Ducklings. Sigh, cute as can be. No one can argue that a tub of baby ducklings at the local feed and seed is so hard to resist. Your mind starts to play tricks on you. They can stay in the bathtub, you reason. Oh! Look how gently little Sarah is holding the duckling. This will be a good experience for her. Raising farm animals looks easy. How much trouble can this little guy be to care for?
Stop! No doubt about it, ducklings are cute. We have raised many ducks at our farm and currently have a flock of thirteen. I understand the cute factor. Ducks can add many positives to your backyard farm or homestead, as long as you know what you are getting into. They can provide eggs, meat, bug control and entertainment.
Spring babies turn our brains to mush. Even though I have taken it as a personal mission in life, to encourage those interested in homesteading and raising livestock, I do not wholeheartedly recommend ducks for this purpose. I am going to share with you, some of the reasons that I do not recommend ducklings for most families. Please keep in mind that ducks are one of my favorite farm animals! I have taken in countless ducks that could not be cared for by the people who bought ducklings in the spring. This is not intended to be a negative essay, but hopefully a positive way to stop thoughtless duckling adoptions.
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Ducklings start out as cute little balls of yellow or brown fluff. Soon, however, they grow into wet, splashy, destroyers of all things green. The wetness you will deal with if you have ducks in your backyard will rival any tropical storm. And forget about growing grass! Ducks are uniquely equipped to forage for every last bit of green they encounter. So my first tip is:
Do not get Ducks if you like your backyard.
Ducklings wandering in your backyard will quickly turn you lawn into a sea of mud. Poopy mud. Most people living in a suburban neighborhood are not expecting this result. And it leads to messy backyard barbecues.
Do not get Ducklings if you think they will stay small.
Ducklings grow quickly. They double their size in a short time.
By four weeks of age, you will be dealing with wet, wiggly, teenage ducklings that can weigh almost two pounds, sometimes more. They will be fully feathered by 4 or 5 weeks of age. I often feel that I merely blink twice and the ducklings are large, hungry, ducks.
Do not get Ducklings for Easter Baskets.
Please do not buy ducklings, or baby chicks for that matter, as a temporary item to be given away later, or worse, turned out to live in the wild. Every year we get numerous “returns” from people who only wanted the ducklings for the holiday. We do not sell ducklings for this purpose and try to screen out the customers trying to use live animals as toys. But, other feed stores sell to anyone for any reason. And we end up trying to find homes for young ducks.
Leaving the young ducks at a pond or park is really nothing short of giving the raccoons, foxes, coyotes, owls, hawks and stray dogs a free meal. Domesticated ducks do not fly well. They are slow movers and cannot escape or hide from predators.
Do not get Ducklings if you plan to keep them in your bathtub.
Although ducklings have a natural ability to swim from day one, they do not have the ability to stay dry and warm, or to warm up when soaked. In the wild, the mother will preen the ducklings with oil from her preen glands. It isn’t until almost four weeks of age that the natural oils are developed enough to help the feathers stay dry. Ducklings that get soaked swimming can drown. Ducklings are not fully feathered until six weeks of age and need to be kept warm. If you do let them have supervised swims, dry them off with a towel afterward and make sure they do not become chilled.
Do not get Ducklings if you think they will be fine without shelter.
Ducks need shelter. They do not need a huge tall structure. They do not roost like chickens. But leaving them with no where to shelter even during the day can have disastrous results. Even during daylight, predators will come calling. We let our ducks out during daylight but keep them restricted to a fenced run unless we are there to keep watch. At night, our ducks sleep in a duck house. It is a low structure with plenty of ventilation. Keeping your ducks confined to a duck house or coop after dark will greatly reduce the heartache of losing a pet duck to a predator.
Now that you are armed with knowledge, when your children beg for ducklings, or someone suggests giving ducklings to your children for Easter, you will have the information you need to make an informed decision! Ducks can be wonderful pets and ducklings are absolutely the cutest way to start with ducks. But they need the right environment and home to thrive.
Janet homesteads and lives in central Maryland. She shares her stories of life on a family farm and homestead on Timber Creek Farm and on Facebook. Her handmade yarns and crafts are available on Etsy.