How to Raise and Care for Newly Hatched Ducklings
Ducklings are baby ducks and they can be acquired many ways. You can have a duck hen raise and hatch them, you can hatch them yourself in a brooder, or you can purchase ducklings, sometimes at a day old but usually a week old. Young ducklings require special care. Much of this information will also apply to goslings, baby geese.
Duck Raised Ducklings
The ducklings that are raised with their mother require the least amount of care on your part. They will be walking around within a short time, often heading to the water which is a source of concern. Ducklings have feathers called down which is very water absorbent and will drown the youngsters. As such it is very important that you restrict them from getting into water. If you keep them in an enclosure with a pool, remove it. They will still need water for drinking and eating.
When the ducklings have lost their down you can give them shallow cat litter box, or other container with shallow water for swimming, making sure the ducklings can get out easily on their own. If you have a large pond the mother may not take them to it for a few days but you can fence it off with snow fencing just in case.
As they mature and lose their down you can give them more water.
For food it is important they have duck starter. Do not give them, or adult ducks, chick starter as it contains medication which is toxic to ducks.
It is fine to leave the drake with them as he will help guard and protect them.
You may want to speak to your veterinarian about vaccinations and disease concerns in your area.
©by author, baby call ducks - one is itching
Care of Other Newly Hatched Ducklings
When not raised by their parents, ducklings require more care on your part.
The ducklings need to be kept in a brooder as they require warmth that they would otherwise get by cuddling with their mother. If you have four or fewer they can be kept in a large guinea pig cage.
Above the cage you need to hang a heating lamp (with reflective cone). If you notice the ducklings tending to cuddle under the lamp it means the lamp may be too high and not giving enough heat, if they move far from it, the lamp is too low and the ducklings are too hot. As they get older you can raise the lamp, and eventually (after a few weeks) will not need it. Of course they need food, and water in their brooder. Again the water must be shallow, and ideally in a no-spill container.
If you have several ducklings you will need more space for them, and may prefer to keep your brooder in the barn or garage. The brooder should be fully enclosed if you have cats, dogs, or other predators (mink, rats), otherwise tall walls are all that is needed. The simplest brooder can be made out of cardboard enclosing an area roughly 6 ft x 6 ft for 30-40 ducklings (15 – 25 goslings). The heat lamp must be hung at an appropriate height.
Bedding for the Duckling Brooder
If your ducklings are under a week old you will want to have a layer of newsprint on the ground and no other bedding material, as they may try to eat it. Newspaper is slippery to walk on so adding a layer of paper towel over top is a good idea. Ducklings have week legs for the first few days, so the paper towel will help them stand correctly, as the legs may slip apart on the newspaper or other plain surface. After they are a week old shavings (not cedar) work well, but straw can be used too.
Cleaning the brooder while in use is not a good idea as disturbing the litter actually sends pollutants into the air, instead you can add a few more shavings every few days to cover dirty ones.
Feeding and Watering
As mentioned the ducklings need proper duckling starter, not chick starter. It should be in a proper feeder that will keep feces out but you may want to only fill it half full as they will make a mess and waste some if it is too full. Water should be provided, again remembering that ducklings with down can drown. The water must be in something that will not spill. They really do not need to swim at this stage and mostly need the water for drinking and eating (see below). If they can get into their water it will become soiled with feces so most producers use water systems that do not allow the ducklings to swim until they are older and outdoors.
An important issue with ducks is that they need to get their food wet before eating it. They often take a mouth full of food, walk to their water, soak it, eat it, and walk back to the food. This can be very messy. Some producers compensate by feeding smaller amounts of food, already slightly wet. Putting the water too close to the food will make an additional mess. So others lay paper towels between the food and water, and change the paper towels regularly.
As the Ducklings Get Bigger
As they get bigger they need more room, and less heat. The ducklings will be ready to go outside at around 6 weeks of age. They can have water for swimming in, be sure they can get out of the water easily by adding rocks as needed. Once the ducklings are out of the brooder it should be cleaned, and the bedding discarded (or even burnt). If you used cardboard to form your brooder it should be discarded and not used for another batch of ducklings.