Duck Basics – What Do You Need to Know?

Ducks make great pets, although it can take them a while to trust you, and their funny, charming, individual characters will entertain you for hours.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at ducks in more detail including different breeds, how to ensure your ducks stay healthy and and happy, and why keeping ducks is a great idea.

In general ducks have fairly basic needs – as long as they’ve got food, fresh water, and a clean duck house they’ll be happy.

 

Ducks – the basics

As you’ll know ducks are mostly aquatic birds that can be found both on fresh and sea water. They are smaller than swans and geese although they are all part of the same species known as the Anatidae family.

The word “duck” is thought to come from the Old English word “duce” meaning “diver” or “to dive”. This is thought to be a reference to the way ducks upend in water to feed.

Almost all domestic ducks are descended from the Mallard, with the exception of the Muscovy breed.

Ducks eat a variety of foods and are actually omnivores. Grass, aquatic plants, insects, small fish, frogs, and worms will all make up a ducks diet if it has free access to them.

Most domestic duck breeds feed on land, on the surface of the water, or by upending and eating as deep as they can go without completely submerging.

The majority of domestic breeds of duck don’t need vast expanses of water to be happy and healthy. The absolute minimum amount a duck needs is a water source deep enough to submerge their whole head.

Not only does this help them swallow their food but also ensures their eyes stay clean as ducks lack tear ducts so cannot clean their own eyes.

Quack quack!

With domestic ducks the females of most breeds will make the classic “quack” sound. Ducks have a wide range of sounds including chattering, whistling, grunting, and squeaking.

Ducks use their range of calls to communicate everything from being scared or startled to informing other members of the flock that they’ve found a tasty treat.

Domestic ducks

Ducks have been domesticated for hundreds of years and have many economic uses including being farmed for their meat, eggs, and feathers.

Ducks are also common as pets, especially in recent years, where they are kept both alongside chickens and separately.

These days there are so many different breeds of domestic duck it would take pages to list them all. Some of the most common breeds of duck kept include Call, Aylesbury, Pekin, Indian Runner, Khaki Campbell, and Silver Appleyard.

Looking After Your Ducks this Winter

snow ducksWith winter looming it’s time to start thinking about any changes to your ducks housing you’ll need to make and any extra care needs they’ll have. Luckily, ducks are hardy creatures and are well adapted to living in colder weather.

If you’re in the UK chances are the weather won’t get cold enough for you to need to make any drastic changes to how you keep your ducks but there are still things you ought to consider before the winter comes.

Up their food intake

As the winter gets closer your ducks are going to need to be a healthy weight so they’ve got plenty of fat to keep them warm when it gets cold. Providing them with plenty of high quality feed at the end of autumn will help them put on weight and stay healthy during the winter.

When the winter really sets in giving them a high calorie treat such as corn before bed will help them keep warm overnight as their body with produce heat during the digestion process.

Inspect their duck house

Now is the time to give your duck house a really good clean and check for any leaks or damage. Treat the wood to keep it in good condition throughout the colder months and replace any damaged areas such as the roof or rusted metal fixtures.

You might want to consider adding extra insulation in the roof and using a deep litter method of bedding to keep your ducks warm at night.

Think about protecting against mud

Although ducks love muddy conditions the ground won’t thank you for the damage and ducks shouldn’t be stood around in wet mud all day.

Consider putting straw down in their run or enclosure or use another material such as wood chip or even fallen leaves from your garden.

Increase your predator proofing

You’ll find that your ducks eat more in the winter and unfortunately so will predators so it’s really important to provide as much protection as you can.

Check any existing wire for holes and consider adding an extra layer of wire and burying it at least 6 inches underground or in a trench around the duck house.

Provide protection against the elements

Wind, rain, and snow can make life pretty miserable for humans and ducks a like so think about providing them with as much protection as possible.

Tarpaulin or plastic sheeting can be used to cover one side and a section over the top of their run to act as a wind break and “umbrella”. If the weather forecast indicates snow or extreme rain it’s worth using a sheet of plywood to cover the top of their run nearest the house.

Remember to break the ice

Although ducks don’t need a large expanse of water to be happy they do need access to clean, unfrozen water during the day.

You’ll need to empty each water container every night and refill them during the day. Some duck keepers invest in heated water bowls for the hot months or place bottles of hot water in water buckets.

This method is the opposite of the frozen bottle method used in the summer months to keep water cool. The hot bottles stop the water freezing if temperatures are particularly cold during the day.

Top 5 Chicken Keeping Mistakes Chicken Keeping Beginners Make

It’s human nature to make mistakes, particularly when you’re just starting out with a new hobby or pastime, and chicken keeping is no different.

