Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ducklings, Chicks, and Poults... Oh my!

As the days warm, the "Drakes of Summer" return to this part of the world. Our normally stand-offish hens take one look at the boys that have been pestering them all winter long and are only too eager to fly away with some fresh looking young drake. A sadder lack of morals you don't want to see! One of our errant Mallard hens returned a couple weeks ago with a brood of ducklings trailing behind, as is often the result of such tomfoolery. I don't mind the new babies. In the wake of bird flu warnings in other states, I do wish our ladies would stay to home. Maine is not one of the states currently fighting this epidemic, but with the return of wild birds from other parts, it could all too easily happen here. I hate to pen our birds up, but we are considering it- for their safety until this passes.

As with the goat kids, we usually leave chicks, ducklings, keets, and other babies born on the farm to the care of their respective Mothers. It means less work for us; changing brooder pen litter, extra time feeding separately, etc. And, we feel that it makes for more naturally cared for creatures. We are not trying to tame our chickens or goats into behaving like domestic dogs, after all. So long as the Mommas are providing for their young, we leave them to it.

For the past couple weeks, we left the ducklings to the care of their Momma. They all looked healthy and in fine form. We could easily spot them in the morning learning what they should eat or washing up in an extra deep puddle in our drive way. By afternoon, Momma and the ducklings meander to the back yard to nibble on this and that on their way to the shallow stream bed. Sean and I bandied about the idea of capturing them and moving them into the barn, but hadn't made any real attempt to. After all, she managed to set on her nest for a month and hatched a good clutch of young, without our interference.

In the wake of several days of cold rain, we had a bit of a scare. Sean found Momma duck wandering around, but she only had 4 ducklings with her! Sean backtracked and searched in the direction she came from and heard a very faint "peep, peep, peep" from one very cold and miserable duckling, tucked into an island of tall grass beside the stream. This baby was in danger. Sean brought it inside to me to warm up while he collected the other ducklings and Momma Mallard and searched for the two still missing ducklings.

Inside the house, this little one needed to get warm and dry as fast as possible. I started by partially filling the sink with tepid water. Then, slowly added hot water until the bath was toasty warm. I thought this would be the quickest way to bring up the duckling's body temperature. Within a couple minutes, the duckling was peeping and alert. The next order of business was to get it dried off. I wrapped it in a warmed towel, grabbed the heating blanket and made a cave of warmth. Meaghan watched over it while I went to see if I could help Sean locate its two missing siblings.

Sean met me in the back yard with them. Momma Mallard was NOT interested in joining her babies, though. We tried to lure her out by bringing the basket of ducklings to where she was hiding from us. We hoped that she would hear their calls for her and come out. Ducks are smarter than chickens. Instead of coming out or revealing exactly where she was hiding, Momma Mallard called to her ducklings to come in to her! And, they were listening! They made a mad scramble up the side of the basket in an effort to get to their Momma hiding somewhere in the thicket. But, with the thought of finding cold, dead ducklings after the storm, we decided to intervene and bring the babies inside with us. Momma Mallard would weather the rain storm just fine, those babies maybe not.

We settled the ducklings into the brooder with the three month-old chickens living there for the night. Not a perfect solution since the ducklings like nothing better than to slosh about in the water container making a grand mess in the pen, but it would do until morning when we could move them into the barn. The duckling in danger perked up in no time and was able to rejoin its siblings.

The next morning, Momma Mallard was spotted calling for her young in the yard. Being apart from them overnight made her much easier to catch. She wanted to get to those babies! Sean lured her into a corner and gently swept her up. Three slightly older ducklings (from our hatch) were already living in the barn. We hoped Momma Mallard would not mind the addition of three more babies to tend. She didn't. We watched in case she tried to bite or shove them away. Because the other three were several weeks older, we also had to be sure that they wouldn't be too rough on the new ducklings. All was just fine.
Look at the size difference between full grown, one month, and one day. 

In a few weeks, all the ducks will be reintroduced to our flock. I love happy endings.

I also love surprise beginnings...

 Sean discovered a very broody Wyandotte sitting in a bucket full of eggs! 10 eggs in all. We spirited one away to candle it and discovered that they were very nearly ready to hatch. So, we let her be to do her thing. And, just a few days later brought us a bucket full of peeping chicks. Had she nested in a bucket downstairs in the barn, we would have left them alone. She didn't. She laid her eggs in a bucket upstairs with no real safe way for them to get down for food or water other than navigating a flight of stairs. This thought gave me visions of peril and terror. We decided to move Momma, bucket of chicks and all, to a safer location- an unused coop from last year.

All nestled in are Momma Wyandotte, six Wyandotte chicks, and one very distinctive Rhode Island Red chick. Apparently, another hen discovered her nest and laid an egg before Mrs. W got broody. She hasn't noticed or minded that one looks quite different. :) Chickens are good like that.

You can just see the lone chick with the chipmunk stripes tucked snugly under his Momma's feathers in this image.

Now that the duckings are sorted and the bucket of chicks is settled into its home, perhaps hatching will begin to run  on our schedule....

Or, in light of our broody Red-breasted Bronze Priscilla's unauthorized nest up in the rafters of the barn, we have a ways to go yet... Stay tuned! ♥

Thanks for visiting today, friends. We hope you have a good one- wherever you may be.
~Sean & Sonja ♥

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