Mama Madge, one of my free range Muscovy ducks, hatched out 13 adorable ducklings on August 26.
Up until two years ago, we had so little predator pressure on our homestead, that she could have raised these ducklings to maturity on our large pond with no help from me. Unfortunately, the predators finally found us. Now it’s just not safe for baby ducklings to free range, even with Mama Madge’s careful supervision.
Also, Mama Madge is too much of a free spirit for me to confine her with her babies in a brooder. I’ve tried before and it didn’t work out. So, with a heavy heart, I had to collect her ducklings in a bucket and bring them into the house to raise.
Mama Madge took it hard for the first two days. But, now she’s enjoying her free time on the pond and foraging the abundant slugs our excessive rainy summer have afforded.
Thankfully, I’m no stranger to raising ducklings. I’ve raised hundreds of them over the past 6 years in a variety of different ways. This time though, since I’ve only got 13 and the weather is warm, I am using the bathtub brooder/day pasture method.
The Bathtub Brooder
For the first few days, I kept the ducklings exclusively in our bathtub. I gave them sport bird starter crumble (my farm supply store doesn’t have duck starter), with added niacin, puréed duck weed (that I grow in drums of water in the greenhouse), and plenty of fresh water.
Since the bathroom temperature is between 78-80℉, I didn’t use a heat lamp. The ducks just huddle together to stay warm like they would if their mama were raising them outdoors.
The first few days the ducks are calm and don’t need much room to roam. They mostly eat, sleep, and dabble in their water dish. However, once they start darting around the bathtub, I know its time for pasture.
After that, every day, I load the ducklings into a tote bin and carry them out to a fenced pasture that has a starter pond and a duck shelter. The pasture is too large for these little ducklings initially. So I partitioned off a small area between the shelter and pond as a safe zone.
This pasture isn’t fully predator secure for night use. But my dogs patrol the fenced perimeter during the day. Also, I can see it from my office window where I do my writing. So it’s quite safe during the day.
Initially, I start them on pasture by taking them out from 1 pm to 5 pm. By the end of the week they are out for 8-10 hours a day. I ease them into pasture because it usually takes young ducklings a couple days to develop the confidence to move away from the pond and start using the duck shelter for shade.
Until that happens, ducklings are at risk for overheating in our hot temperatures and humidity. But once they start moving back and forth between the duck shelter and pond to regulate their own environmental conditions, then I extend their pasture time.
In addition to the pasture, I keep a full feed bowl available to ducklings at all times. At first, they mostly eat the feed I give them. But slowly, they start nibbling the clover leaves and catching an occasional insect.
The ducklings use the pond for drinking water and grooming. It’s mostly rain fed. But I also have a hose running to it for topping it off or clearing the water if necessary.
This pond is specifically designed for ducklings. It has an easy slopped entry in the shallow end. Plus it’s only 3 feet across so ducklings can quickly find their way back to shore if they become fatigued.
Breed and Pond Supervision
Muscovy ducklings only go in the water a few minutes at a time since they aren’t big swimmers by nature. As such, once I am sure they can find the way in and out of the pond, I don’t need to supervise their swims anymore.
Other breeds that swim more, like Pekins, sometimes need more supervision in the first few days to make sure they don’t over exert themselves. In that case, I block the pond entrance when I am not with them and put out a few shallow dishes of water for the ducks to drink from instead.
Well before dark, I carry the ducklings back in to the tub. They get free access to food and water all night long. But when it’s dark outside, I turn out the bathroom light to simulate natural conditions.
The ducklings generally sleep through until morning light peeks through the bathroom window. Then, they start eating and drinking again.
One of the big benefits of the bathtub/day pasture brooder model is that I get to spend time socializing the ducks indoors. Also toting them from the tub to the pasture twice a day gives me a chance to pet and handle each of them and perform individual health checks.
Additionally, the bathtub is in my dad’s area of our house. He’s 79 and had a stroke 3 years ago that left him with global aphasia and limited the kind of activities he can manage. Since he can no longer do things like read, drive, or cook, he ends up watching a lot of TV.
Whenever I keep ducks in his bathtub, he instead spends lots of time admiring, talking to, and petting them. He’s not able to be fully responsible for their care. But he’s in charge of freshening up their water bowls regularly which gives him a sense of purpose. Especially during this pandemic, having sweet ducklings in his bathtub has really helped lift his spirits.
Cleaning up is definitely not the most glamorous part of keeping ducklings in our bathtub. Each day I roll up the dirty towel and replace it with a fresh one. Outside, I shake the loose manure from the towel on to our compost pile. Then I rinse the towel in a bucket of rainwater. That manure water gets applied as fertilizer for our perennial plants.
I hang the towel to dry so it doesn’t mildew. Then when I have a few rinsed duck towels collected I run them through the quick cycle in our washing machine to clean them better. I line dry them and put them back into the duck bedding rotation. (Note: The ducklings occasionally manage to pull threads or gnaw holes in the towels. So I use our old towels for this).
The tub also gets a rinse before the clean towel goes down. The other advantage of bathtub raised ducks is that if there are odors, we can run the vent fan to air them out.
Other Duckling Brooding Methods
Now that you know the dirty details of how I raise ducklings in the bathtub, you should also know, that there are lots of other right ways to brood ducklings depending on your environment, resources, and available time.
When I used to raise ducklings more regularly, I had a dedicated brooder in a predator proof outbuilding. There I used deep bedding over a red wriggler worm bed. That way I never had to clean the bed. I just applied a layer of fresh straw daily. The worms feasted on the duck manure, straw, and spilled feed and water. The ducks occasionally realized there were worms beneath them and had a nice snack. Then I dug out the worm castings when I needed them.
As long as ducklings are kept safe, warm, watered, well-fed, have sufficient light and room to roam during the day, and get clean bedding as needed, they can grow up healthy and happy just about anywhere.
If you want a more comprehensive look at keeping ducks from egg to eggs, please check out my post on Morning Chores, The Complete Guide to Raising Ducks for Beginners. Also, peruse the other duck resources here at Simplestead.
Now, without further ado, I know what you are really here for! I hope you enjoy this two minute video of my bathtub raised ducks and their first 7 days of development.