There’s a wealth of information out there on everything from choosing the right chickens for beginners to how to build a DIY chicken grit station but all the advice in the world doesn’t compare to actually having your own chickens.

Unfortunately along with all the joy that chicken keeping brings it can also bring heartache, especially when mistakes are made. Hopefully this article will help you learn from others mistakes and avoid potential trouble.

Here are the top 5 most common mistakes that new chicken keepers make:

  1. Not having a big enough chicken house

Getting your chicken house purchase right is one of the most important things when you’re starting out with chickens.

There are many designs and styles of chicken house available and you need to think carefully about your requirements before making a purchase.

The top piece of advice Jim can give you is to not go for the cheapest option. Cheap is definitely not cheerful when it comes to poultry housing and buying a cheap house could cost you both time and your chickens’ health.

Here’s more about choosing the right house for your hens.

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  1. Underestimating Mr Fox

Foxes are the most common predator for chickens, although badgers, cats, rodents, and even other birds can all be a risk.

Ensuring that your housing is well constructed and uses high quality materials such as galvanised steel mesh (rather than chicken wire) is the first step in protecting your flock from predators.

You may also want to consider having a wire “skirt” around your chicken house and run and using electric poultry netting for added protection.

  1. Not knowing how to spot common ailments or injuries

If you’re keeping chickens for the first time you might be unaware of the warning signs of illness, distress, and injury.

Knowing what to look for and how to treat minor injuries or illnesses could not only save you a costly trip to the vets but also save your chicken’s life.

Here are some of the common poultry ailments and what you can do to prevent and/or treat them.

chicken first aid kit

  1. Not considering seasonal care changes

Chickens are relatively easy to keep but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when they wouldn’t appreciate a little extra TLC.

With winter around the corner it’s important to consider how their care needs will change with the seasons.

Here are some tips on keeping your chickens happy this winter.

  1. Introducing new flock members incorrectly

All chicken keepers will tell you that this is an addictive hobby. You start with three or four chickens and before you know it you’re researching rare breeds and tracking down breeders on the other side of the country!

However, introducing new members to the flock isn’t quite as simple as putting them all in the house and hoping they make friends.

Chicken behaviour is quite complex and there is a strict “pecking order” that all members of the flock must fit in to.

Here’s more about understanding chicken behaviour to help make sure your new hens fit in with minimal drama.

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Happy Homes for Happy Turkeys

What to consider when choosing housing for your turkeys

Large Turkey

If you’re considering buying your first turkeys then there are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind when thinking about their housing.

Turkeys, unlike some other breeds of poultry, prefer to spend as much of their time as possible living outside. This means that a secure, good sized poultry pen, is a must have for any turkey keeper.

Turkeys also like to spend a considerable amount of time grazing, grass makes up around 50% of their diet, so the pen is best located on pasture. They’ll need a covered roosting area and it is best to purchase housing designed specifically for turkey keeping, rather than modifying chicken housing.

For up to 12 turkeys the pen should be at least 75ft x 75ft and provide adequate protection from predators such as foxes. Electric fence around the perimeter of the pen and pasture will help to deter predators.

Your turkeys will be able to live outside from around 8-12 weeks of age. If you already keep chickens then a single turkey should happily live with them. However, turkeys are always happiest when they have companions of the same species.

Ideally any turkey housing should be moveable, skids or wheels make moving housing easy, to prevent a build-up of manure and allow for thorough cleaning.

The roosts ought to be built all at the same height to prevent your turkeys fighting over the top spot. Lightweight metal or fibreglass roof panels will provide protection from the elements.

As we said above, turkeys love to graze, so they’ll need access to pasture outside of their pen. Remember that turkeys can, and will fly, meaning that fencing will need to be at least 4ft high.

You might also want to consider netting over your fence to provide extra protection and prevent your turkeys roosting in neighbouring trees!

roosting_turkeys

Duck Breed of the Month: Aylesbury

Aylesbury_duck

 

The Aylesbury is the classic white farmyard duck and although there are many other white duck breeds available, the Aylesbury is the original, and their fans say, the best!

Unsurprisingly for a duck that was bred for eating they are good eaters themselves and enjoy foraging both on land and on water. They are capable of free ranging with little additional feed and can produce around 120 large, white eggs per year.

They’re pure white, with a pink bill, and bright orange legs and feet. Exactly how the breed was developed is unknown but they originate from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, UK.

An increasing demand in the 18th century for white feathers for quilting and the fact the Aylesbury fattens more quickly than other table ducks lead to the breed becoming incredibly popular. The introduction of a railway line to Aylesbury in 1839 meant that the breed could easily spread across the country via London markets.

There was a class for “Aylesbury or other white variety” in the first National Poultry Show in 1845 with the Aylesbury being judged on size, shape, and feather colour.

