Conflicting advice on raising friendly ducks. (also how I've done and how I'll be doing)

PaulX

Songster
Nov 15, 2018
309
815
171
Hello,

I want to hear some clarifications on the conflicting advice about how to raise friendly ducks.

The usual advice I can gather is to hold/handle them a lot, especially as ducklings...
BUT...
this conflicts with another common advice, which is to not chase or corner them.

I mean, short of somehow making they come within your grabbing range, how else am I supposed to go about catching them in order to hold them?

I tried to hold and handle my ducklings as advised but like I said I always had to corner them in their cage or chase them around the yard in order to be able to do so.

I'll describe what I did with my first batch of ducklings so maybe somehow you can advise me on how I can do differently with my next ducklings.

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In my experience, for my first batch of ducklings (2 pekins 2 mallards), which I got at about 3-5 days old (forgot to ask how old they were, but I estimated from comparing with online photos), they didn't turn out very tame. They would eat from my hand, and approach me when I was holding their food, but that's about it. Once the food is gone, they never come within half-meter (2 feet) distance, and that's when I sit on the ground. If I was standing, they would never come within 2 metres (6 feet) distance at all, and would walk/run away if I approach them.

What I did were, I kept them in a large bird cage, and while I spent 6+ hours a day with them (mostly sitting beside their cage using my laptop), most of the time they were by themselves on the porch... they'd spill food and water all around the cage so I never thought of putting the cage inside the house. (we're always warm here so they don't need heat lamp, and being warm means the spilled food and their poop would attract flies, ants, cockroaches, and what have you, not to mention stink) That I didn't have them inside was probably one reason for them remaining skittish.

But there's more; when they were young I would give them a bath twice a day, I would partially fill a plastic tub on the lawn, and then grab them (while they huddled in the corner peeping distress call) one by one to put them in the tub, then after letting them splash around some I grab them one by one from the tub, hold them one by one until each somewhat stop squirming, then put them back in the cage. After 10 days I altered the routine a bit for the morning bath, I would put them down beside the tub instead of back in the cage to allow them to enjoy the lawn. They would immediately dash away until they're at least one meter (3 feet) away from me before starting to preen, and afterwards run around some before I would put food in their cage then herd them in.

Some days later, they graduated from the cage and I moved them to the lawn, putting the bamboo coop over them to protect them from stray cats. The coop look like this, just larger.

35703886-chicken-coop-made-from-bamboo.jpg


Putting the coop over them meant I had to chase them a bit, not that much of a struggle since they always ran as a group so they're not too fast.

The problem was putting each of them into the plastic tub for bath time. (and so I decreased the bathing routine to once a day)

The first few days I would herd them to the tub, in the confusion of deciding which side of the tub to go around I would be able to grab one or two of them. If I had one then I chased to grab another one. Once I had two in the tub it became easier as the other two would come close, I would sit down on a stool beside the tub and waited for the other two to come close enough that I could quickly snatch them.

To entice them to the bath, since I wasn't easily grabbing them from the cage anymore, I made bath time a treats time, giving them their 2 favorite treats, microwaved egg white and cabbage.

Not giving a bath was out of the question, by the way, since being in the coop all day they were filthy from pooping all over the ground and then laying on their own poop. (and yes I moved the location every day for fresh new grass and clean ground)

After few days they caught on to my method and I wasn't able to grab them in the confusion at the tub anymore, and trying to not chase them, I changed to just sitting on the stool next to the tub with the treats. First 2 days after this change, I would grab them as they came to take treats from my hand. After that... I had to throw the treat in trails to entice them to come close enough to be snatched, and 2 days and then they caught on to that too and stayed away a safe distance. I then had to place the treats in trails on the plastic board I used as their ramp to walk into the tub on their own (which they wouldn't, by the way, not even by being herded, they just went around the tub) I made the treats trail that lead to the floating cabbage piece in the tub, and only 2 of them fell for the trick falling into the tub, I had to snatch the other 2 when they somehow came within range to put them in. I would still feed them treats in the tub, by the way, and only in the tub and only from my hand... they're less skittish when in water.

