Waterfowl are and most likely always will be my favorite birds. Yes chickens are cool, yes turkeys have some merit, and guinea fowl and peafowl are always fun to watch. But waterfowl, specifically Geese (and some Ducks) are my absolute favorites. They were among the first fowl I bought with my own money as a child and they will always have a place on my farm.
Duke (my Pekin drake) and co. Saying “FEED ME WOMAN!”
My Pekin duck is quite happy to supply me with eggs, so four weeks ago I set Duchess’s first clutch in my incubator. There were six, two of which turned out to be infertile and one that died approximately 3-4 days before hatch. The other three hatched the day before Easter. They’re about the tiniest ducklings you can imagine. Most ducks are bought at about a week old and are quite a bit larger by then.
Teeny Tiny Duckies
Waterfowl, despite a stigma of being bad tempered, can be great pets and wonderful watchdogs. One thing you don’t find enough when people raise waterfowl is socialization. I’ve noticed a trend when I buy adults rather than ducklings and goslings that the bought adults are more suspicious and aggressive than the adults I’ve raised myself. The best way to deal with aggression is to prevent it. When you bring your waterfowl home (especially with goslings, ducklings not so much) spend time with them. Goslings imprint on their parents and a when you are the one raising them you become the parent. Talk to them, let them nibble your clothing, the very young ones may try to burrow under your clothing, let them. Do this at least 4 times a week if not every day. Once geese associate you as a flock member at a very young age they will remember for the rest of their lives. The same goes for if the gosling had a bad experience when it was young. My Brown Chinese gander was badly injured by some puppies when he was about a week old. The puppies were just trying to play but they ended up ripping a hole in his neck a couple of inches wide, which for a week old gosling is a pretty big deal. To this day he hates dogs and will hiss and go out of his way to bully them if they come near.
Grey the Gander at 4 weeks
Going back to baby waterfowl in general though, here’s a few things you should know:
- Set up a brooder like for chicks but under no circumstances allow access to open water. Baby waterfowl do not have the waterproofing oil in their feathers yet. Ducks (especially) and goslings love to play in water and will not come out unless you make them. If they were with their parents the parents would limit the access to water and have some of the mother’s waterproofing rubbed on the babies. Supervise the babies when they’re in water and make sure they’re dry afterwards. They should be fine with full access to water by 6 weeks when they start to feather out.
- Waterfowl poop, a lot. The average duck poops every 15-20 minutes, the average goose every 12. An adult goose is capable of producing 2 lbs of droppings a day. Keep this in mind when setting up a brooder. The babies are fine in a normal brooder for about 1-2 weeks but after that production outpaces the sanitation. A rabbit hutch with a very small gauge wire floor set up a bit from the ground works well for young waterfowl.
- Warmth. Ducklings and goslings feather out much quicker and require much less brooding than baby chickens. Start them at about 90° F and decrease by 5°-10° Each week until you reach outside temperature, after that they don’t require anymore heat. Use the birds reactions as a guide to where you should have the light. If it’s at 90° and they’re panting and trying to get away from the heat, you need to raise the light.
Peeps at a recent photo shoot
Raising waterfowl is a unique and rewarding experience. Well socialized birds (geese and ducks) will come up and “talk” to you when ever you’re in the yard, honk and quack when somebody they don’t know is there, and produce a lot of eggs perfect for baking (not to mention meat and feathers). I hope that this something you’ll consider in the future.