I am sad to report that we lost one of the darling little ducklings within 48 hours of them hatching. The temperature dropped harshly that night, and apparently Peep the mama duck had tired of sitting on the nest, and we lost one to the cold. It was heartbreaking finding that little fuzzy baby the next morning. Thankfully, the other duckling was still very much alive, in fact, it was chasing Peep around behind the duck house, but she wanted nothing to do with it. Such is the case with first time farm mothers sometimes – their instinct to have the babies is there, but caring for them is apparently not yet an installed module. Most often they will find their nurturing skills the next time. We have seen the same with our goats.
So, that morning, the surviving little fuzzy was rushed up to our house and we set up a pen for her with a heating lamp. I’ll be using the feminine pronoun just for the sake of clarity, even though we aren’t exactly sure what gender the duck is just yet. We will be able to determine that once she’s a bit older. Duck hens have the sharp, distinct QUACK! whereas drakes have more of a duck mumble-grumble thing going on. Additionally, the male duck develops curly feathers on his tail.
So our little baby is living in her pen in the laundry room now, and she’s growing like crazy! She’s eating, drinking and pooping up a storm. We have to clean the pen out once a day to avoid GOOD GRIEF WHAT IS THAT STENCH?!? moments. (Although I am not prone to these, having total anosmia, the rest of the family suffers.) (Well, except for the dogs, they regard it in the same way they do any feces – either tasty treats or tantalizing cologne.) The duckie also gets a bath every day – these started out as brief gentle showers and shallow water dips, because believe it or not, ducks can drown – even adult ducks – if they become water logged or too cold. Ducklings are especially prone to this, which is why you have to be very careful with them when they are young and use warm (not hot) water – basically, use the same sort of sense you would when bathing a human baby. They aren’t born with the ability to tolerate long periods in the water, which is why in nature you see them on their mother’s back when they are quite young. Swimming is something to which they build up skill. Our little fuzz reached two weeks of age this past Friday and so we gave her a full bathtub to try out. She loves her bath time now and likes to show off – she calls to me if I am not watching.
The dogs love to watch her in the tub, and Lando in particular wants desperately to join her. They run to check the tub periodically throughout the day to see if the duckie is in there. I am still very cautious with them around the duck and will continue to be. They are our dogs and we love them, but you cannot predict canine behavior with a little vulnerable animal like this, and I simply will not take the risk of them injuring or killing her, even if they did it unintentionally.
We aren’t sure what we are going to do in the next few weeks. It’s getting cold here and we are hesitant to put her outside when she’s completely unfamiliar with the outdoors at this point, and frankly, we have bonded with her. We may need to fashion some diapers for her so she can have some walking-around time here in the house during the day and wait until Spring to put her out with the rest of the ducks. We’re still figuring that out. In the meantime, we are enjoying her company and watching her grow.