Having a backyard farm filled with happy quacking ducks is extremely rewarding. Life, however, becomes far less happy if your ducklings start dying for no apparent reason. No one wants this to happen, but if it does, you need to get to the cause of the problem and find the best solution.
Ducklings may die due to wrong feed, lack of water, and lack of hygiene or space. Other factors are eating toxins in food and water, drowning, and attacks by predators. Disease outbreaks can cause ducklings to die in large numbers.
Ducklings don’t usually die suddenly. They show signs of weakness, illness, and lethargy. Being a ‘duck parent’ means you need to take action as soon as possible to prevent your ill ducklings from dying.
Newborn ducklings are tiny and weak. But, caring for them well and providing safe and hygienic living conditions will ensure a high rate of survival.Learn how to raise your own quail and have an unlimited supply of eggs and meat.
Possible causes that are making your ducklings die
Begin by isolating the ill ducklings to stop the possible spread of infections or disease. Check the following topics to see if any of these could be the problem.
Feed – is it contaminated?
Ducks and ducklings are messy creatures and their food source gets contaminated very easily.
The best way to feed your ducks is to put out clean food in clean containers at the same time every day and remove the leftovers and throw them away.
If you leave food in the pen, droppings may mix in with the feed if your pen is not set up with a net to allow the droppings to fall through the floor. Food that gets wet will encourage the growth of bacteria that is toxic to your flock.
Feed – is it nutritional?
Check that you are giving your ducklings feed that is formulated specifically for ducklings. Giving them adult duck feed may contain extra proteins and extra calcium that might actually damage ducklings’ organs.
Duckling feed can be bought at your local farmer’s market or online. It is similar to chicken feed but contains an added boost of Niacin. Ducklings need niacin to strengthen their bones.
Without adequate niacin, you may find that their leg bones grow crooked and their beaks curve, preventing them from closing.
If you are not purchasing feed, but are making it yourself, ensure that it contains enough natural vitamins and essential nutrients for your ducklings.
Include leafy greens, lettuce, corn kernels, peas, and cut-up tomatoes in their diet. For added nutrients, domestic ducklings eat grass cuttings, bugs, and some fruits.
Cut up the fruits into very small pieces and place them in a bowl of water. Use the flesh of peaches and cherries but not the stones. Bananas and strawberries also offer a variety of vitamins. After feeding, throw away the water and leftover food.
Children love to feed ducks bread. Bread, however, provides very little nutrition for ducklings. Bread also stagnates in water and breeds extremely harmful mold.
Water – do they have enough?
Ducklings need clean, fresh water in abundance.
When they eat, water helps to reduce the build-up of food material in their mouths. It is important to have your water supply close to your feeding bins. The water containers must be easily accessible for small ducklings.
Put out fresh water every day and throw away any leftover water. Water should never be allowed to get stagnant. Food that falls into the water will rot and breed bacteria that are toxic to ducklings.
In very cold winter climates, you need to ensure that the water does not freeze. Place your containers in an area that is warm enough to keep the water from icing up but does not make it hot.
Ducks love to swim, but allowing your tiny ducklings to swim is not a good idea. Ducks have a special oil gland at the base of the tail. When it gets wet it produces essential oils so that they can preen their feathers.
In small ducklings, this gland is not yet active. If they get wet, they cannot produce water-repellent oils. Your little ducklings become sodden, tired, and then sink and drown.
They may also catch a cold that may lead to death if they are unable to dry and warm up sufficiently. If the weather is warm, set up a very shallow pan for your ducklings to splash in. Keep an eye on them and take them out after 5 to 10 minutes.
Temperature – are your ducklings too hot or too cold?
Too hot or too cold housing can cause your ducklings to die. For small ducklings, a heat lamp with a red bulb will simulate a mother’s warmth. Set the lamp to start at a temperature of 90°F to 92°F. Reduce the temperature by one degree per day until the ducklings are 3 to 4 weeks old.
Position your lamps so that they only heat part of the enclosure. Your ducklings will then choose to have heat when they want.
When your ducklings are too cold, you will notice that they eat less. They also visibly shiver and huddle together to try to get warm. If you see black spots on their feet, this is a sign of frostbite and should be treated by a vet.
Keep your ducklings warm by insulating your brooder. You can also provide sawdust or even towels as bedding in very cold weather.
Pen size – overcrowding and undercrowding
Overcrowding your ducklings can lead to stress. Ducks are very social creatures and unhappy living conditions may cause them to fall ill and even die. Undercrowding your ducklings is not usually a problem, but it does prevent ducklings from maintaining a cozy warm environment via their body heat.
Here is a useful table to calculate how much floor space per duckling you need. (1)
|days old||square feet|
Obviously, these numbers are not carved in stone but give you a good idea of how fast ducklings grow, and with that their need for space grows too. A brooder that might be big enough for a large number of ducklings might become small after a week.
