I keep asking myself. How did this happen?
Well, I guess it started earlier this spring when a pair of wild Muscovy ducks built a nest and laid eggs in our oak tree. A feral cat kept harassing the mamma duck and eventually she abandoned the nest. After two days with no sign of her returning, I climbed the tree and found 5 eggs. Who knew that ducks build nests in trees? I always thought they where ground-nesting birds.
My daughter in our oak tree, (it’s a really big tree)
I took the eggs inside and my nine-year-old daughter and I attempted to fashion a temporary incubator out of a shoe-box, towels and heating pad, just until we could get a real one. (We had no idea how sensitive eggs are to temperature and humidity.)
I am a man of many faults and chief among my faults is that I am cheap. I will wear the same shoes until the soles have worn through, I won’t buy the name brand if generic will do. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that sometimes paying for quality is cheaper in the long run than buying garbage over and over.
Well, I figured, “I only need an incubator just this once, so cheap, made in China should be ok.”
I ordered the cheapest one from Walmart, with the assumption that it would arrive in a day or two. I didn’t realize that it would be coming from a vendor contracting with Walmart and would take weeks for delivery. So my improvised incubator failed or just as likely the eggs had died before I decided to intervene. At the time I didn't know how to candle an egg, do the water test or even that the light from my cell phone would be strong enough to see development.
Five weeks later a brand new Chinese mini incubator shows up on my doorstep. My daughter and I were disappointed when the wild duck eggs failed to hatch. Besides I had researched and learned so much in the meantime, I thought, “why not give it another go, Eggs are cheap” So I ordered duck eggs from e-Bay, $20.00 shipped, for 6 fertile eggs (breed not specified).
Chinese Mini-7 incubator
Duck eggs are a bit bigger than chicken eggs, so the incubator designed to hold 7 eggs could only accommodate 5 duck eggs. (The incubator didn’t come with everything needed for success, so I had to buy a few things.)
By now I knew about candling eggs and how to determine if they are developing or non-viable. One had a clearly detached air cell, so I knew they had a rough trip. I only had room for 5 anyway. After 2 weeks I decided that 2 of the five eggs either were not fertile or had been killed in shipping as well, (blood rings). So I have 3 eggs that look like they have a chance at hatching. Perfect I don’t have a large yard. Three ducks are enough to keep each other company but hopefully won’t do too much damage to the yard. I had heard that one duck produces the equivalent of 100 chickens worth of poo.
So, sometime in the final 3-4 days on incubation, two eggs stopped developing and only one egg hatched. This was pure magic and one of the most wonderful two days in my daughter’s life so far. She was so worried for the babies and so happy when the first one hatched. Even loosing the other two didn't dampen her joy. She still shares a special bond with the duckling she hatched.
1st Egg pipping!
What is that in there, a baby duck?
At this point, I spent money on eggs $20.00 and an incubator $30.00, plus a flashlight $7, hatching pads $1, and hydrometer, $8. As soon as the first (and sadly only) egg pipped, I ordered Duck starter feed, $17.00. I decided to get a real heater for the brooder box, $11.00. I ordered a combo feeder and waterer, that turned out to be nearly useless $8.00 and other incidentals such as mealworms, straw for bedding, frozen peas and corn from the local grocer and other things I can’t even remember.
Since I don’t want our little duckling to be lonely when her people are at work/school, I bought two more ducklings from a local farm $10.00 each.
Avalon & Thunder, the companion ducklings
They are going to need a place to live. I figured I have some old pallet wood I had been saving and a pair of 2x4s. So I start building a duck house. It needs to be predator proof and have enough room for three adult ducks, about six square feet should do.
As yet un-finished duck house
Well, I didn’t have enough wood, so off to the local home store. $40.00 for lumber, and I still need more, $6.00 for hinges, $16.00 hardware cloth, I still need something for a permanent roof. I bought welded wire fencing for $30.00, fence posts $20.00, zip ties $6.00, and I still haven’t decided what I am going to do for a gate. I also need to protect them from predators that can jump, climb or fly over a 7' fence.
Starting on the area that will belong to the ducks
Ducks don’t need to swim to live, but seriously, what's the point of having ducks if they aren’t swimming. Kiddie pool $8.00 for ducklings plus I have a feeling a bigger pool is in their future.
So at this point, I have spent over $250 to raise ducks that so far only produce copious amounts of poo. Should I buy a composting bin or make one?.
But for some odd reason, they always put a smile on all of our faces.
Monday night a downpour began just as the sun was setting. I remembered that the ducklings were still out in the run and not locked up safe in their house. I still managed to keep smiling as I am trying to herd the ducks inside out of the rain. The funny thing is they were in the house when I peeked out the bedroom window at them. But as soon as they saw me coming they all came running over to the fence to see if I had treats for them and I had to convince them to go back in, to bed down for the night. If only I had a remote to lock the duck house door from my bedroom, hmm . . . I wonder how much that will cost.