Chicks & Ducklings Have Landed

Box’O Chicks

Every year or two we order chicks. Generally we order from McMurray Hatchery. They’re a bit more expensive than some places but they offer a wide selection of heritage breeds. We have hatched our own both in a brooder I built and by hens setting but have not used either method for replacing our flock in the spring. In the fall we tend to cull down hard so as not to over winter too many birds. This means virtually all the roosters go to the pot as well as many hens.

This year we got Ancona, Araucana, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Speckled Sussex and White Pekin Ducks. These will be ready to start laying eggs in about four to five months, joining the hens we wintered over.

Hope Checking Chicks

The purpose of having so many chickens is they eat insects, break apart manure patties and smooth out the soil. This is the same function they serve out on the plains with wild livestock. We have a marsh down below us in the floor of the valley that sends us mosquitoes. Without the chickens we would have lots in the air. With the chickens we get almost none. Same for the flies that grow on the manure patties out in the fields. The chickens are an organic pest control and they also break up parasite life cycles, all naturally.

As a side benefit we get a lot of eggs during the warm seasons and some during the cold seasons. Eggs make an excellent source of food for the piglets, weaners and sometimes growers as well as for the dogs. If you cook the eggs it doubles the available protein. Two-for-one! We’ve found that the piglets, and dogs, can eat the shells without problem so we don’t shell the boiled eggs. Actually, I can eat the shells too – gritty but no harm done. Sometimes when I’ve been really hungry, e.g., short on food, I’ve eaten chicken bones so there’s another myth to put to rest.

Box’O Ducklings

In addition to the chickens we also get ducks. The ducks are great for stirring up the various pig ponds, eating algae and mosquito larva in the water which further helps with pest control. Ducks also eat slugs.

Chicks in Brooder

Following my sketch Will built a great brooder in a third of a stall out in the south field shed. This is by far the best brooder setup we’ve ever had, for one simple reason, it’s not in the kitchen! It’s great for other reasons too but not having chicks in the kitchen is really, really nice. They are amazingly noisy at times. In fact, almost all the time to some degree. With our move from the old farm house three years ago to our new tiny cottage one of the objectives was not to have livestock in the kitchen. We’ve mostly succeeded in that.

Sketch of the Brooder

The brooder is about 8′ long by 4′ wide which gives the chicks plenty of room to expand. There are 100 chicks in there plus the baker’s dozen of ducklings. With the heat lamps it stays nice and toasty in there even when it is -13°F outdoors. It is important to ventilate it a bit every day to keep the humidity from getting too high. Otherwise we have chicks with spikey punk hairdos.

Ducklings and Chicks in Brooder

Feathering friends.

Outdoors: 36°F/2°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/59°F

Daily Spark: “I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat — but farm it properly.”George Monbiot, former vegan proponent

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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14 Responses to Chicks & Ducklings Have Landed

  1. terry says:

    do you get straight run chicks and ducklings or do you get all pullets? Great looking bunch. They are growing fast! Our geese started to lay without any daylight extension so spring must be around the corner.

    • Sometimes we buy straight run (unsorted chicks) but often we get just females and then a couple of roosters too if we want them. The latter is how we did it this year.

      Our geese haven’t started laying yet. Soon I expect. We now have a gander in the flock so maybe some of the eggs will be fertile.

  2. Eileen says:

    “…for one simple reason, it’s not in the kitchen!”
    HA! I am with you on that. I do think that our birds are much friendlier when we raise them indoors (ours are in the living room, but same thing), but not having shavings and feather dust and early-morning (and noon, and midnight) peeping is very compelling.

  3. Emily says:

    Walter, I noticed that your ducklings and chicks are in together. My ducklings usually end up getting themselves and the area around their waterer all wet, even when I fill it with marbles to keep them from playing in it. I have been hesitant to put the chicks in with the ducklings, for fear that the chicks would get too wet. Have you had issues with this? I’ve also worried that the faster growing duckings might trample the smaller chicks. If you haven’t had either of these issues I may be tempted to keep them together this spring.

    • We had the same problem when we used a small brooder. But when we did a 6′ diameter watering through it worked fine. This year with the 8’x4′ brooder I decided to try it again because at the time we got the chicks and ducklings it was horribly cold in the deep negative teens and very windy. It seems to be working fine. I have used lots of bedding material and they are up on top of a thick pack of hay below the wood shavings. This probably provides excellent drainage that helps with the water issue.

