Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Poultry Population: Extreme Cuteness Warning

Twenty-one Khaki Campbell ducks came from JM Hatchery this morning.

The photos do not do justice to their tiny adorableness. They look kind of shaggy in the photos, when in fact they are velvety-perfect in person.

After a bit of drama over missing car keys, they are safe at home. Everyone came out the box vigorous and cheeping -- and very thirsty!

They scarfed up water with a little sugar in it, and then set to work spreading mess.

Their job here, aside from laying eggs and keeping up with the water weeds, will be to work as stockdog training assistants. Ducks flock well, move relatively slowly, and do not fly as readily as other poultry, so they are often used to train young dogs. Khakis are a popular breed for dog trainers.

People who have never raised poultry are amazed that one can order chicks (and ducks and geese ...) through the mail.

This only works with day-old hatchlings of precocial fowl. These guys hatch out with a couple days supply of food from the egg yolk already stored in their bellies. They are designed to go 72 hours without eating or drinking.

Domestic poultry are almost all precocial birds; I think the only exception is pigeons. Altricial young are much more difficult to raise without their parents.

When a momma bird is hatching her clutch, this allows her to stay on the nest with the first hatchlings until the late-hatchers are all out and dry and ready to roll. Humans have exploited this window of self-sufficiency via the postal service. It's a much surer thing to ship day-old hatchlings, which are fairly sturdy little beasts, rather than eggs for the buyer to incubate. The postmaster keeps the box in the warm office, and calls you to come pick them up. These guys got here in less than 24 hours because the hatchery is not terribly far.

The chicks need to keep warm, so there is a minimum order so they can huddle. I ordered the minimum twenty duckies; #21 is an extra tossed in for mortality insurance.

It's normal to expect some mortality in the first couple days after hatching, whether the chicks are raised by the hen who brooded them, or boxed up and sent several hundred miles. Hatching is hard work, and not everybody recovers. Birds lay more eggs than they can typically raise to fledging.

I don't need this many ducks, so after I grow them out some, I'll sell or trade the extras.

Since I don't have a broody hen volunteer at the moment, I'm brooding the ducklings artificially, with a heat lamp:

They have room to get away from or into the heat, food and water, and the cardboard is a shield against drafts. The towels are down until they figure out the difference between food/not food. When they are all eating starter crumble well, I'll swap the towels out for wood shavings.

They grow shockingly fast, and will be making a (bigger) mess of our pond area before summer. We can't let them swim until they are feathered out. Ducklings who are artificially brooded, or raised by a chicken momma, don't get the feather oil from a duck mama that allows them to avoid chilling when they get wet.

I'm converting an old pumphouse for their ultimate housing. It has a stone foundation, and we'll be adding higher walls and a new roof.


  1. Extreme cuteness is right!
    We raised ducklings once when i was younger - rescues that we later released in the wild. I can't wait for the day when i'll have enough land to raise all the ducks and chickens (and dogs) that i want.
    I hope you keep us updated on their progress!

  2. You win the cuteness contest. I understand duck eggs are wonderful to bake with because of higher fat content (or maybe lower ... I read too much and retain too little!)

  3. OMG CUTE!

    I know someone who ordered a few species of duck eggies through the mail and incubated them to hatching. She's posted pictures of them as they hatched and grew up. I wish city-slickers could so this, but we have stupid zoning laws that prevent anyone from having any fun. There was actually a big to-do in Westerville (either that or Worthington) Ohio about someone keeping chickens in their backyard...they were mysteriously 'killed' by 'stray' dogs sadly, but it put the issue of suburbanite fowl on the front page.

    Gina, duck eggs are much richer than chicken eggs...about 185 calories average as opposed to the usual 60-80 found in chicken eggs. My employwer gave me some duck eggies (I'm temporarily living in a very rural area) to cook and they were delicious! Made me sad to go back to the chicken ones.

    Have fun with the little quackers, Heather!

  4. Yep, baby ducklings are about the cutest things alive...and the imprinting stuff makes them even more swoon-worthy.

    You may need to submit their photos to my favorite (politically incorrect) blog, just in case they get too big for their feathery britches:


    --Loyal RBW follower


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