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Adventures With Ducklings, Part 1: The Hazards of Cute
I was skeptical four years ago when my husband came home with ducklings, as I was expecting them to be loud and messy (which, in fairness, they are). But since then, we’ve loved keeping ducks and making our duck yard/orchard more and more duck friendly each year.
We started in 2009 with Indian Runner Ducks, which we love for their spunk and personality. The first two rounds of Runner ducks left quite an impression on our family and yard. There have been ups and downs to getting as attached to them as we did.
That is the primary hazard of cute. We learned the hard way that there is only so much you can do to protect them, although the hardier individuals can be part of the family for years. Regardless of intentions, though, they are too darn cute, so once their personalities start to show, it's pretty hard to be anything but attached.
Ducklings Round One: Amigo and Miss Piggy (Indian Runner Ducks)
I came home from work one day to find the kids thrilled with the ducklings my husband had brought home. I watched his face as it suddenly occurred to him that this should have been discussed first. We’d talked about getting ducks, but hadn’t made any firm decisions.
Although I still had my reservations, this impulsiveness on my husband's part was very endearing. My husband is the practical planner and I am traditionally the gatherer of things—living or otherwise.
Dad and the Ducklings
Not only am I a gatherer of stuff, but as a wildlife biologist, I have a tendency to collect things that most people would not pick up, let alone keep. My husband is not always thrilled when I bring home a skull, or have to put something dead in our freezer before handing it off to other agencies or game wardens. Or think it may be salvageable for education.
So it was a twist of roles for my husband to come home with little critters we hadn’t both agreed to acquire. It was fun to watch this realization set across his face as he watched me walk up to our front porch, where the kids each sat with a duckling.
I was quickly attached, though, as were the kids, who named them Amigo and Miss Piggy (though their names were switched a year or so later for gender reasons).
Though we hadn't fully decided yet to get ducks, we were at least planning on chickens and we'd done our homework on both. We knew how much space they needed and had the bird yard mapped out and plans for the hen house. We just adapted those plans to accommodate ducks first.
By the time they were big enough to live outside, they were semi-afraid of us. We’ve learned that this happens at a certain age for most ducks, no matter how attached they seem to be as babies. They did still communicate with us regularly, though, particularly when they were displeased. If food was not prompt and they saw us outside, for example, we would hear about it, as would the entire neighborhood.
When we brought home chickens they had a LOT to say. They followed me around one day emoting very pointedly. Direct eye contact and a lot of expression, practically standing on my feet to be sure I was listening. Of all of our domestic ducks and chickens, those two will always be our favorites.
We were impressed with Runner ducks, and our two in particular.
Lessons from Round One
Our experience based on those first ducks:
- Ducks are pretty unlikely to use a hen house. Even with a gentle ramp, they'd rather sleep under it than in it if they have a choice, or have a duck house closer to the ground.
- You should apparently have a family meeting with your ducks before bringing home chickens.
- Some female ducks like to escape each day to lay their eggs.
- Herding ducks is ineffective, but food is always effective.
That's a LOT of ducks!
Round Two (More Runner Ducks)
After adding chickens and getting used to our fresh eggs, we decided we were ready for more birds. We wanted babies form Miss Piggy and Amigo, and another fire department family wanted to add some genetic diversity to their runners, so between the two families' broody hens, we hatched two sets of ducklings. We ended up with babies for us, followed by a round of babies for them that we could keep for them until big enough to mix in with their ducks (male ducks are very territorial and small ducks aren’t always safe with bigger ducks, depending on group dynamics).
Our group of babies followed the kids around in a line and the kids got very attached, getting to raise them up from tiny babies. They also chased our original ‘momma duck’ (Miss Piggy) around the yard. She frantically tried to escape them as they frantically tried to keep up with her. She emoted to us about this also.
We raised both sets of babies, as our yard and setup could keep the different sizes apart that needed to be separated. When our babies were big enough for the chicken yard, the smaller set of babies were moved to the chicken ‘tractor’ we had built.
The neighborhood mama deer that previously crossed our yard beside the chicken yard was very out of sorts over the changes. She and her babies got trapped between the chicken yard and chicken tractor on day, and the more they lept back and forth, the more the ducks quacked, which made the deer more frantic. They weren't trapped by anything but their frantic-ness--they jumped back and forth between the fences, but were three feet from freedom on either side. It just took them a while to figure it out.
Tragic Turn of Events
This part of our story is not for the feint of heart. We dog sat for a neighbor, and the chickens, when let out in the yard to feed, toddled their daft selves up to her every day. This was the dog's first introduction to chickens. She couldn't reach them, but they stupidly came and got her attention every day. When her owners were home, she was a free range dog, who now knew there was a chicken yard in our back yard.
Later in the summer, the chicken tractor got busted into, and the youngest babies, who were feathered and showing personalities, getting ready to join the ducks of the other fire family, were all killed. It was a very gruesome sight and a very sad day. We have other, far more vicious, dogs in our neighborhood and a LOT of free range dogs. We didn't piece it together that it was the neighbor's dog until a few more rounds of chicken yard break-ins.
All told, we lost most of our chickens and ducks. Amigo and one boy from the new runners survived. Losing Miss Piggy was devastating. Even my husband, who jokes frequently about eating the ducks, was saddened by her loss in particular.
Amigo survived all of those attacks, as did one of the boys from the second set of ducklings. Amigo was injured and took some time to recover. He walked funny for his remaining years of his five year life.
Lessons from Round Two
I'd say not to get attached, but that's not realistic for lots of duck owners. Nothing compares to the first backyard tragedy, but it is part of the risk of raising chickens and ducks.
Indian Runner Duck Traits So Far
Reported For Breed
Our Experience So Far
Prolific (though Miss Piggy would escape daily to lay her eggs)
Noisy, conversational, loud emoters
Very smart (mostly)
Personal, funny, individuals, emotive
Non-maternal (Miss Piggy ran from babies)
Where To Go From There
We knew we wanted more ducks eventually, but for quite a while Amigo and the other boy were our only ducks, living with a bunch of hens. We were in less of a hurry for new ducks after such a big round of losses. We looked at other breeds after that, even though we really love Runner ducks. I think there would have been a pang to new Runners too soon.
Rounds three and four have been easier, in some ways, though a lot of work in the yard to prepare for a better arrangement. Part two is their stories so far, with a few of their pictures in this hub, in the mean time.