Make Way For Ducklings

(3/15/2018) The duckling passed away. I walked out into the yard, and it was lying right where it was hanging out with mama, but upside-down with its legs in the air, like the saddest dead bug in the world. I don’t know what happened, but my best guess is that Utie accidentally stood on her baby until it died. I saw her step on him pretty badly (though he appeared unfazed by those stomps) a couple times, and he wasn’t pecked at all.

This is a huge bummer, as it was my first duckling I’ve ever experienced, but not a complete surprise, as it was just a singleton baby, without other siblings to fumble through the beginning of life with it.

(3/12/2018) It’s here, it’s here! 45 days of Utie’s persistence has produced what seems to be a healthy, complete little duckling. By birdie bedtime, baby was mostly dry and looking more like a healthy, fluffy duckling.

Partially visible in the photo, its legs were malpositioned behind its head, preventing it from jackhammering to unzip the egg after pipping. I know that helping is nearly always very wrong, but I was beginning to get nervous after more than 12 hours after pip with no change. After MUCH reading about duckling and chick hatches, and how to help and what to look for if you’ve determined they absolutely do need help or they’ll die, I had enough information to feel comfortable providing a small airhole in the membrane of the egg where he had pipped it. After some time, he had ripped that open, because his bill was located right there, but after several hours still had not progressed.

I delicately peeled the hole in the air pocket area of the egg until I was able to shine a light inside, and try to determine if the blood vessels of the inner membrane looked retracted, or if I could see any indication of a yolk still being present (both indicators of chick ripeness. If there’s a yolk, the chick’s not done, and needs to be left alone! If the membrane still has full, branching vessels, the duckling is still hooked up to the external vascular system, and will bleed out if the membrane is torn too early.


(3/11/2018) PIP. One of the eggs has a vigorous small life preparing to emerge! Its head’s up in the air sac of the egg, and tappatappiting, with the first crack and chip today. The membrane is still intact, so the duckling isn’t part of the outside world yet, but when holding the egg, I can feel him working on it, and see him wiggling with the flashlight.
One of the concerns in duckling hatches (though it seems to be primarily with incubators), is the membrane drying out and sticking to the baby like a straightjacket, causing an otherwise healthy baby duckling to get trapped and die. Utie, however, seems to have things well under control in the humidity department.
(3/3/2018) What a rollercoaster! I was pretty certain, two days ago, that there was no life going on in the clutch with the possible exception of one egg.

Tonight, however, I did a better job candling in more complete darkness and saw one absolutely alive and moving duckling, and two eggs perhaps still had babies as well – I feel I was looking at blood vessels up the edges inside, and not small spider cracks.

I removed four eggs tonight in addition to two or three rotten ones I pulled and discarded over the last few days.

I am so pleased and excited that there’s still the potential of ducklings – I was feeling a tiny bit crushed, but comforted in the knowledge that she’ll try again and these aren’t her only eggs in the world.

I also saw Oli trying and failing to mount Anka yesterday. He’ll be in the genetic running soon! It’s been neat to see him grow from a little dappled fellow with a grey head into a very full-bodied and masculine drake with a black head and green crest.

(2/19/18) I think Utie and I are both a little exasperated with the amount of times there’s just been a chilled egg sitting in the middle of the coop, or a still-warm egg under her tail, but outside of the nest box and on its way to escape.
I made an attempt at creating a rim on the nest to prevent eggs scootching out, but came back a few minutes later to find Utie had left the nest and was huddled in the middle of the coop, instead. I removed the rim, and she went right back onto her eggs.
She’s doing her best, but I think the bottom line is the muscovies will need larger nest boxes than the chickens. She had originally started nesting on the other side of the coop, and I pulled a nest box divider to give her a roomier nursery, but that made her leave the nest and move to the small box she now occupies.

(2/13/18) Eggs candled on day 18..ish, revealed heartbeats, and the silhouette of a head and legs. I accidentally didn’t count how many, but it’s a number greater than both 0 (excellent!) and 1 (twice as good!)

(2/4/18) Eggs candled on day 9 reveal at least 4 of 16 eggs are fertile and developing!

I suspect several of being duds, and one of having a blood ring, which indicates a failed embryo, but am leery of aborting live eggs through misidentification.

(1/26/18) Utie is sitting! 13 is the final tally. Before declaring the title premature, note that, ducklings or no, way is being made.

(1/21/18), Utie has amassed 8 eggs in her nest and has not yet begun to sit. She lays, apparently midmorning, one egg about every other day, unless Anka is contributing eggs on the sly, which is well within the realm of possibility.

