Originally Posted by Tevyes Dad
SO IMPATIENT!!!!! - I am so excited AAAAARG!
Now that I got that out... We are trying some new things based on things we have seen or experienced and we will report on them along the way. Here is our set up we are going to try this time:
We bought a soft dog taxi approx 2-1/5' x 4' (10 sq. ft. - 3-1/3 sq. ft. per bird). This will go from huge to barely adequate for 3 birds (when it gets toward the latter, they will be making day trips out to the yard and only overnighting in the brooder so it will be fine then.)
Some design considerations:
* The sides of the taxi have fairly tough screens. This will allow us to see the ducklings easily and them to see us. Hopefully that will make them more social since they will be able to see us moving about even when we aren't directly giving them attention.
* The brooder is going on a table. At 50/51, we aren't as spry as we once were and this will make viewing and maintaining the brooder much easier. A strap will run under the table so even a nearly full sized Pekin diving into the side of the brooder won't be able to knock it off the table.
* We are going to use towels for bedding - at least initially. We have seen several people doing this for indoor accommodations on the house duck thread, and thought we would try it. There is enough depth to the taxi that we can go back to pine chips if we decide this doesn't work.
* The water will sit on a cookie sheet with aquarium rocks in it. (If they can't navigate it on the first day, we may remove it for a day or two.) That way any spills will immediately sink into the rocks where the ducks can't play with it. Hopefully this will let them make less mess. We will rinse the rocks in a strainer as required. Since they are aquarium rocks, we know that they don't have a coating that will hurt them (fish are more sensitive to things like that than ducks so it should be fine for ducks). The rocks are big enough that it will be at least a week before they could consider being eaten and they are nice and smooth so they won't be rough on the duck feet or the GI tract if they do get eaten. When the ducks get bigger (as well as the water containers), we will probably put them in a deeper container with sponges under the rocks.) We will see how that works when we get there... We will give them a nare/eye wash station once they have the hang of the brooder and are walking sure-footedly.
* The heat lamp hangs from a clothes hanging rod. It is supported by a chain so the lamp can be raised as the ducklings grow. It is currently adjusted for a 95 degree surface temp on the towels.
* To the side of the brooder we will have additional towels, their food, yeast and some washcloths for little messes.
* The electrolytes/probiotics are over by the sink where we will mix them in pitchers that we will use to fill or top off their water.
Now all we need are the ducklings.
Hurray I am quoting myself. I thought I would take a little time as this was nearing the end to evaluate the different things tried.
The soft taxi was very well built and was easy to clean. On the weekends, we took it outside and turned it inside out then put the frame back in and hosed it off then let it dry in the air. (We only did this twice and it was after the 'lings were big enough to go outside for a while. The stitching around the zippers was a constant source of amusement for the ducklings so I doubt it would survive more than two or three broods. It will probably make a good temporary indoor rest area for ducks in the future (injuries, duck of the day, etc). A steel cage would probably be a better choice if you used it repeatedly.
The brooder on the table was genius. The only "bad" thing was that we had to be very careful that overly trustful 'lings didn't make a leap of faith out of it. We had no incidents, but it always seemed like a risk. Sitting in a chair and playing with the lings or just talking to them when we passed was great and I think it was better for them not being towered over and for us not having to bend down to see them. I would highly recommend.
Towels vs pine shavings. In the beginning it was a no brainer. With teeny tiny 'ling poops - zip zip - the towels were changed. As they got older it got to be more of a toss up.
Effort: Pine shavings involve dragging lots of heavy loads of shavings out either to spread in your garden or compost pile, take to the dump or dispose of in some other fashion (perhaps throw them over the fence into your neighbor's yard ). Towels involve folding up the towel, taking it outside, shaking the poop off, then doing laundry. The laundry built up to a couple loads/day by the end (including play towels/blankets). I would say slightly less effort with the towels (assuming you have your own laundry and are not taking them to the laundry mat), but not much.
Waste: You go through lots of pine shavings in a brood. The towels are reusable. Towels definitely win.
Smell / Cleanliness: Pine shavings mix with the poop making a somewhat dirty pine shaving bedding. Towels absorb the liquids and let the solids stay on top. Since the solids don't mix in with the towels, the towels very quickly become covered in poop and the ducklings end up laying in it so they are dirtier than they would have been in shavings. This necessitated baths every day (which is fun time anyway) and toward the end, cleaning the brooder 2-3 times / day. Also the pine shavings kicking around makes for better evaporation. With towels, they hold the moisture so although we changed them frequently, the smell was worse than using the shavings. Shavings definitely win.
Mess outside the brooder: Shaving have a way of getting kicked / thrown outside the brooder and need to be cleaned up frequently. Towels stay put and it is very easy to fold them up inside the brooder so that all the waste stays inside them. Towels definitely win.
Expense: The towels we bought were about twice as expensive as the pine shavings would have been. But we still have them. If you do a single brood, shavings win. If you do two, it is a tie. If you are going to do multiple broods, the towels win.
The rocks in the cookie sheet drainage system. Initially this worked fairly well, but as the poop increased cleaning the rocks became more work and the effect of the water in the brooder had less effect (since the brooder towels were being changed more frequently). So we abandoned them after about week 3. I think the person who can figure out a clean way to get water to ducklings from their small size to their large size and allow them to clean their eyes and nares the whole time will be a very rich person. In the mean time, various impromptu drinkers worked fairly well. I still don't know a great answer here. Ducklings are messy.
Heat Lamp: I did it the way I always have start at 95F directly under it. Then throw out the thermometer and watch the ducks. The whole 5 degrees / week thing I don't think takes into account the rest of their environment. There is a big difference between having a 95F heat lamp spot in a 78F house and say a 46F at night barn. They can't control their heat well, but they know if they are hot or cold. I give them a hot area and room to escape it. If they avoid it all day, I raise the lamp up.
Niacin: We tried the brewer's yeast this time around. After a couple weeks we decided to go back to the niacin in the water. For us, we mix two one-gallon pitchers of "duck water" at a time and then we fill the drinkers as needed from this. Using the niacin, the procedure is open the jar of electrolytes/probiotics and put one scoop in each pitcher, cut a niacin capsule in half and pour each half into one of the pitchers, fill with water - done. Now we can just keep the feeder full and not worry about measuring the food / yeast. The yeast is messy and it gets in the water anyway. It tends to settle to the bottom of the food so the amount the ducks get is inconsistent. We went to our natural foods store and got 100 500mg capsules from Solaray for under $10 (non-time release, with the flushing warning so they are nicotinic acid). The way we are using it, this would make 200 gallons of duck water - more than enough for a single brood. This works out to 250mg per gallon which is a bit high. If that was a concern, one could use 4 one gallon containers and divide up the capsule in them and that would work out to about 125mg per gallon which would be perfect. I am not too concerned about the overage because using the yeast method, an individual duck could get way more or less of the yeast depending on where in the food they were eating and if they threw the yeast in the water when they drank or if they swallowed it. With the niacin in the water, the only variable is how much water they drink.
Edited by Tevyes Dad - 4/19/16 at 10:18am