Make way for ducklings: Ch-ch-ch-chaaaaanges!
Well my, my, my... (if you know what this means, please read in Lt. Joe Kenda voice.) It has been a whirlwind of a month since the tiny little fluffballs came into my life. I diligently documented their first week in a previous post (here) but then SO MUCH HAPPENED ALL AT ONCE that I didn't have time to come back and update week by week.
First, I received a fellowship from the State of Connecticut to go to California for a few days for a conference. Then, we had to jump right into year-end fundraising and planning our gala. Then the tiny little ducklings grew into full sized ducks - seemingly overnight- and learned how to break out of their enclosure and poop all over the guest room. Then we built them an outdoor duck palace and evicted them to the back yard. Then we had a gala. Now I have 5 seconds to sit and recount all of the craziness of our ducklings second through sixth weeks so here are the highlights!
At about week three, Jemima started laying down quite a bit, not wanting to stand up and walk around, and walking around on her hocks (duck word for leg elbows - they are NOT knees because the go the other direction.) Her growth also slowed down at this point, likely because she was getting bullied out of the way of the food by the bigger girls. I was completely beside myself but, thanks to some great advice from some very smart duck owners over at the BackYard Chickens message board, I decided she was likely exhibiting a niacin deficiency. Apparently this is very common in ducklings in the first 10 weeks of life because they grow so dang fast and their bodies can't keep up with their bodies. Duckling food does having added niacin, but it is very common for one duckling out of a group to just not have the same ability to get the vitamins it needs from its food. The good news is that there is a super easy fix for this issue - vitamin b-complex liquid! It costs about $8 from stop and shop and I put a few droppers full on some mealworms in the morning for about a week and she got all her strength back in no time.
In my family the cure-all is "drink water." You have a headache? Drink water. Stomach ache? Drink water. A cold? Drink water. Broken toe? Drink water. You get the idea. It turns out that for duckling care, the same rings true for b-complex. Is your duckling laying down a lot? B-complex. Not eating as much? B-complex. Has a limp but no sign of injury? B-complex (we'll get to that part later on.)
So Jemima was all better and the ducklings were growing like weeds and Marcel and I are really starting to get anxious about building them a duck house. I have a lot of grand ideas (thanks pinterest!) and because my husband is amazing, he wants to give me exactly what I want. The only problem is that we'd never built anything this big. Actually that's a lie because it's his real life job to build giant boxes to ship lasers in, but he was so worried about disappointing me.
As Plato says, "necessity is the mother of invention." One morning about 2 weeks ago I woke up and nearly stepped on a duckling because they had learned that they could jump out of their kiddie pool and push past the cardboard barrier that had previously kept them at bay. My guest room was COVERED IN DUCK POOP. Covered. It was everywhere. And suddenly, all the anxiety about whether or not we could build them a proper enclosure melted away. We would be building their enclosure that weekend.
Fortunately it was Memorial Day weekend so we had three days to get the job done. We opted for a 6' x 10' rectangular, flat topped enclosure that would be completely covered in 1/2" hardware cloth to make it predator proof. I will go back and write a more in-depth post about the building of the duck palace, but for now let me just say that it took about 24 full work hours over 3 days. It rained all three days and it cost about 3 times more than I had planned. It was extremely stressful but Marcel and I are an awesome team and while the pen is not 100% complete as I would like to paint and add a hard roof before fall, I am very happy with the outcome. We didn't fight at all and I didn't cry once and I only screamed the "f-word" at the top of my lungs twice. One of the times was in the middle of the outdoor section of home depot on day 3 of the build, on our third trip that day.
So the ducklings moved out into their palace at five weeks - one week earlier than planned but... they needed to go. And they are much happier now! For the first three nights we would place them into their house after dark and by night four they were going in themselves. They love their pool - especially Sonia, who will get in the pool to take a drink of water and then get right back out again while the other two just drink from the side.
I did learn that everything on the internet is a lie and no one likes to talk about specifics when they're telling you about their perfect lives in blog posts... All the ideas I had to drain the duck pool, which needs to be done about every 2-3 days before the water is green with poop and horrible, made it sound SO EASY. But... I have gotten duck poop water in my mouth no less than three times trying to figure out a proper way to siphon the water out. The good news is that it's probably great for my immune system... if I don't contract salmonella. Fortunately I have figured out a way to get the pool to drain using the pressure from the garden hose to start the siphon process which means no more trying to suck the water through the hose until JUST THE LAST SECOND before it gets in my mouth.
Now that they have more space, Sonia, Rebeccah and Jemima went through a phase of wanting to run and hide from me every time I got near, but with many delicious treats we seem to be moving past that. This week was tough as Rebeccah started to limp and really favor her left leg. Fortunately, my friends over at BackYard Chickens helped me through my panic and we decided that she likely strained or sprained something getting in or out of the pool in a weakened state due to niacin deficiency. I gave her b-complex a few times this week and the limp is basically gone. PHEW!
The girls, now nicknamed my tiny idiot dinosaurs, have been enjoying a relatively spoiled existence full of watermelon quarters, peas thrown into their pool and peashoots. They are getting less and less nervous when we go into their enclosure and are even starting to want to venture out into the yard if I leave the door open.
Our next steps will be to put up some 2-3' fencing around the larger area of their enclosure so they can have a bit more room to roam while we're outside with them, and then to add a pitched roof to keep the rain and other weather out of the enclosure.
I will go ahead a write a more detailed post about the construction of the pen because I feel like if I could build one, anyone could build one, and I hope my adventures give another novice farmer the confidence to take the leap. And remember... if you're unsure about whether you'll be able to do it, just do it and then when it's pooping all over your guest room, you'll figure it out!