13th May 2016
Ducklings are arguably cuter than baby chickens, staying at the cuddly stage for much longer – so this spring at the factory, I wanted to incubate some duck eggs. I chose bantam ducks eggs of a breed known as the crested Appleyard duck. This old breed of duck comes in both large fowl and bantam form. The crested varieties of domestic ducks, all whose ancestor is the cheerful, wild mallard, was bred in the 17th century, as seen in the oil paintings from this era. Matthew and Emma had a beautiful duck of this breed at their farm but alas last summer, she was late going back to the hen house and Mr Fox had his wicked way with her. Ducks can be quite poor at putting themselves to bed!
The eggs came through the post from a breeder, selling eggs on eBay. They were a mixture of duck egg blue (naturally) and stained white – duck eggs rarely stay clean for very long in the hustle and bustle of a duck house floor!
When incubating duck eggs, the humidity in the incubator has be fairly high to imitate a mother ducks wet feathers while she sits upon her eggs. 28 days later, the incubator was alive with cheeping movement. 3 eggs had successfully hatched! Within half an hour, a duckling can stand, walk and feed itself, so the 3 little crested bundles were swiftly moved from their incubator to the brooder in the decorating studio.
This wooden box was made for me by my dad as a present several years ago, and it has been a trustworthy, silent and still mother hen to countless broods of chicks now over the years. The heat lamp has a dimmer which helps slowly ease chicks off needing the heat as they begin to grow their own feathers which will keep them warm. The ducklings snuggled down, tired from hatching, next to their very own pot hen on nest!
The next day I carried them around in my cardigan pockets while cutting tulips and tidying the garden, they were very snug! Ducklings are easily imprinted and anything that moves in front of them, is viewed as possible parental figure!
While very small, they cannot be allowed much access to water to swim in, surprisingly. This is because without a mother duck (whom would instinctively preen her ducklings feathers with oil from her own preen gland) the ducklings are not waterproof, and as a result could easily and fatally chill.
They are allowed little swims in a trifle bowl each morning for now. Ducklings make quite a mess, so after their bath, they wait in a bucket while they are given a good clean out!
Once adult, the ducks (or indeed drakes, as I’m not sure of their genders yet) will hopefully live in the courtyard garden and have the liberty of bathing in an old galvanised, tin bath. The gravel of the gardens paths will hopefully stop the mud! In small gardens ducks are best kept separately from hens, as hens dislike the mess ducks create; a duck pen is best designed to be one of a hard surface which can be swilled down easily. Ducks are great eaters of slugs! I’m looking forward to seeing the ducklings among the fox gloves in the coming month like a scene from Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck!
Do visit the courtyard garden as the tulips just keep getting better and better, and you may see me playing mother duck to the ducklings too!
Thanks for reading - Arthur
13th May 2016