“I can’t deal with high maintenance chicks”. – Jeremy London


Our two ducklings

In the last week we have had some ducks and chicks hatching.  We have four hutches in our chicken house with two which had ducks sitting on eggs, with the other two holding Hens setting on eggs.  We have around 12 Muscovy ducks (with one drake) and 5 Hens (with one rooster).  In an effort to produce some additional ducklings/chicks we refrained from collecting eggs for a couple of weeks, which led to one of our laying hutches having around 18 eggs  with the other birds sitting on around a dozen eggs each.  Before the birds sat on the eggs Kitty told me that she was concerned that the eggs would go bad from just sitting there, and should they be fertilised the babies would be dead.  I told her that this is not the case.  Chickens and ducks usually don’t sit on eggs to keep them warm until they have amassed enough to make it worth their time.  The cells within do not become viable until they reach the right temperature, so they will keep until then (for a short time).  Once the hen sits on the eggs for enough time the babies start to grow, and then all the eggs should hatch around the same time.  I don’t know what number is a suitable number for the animal to decide whether to sit or not, and to be honest I thought that 18 eggs was too many.

The brooding started when one of our older hens started sitting on the eggs and was doing this every time we checked for the next day or so.  All was well until a few days later when a Muscovy duck joined her, and the two animals were sitting on the same batch of eggs.  I was worried about this as there may be too much warmth, however I trusted that they knew more than I about this, so I left them alone.  A few days later I noticed that the eggs that had been laid in the other three hutches were now occupied with two ducks and a few days after that another chicken took position in a hutch.   They sat on these for around 4 weeks… so long that I was doubtful that the eggs were fertalised and I believed that they wouldn’t hatch.  I am happy to say that I was wrong about that.  On Thursday, while working near the chicken house, I heard a faint “cheeping” sound.  The geese that were foraging nearby also heard it, as they were looking around for the origin of the sound.  I looked in the chicken house window and noticed a small duckling sitting next to the chicken.  Later that day there were four more in the chicken’s hutch and one wondering around the chicken house.  This was great news as I am very interested in arranging for the chickens and ducks to breed without my intervention.  I have raised hatched birds before, last year I borrowed an incubator off a neighbour (he was interested in using it having recently bought it, yet he didn’t have the time nor the electricity to spare as he was off grid) and I laid 24 eggs to hatch.  21 of these eggs produced ducklings, which was a great bonus to the family and were great for the flock.  Before this time we had 2 ducks and a drake that were the parents to this brood.  These original animals were given to me by another neighbour, who had decided that ducks were not for him.  After this we had around 10 male ducks and 11 female.  We ate the young males when they were large enough and I bought another drake to ensure genetic diversity with by breeding with the new females (which was timely, as the older drake died while the new drake was in my quarantine area.  I don’t know how he died and I suspect it was because he was old).  We lost a female, one of the mothers, who died one night.

Since that time the ducks have been supplying us with eggs, keeping the grass low, and also polluting my dam when they go for a swim (another problem for me to solve).  I had another brood of ducklings hatch the next year by some ducks that wandered off into the bush and laid eggs in secret locations.  The only issue was that ducks are apparently very bad parents.  The mother would wander about the property with their babies behind them and crows would swoop down and pick off the young one at a time. The ducklings that survived (mostly because I caught them and raised them myself in an enclosed area) were butchered once they reached a suitable size.

An older photo of the Chickenhouse. Taken around April 2010.
An older photo of the Chickenhouse. Taken around April 2010.

I am in the process of building a new house which I am calling “the duck house”.  This is an enclosure, like the chicken house, yet will be for the ducks.  It will have a nice place to swim and will allow us to keep the ducks from the dam.  The main reason for the enclosure is to prevent loss of the young to the crows.

On Friday, when I returned from work I  discovered that I lost all the ducklings.  It was very disappointing after the elation of their hatching.  We searched about for the ducklings and we couldn’t find them, which was actually very surprising.  The previous year I had covered the chicken area with bird netting to prevent the crows from taking the young.  I couldn’t work out how the ducklings could have disappeared until my dog noticed that there was a dead duckling under the chicken house.  I then realised that the ducklings were getting out of the chicken pen by walking under the house, a space too low for a chicken or duck to use.  The baby ducks were then out in the open and I suspect that crows picked them up.  The one my dog found may have died when it couldn’t work out how to get back in to the yard.

Anyway, that was a big disappointment, yet I have learned that I need to fix this exit from the yard to protect future babies.  I set to work and using some old garden fencing wire I blocked their avenue of escape.

On Saturday my children called me outside in the morning to show me some baby chicks walking around the chicken yard.  I rushed out and noticed that some of the eggs which the ducks were sitting on had hatched.  I believe that 6 chicks hatched from one duck, with 1 from the other.  The ducks didn’t seem to care or notice the chicks that were following them around and the caused me to be a little concerned.  I did not want to lose any more animals and I considered taking them from the area and placing them under a heat lamp.  I decided not to do this, both to give them a chance to grow up with the group as well as the fact that looking after them is a real hassle!  All seemed well until the next morning, when I discovered 6 dead chicks in the chicken yard.  I investigated their bodies so that I could try to determine why they died.  All were intact and had no injuries.  I suspect that they died from exposure, as they were spread out over the whole yard.  After the death of the chicks and ducklings I believe that the mother rejected them and they had no protection.  Both groups appear to have died due to not being cared for sufficiently.  I don’t have any proof of this of course, yet I have decided  that I can not leave the care of the young with the mothers.  Kitty and I decided that should any young hatch this year we would take them and care for them ourselves.

I left the old eggs in the hutches, intending to clean them out when I cleaned the chicken house at a later date.  The day after I lost the chicks, when I returned home, Kitty showed me a surprise.  She had found two new ducklings which had hatched and she had caught them and placed them in a cardboard box.  Although two ducklings are very high maintenance for such a small outcome, I put them in a large cardboard box with wood shavings (I had saved these from some wood working I had done earlier in the year), a container or food and one of water as well as placing a red halogen heat lamp over the box.  I bought this a few years ago from a pet store and it is meant to be for reptiles, yet it serves this purpose.


On the Saturday I was woken by the children who had seen some chicks walking around the chicken yard.  There were four chicks following a hen around the yard, and later that day I noticed two more join them, taking their number to six.  While the hen seemed to be providing excellent care to these babies I felt that it would be wiser to remove them from the pen and place them under a heat lamp with the ducklings (who were nearly a week old now).  I waited till the end of the day to ensure that no more chicks hatched and then placed the chicks, and the ducklings, in a specially designed growing box.  I placed this in the garage (as the smell of the ducklings in the house was starting to get a bit strong) and check on them every evening.  This appears to be the solution to the problem as they are growing well and I have not lost a single baby.  Every couple of days I drag the box out of the garage and allow them to experience real light for the day, as well as take them out I expect that once they grow their feathers and appear well I will let them out of the area and allow them to grow by themselves.


While this is not a massive amount of chicks and ducklings, I am very happy that I have any at all when I consider the morality rate they experienced earlier.  This experience has caused me to reconsider my original plans for allowing the birds to raise their own young in favour of raising them myself.  I believe and hope that I will reconsider this in the future and after some changes I will allow the mothers to look after the young. I will look into investing in my own incubator in the next few months so that I can have a steady stream of birds for the table.

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