Ducks! They LOVE water and are a joy to watch floating, splashing and bathing in a pond or kiddy pool. But sadly, ducklings can easily drown. Ducklings ARE born quite buoyant and float easily, but they are tiny and can quickly weaken. The sad fact of raising waterfowl without a dirt-lined pond is that you have to take preventative measures to keep your little charges safe, even from the water they so love.
We raise muscovy ducks on pasture, but do not have a natural water source during the summer months. Muscovies do not require as much water time as mallard derivatives, but they do love to splash and play and need a good amount of water to drink to process their feed. In lieu of a pond, we provide cement mixing tubs, kiddy pools and other small dishes. The tubs are the perfect size for adults to drink from and bath in (and even make whoopy in from time to time) and are easily emptied, filled and moved from place to place. We also place the kiddy pools under a gutter on their tractor/shelter to fill in the rain and run long hoses for filling between rain showers.
Since ducklings are born the size of an egg, we also provide much smaller trays of water as well as poultry waterers in the duckling area. For the first few days the ducklings stick mostly to the smaller trays and the waterer (which i place very close to the feed and their nest). Once they’re a bit stronger, though they love playing around in the larger ‘ponds.’ But: all these dishes are plastic and slippery which makes it nearly impossible for a tiny bird to escape from when the water level lowers.
During our first season with ducks, we lost several young ducklings to drowning. Each time i felt absolutely terrible and blamed myself for inadequate management. We had been using bricks as a sort of ‘step ladder’ but if the water level lowered too much even those weren’t sufficient to allow the clamoring of the smaller, weaker birds. Since i am one to do my best to actually LEARN from my mistakes i developed a very easy solution: Enter: the duckling ramp!
This “highly sophisticated’ device is made completely from scraps laying around the farm: two chunks of 1×3 with holes drilled in the ends and some baling twine. That’s it. A longer section of 1×3 rests on the ground, baling twine gap rests at the lip of the pan and the shorter section dunks into the water and even floats like a little ‘dock’. The ducklings just love to line up on the ramp and take turns drinking from it, hopping off and swimming around, then climbing back up for easy exit. As you can see from the photo above, the little ducklings have a hard time getting out without the ramp!
A further improvement on this original design was to use larger sections of plywood or wider boards. The wider area is easier for the ducklings to navigate and provides more space for more ducklings. In the larger kiddy poool, we also like to anchor the ‘in water’ side of the boards with a heavy stone and often place a stump or other heavy object at the base of the outer ramp….. these additional weights help the ramps to stay in place as well as providing even more space for the ducklings to stand on.
Life, homesteading, farming, animal husbandry: all are endless learning experiences. I hate it when that ‘learning experience’ comes at the expense of a life, no matter how little. I am happy to say that in the 2 years since we employed this strategy we haven’t lost a single duckling to drowning! Please share this post with your fellow waterfowl friends and enjoy the antics of happily swimming duckies without the fear of deadly accidents.
What lessons have your animals taught you lately?