They Vend!

The Fowl

  • 6 Chicken hens – brought home as approximately yearling hens 12/31/17, resumed post-molt laying mid-January. Currently laying between one and three (usually two) eggs a day.
    14, somehow, chicken hens of mixed age and heritage,
  • 2 Muscovy drams, Utka and Ankka, & 1  drake, Oli, brought home 1/10/18, and 2 drams, As-Yet-Unnamed, and the lovely As-Yet-Unnamed, purchased at 5 months old on 2/16/18
    Muscovies, along with turkeys, are one of two domestic fowl originating in the Americas CITATION and are, in fact, a distinct species from, Cairina moschata; sometimes written to be more closely related to geese than to the mallard-derived domestic ducks. CITATIONNEEDED

    • Producing less oil than true ducks (inside and out; the meat is also less greasy), muscovies are only slightly more water-resistant than the chickens, and are mercifully not compelled to bathe in any bit of water they see.
    • They are also said to be ‘silent’ ducks, and while they are quackless, have a variety of vocalizations are are usually talking to me or to one another. The male, Oli, huffs if anyone crowds him, and Utie and Anka chirp and trill. I also recently attended some sort of duck meeting, where they were all bobbing their heads, puffing their wings, and making a sound like geese whispering and croaking.

The Fort

  • Henhouse: Chicken Coops Northwest Resort – we felt lucky to get one of the last of their coops with wooden (fir) roofs, instead of their new asphalt design. While wood can’t beat asphalt for weatherization, we have plans for water catchment, and want to avoid the asphalt metals in the chickens’ water.
    To further weatherize the wood, I painted all exterior parts with walnut and mineral oils; both edible and unlikely to impact anything using water that’s come into contact with it. If I were doing it over again, I would oil all parts of the coop, not just the outside, since bird poop is moist, and the rain around here isn’t considerate enough to stay outdoors.
    (2/21/18) Within the first month, symmetrical roof slats on the nest box lids had swollen and peaked up, and the thinner woods of the sliding windows and the inside of the nest box lids has mold spots, and the latter has swollen and popped out a couple of its staples. None of these seem to actually have any effect beyond aesthetic, but it’s still a little disappointing.
    (3/17/18) The coop and run have been a listing disaster for months. Despite reinforcement, the tiny hinges on the door failed, the pull out tray is, thanks to swelling and changing alignment, an integral part of the structure and can’t be removed. I have also read many forum accounts of people’s negative experiences with these coops, and FIND THE LINK TO THEIR HISTORY OF CHANGED NAMES AND POOR REVIEWS
  • Run: 12′ of 1/2″ galvanized wire, included as part of the coop kit. They are only confined to this area to sleep.
  • Litter: White pine shavings, like everyone else. Going through one bag of the pellets so quickly made it clear that they’re not the economical choice for our situation. White shavings, however, come in a big horkin’ white bale for the same price as a little bag of pellets, and lend themselves well to staggered coop freshening vs. The Full Scrape.
    (3/17/18 I have since learned that Gem is located in Tacoma, they’re local shavings, and there are bulk rates for those who go out to the plant. This will certainly be a future endeavor.)
    Nature’s Bedding kiln-dried pine pellets. I’ve used this bedding at other people’s homes in the context of pet litter, and love how absorbent it is, with zero dust, and no propensity to get mucky. It just seems to puff up forever, but is clearly read to be changed when the pellets crumble into heavy powder. I was concerned that the chickens might try to eat it, as it’s a similar shape as the Layena, but the litter pellets are much larger, and the chickens spend nearly no daylight time in the coop. With Scratch & Peck being their primary feed now, as well, their litter and food no longer bear a resemblance to one another, though the chickens already did not appear to be eating the bedding.
  • Nest pads: White pine shavings here, too. I’m not certain I’ll stick with them forever, either, but they’re easier to spiff up periodically to maintain pretty, clean eggs. And dirt cheap.
     aspen fiber nest pads by Precision Pet. I got these as a fun “splurge” for the brand-new coop. The price is a little steep for 10 pads, but each fluffs up a great deal, and can be split generously between two nests, which brings them within the realm of reason. They get pretty gross, but no more than any other material, and unlike shavings, the whole pad can be removed, shaken free of poops, and replaced. While this certainly doesn’t leave a spring-fresh pad behind, it extends the acceptable life of the nest considerably. I plan to place pellets and shavings in different nest boxes, and see if they change the birds’ perception of which nest is best.
  • In addition to regular poop scoopery, I sprinkle the nests and litter with diatomaceous earth shaken with dried calendula, lavender, and rose petals, ideally to help with potential pests, but also for an inviting coop odor. Should the chickens opt to eat the calendula instead, they’re an excellent source of xanthophylls, the yellow pigments that contribute to deep, golden yolks.