Ratio of females and males
The ratio of males to females affects your grown ducks and your ducklings. On your homestead or backyard farm, you should aim to have a ration of 1 drake to every 4 to 5 females. Having a high ratio of males leads them to become aggressive.
Drakes may attack female ducks, causing injury or even death. Female ducks that are under stress from aggressive males will not be able to care for their ducklings. The ducklings may be neglected, left to fend for themselves, and may die.
If you have too many males, why not offer some to a friend who has a duck enclosure? You could also introduce more females into your flock. Remember that females don’t need males to produce eggs. They only need males to produce fertile eggs.
Lack of hygiene
Keeping your duck enclosure hygienic is vital to the health of your ducks and ducklings.
Leftover food will become damp and moldy. Eating contaminated food will introduce toxins into their bodies that can make them ill and lead to death.
Ensure that you wash and dry your food containers before refilling them. The same routine should be followed for water containers.
Droppings in the duckling enclosure will attract bacteria and parasites. Ensure that you have a net mesh floor that allows droppings to fall through. Spread a thick layer of pine shavings on the floor.
Make it around 2 to 3 inches deep. The shavings help absorb moisture and smells. The shavings need to be swept up and replaced at least once every fortnight.
Unhygienic duck enclosures attract other unwelcome creatures like rats and mice. These pests bring diseases into your duck coop that are also dangerous to humans.
Adverse weather conditions
Although we have no control over the weather, you should take precautions to protect your ducklings from extreme cold or heat. Grown ducks are very tolerant of cold weather and are often seen waddling around in the snow! But, your ducklings are too small and fragile to survive freezing winters.
Ensure that you have temporary protection to close up your coop in very cold weather. Use boards or straw bales and place them around the outside of the enclosure. When the weather warms up, it is easy to take them down.
Place a thick layer of straw on the floor. This will keep their feet off the icy ground. Small wooden planks also work well, the ducklings will soon realize that they are warmer than the icy floor. Add extra straw around your water containers. Splashed water turns to ice in the winter. Extra straw will help to soak up the water.
Ensure that you have adequate ventilation. Humans like to close all windows in the cold but, a closed space is not ideal for ducklings. Ducklings release a large amount of moisture from their bodies. This moisture will build up and create a moisture-laden, humid environment that attracts harmful bacteria and parasites.
Too much dampness will chill the coop and cause frostbite. When you close up your coop, ensure that you have open some vents so that fresh air circulates.
Mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and other bugs
You know how irritating a tiny mosquito is! Unfortunately, they also attack ducks and ducklings. Large infestations of mosquitoes reduce egg production in larger ducks and can cause death in ducklings.
Mosquitoes breed in and near water. Clearing pond edges of vegetation will help reduce them. Black Fly, also known as Turkey Gnats, attack ducks in swarms, causing death. These pests are difficult to control and may require expert advice.
Agricultural experts will advise and treat areas that are prone to large infestations. For your small ducklings, a mosquito trap installed in your coop will help to zap them before they bite your babies.
Planting natural insect-repellent plants around your coop will ward off a variety of pests and mosquitoes. Choose to plant fennel, marigolds, lemon balm, citronella, or peppermint plants. They look very attractive and also smell great.
Ivermectin is a popular product to control internal and external parasites. It can be obtained from a vet. Be cautious and wear gloves when using this product. Get instructions from your vet before use.
Home farmers should be aware that some insecticides are known to be poisonous to ducks. These include sprays with parathion and diazinon. If you are considering using a spray, check with your local vet and read the directions carefully.
Predators cannot resist a tasty treat and you don’t want your ducklings to be their meal! Foxes, raccoons, dogs, and even large birds are always on the hunt for food. Ensure that your enclosures are safe and strong and cannot be pushed over by a large fox or dog.
Check that your property is fenced off and that there are no holes in the fence where predators could gain access.
Keep your ducklings locked up at night. Don’t leave feed out at night as this may attract predators. During the day, if you allow your ducklings to wander, keep an eye on them.
Motion sensors or strobe lights are also very effective in scaring off predators. Consider installing solar devices that use no electricity and won’t add any costs.
Raccoons and skunks are disorientated by strobe lights and will seek an easier meal somewhere else. If you prefer not to have flashing lights, you could consider a silent sound device that is only heard by certain animals. They cannot be detected by humans. The device emits a high-pitched sound that deters dogs and other predators.
Looking after ducklings is much like looking after a human baby. But, the good news is that it takes far less time for them to get strong and become self-sufficient.
If you create a healthy, hygienic, and safe home for your ducklings, they will survive and grow into happy ducks. Take care to supply fresh food and clean water every day. Clean out the coop and lay down fresh straw or shavings regularly. Ensure that you ward off the cold and draughts by adding adequate protection. Most of all, cuddle and hug your ducklings. They are social creatures and respond well to love.
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