The Ducks & Chickens

When asked if we would like two Indian runner ducklings we jumped at the chance. I've kept chickens in the past but have always completely overlooked ducks as alternative means of fresh eggs every day.

We had around a week from agreeing we'd take them to the ducks actually arriving, it was time to do some research! It turns out their needs are not too different from that of chickens, with the exception of course of water. Chickens are more than happy with a dust bath whereas ducks require water for bathing and in particular washing their head and eyes. This means your garden will not be turned into patch of mud in a matter of weeks as chickens would do. Ducks love a puddle and will happily forage around in that rather than dig up a lawn. Another water source should also be provided purely for drinking, ducks do not chew their food as such so they need something to wash it down. If the ducks can climb into this one as well, they will, I've found a high sided, sturdy bucket does the job of keeping the water fresh.

So the day came, they arrived as six week old ducklings, they were still used to heat from a  heat lamp so I had made a make-shift pen in our kitchen against the radiator where they could keep warm but also with enough room for them to stretch their legs if they wanted too. At first, understandably they were nervous of the smallest things but as the days went on they came to trust us and even to approach us. I would clean the sawdust out of the pen on a daily basis, this meant lifting them out and giving them the run of the kitchen. On more than one occasion this resulted in a chase around the kitchen to try and get them back in afterwards.

Initially we fed them chick crumbs before moving to growing pellets and at around 18 weeks layers pellets which they still have now. This is supplemented by whatever greens we have going spare from the kitchen, mine are particularly partial to cauliflower leaves often turning there noses up at the odd bit of cabbage.

Water at first should be provided in a bowl or tray that is not deep enough for the ducks to submerge themselves in. The downy feathers they have as ducklings are not waterproof and will absorb the water rather than glide off. You will notice the ducklings going through a moult where these feathers will fall out and their permanent feathers will begin to grow through. The ducks will then preen themselves from a gland towards their tail, this will waterproof the feathers. once the moult is complete under supervision they can be let into deeper water.

Shelter too is a key thing to think about before you decide to take on any sort of poultry. This needs to be fox proof, if they can find a way in they will and once a fox sniffs out where an easy meal is it will be a constant visitor to your garden. I've built a sort of extension to our log shed so two of the walls were already done for me. At this time of year I let the ducks out at first light and shut them in just before the sun goes down. The joy of ducks (compared to chickens) is that they are easily trained and herded, hence why they are used in sheep dog trials. Once they have been shown where to go a couple of times they will quite happily put themselves in at night leaving me to go out and just shut the door.

Ours started to lay at around 24 weeks but this can happen anywhere from 20 weeks onwards. At first we had an egg every other day, then one a day a now we have about ten a week from just two ducks. This should slow in the winter due to lower light levels and a lower temperature but this winter has so far been exceptionally mild and doesn't seem to of had too much of an effect yet. On average it is said Indian runners lay about 200 eggs a year so less than chickens. I look at it that the cost of a dozen free range duck eggs would work out to be more than a dozen free range chickens so if there are slightly less if you do intend to sell them you profits should be similar if not more. Plus they taste fantastic and are excellent for a huge number of recipes in the kitchen.

I've read Indian runners were originally used for clearing any pests from paddy fields so I'm hoping this coming summer my brassicas will be slug free but I won't hold my breath on that one!

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