We love providing fresh food to our Bed and Breakfast guests, so this year we decided to raise ducks and chickens. In May we picked up three day old ducks that we had ordered in the spring from our local hardware store. When we put in our order we were not able to specify whether we wanted male or female ducks, we were only able to order a "straight run." Since we only wanted females for egg production we hedged our bets and ordered three ducks, hoping for at least one female who would produce eggs for our breakfast menu.
Duck eggs are particularly rich and good for baking. In addition to being larger than a chicken egg, ducks lay their eggs all year round, while chickens tend to slow down in the winter months. It takes a few months for either bird to develop to adolescence and start laying. We were hopeful that the cute little ducklings would turn into a brood of layers so we could make delicious breakfast breads and muffins!
As the weeks passed our little ducklings got their voice and started speaking to us. Not a distinct quack, but a shallow raspy honk almost. From everything I had read this was a telltale sign that we had males. Hoping for at least one female we waited a few more weeks for their full feathers to come in to find out exactly what we had. Sure enough, as their full feathers came in we saw a distinct curled feather on each of their tails. We had three drakes. No eggs would be coming our way.
After doing a little research I found out that when customers order from hatcheries, hatcheries fill the order for females or males first, then they fill the "straight run" orders after. Since a lot of customers are in it for the eggs, the female ducks get ordered first which leaves the straight run orders largely male. Since the local hardware store only fills orders for straight run ducks, I knew we would be in the same situation next spring if we ordered more. So, in early September I made a bold choice and special ordered four female ducks from a hatchery.
Our four female Pekin ducklings shipped from Metzer Farms on September 6th, and they showed up at our Post Office on the 8th first thing in the morning. It's only been a few weeks but I can already hear a difference in their voices from the males. They are nearly fully feathered now and can go out and join their mates on a full time basis.
We started out by housing them in the shed under a heat lamp with some supervised time with the other ducks and chickens. Now they have full run of the coop but are still finding their way around. They haven’t yet figured out how to climb back up the ladder to their house, so every night we collect them by hand and make sure that they are tucked in, cozy and warm under the heat lamp in their house. As the nights get colder, it’s a bit of race to see how quickly their full feathers come in.
The little ones are getting along well with the chickens and other ducks. We’re hoping they will figure out how to climb the ramp into their house on their own but until then, we’ll continue to make sure they are cozy and warm before we turn in for the night.