This article is part of a series on what life with ducks is like. It’s intended to give new duck keepers, duck dreamers, and anyone who needs some adorable diversion an inside look at simple ways to keep ducks.
Be forewarned, my point in creating these posts is to make you want to keep ducks on your Epicurean homestead! I am on a mission to make ducks just as popular as backyard chickens because they deserve to be.
Here are the links to those earlier posts in case you want to start the series at the beginning.
For those of you already caught up, let’s get on to week 2!
Raising Ducklings Week 2
My little ducklings are growing so fast. I swear I can actually see a difference each morning when I turn on the bathroom light and greet them with fresh food and water. I can also feel how much they have grown when I transfer them from the tub to the tote to take them out to pasture.
These are Muscovy ducklings. So, even just two weeks in, I can already distinguish the male from female ducklings by their growth rates and behavioral differences.
These ducklings were hatched out by Mama Madge here on my homestead. That means they are “straight run” (a mix of males and females).
When you buy ducklings from hatcheries, you get the choice of straight run or sexed. Sexed ducks cost more because someone has to gently apply pressure to the day old ducklings’ vent area to determine whether a duckling-sized penis is present or not.
The professionals who do this regularly get quite good at it. However, even they make mistakes. Depending on the breed, sexing accuracy can be as low as 70% or as high as 100%.
Still, when you buy pre-sexed ducks, you are much more likely to get the sex you want. In nature, though, you get whatever hatches.
Hatcheries report that they hatch about 50% of each sex. But Mama Madge seems to have a clear preference for boys. Of the 59 ducklings she’s hatched over the last few years, only 14 have been female.
In this batch of ducklings, I believe I have 3 (possibly 4) females and the rest of the 13 ducklings are clearly males. The 4th questionable duckling is likely a small male who will catch up in size later.
– Sexing Muscovy Ducklings
It can be a little difficult to visibly identify the sex differences of two week old Muscovy ducklings. But when you pick up the females, they are much lighter and more delicate feeling. The males are blocky and significantly denser in weight.
If you don’t have a knack for judging weight by hand, you can put each duckling in a bowl on a kitchen scale. Male Muscovy ducklings can be 20-40% heavier than females even in the second week of development.
Males are also starting to dominate the food bowl. Females are becoming self-aware about their diminutive size and are taking more precautions to avoid being trampled by larger males.
Other behavioral and feather-related sex differences will become much more obvious in the next few weeks.
– Sexing Other Breeds
Most other duck breeds also have noticeable sex differences early on if you pay attention. Sometimes it’s size, feathering, bill color, or body conformation.
You’ll just need to do some breed-specific research to find out exactly what those difference are to sex your straight run ducks in this juvenile stage.
– Pekin Problems
Pekins are the only breed I find nearly impossible to sex in the juvenile stage. Males and females grow at about the same rate for the first few months. Also, since their feathers are all white, there are no color signifiers for sex as they start to form feathers. Male and female body conformation is also very similar.
When they are a few months old, it’s easy to tell them apart. The females quack and the males get curly drake feathers at the base of their tail.
Practical Realities of Hatching Ducks
Now readers, I have to warn you about something that’s not entirely pleasant to consider.
No matter how much you love them, you simply can’t keep lots of male ducks in your flock once they grow up and become sexually mature. I won’t get into the gory details. But trust me… too many male ducks in one flock is a fate no duck – female or male – or any duck keeper should have to suffer.
So how many is too many? Well, that depends on your situation.
- If you just want ducks for eggs to eat and not to hatch, you only need females.
- If you want to hatch your own duck eggs, then you need 1 male to fertilize the eggs of every 5 females if your flock is free ranging.
- If your ducks are confined, then you need 1 male duck for every 6-10 females (varies by breed).
- Also, to maintain genetic diversity, you may not want to breed ducks from a single mama to each other.
What all this means is that all you new duck keepers out there will either want to start with sexed female ducks to reduce the risk of having extra males. Or you’ll need to make a plan for what to do with any extra ducks you don’t need.
I bring this subject up now because it’s much easier to find takers for ducklings than for mature male ducks. Plus, you can save on costs by letting others take over their care now before they start eating significantly larger quantities of food.
Keep in mind though, everywhere except the US, ducks are a favored meat source. So, if you have any inclination toward becoming more self-sufficient in the meat department, you may want to keep those males to have for dinner later (much, much later when they mature and start to be a nuisance).
Duckling Care Week 2
With the practical reality of too many males addressed, let’s get back to raising healthy, happy, and well-cared for ducklings.
My care routine for these ducklings is much the same in week 2 as it was during week 1. However, I find I need to fill their feed bowl more frequently.
Also, the ducks go out on pasture at 9:00 am each morning (when I let the dogs out). Then, I bring them in just before dark. At this stage of development, the bathtub is just a safe place for them to sleep. Though, I do still leave food and water out all night in the tub, the ducklings do most of their eating and drinking on pasture.
While on pasture, these ducklings have easy access to a duck house with straw bedding for warmth. They mostly use the house for naps in the afternoon. However, we did have one heavy, cool rain that forced a few of the smaller ducklings to seek shelter for several minutes.
For the rest of our late summer rains, the ducks congregate next to the pond, close to each other but not touching. Then they stand up straight and let the rain run off…like water off a duck’s back. They look like adorable little penguins for a time.
Since I’ve raised lots of ducklings before, I know that these ducklings are about to start sizing up at a much faster rate over the coming weeks. That means they’ll be outgrowing the bathtub, even as a sleeping-only space, soon.
So, it’s time to start planning for their transition to a full-time duck shelter. I’ll put up a separate post about preparations for that transition soon.
Ducklings Week 2 Video
In the meantime, buckle your seat belt, sit back, and enjoy the ride as these daring ducklings grow in confidence and size right before your eyes!