Kinder, gentler denizens of our backyard
(before we put up deer fencing)


Got up so early the other day I woke the ducks up.  Not good.  Actually, the cat woke me up then the other cat woke up then I got up.  Apparently, a cat can be trained to get up at 5 AM even though his whole pampered life he’s gotten up at 7.  Or 7:30.  This whole Ben Franklin “early to bed, early to rise”* thing has gotten a leetle bitty bit out of hand.  But I was already up so I fed the ducks.  Then I went back to bed.

One of the reasons the ducks slept in so peacefully is that they went without their night-light for the first time.  I mean, their brooder lamp.  Yes, I realize they are hardly fragile ducklings anymore and checking my handy-dandy Holderread, I noted that after the first week, etc., etc. you can, etc. “lower the temperature 1 degree F (1.5 degree C) per day until no supplemental heat is needed to equal the low ambient temperature of the day” etc., etc.  Too weary to work through the formula, I kind of forgot about it plus I didn’t want to pull the lamp out too early since occasionally I would see Gladys resting underneath.  Now, however, with daytime temps in the mid-80’s and the first truly sultry evening, there really was no need for extra heat.  Or light.

But this did beg the very pressing question: When are the ducks finally getting out of the garage?!   Which leads to the next, and really most important question, in the duck-raising journey:  Where will the ducks sleep?  The answer that I sort of, almost, finally came up with is a journey in itself.


Ducks, with their superior insulating characteristics (well-exploited by the puffy coat industry), do not have an issue with weather, per se.  The main purpose of duck housing is protection not from the elements but from the neighbors.  The predator neighbors, that is.  Depending on which part of the country your waterfowl reside, these can range from coyote to fox to, our particular nemesis, raccoon.**

As others have noted, raccoons may look all warm and fuzzy but those cuddly exteriors hide the cunning brain of a smart, agile and relentless carnivore.  (Coming Soon: Alien vs. Raccoon…in 3D!!!)  We knew we had ‘em in the ‘hood so it really wasn’t a question of if but when they would come by to check out our girls.  Gulp.

So about two months before the hatchlings arrived, I began waking up in the middle of the night hyperventilating about duck protection.  (Yes, I’m now a charter member of the DPA, the Duck Protection Agency.  Ok, the only member.)  I realize that in February they weren’t even a twinkle in their daddy’s eye but in the duck-housing conundrum, it’s never too soon to start worrying, I mean, strategizing.  As I’ve noted before, while there are many different options for backyard chicken folks, there are far fewer duck-specific products on the market.  As the semi-poor cousin in the egg-layer community, you get used to retro-fitting, re-jiggering and otherwise adapting items meant for other farm animals.***  I guess there’s no economic upside in creating a bunch of duck-only stuff.  (I exclude the relatively small market for actual duck consumption, whether for poodles or foodies.  And you know which you are.  If you are.)

The habits of each kind of poultry dictate the needs in the housing department.  Mathematically put: duck = ground-resting = risk.  Chickens, for example, like to roost at night and so apparently they’re happy in a coop, in the rafters or, if pressed, in the trees.  This last alternative would not stop a raccoon (or a serpent!) but it tells you what to expect in the ever-expanding Personal Coop Market.  And, boy, is it ever-expanding.

When my daughter and I first started browsing Backyard Poultry Magazine two years ago, we oohed and aahed over the cute little A-frame models, marveled at the Chicken Tractors (I’ll explain this important concept later) and fantasized over which one would work best in our theoretical backyard with our theoretical poultry.  When after much research and some stubbornness we lit on the idea of getting ducks instead of chickens, it gradually dawned on me that “D” poultry would not easily shoehorn into existing “C” poultry coop design.  For one, they wouldn’t fit.  Ducks need more floor space—for eating, resting, splashing, spilling, hanging out, playing cards, whatever.  According to the Cornell website, each adult bird needs about three square feet if penned.  For our girls, that meant about 15 SF.  Most of the coops, even all the nifty new models, fell far short of that.

In addition, most coop set-ups are designed for birds that can be coaxed up a ramp each night where they fly to their roosting bars and sleep safely behind locked doors, all cozy-wozy.  Ducks basically plop down in a pile of other ducks, tuck their heads under their wings and that’s the deal.  If they happen to plop down in an exposed area, well, Nature could take her course.  (Raccoon: “Ah, I see we’re having Duck tonight.”  Gulp, gulp.)

Honey, do we still need that back bedroom for house guests?


*But, really, folks.  Was this his typical schedule in Paris???  I say this as a loyal Philadelphia native, mind you.

**Presumably, larger predators like cougar or bear could appear but the day they move in is the day I move out.

***Among others, we use a sheep foot bath as a small swimming pool.  Who knew sheep got pedicures?!


Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes