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Wild About Waterfowl: Tips for raising ducks and geese

Spring is such a wonderful time in the Midwest because we can enjoy the change of the season and our warm-up arrives.  In many ways we experience “new life” each spring when grass, leaves and flowers emerge.  We also have baby ducks and geese arriving on the scene.  If you plan to raise some waterfowl there are some basic tips to consider.

Waterfowl (ducklings and goslings) need somewhat less heat than their chicken cousins.  The first week they should have a 92° F environment.  You can lower this in five-degree increments each week through the first 6 weeks.  After this, they are usually ready to do without supplemental heat.

There are three main considerations when raising baby ducklings and goslings:

  1. Brooding area
  2. Water
  3. Feed

Brooding Area
Choose a viable area before they arrive.  It can be located in a small building or in the corner of the garage or barn.  If you only have a few baby ducks, even a cardboard box will work.  You will need bedding down on the floor, preferably straw or hay.  Wet spots should be removed daily.  And there will be wet spots with ducklings since they love to mess in water.  You should avoid using wood shavings and wood chips the first two weeks as the ducks are more likely to consume those items and get blocked up.  Also avoid slick surfaces such as newspaper.

It is important for goslings to have good footing right after they hatch.  They are prone to a condition called splay-leg or spraddle legs, because they are quite unsteady for the first couple days.  If this does occur you can lightly bind the legs together above the hock for a few days, using a rubber band or light cord. 

Remember to be prepared with a heat source.  The best is a heat lamp with an infrared bulb.  Regular light bulbs don’t put off enough heat.  A single bulb, 250 watt brooder lamp will warm 30 ducklings.  If you have a larger group plan to use a 4 bulb, 250 watt brooder lamp to warm 100 to 150 ducklings.

A constant supply of fresh water is necessary for ducklings and goslings.  For the first week, a chick waterer works well.  Keep the water level at ¼” deep so the baby ducks don’t drown.  After one week a chick waterer is no longer large enough to use for waterfowl because they can’t submerge their heads and clean their faces in the water.  This is essential for ducklings and goslings.    Avoid using a bowl of water however.  That is because ducklings and goslings may walk in their drinking water and leave droppings in it.  Also, they may stay wet too long and catch a fatal cold.  The best waterer to use is one that allows the ducklings and goslings to submerge their heads but not get in it.  One example I’ve seen is to use a flat pan and get some wire that the birds can reach through with their heads.  Bend the wire in a cylinder that just fits inside the pan and fasten it to the pan so the youngsters can’t move it.  Weight it down in the center with a big rock because you don’t want them tipping the water over and getting the brooding area wet.

Never feed ducks without water close by.  Water helps get the food down.  The water is also essential for cleaning their beak vents after a meal.  Always give the baby ducks access to water for at least an hour before feeding when they first arrive.

Waterfowl often fill their mouths with feed and then hurry to the waterer to get a big drink and wash it down.  Therefore, you don’t want the water too far from the feeder, or they’ll drop all the feed on their way there.  On the other hand, you don’t want the water too close to the feed either, because the feed will tend to get wet in the feeder and develop molds.  The molds can kill baby and growing waterfowl, so be very observant for this.  If your feeder is caking up due to water from their mouths, move the feeder and water a little farther apart.  And always clean out and dispose of the caked-up feed.

Feed should be available at all times.  Use a crumbled feed such as Hubbard® Life Homestead® Duck & Goose.  The crumble is sized well for consumption by ducklings and goslings.  Remember, they do not have teeth.  Some people like to feed their waterfowl a few vegetables.  I would caution you on doing that since it dilutes the nutrients provided by a good balanced complete feed.  If it is warm outside, let the ducklings and goslings have a short daily run.  They will pick their own grass and if they are getting greens, they will need to get some grit for digestion purposes.

Warning:  Never give young waterfowl medicated chick feed.  Ducklings are voracious eaters and can overdose themselves and die from medication that is proportioned for chickens.

Feeding Hubbard® Life Homestead® Duck & Goose is a good way to ensure safety as it contains no medication and it is all-natural, having no animal proteins or fats in the feed.

A mother duck or goose knows just how long to let her kids swim and when to take them out of the water and warm them and let them dry.  We don’t really know how to do this.  If you really want to see them swimming, set up a swimming hole away from the brooder area but in a warm place and let them swim.  Always supervise their swimming and just for a short time daily because the ducklings and goslings are not good about pulling themselves out of the water even when they get exhausted.  Be very sure there is a ramp with good traction so they can easily get out of the swimming hole or they may tire and drown.  Return them to a draft-free brooder so they will warm up and dry off.  You can start the swimming after the baby waterfowl are 3 days old. 

Enjoy raising your waterfowl this Spring! 

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Posted on 4/8/2014 by Amy Brown  |  Category: Poultry
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