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Raising Pekin Ducks: A Rewarding Commitment

Rebecca Jackson and her husband Dan live in unincorporated Harrisville, Wisconsin on a 130-year old farmette. They purchased the land in an effort to return to her homesteading roots growing up.

Working from home, and the property’s chicken coop, gave Jackson the opportunity to raise livestock. Once the farmette had more than twenty chickens she decided to expand.

Jackson says, “I decided on ducks because they were less likely to be aggressive, and [they were] smaller.” After going through learning curves with drake (male) ducks — who didn’t get along well with the resident chickens — she received a box of three peeping babies.

An early morning call from the Post Office signaled their arrival. “I found a hatchery in Missouri where I could request all females in a small quantity, and they were overnighted to me the day they hatched!”

Photo courtesy Rebecca Jackson

The Pekin ducks are named Adelaide, Luna, and Pudder. These days, the three-year old birds live with the chickens in the coop, but they started out in the house.

“I kept my ducklings inside (in a spare bathroom) until they were feathered out enough to stay warm outside — approximately 6-8 weeks. Ducklings grow at an absurd rate — which means more poop and frequent bedding changes (multiple times per day). Within a week they outgrew their Rubbermaid bin and were moved into a temporary home in the spare shower.”

Photo courtesy Rebecca Jackson

Once the ducklings feathered out, they moved outside. A secure structure was necessary so they moved in with the chickens in a 12 x 13″ coop. “Some people use a simple dog house with a door they can close at night. Mine have also been trained to head into the coop each night at dusk,” Jackson said.

Jackson feeds the ducks a layer feed that her chickens also eat, but mostly has them free-range, eating bugs, grass, and weeds, among other things. “I’ve spotted them eating frogs and mice too!” she said.

“As adults, they will eat all the food in sight (three ducks will eat 50 lb of feed a week if you let them — at $14 a bag), so that is another main reason I free-range, but supplement with feed. [It] helps keep food costs down.

Jackson has sensible words of caution for anyone considering ducks, “Raising ducks is a commitment! They can live up to 12 years and are pretty messy! If you’re looking for a manicured lawn and don’t want droppings on the walkway, ducks aren’t for you.”

She also outlined some harsh realities, “Ducks, and poultry in general… aren’t a good choice if you aren’t prepared to be your own veterinarian. Culling and treating sick/wounded animals is inevitable.”

Ducks have large soft feet, making them highly susceptible to bumblefoot, an infection that can happen from a slight scratch or injury. Jackson describes it as “a solid cheese-like substance.” Removal of the infection is required, along with persistent cleaning and treatment until the foot heals.

Overall, her experience with ducks has outweighed the sometimes-harsher parts. “I mainly have ducks for their eggs… Believe it or not, ducks lay much more dependably than chickens — even through the winter.”

The three girls also provide “endless entertainment.” According to Jackson, “They’re hilarious to watch waddling all over the yard, digging through the grass, playing in their pool, and best of all, when they’re called.”

Photo courtesy Rebecca Jackson

Jackson shared her “Quack Facts,” for those considering ducks:

  • Ducklings imprint on the first thing they see after hatching, thus concluding that object is their mother. They also identify as this object in life. So my ducks think they’re humans.
  • One way to identify the sex of a duck is by their quack. Females have very loud (often obnoxious) quacks, while males are quiet and more like a whisper.
  • A second way to identify the sex of a duck is by its tail feathers. Males have feathers that curl up, while females have flat feathers.
  • Ducks love routine. They are happiest when the same person lets them out, feeds / waters them at the same time daily — even when their owner wears the same clothes.
  • Ducks have nearly 340 degrees of vision due to the position of their eyes on their head. One eye specializes in near sight, while the other specializes in far. If there is a bird of prey flying overhead, I usually see all my ducks frozen in place with their heads tilted to give the far-sighted eye the best view.
  • Ducks have a comb-like structure along the inside edges of their bill called a pecten. This enables them to filter food out of the water.
  • Ducks sleep with one eye open to watch for predators. This means only half their brain is asleep at a time.
Published on Oct 31, 2018

Grit Magazine

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