call them “Daffy.” They came from a farm similar to ours which allows ducks to open range. We placed them in the duck fattening pen to get them used to the new place and prevent them from escaping and returning to where they came from.

In “captivity”, the pair mated and produced 11 eggs. Before the duck hen sat on the eggs, she took one egg out and broke it. This, in retrospect, was a sign of stress. Something which I should’ve addressed immediately.

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The eggs were laid on the ground, as ducks often prefer, in one corner of the pen. We placed a sack on one side of the pen in order to cover the eggs from view. However, the duck hen and the eggs are visible at the back and side.

When the duck hen sat on the eggs, we took out the drake to prevent him from forcibly mating her. Our alpha drake, Daddy Duck, encountered this new drake, danced along with him and started a fight. The new drake was easily subdued. This ritual, which would take place again in the next couple of days, established the hierarchy in the flock. After such, there was peace and order.

In the meantime, the duck hen dutifully sat on her eggs and I thought it was fine. Until after 35 days when the eggs hatched in the late afternoon, the nightmare would become apparent in the early morning.

I heard cackling noises from the fattening pen, the type of noise made by ducks when they are angry. When I looked, I saw the massacre of ducklings. Two ducklings still inside their eggs were pecked to death, two ducklings were crushed in the nest, five ducklings were found dead outside the pen as if desperately trying to run away from something. I found one duckling still alive, placed it in a box with a heating lamp but it died within a few hours.

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The duck hen, new to the environment, surrounded by unfamiliar people and ducks, was deeply stressed and threatened, prompting her to break one of her eggs and thereafter killing all her ducklings. I am yet to become familiar with signs of stress in ducks and I did not see this until too late.

The duck hen has since been released with her mate and all the other ducks. Both are doing fine. We provide shelter and nesting covers for our ducks and leave it to them to choose where they would like to nest. The drake has sired one duckling as seen in the latest hatchling, and we hope he will have more. The duck hen, in the meantime, has not yet laid new eggs. Perhaps later, in her own time and place.

If the behaviour of breaking eggs and killing ducklings persist, the duck hen will need to be culled.

The Ugly Duckling …

… is really a bully duckling. It was sometime in March 2015 when I noticed the behaviour of one of many ducklings, one so determined to provoke and beat up anyone it came across. I was able to capture this hilarious though troublesome behaviour on video, below. You can see the mother trying to stop the bully duckling but to no avail.

I don’t know what has happened to this duckling – whether it is still around (unlikely, since all of our ducks are not so unruly but I’m willing to accept that the duckling could’ve undergone a religious experience 😉 ). Or it could have died while still young (we’ve had high mortality rates, as the duck population exploded, mostly due to crushing by larger ducks and aggressive pecking by chickens over food, not to mention being eaten by predators such as cats, snakes, large birds and monitor lizards). Or it could’ve grown up and was made into a stew.

Luckily, as they are free-range, ducklings can get away from aggressive behaviour like this. But once ducklings are kept inside coops and there happens to be a bully duckling amongst them, then there might be some real trouble. For now, we have been keeping very young ducklings in coops to protect them from predators and crushing, as well as to give them the chance to eat and get the strength they need without competition from larger ducks and chickens. So far so good.

If we ever have a bully duckling in the coop, it would be necessary to separate that duckling from the rest. But thank goodness ducks are generally not so prone to fighting as chickens are.