All of these developing difficulties in getting them into the tub was also complicated by the new ability of them to leap out of the tub on their own. I had to somehow get at least 2 of them into the tub, otherwise they just leapt out and I had to somehow re-catch them again. On the last day I used the tub I even had to cover the tub with the plastic board to prevent them from leaping away as I attempted (in a myriad of ways) to catch the rest of them and put them in. I could easily tell this stressed them greatly so I only did it once and the day after switched their bathing place.

Their new bathing place was the raised artificial pond filled with small fish and plants. It was rectangular-shaped with one dimension short enough for me to reach over to touch the other side, and one dimension very long such that the pond was big enough for many ducks to play in. Since the tub was now free, I now had a new method of grabbing them. I slid the plastic tub into the bamboo coop (they were clearly terrified of it and scrambled frantically to get away, much more so than they were afraid of my hands), in so doing the remaining available space in the coop was small enough that I could reach my arm under to grab them.

At this point only one of them would remain sitting on my lap as I sat on the edge of the raised pond (and only if he was the first I brought to the pond). The other would just quickly attempt to leap into the pond. I still fed them treats during bath time from my hand. Since the pond edge was too high for them to leap out on their own, I still got the chance to hold each of them as I scooped them up to preen on my lap one at a time. They would not preen much before attempting to get to the others, by the way, if the others were on the lawn and within sight. I usually blocked them a bit before eventually giving in and letting them off.

When they grew large enough that I judged them no longer in danger of stray cats I let them roam the yard, only putting the coop over them when I had to catch them for bath. By that point they could leap from outside onto the edge of the pond on their own, so I only had to catch one of them before the rest got the idea and leapt into the pond, so that was less catching, but still they never got any tamer before I eventually gave them away at 8 weeks old after confirming by vent-sexing that they were all males (they were sold as females) after much suspicion as to why they didn't quack yet and only got quieter. Strange, though, I definitely heard 2 of them honk when they were a bit younger, though very, very rarely even though I spent 4+ hours sitting with them each day.

All in all, there was a lot of chasing and catching involved in my raising them, but they never ever imprinted on or followed me so there was no other way I can think of to be able to handle them each day (and also to keep them safe from cats). Also, cornering them in the yard didn't work, since they absolutely wouldn't walk into a corner no matter how much I try to herd them into it, so the only way was to chase.

I never noticed the 'axe murderer phase' that is often talked about here, since my ducks were never tame in the first place. And while they were not as terrified of me as they were of the plastic tub, they always moved to the opposite side of the coop whenever I approached one side of it. No matter how long I sat still talking with them in the yard or next to their coop (sometimes more than an hour), they'd never come closer than a certain distance. Even at dusk, I would still not be able to creep (move very slowly) my hand near enough to touch them anywhere. They always got up to walk away.

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Well sorry for the long post. They were my first ducklings so there was a lot of trials and errors, hence the long details.

So now I'm hatching 24 duck eggs and so far all are alive. I only want to keep 3 females but I only expected to successfully hatch 25% (6 eggs), that's why I ordered 24 eggs.

I'll now by doing a lot of things differently with this new batch. First off, I've bought a fish tank, as large as I can carry, to keep them in during the first and maybe 2nd week. There will be no spilled food and water so I would be keeping the tank indoors and at night in my bedroom, so I can be with them 24/7. If that attract bugs then I'll have to figure out something else tho.

After the tank I'll be keeping them in the large bird cage previously used, but this time in the spare bathroom, and after maybe keeping them outside the cage but still in the bathroom for a while, for as long as I can manage without clogging the drain with all the duck poop.