  4. Eileen says:

    We have always kept all our baby birds (ducks, geese, chicks, turkey poults) together and have never had a problem with wet babies. I figure that as long as the chicks have access to a toasty warm light they’ll go warm up and dry off when they need to. I have never even thought about trampling; even when a baby duck is 3x the size of a chick, it is still not really very big. All those tiny birds like to sleep in big smooshy piles anyway. :)

  5. Emily says:

    Thanks, I know I need a bigger brooder – just don’t have the right set up yet. I lost several cornish last year to piling on top of eachother, but I never figured out why, they were not huddled near the light and why would they pile if they were overheated? I’ve always heard horror stories about raising turkeys with other chicks and ducklings, eyes getting pecked out and such. Now if I could just get the duck eggs and chicken eggs hatched at the same time. thanks again for the advice, Emily

    • I think that given my druthers I would use the brooder sequentially, doing a batch of chicks, then ducklings, then turkeys, etc. That seems the safest. We just had the ducklings and chicks at the same time this year. One thing I discovered this year was that by placing the lights in a long line I reduced piling. The birds spread out more. When I had the lights all in a square the chicks were piling in the middle and towards the brightest bulb. Interesting, I bought five bulbs all at once and one was distinctly brighter, three were about the same and one was definitely the dimmest bulb in the group.

  6. Susan Lea says:

    Question, Walter, do you feed them the same food? I don’t know how you feel about medicated chick feed, but my last batch of chicks got sick at two days old. They got well quickly when I switched to medicated feed. So I thought I’d start this batch off with at least one bag of the medicated (for 25 chicks). However, I understand you can’t feed medicated feed to ducklings, so I guess I’ll keep mine separate for now. (Our brooder house is almost 8′ x 12′, so that’s possible.) I also understand ducklings need the extra niacin in the chick feed that says it’s also for ducks or game birds. Do you think that after my bag of medicated feed is gone, I could feed the chicks the same food the ducklings eat?

    My ducklings were supposed to arrive today by Express Mail, but the P.O. has lost them somewhere between PA and here. I’m so worried about the poor little things! I’m hoping and praying they’ll turn up safe first thing in the morning. My chicks are supposed to arrive tomorrow or Friday.

    • Yes, they’re both eating the same food. The feed back indicates it is for both chicks and ducklings. It isn’t a medicated feed. We always have the chicks vaccinated at the hatchery and they recommend not feeding medicated feed to vaccinated chicks. Did you get yours vaccinated? Without the vaccination perhaps the medicated feed is more necessary. Hope your ducklings turn up safe and sound soon!

  7. Bonnie says:

    Walter, it looks like you have made a chick feeder out of two five gallon pails and a tray of some sort. Is that correct? If so, does it work well?


    • You have sharp eyes, Bonnie. Yes, I wasn’t happy with the capacity of the small feeders (1 quart) or waterers (1 gallon) nor was I happy with the cost of the large feeders and waterers ($40). Five to seven gallon pails set on lids from barrels make excellent feeders and waterers. I had started to write this up as a how to article a couple of years ago but never finished. I should. One trick with the feeder is putting a cone in the middle that pushes the feed at the bottom out to the edges. The size of the holes is very important. I can’t go measure it right now but I remember them as being about 1.5″ in diameter, one on each of the four compass points of the pail.

  8. Shari Heal says:

    Your comments about mosquito-control started me thinking about ducks. We have a creek running through our property, and thanks to the beaver, we have huge ponds on either side. Perfect mosquito-breeding ground! We can’t go out to the garden without wearing full netting. It makes our beautiful property a little less enjoyable.
    So, ducks.
    Perhaps a silly question, but how do you keep them from flying away?
    And do they come back to their house for the night like chickens do?
    Do they lay their eggs in the house, or do you need to look for them along the side of the water?
    And, could I feed the ducks to my pigs in the Fall, if I didn’t think my kids would be up for eating duck?
    One last question: We get tons of swans, geese, and ducks on our creek at various times of the year. Would this disrupt the wild birds? Would the wild birds cause health issues for the ducks?

    • Both ducks and chickens should help a lot. Guinea are also a good mosquito control as are dragon flies and the bacteria Bt.i. I think bats also eat mosquitoes but I’m not as sure, perhaps they focus on larger insects.

      The ducks and geese tend to sleep out in what ever space they choose during the warm months. This works since we have a pack of livestock guardian and herding dogs that literally eat the competition up – e.g., no predators in our fields despite high local predator populations. If you have predator problems and don’t have dogs working with you to keep them at bay then you would want to bring the ducks in at night.

      The ducks do lay in established nests, if they get homed to them. But especially young hen ducks may just sort of randomly lay anywhere, even in the water, if they haven’t gotten homed to a nest.

      As far as preventing flying away, the ducks we have, Pekin, can’t fly. They’re too big chested. They’re great about walking between the ponds and the pastures to graze but they can’t get into the air. Our geese can fly and when we got new geese from someone I clipped the flight feathers. By the time the flight feathers regrow they are well homed to our farm and stick around. Same for chickens. See here.

      Pigs will eat ducks. If you’re just raising the pigs for your own consumption then it is generally allowed but if you’re selling the pork then it may be illegal to feed the pigs any meat. Check your state laws.

      I doubt the domestic ducks would disrupt the wild ones. It is possible that the wild ones would bring you disease. I would not worry about it unless the state is having an issue.

      Have fun!

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