Keeping Ducks

Ducks require clean water, adequate feeding and housing, to keep them safe from predators especially at night. We find ducks do not need very elaborate housing – just shelter from the elements and protection from predators. We construct all their huts ourselves and, with a little planning, they can turn out very well. We have a variety of huts made from many different materials including wood, fibre cement and metal. We have even adapted an old kitchen cabinet for the purpose. The ducks do not seem to mind as long as they are dry and relatively draft free. Pictured here is a hut which is raised from the ground to prvent killing the grass underneath.

We originally built dams in a small burn and put the fences on top of the dams. This was not a success because when the burn flooded the dams were destroyed and the fences were damaged when too much debris became trapped in them. We now have better dams inside each pen. These have pipes set into them to enable us to empty them out frequently to stop a build up of silt. They are also released during heavy rain, to relieve the pressure. In the pens with no running water there are plastic tanks which have been halved and sunk into the ground and for just a few ducks Ikea storage containers are very effective – we also use these for ducklings. These need more attention because they require regular cleaning and frost can be a problem in the winter. Algae can be a problem in summer so we are going to try putting some barley straw in the tubs to combat this.

Spending some time with the ducklings

We find that spending time with the ducklings is very worthwhile – very relaxing for us. It also makes them much easier to handle later on. The Khaki Campells especially benefit from this because they can be quite highly strung and it is important not to upset them when they are in lay.

In 2001 we experienced a very severe snow storm with many of our huts completely covered by drifts. Fortunately all the ducks were fine but some had to move into temporary quarters – Linda’s greenhouse! They seemed quite happy and one duck even started to lay. Consequently we decided to start off the ducklings in the greenhouse. This has been very successfull: the thermostatic heater maintains a constant temperature with a light bulb giving a little extra heat if they need it. It also helps justify the heat for the tomatoes! We then put them into a small plastic covered run on the lawn as soon as they are old enough and the weather permits. It is amazing how quickly they become accustomed to being outside: they are soon playing in shallow dishes of water and doing their best to dig up the lawn.

It takes time digging paths to the burn but the roads were blocked so no school anyway! So long as they could have a swim the ducks didnt seem to mind the snow too much.

Mallard and white calls displaced from their huts into the greenhouse

It is now mid March 2003 and all of the breeding pairs and trios have been split up into their allotted pens for the breeding season, and the first eggs have been set. It can be a bit of a problem keeping them in their pens without them flying between pens, the obvious remedy is to clip their wings but only to birds which are not going to the late shows – they had to wait till late February. We previously tried wintering the ducks and drakes in two seperate pens, this made pairing the birds very easy but it was more work as there were two huts to bed and feed instead of just the one. This also meant using a pen with a net roof which does not have access to the burn, so the water needs regular changing and we were constantly having to break the ice. We also lost a drake as the pen had a lot of cover for stoats, so this winter we left that pen empty and let the ducks and drakes run as one big group down at the burn. However if the noise level in the breeding pens when we split them up is anything to go by, there were some rather annoyed ducks! The Aylesburys have been laying well but the Runners have only just started so we will see how the season goes.

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Steinbacher geese