Unfortunately the move to breed Aylesbury ducks outside of their original location and the introduction of the Pekin duck in 1873 meant that the true Aylesbury went into decline.

Decreasing popularity of small scale duck breeding, inbreeding, and a reluctance from Aylesbury breeders to introduce more technology such as incubators, meant that the breed has become increasingly rare.

Now there is only one surviving flock of pure Aylesbury ducks in the UK and the breed is on the critically endangered list in the USA.

Basic chick care – our top tips

Poultry in motion

 

 

 

Last week we looked at the equipment you’ll need to raise chicks so this week we’re looking at some of the basic chick care needs you’ll have to fulfil for a healthy brood.

 

 

Quick checklist for chick breeders

  • Make sure your brooder box is somewhere dry, draught free, and with a steady temperature – a well-insulated shed will do if there’s no room indoors
  • If your brooder box is in the open, make sure it has some kind of lid – cats, dogs, and other predators think chicks are a tasty snack!
  • On day one your brooder temperature should be 37 °C
  • Invest in a non-slip covering for your brooder box floor – this reduces the risk of the condition called spraddle leg
  • Make sure you have a good quality heat lamp – your chicks will need heat for the first 4-6 weeks of their lives
  • Your chicks should be fed chick crumbs for the first 6 weeks, after that you can move them on to grower’s pellets
  • Your chicks might also enjoy a little bit of mixed corn after 2 weeks and some green vegetables
  • Don’t forget small stones or pebbles in your chick’s water bowl to prevent them drowning

What else do you need to know about chick care?

Heat lamps

When shopping for a heat lamp there are a few things to consider. You might find that a lamp with a read bulb has a calming effect on your brood. It’s also a good idea to buy a spare bulb or two – just in case!

Keeping clean

Cleanliness is essential when you’re raising chicks. Tiny, newly hatched chicks are especially prone to infection so it’s important to make sure you keep their brooder box as clean as possible.

Wash the brooder box with pet safe disinfectant before using it, even if it’s brand new, and change the bedding every two or three days. Damp conditions are especially risky as chicks can catch a number of diseases including Coccidiosis, which thrives in damp environments.

Poorly chicks

Sometimes you’ll get a few chicks that just aren’t as strong as the rest of the clutch. Giving them electrolytes or sugar water can help to give them extra energy but sometimes nature will just take its course.

The big wide world

As the chicks get older, around 2-3 weeks depending on the weather, they can go outside for short periods of time.

Some people put their chicks in a greenhouse during the day, this works especially well during the spring or autumn when the weather is temperate, and bring them back in at night.

Remember, your chicks will be particularly vulnerable to predators so they’ll need to be in a covered run or enclosure if they’re out and about.

A brief history of domestic duck keeping

Ducks are kept for a variety of reasons – originally for meat, eggs, and down – and now also as companions and exhibition birds.

Ducks were first thought to have been domesticated in Southeast Asia where they are still more popular than chickens. In Europe and the Western world they are not as popular as a food source because their meat is expensive in comparison to chicken.

Breeds of duck are classified into the following varieties: Heavy, Light, Bantam, Runner, and Call. Call and Runner ducks are probably the most easily recognisable breeds because of their differing size (Call) and upright stature (Runner).

call_duck

Tunnel_of_ducks

 

With a few breed exceptions ducks are usually not very good at raising their own young so it has been common practice for hundreds of years to use chickens as a natural incubator when trying to raise ducks.

The Muscovy

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

Almost all domesticated ducks are descended from the Mallard duck, with the exception of the Muscovy duck, which was first brought to Europe from the Americas by Columbus in the 16th Century.

The Muscovy has been domesticated for centuries and was originally popular because of its strong tasting meat. Although they are domesticated there are feral populations found in America, Southern Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some parts of Europe.

The Muscovy is also one of the few breeds of duck that are good at raising ducklings so many breeders keep one or two Muscovy ducks to act as natural incubators for other breeds.

Ducks as pets and show birds

Since the Victorian Era there have been breed standards developed and a more rigid set of specifications applied to each breed of duck.

Exhibitions and shows were originally a way of presenting to others the breed standard and proving that your particular line of birds meet that standard. In fact, the Aylesbury duck was one of the leading waterfowl breeds at the first national poultry show held at the London Zoological Gardens in 1845.

In modern times ducks are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to keeping chickens. This may be due to a number of reasons such as larger eggs, and their fondness for snacking on common garden pests such as slugs and insects.

Cayuga Duck

Cayuga Duck

Duck Breed of the Month: Call Duck

call_duckCall ducks are the smallest of the duck breeds and are usually kept for exhibition or ornamental purposes. Despite their small size they have a big personality and even bigger voices, so if you’re considering keeping Call ducks you should let your neighbours know!