The Feed

  • X-Cel Layer formula DETAILS NEEDED
  • Scratch & Peck Naturally Free Organic Non-GMO layer – I have no economic excuse or justification for this feed – I saw this feed after a lifetime of grey poultry crumbles, and this is the food I want my birds and their eggs to be made out of. I’m able to get 40lb bags locally, at less than $1/LB, but that’s still fairly steep compared to X-Cell Feeds’ $16 or so for 50lbs
    • INGREDIENTS: organic linseed meal, ground limestone, oyster shell, fish meal, organic sesame meal, organic vegetable oil, monocalcium phosphate, dicalcium phosphate, organic dehydrated kelp meal, salt, dl-methionine, choline chloride, ferrous sulfate, organic wheat flour, dried aspergillus oryzae fermentation extract, dried aspergillus niger fermentation extract, dried saccharomyces cerevisiae fermentation solubles extract, dried trichoderma reesei fermentation extract, silicon dioxide, manganese sulfate, zinc sulfate, d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, active dry yeast, selenium yeast, niacin, copper sulfate, d-calcium panthothenate, vitamin A acetate, vitamin D3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, pyridoxine hydrochloride, biotin supplement, vitamin D supplement, thiamine mononitrate, calcium iodate, vitamin B-12 supplement, folic acid, sodium selenite
Image courtesy of Scratch & Peck’s Facebook page
  • Scratch & Peck Naturally Free 3-Grain Scratch Organic barley, wheat, oats, and flaxseed oil – same kind of tasty goodness as the complete feed, but costs significantly less per pound (sans vitamins) and is less wasteful to scatter on the grass for the birds. To get more value and less waste out of the complete feed, I pour the vitamin fines over my scratch barrel, which turns the scratch into nearly the same food as the layer formula.
  • Purina Layena Plus Omega – my first bag of feed, the ubiquitous grey pellets. The birds love it [Not when they have access to the Scratch & Peck! Probably because they like to pick out their vitamins], AND there are no unincorporated “fines” (the vitamin, etc, dust), for them to sift out, so I don’t mind continuing to use this as scratch alongside the far groovier Scratch & Peck. I had a devil of a time finding the ingredients online, but the bag itself has a tag:
    • INGREDIENTS: Grain Products, Plant Protein Products, Processed Grain By-Products, Calcium Carbonate, Flaxseed, Molasses Products, Oyster Shell, Lignin Sulfonate, Salt, Dicalcium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, DL-Methionine, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Yeast Extract, Manganous Oxide, Tagetes (Aztec Marigold) Extract (Color), Natural Flavor, Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols (Form of Vitamin E), Sodium Selenite, Choline Chloride, Biotin, Zinc Oxide, Riboflavin Supplement, Citric Acid (Preservative), Calcium Pantothenate, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source of Vitamin K), Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Dried Chicory Root, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Folic Acid, Organic Soybean Oil, Dried Bacillus subtilis Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus oryzae Fermentation Extract, Nonfat Dried Milk, Dried Bacillus coagulans Fermentation Extract, Nonfat Dried Milk, Dried Bacillus coagulans Fermentation product, Calcium Iodate
  • Dried black soldier fly larvae (dried black soldier fly larvae)
  • Oyster grit
  • Dried mealworms
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Grocery store waste, much of it organic, as untreated produce has the disadvantage of an unextended shelf life. Apples, pears, cabbage, mandarins, mesclun, romaine, delicata squash, sugar pumpkin, navel oranges, chard, potato, tomato, bananas, kiwi, green beans – I’m enormously grateful for access to this tremendous resource that would otherwise be going to waste, or trucked elsewhere, when I can walk home with a box from the grocery store. It keeps the birds’ vegetable intake very diverse, and I wouldn’t cry to find a volunteer delicata or tomato in the corner of the yard.
  • Occasional kitchen leftovers, or pea, lentil, oat, garbanzo and/or potato porridge
  • Fresh aloe slices
  • Anything that moves in the yard
  • Worm bin worms
  • The birds spend every day loose in the yard, picking through straw, dirt, brush, some rotten snack logs, and, of course, eating lots of grass, bugs, and weeds.

Utie, Oli, and four of the hens. Oli isn’t yet sporting the large, red caruncles characteristic of Muscovies, as he’s still a very young man, and they come with time and UV exposure.

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I’m simply linking to the products I’m using when links are readily available.