I intend to have them follow me for at least 15-30 minutes each day, in addition to lots of cuddling. I am hatching them so they should be imprinted so hopefully this time I can have them follow instead of chasing them. For the first week they'd be totally inside and never brought out onto the lawn. After that... I'll decide later whether to bring them out for walks outside. If I'm sure they'd come cuddle or at least within grabbing range on their own then probably, otherwise they may remain indoors until they absolutely must live outside due to the danger of clogging the drain. (I'll try to transition them out smoothly)

Still, if after they move outdoors, I have to grab them to give them bath like the last batch again, if they also wouldn't use the ramp. If they don't let me grab them easily, then I might have to also chase them still. Grrrr... I really see no other way. Even after browsing every page of backyardchickens duck forum backwards unto March 2014 I still haven't come across any good idea to solve the dilemma of handling vs cornering and catching them.

So, how do you people do it? How do you give them bath without cornering them, since my previous batch would absolutely not go in on their own? Again back to the main question, how am I supposed to be able to handle without chasing or cornering them?

Anyone?
 

CrystaBub

Crowing
Mar 17, 2018
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Shenandoah Valley
:frow Hi! Sounds like you are going to have to lift them and handle them a lot to get them where you want them to go. I did too at first. I'm not saying my way is the right way or the only way, but here is what I did - and my ducks are quite tame (well - 3 out of 4 lol - one I got later and she wasn't handled as a baby so she's a little wild). I'm sure you'll get some other really good suggestions from the BYC community!

Every time I picked up my ducks, for about the first 4-5 months of their lives, they got a treat - meal worms. ANd I was extremely consistent. They associate me picking them up with treats. They associate me herding them into their pen with treats. They associate me saying night night and going into their house with treats. I have trained them on so many things using meal worms. Now all I have to do is give a command and they obey LOL. Those duckies love meal worms! I still give treats just not every single time.

Also something interesting - I noticed early on that if I came at my ducks with hands palms down, they were terrified. If I reach for them with hands palms up, they are calm. I think it's because treats by hand are always given palms up!

Good luck - hope you post some pics of those babies when they're hatched!
 

PattyNH

Songster
Sep 13, 2016
357
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New Hampshire - USA
Great question!! My dad came home with 2 Pekin duckling right before Labor Day. From day 1 I've handled all their care, housing, and feeding and the still see me as the Grim Reaper lol. Just the other day I was trying to get them out to free range and was thanked by one beating me repeatedly in the face with its wing. On the bright side, I'm more confident about them defending itself from a predator LOL But seriously, I just resigned myself to accepting that ducks won't (typically) be snuggly like my goats, digs, cats, etc. My younger chickens clearly side with the ducks and only tolerate me because I bring them food and let them out... :he
 

Miss Lydia

~Gift of God ~ Eternal Life ~John 3:16
Premium Feather Member
11 Years
Oct 3, 2009
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I have a little short stool that I sit on when spending time with my flock they can walk right up to me eye level and eat meal worms out of my hand even if I don’t offer treats they still come around . Mine don’t like snuggles or me holding them other than my Muscovy drake but we’re content just hanging out together.
 

PaulX

Songster
Nov 15, 2018
309
815
171
Also something interesting - I noticed early on that if I came at my ducks with hands palms down, they were terrified. If I reach for them with hands palms up, they are calm. I think it's because treats by hand are always given palms up!

Good luck - hope you post some pics of those babies when they're hatched!

I noticed that too! Though I must admit that when they were smaller I found it much easier to just grab them from above. Their chest and stomach were still so small that whenever I put my hand under them I also had to be supporting their feet, and boy do they know how to push their feet, stretching out my fingers making holding them difficult.

When they got bigger that I could slip my hand under and secure their legs inbetween my fingers, the pekins were relatively 'tame' with their kicking. The mallards on the other hand would kick all the way up wounding me with their nails on my wrist.

I will by posting their pics, but first I'll need a new smartphone as my old one has terrible camera and my DSLR is too impractical to shoot such small moving thing. I'll get that next weekend.

Last I candled last night I could see veins and clear movements in all of them! Even the one egg that was cracked from shipping is still alive! The air cells are worryingly small though so I'm now going dry, but could only get as low as 38% humidity (was around 55-60% when I added some water the first 14 days) So I hope I could get the air cells big enough otherwise I'd be 28 wasted days.
 

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