Call ducks were originally descended from the Mallard and were quite rare at the beginning of the century, but their popularity has grown and they now win more championships in America than any other duck breed.

Traditionally they were bred to lure other ducks into funnel traps by tethering tame calls ducks to the traps. Their loud call travels great distances and was a very effective method of luring wild ducks within range of hunters.

The Call duck was introduced to the UK in the 1850s and was one of the first six waterfowl breeds to be officially standardised. You can find out more information about the breed and its history from the British Call Duck Club.

The breed is known to be clean and tidy, making them perfect for duck keepers with small gardens, and is easily tamed. As a bantam bird they make little mess in the garden and don’t usually big up your garden so they’re perfect if you want a duck that will keep bugs down without ruining your lawn.

Their small size and docile nature means they are happy to be kept in confinement and there are a variety of bantam duck arks available.

These pretty birds are available in 10 different colours: Apricot, Bibbed, White, Pied, Black, Blue Fawn, Silver, Dark Silver, Magpie, and Mallard.

 

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Time saving inventions to keep your poultry happy

One of the great things about keeping poultry is that they don’t take a lot of time on a daily basis. As long as you have time to feed, water, collect eggs, and cast your eye over to flock for any problems then you’ve got time for chickens. Add on an hour or so once a week to thoroughly clean their coop and accessories and you’re done.

However, it’s always nice to be able to save a few minutes here and there. After all, those few minutes mean more time to relax and enjoy your hens once the chores are done.

Luckily there are plenty of products on the market, and DIY projects you can do, that will help you save time on the boring (but essential) jobs involved in chicken keeping.

Automatic chicken coop doors

Autodoorunitslide-600x600Automatic door control units are usually solar powered, so you don’t need an electrical supply, and keep your flock safe as well as saving you time.

You can set the timer for whenever suits you, normally dawn and dusk, and this will ensure that your flock are shut up safely for the night if you can’t be there to put them to bed when the sun goes down.

 

Automatic feeder systems

Feeding your flock doesn’t take a lot of time but if you’re running late or you tend to your chickens before you go to work knowing that they’re fed without needing to lug around bags of feed can be useful.

There are many different designs of feeder available online and in pet/poultry shops. However, if you fancy a weekend project we’ve found a great video from Rob Bob’s Backyard Farming showing you how to make a DIY poultry feeder.

Automatic poultry drinkers

Automatic poultry drinkers are also a great time saving invention and not all designs require mains water to work. In fact, some drinkers can even be attached to a water butt so you could collect rain water and hydrate your chickens for free!

Check Ebay for low cost poultry drinkers.

Remember, automated poultry keeping products are great but they still need to be checked daily and cleaned weekly to ensure they are working correctly.

How to grow your own chicken salad bar

Fruit-vegetablesChickens are great at foraging and will happily supplement their diets with plants and bugs they find in your garden. This is great because one of the things chicken keepers worry the most about is the continually rising cost of chicken feed.

EU regulations prevent you from feeding kitchen scraps to your chickens but that doesn’t mean you can’t supplement your chickens diet for a very low cost. In fact, some poultry keepers are able to grow enough to keep their chickens fed without needing to buy commercial poultry feed at all.

So, what can you feed chickens and how do you grow it?

Grass

All poultry, including geese and turkey, can subsist on grass if they have access to enough good quality grazing. Letting you chickens free range on your lawn means less mowing for you, plus they’ll keep the weeds down and provide free fertiliser.

Simply place your chicken house in a quiet corner of the garden and let them out every morning for a day of foraging. When it comes to reseeding your lawn opt for organic grass seed that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals.

Legumes

Legumes – broad beans, peas, and French beans etc. – are particularly beneficial to chickens because of their high protein content. Poultry keepers would usually harvest their crop, leave them to dry, and then mince or grind the legumes before feeding their flock.

Not grown legumes before? Here’s a great article from The Guardian with top tips for lovely legumes.

Brassicas

Chickens also love leafy green vegetables such as cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts and kale. You can feed these raw, mince them into a mash, lightly steam them, or simply let your flock graze on your veg patch.

Here’s some great advice from the BBC on growing brassicas. Remember, anything you grow will need to be organic and free from chemicals as many commonly used garden chemicals are harmful to chickens.

Luckily chickens are great weed and bug killers so you shouldn’t find yourself needing to use pesticides.

Seeds

Seeds and grains are always a welcome part of a chicken’s diet and there are many easy to grow plants that can provide them with food. Sunflowers, millet, rye, and barley are all easily grown and provide plenty of protein and nutrients.

This guide from Organic Gardening offers great advice on growing your own grains.