You would think after months of reading everything I could get my eyeballs on, I could figure out how to manage these first moments. Maybe with my 10-year-old recording everything I had a touch of stage fright. But the reality is, you just gotta jump in. (Or they will.) The four hardy ducklings were more than ready to escape and the fifth scaredy duck (dubbed Gladys) flailed so much, she almost fell out of my hand into the brooder. When you think about, who can blame them? We complain about flying coach but that’s plush compared to being stuffed in a box with a bunch of strangers and a heating pad. Ok, maybe not so different.
All the books tell you to gently place duck in one palm and cover with the other, speaking softly and moving slowly. Right. What we did was make it up as we went along, speaking as softly as we could, semi-frantically containing the fluff balls and trying to guide them toward their first sips of water (“Water is the most important nutrient. Dip their bills in and make sure they tip their heads back.”)
This is how it actually went:
Hey, ducks, water. The most important nutrient. No, no, not straw! Don’t eat that! What the…leave her alone! No, don’t SIT in the water. Give her some room….Pamela, which ones had water? That one? Did the other black one get some? Ok, let’s try this again.
I left PJ with her new pets while I attempted to mix up a portion of GroGel Plus B suitable for 5 ducklings.* They went for the green-colored substance with nature-engineered glee. It supplies hyper-hydration and key nutrients but isn’t necessary after a couple of days or so. These hatchlings were extremely lively so I wasn’t particularly worried about their imminent demise but I thought a little vitamin chaser couldn’t hurt. Later on, in one of my (many) calls to the website where I ordered the ducks, www.ducksforbackyards.com, the very nice Texans reminded me that you can offer the hatchlings non-medicated starter crumble right away, as long as they have water. So I set up that feeder in a separate corner of the brooding pen. At first, the hatchlings continued to poke at their bedding material thinking/hoping it was food. They poked at the yellow enclosure walls. They poked at each other. They poked at me (I periodically shielded Gladys in my hand) and they particularly liked to stab at my shiny wedding rings like manic magpies, as it were.
We had started the adventure with the brooding pen in a diamond shape, the waterer in a corner farthest from the electric light. Later that morning when I first placed the feeder, it went into a dri(er) spot away from the waterer but not under the light. You are warned by all that ducks are “messy creatures” but that vastly underestimates their capacity for spills and other housekeeping mayhem. I only used the GroGel the first day but in the brief moments it lived in the pen, they walked in it, sat in it, even attempted to skate it in. As amusing as this was, ducks don’t do well on slippery surfaces so I monitored them carefully when it was around. (Alternately, I could have found a smaller container—say, a jar lid but I didn’t have a clean, empty one available, only this plastic picnic plate. Next time, if there is one, I will know better.)
There had also been advice about placing waterers and feeders on wire or plastic grid surfaces. I ordered a few pre-built ones from Premier 1 Supplies but these were so big, they didn’t fit in the brooding pen the first day. The working plan was to add one when I next enlarged the pen, which might end up being sooner than had I first thought.
Meanwhile, I had smaller issues to deal with: Gladys.
*Note to reader: the little packet of GroGel gives instructions regarding the immersion of said packet into 100 ml of water. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to do this unless you are feeding 100 baby chicks, 200 baby pheasants or 400 baby quail. If you plan to feed a more moderate amount of birdage, do it this way: add water to a teaspoonful of dry mixture until it resembles a cross between Jello and tapioca pudding. (If tapioca were green.) This website has a nice photo to illustrate.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes
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