We have made the decision to expand our flock of ducks. We enjoy having them around and would like to pursue options for selling ducklings and eggs.
Because of our desire to expand our flock, we need to make a brood box for the newest birds on our homestead. Caring for ducks has proven to be rather simple and while we have learned lessons on the way and made a few mistakes, we still feel like the successes have been greater than the failures and we have lost no ducks due to our mistakes. (We have lost a few naturally hatched ducklings to hawks, but the scarecrow has made a big difference!)
One hang-up of doing this now is that autumn is quickly approaching and winter arrives even more quickly here. So I am going to need to be prepared to offer our new ducklings some extra heat to help them until they no longer need it. I will explain my plans for that later.
We will be getting four new ducklings (two buffs, a Welsh Harlequin, and crested Pekin) this week. These will all be female ducklings. We intend to potentially sell ducklings and eggs, so we don’t really need any more drakes (two is plenty). But these ducklings will need to slowly be integrated into our flock. To do that, I will be trying something a little different than a lot of duck owners have done. I want to set up a brood box and keep the ducklings in the duck house overnight with our other ducks so they can hear each other. Once it gets light outside, I intend to go outside with the ducklings and watch them with our other established ducks. I have read that it is possible one of our females will adopt the new ducklings and care for them, but it’s also possible none of them will.
So, we are going to see how to best integrate the newest flock members as we go along. Having never done this (only integrated naturally hatched ducklings to a flock, which was pretty easy, looking back) this is going to be a trial and error situation. But I’ve found the best way to learn, is to do it!
SETTING UP A BROOD BOX
To get the brood box ready, you will need:
- poultry feeder
- poultry waterer
- poultry food (I prefer the crumbles and avoid the pellets, especially for ducklings)
- large storage box (dollar store finds are cheap and work well)
- heat lamp
*Ducklings hatched from farms and shipped won’t be able to stay warm as well as those who have been hatched naturally, at least not for a little while. Once they developed their feathers, they won’t need the extra heat from the lamp. My hope is that I can integrate them into the flock by the time they get feathers, so we can remove the heat lamp at the same time.
Lay down straw on the bottom of the large plastic box/storage tub. DO NOT USE CARDBOARD! Ducks are incredibly messy with their water and that includes day-old ducklings. A cardboard box will quickly be ruined. After laying down straw (I like to completely cover the bottom of the box), fill their food container and waterer. I choose to put these in opposite corners of the box to keep the food drier. Again, ducks will get water all over the place, and even in places you would never imagine they could even get water to!
Once you have your food and water in there, you need to position your heat lamp. Hang a heat lamp above their brood box about 18 inches above the bedding. One heat lamp can provide enough warmth for about 35 ducklings, so if you have more than that, you’ll probably need to set up a second heat source. We have 4, so one lamp will provide plenty of heat. After you hang the lamp, you will need to watch the ducklings’ reaction to it and make adjustments accordingly.
If the baby ducks are noisy and all huddling under the lamp, that means it is too cold. You should either turn the lamp up or if you have a simple conventional heat lamp, move it down lower closer to the brood box. If they are pushed to the sides to avoid the lamp, or if they are panting, it is too hot or hanging too low. Adjust the height and temperature until your ducks are moving freely, some eating, some sleeping at all times.
Once the ducklings are moving away from the heat, even if you have it up high, they don’t the lamp anymore. A general rule of thumb is to slowly reduce the heat you give the ducklings by 5 or 10 degrees each week until they can easily tolerate 70 degrees. If you are doing this in a cooler area or during a colder month, you may need to reduce more slowly and down to 30.
Based on how well our ducklings tolerate the cold, we will make a decision at that time whether we are going to hang and turn on the heat lamp this winter.
This is how we have chosen to set up our brood box. Before, when we started our flock, we had all babies and they all went right into the duck house with a heat lamp right away. Since we have to integrate this time, we have chosen to use the brood box method.
There is no right or wrong way! Every homestead is different. Every flock is different. Every situation is different. What’s important is to know what ducklings need and how to care for them and figure out a way to integrate that works for you!