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  • Writer's pictureKatheryn

Caring for your new ducklings/goslings

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

7:28 A.M. The post office calls and I hurriedly put on my shoes and fly out the door. It's Duckie Delivery Day! I cannot wait to get there and peer into the box awaiting me. On the short-ish, but not short enough, drive there I do a mental check in my head:

  • Brooder (with bedding): Check

  • Heat lamp (with bulb): Check

  • Water: Check

  • Feed: Check

Okay, I'm not forgetting anything. No need to make an emergency run to Tractor Supply. So all I have left is to bring the little balls of fluff home!

7:47 A.M. I arrive at the post office, walk in and knock at the door almost hidden in the back. A few seconds later I hear the sound of foot steps and loud peeps. The postman opens the door with nearly as much glee as I feel. I cut the tape and we peer inside the box to view the most adorable content deliverable by mail. I do a quick head count and he signs over the package to me. Not only were all 15 ducklings accounted for but an extra little brown duckling was present too. All were alive and eager to explore.

8:05 A.M The ducklings are home and my kids help me to gently (or as gently as tots can) place them into the ready and waiting brooder. And just like that, 16 little balls of fluff join our homestead.

For Duckie Delivery Day to be as successful as possible, I recommend having everything you'll need a week in advance of your expected delivery date.

You can use just about any vessel as a brooder as long as it has a bottom and sides and plenty of space for the ducklings or goslings. Here at Sugar Hill we use a large kiddie pool. They are inexpensive, last several years, and when not in use as a brooder its used as a pond for the ducks and geese. I also find that by the time they can hop the sides it's time for them to go outside anyways.

Inside your brooder you need an absorbent substrate for the little peeps to make a mess of and to keep their legs injure free. I've used shredded newspaper, paper towels (not recommended, yuck), hay, and pine shavings. My favorite by far is pine shavings. Its cheap, easy to toss in the compost, and effective at absorbing all kinds of messes. Without a substrate your duckies will slip and slide in the slick hard bottom and run the risk of injuring their legs.

With the substrate in place, you can add your waterer and feeder. Wait to add the water and feed to the feeders until the ducklings or goslings arrive to avoid spoilage and unwanted pests. Because we couldn't find a duck or goose specific feed, we decided to go with a meat bird crumble. We have also used Chick starter, but if you decide to do that be sure it IS NOT medicated. Waterfowl can be especially sensitive to medications. The feed we chose has a 21% protein analysis and it also has niacin. Niacin is a vitamin ducks and geese need for proper development and nutrition. Once they are on pasture and able to eat greens daily, such as grass and weeds, they will get plenty of niacin naturally, but in the brooder it's important that niacin is included in their feed. I find that a feed with between 18% and 22% protein will work just fine, so don't sweat it if you can't find something locally labeled specifically for ducks and geese.

Above your brooder, your chicks will need a heat lamp until they can regulate their body temperature on their own. You'll want to keep the temp in the high 90's for the first few days, so a thermometer will also come in handy. After about 3-4 days in the high 90's you can lower the temp by raising the heat lamp until the thermometer measures somewhere in the mid 90"s. Then decrease the temp by about 5 degrees each week until they're ready to be moved out of the brooder. Once out of the brooder, I like to keep a heat lamp on my chicks if the nights are cool outdoors until they are fully feathered out at about 6-8 weeks.

Okay! You have all the essentials. and your sweet little chicks have arrived in the mail. Once you get them home the first thing to do after the head count is to take them out one by one and dip their beaks into the water. Just a quick little dip so they know exactly where the water is because they will be thirsty. This is the only time you will need to do this, from here on out they will be able to find the food and water by themselves.

Now as long as you keep the food and water fresh and provide them with a warm area and a cool area (in case they get too hot) they will likely thrive. There may be some occasions when a little chick dies and there will be nothing you could have done differently or better. Sometimes it just happens, and you have to move on. Check to make sure everything is fresh, food, water, substrate. Check to make sure they have different areas of temperatures from the 90's down to room temperature so they can regulate their body temps properly. As long as everything seems to be fine and the rest of the duckies are doing well, then just be sure to freshen everything up and continue to care for the rest of your brood. I always order extra chicks in case of any losses.

After a few weeks of being in the brooder and those cute little balls of fluff turn into awkward half fluff half feathered messes, it's time to move them out to the duck house or goose house. Unlike chickens, ducks and geese don't need roosts. They bed down on the ground, so the duck house needs fresh hay or other substrate to lay on over night. Or if you're using a tractor type set up it needs to be moved at least every other day so they aren't sleeping in their own manure. The house also needs to be secure from predators. Once the chicks have feathered out you can transition them over to a layer feed around 16-18% protein with added calcium and let them free range if that's possible in your area. If you cant free range, then I suggest giving the ducks and geese all the garden and vegetable scraps they'll eat to make up for any nutrient deficiencies (the ducks will also enjoy the odd grub or snail too).

And now you've done it! you have raised happy healthy chicks, who likely follow you around begging for num nums and entertain you with their adorable little waddles. In just a few short months your ducks will be providing you with fresh eggs and in the spring your geese will delight you with their dinosaur sized eggs and attitudes.

Until then, sweet homesteading,

Katheryn Williams

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