The first time we almost bought a duck was 25 years ago, when my oldest daughter was a toddler, and very duckling-like herself. The one bright spot in our awful neighborhood was an agricultural supply shop that occasionally had ducklings, and they were so charming and appealing, we almost got one. But even dumb as we were, we had to admit that people who live in a one bedroom apartment with no yard whatsoever should really not own livestock. So we forebore. For 25 years, we forebore.
But look at us now! We have no end of grass, and our ducks are thriving in the back yard. It is finally the right time. I’ll tell you a little bit about it, because I’m openly pressuring you to consider whether it might be the right time for you, too, to get a duck or four. They are quite low-maintenance, at least so far, and they are a delight.
We have four Pekin ducks that we ordered from our local Agway supply center. We ordered them in February for $12 each, and they arrived in the middle of April when they were about a week old. We took them home in a little cardboard box.
They were unreasonably adorable. They looked exactly like a plushie or a cartoon of a duckling.
They just ran around like maniacs going “PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP” or “WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB.” They liked being cuddled, and they would huddle up and fall asleep in your hand or on your lap, or sometimes scramble up your chest and crawl around behind your head.
They liked exploring,
but mostly they wanted to be together. If you ever separated one of them from the group, they would all set up a huge racket and keep it up until you reunited them; and then they would just huddle up together and go to sleep.
They are still kind of like that. They sleep together, and have a habit of piling themselves on top of each other, and resting their heads on each other.
As soon as we got them home, they started growing like crazy. I mean like crazy. They were visibly bigger day to day. First they were just round heads, round bodies, and little leggies and feet. Then their bodies started to get a little bigger and elongated. Then they got shoulders; they they got necks.
Then their legs and feet started to grow, and their heads changed shape. Their fuzzy yellow down started to turn whitish and real feathers started to grow in. There have been so many awkward stages in between. Sometimes the down-to-feather transition is very comical, and the new feathers look like place markers, like “tail goes here, insert tab B.”
Their feet grew faster than their bodies, just like on teenage boys.
Their feet still look a little big for their bodies, so I think they’re not quite full size yet.
Their wings are also hilarious. I feel guilty thinking so, but they look exactly like, well, you know, wings, like you could just snip them off and fry them up with hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. (I am not going to do this.)
They’re starting to get some longer wing feathers now, so the shape of them is less naked, but they’re clearly still pretty useless. Every once in a while, the ducks will rear up tall and vigorously stretcccccch and FLAP-FLAP-FLAP their wings, and then fold and tuck them back behind them exactly like a fussy little man tucking his thumbs into his vest or something. It’s so funny.
@simchafisher660 delicious protein crumbles for the ducks #ducks #pekinducks #ducklings #pekins ♬ original sound – simchafisher
We chose Pekin ducks because they are hearty, friendly, and relatively smart about predators (meaning they will run away, rather than just stand there going “duh” when something wants to eat them). They make good pets and don’t get sick a lot, and they’re okay in cold weather; and they’re too fat to fly. When you think “duck,” it’s probably a Pekin duck you’re imagining.
Here is what they look like now, a little over a month later.
They have thighs and chests and everything!
Let’s see, what else might you want to know?
Other equipment we bought for the ducks: A big sack of protein crumbles (the same brand they’d been eating in the store, about $20 that lasts about ten days), a feeder, a watering tray, a heat lamp to keep them warm, especially at night or if they got wet; several giant packs of pine shavings, and a big plastic tub. That was enough for the first month or so.
When ducklings are with their mother, she grooms them with her oils and waterproofs them; but when they’re on their own, they’re not really ready to go swimming right away, so we resisted the urge to toss them in the bathtub when they were little. But we did give them a tupperware tub with some holes cut in it for water when they got to be a few weeks old, because they needed to be able to clean their nares (nostrils) out.
These ducks are the most disorderly creatures on the face of the earth. Utter agents of chaos. You put them in a box of clean, fresh pine shavings with a little tub of a food and a little drinky-drink of water, and within three minutes, the water is gone and the tub is upside down, half the food is sprayed all over the place, and two of the ducks are soaking wet and standing on their brother, and the fourth one is running around in circles meeping his head off, and there is a giant turd on his back. What happened? Nobody knows! MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP!!!
Oh! Let’s talk about duck poop! My friends, if you are not okay with duck poop, I mean really, truly okay with duck poop, then do not get a duck, not even a little bit. They poop . . . . . . . . . . . so much. Like you have never seen any living creature poop this much, and you probably never imagined it was possible. And maybe you are thinking to yourself, “Oh, if they poop that often, it’s probably like a newborn baby, where it’s so fast and so constant and so pure, it probably doesn’t even small that bad.” NOPE. If you are indoors, it smells like Satan threw up in a microwave! It is so heinous! You (by which I mean your husband) will change the pine shavings twice a day, and it will still smell like someone has done something illegal to a corpse and then concealed it in a sauna for several months. It’s just the stenchiest, and I don’t think I would have been able to handle it if I had been pregnant.
They do slow down with the pooping as they get older, but I’m not kidding when they say that if you have these creatures indoors, you will KNOW IT. Outdoors, it’s fine. I honestly don’t even smell them when I sit by their pen in the open air. It’s just kind of comical how fluffy and angelic and etherial their down is, and they gaze at you with this blank, innocent expression, and all the time they’re producing this criminal stank.
The upside is, their poop is so liquidy, you can put it (or the shavings or hay or water it’s mixed into) directly onto your garden, and it’s supposed to be amazing for the soil. Most animal manure has to be composted or rotted for a while, because it’s too high in nitrogen or something, but not duck manure. I quickly got in over my head with composting information, but I did mix an awful lot of duck-smelling pine shavings into my raised beds this year, so we’ll see how that works out.
When we first got the ducks, you could hold one in each palm of your hand.
Now, just over a month later, it’s all you can do to catch one of them with both arms while they run away, squawking, and wrestle to stuff them into their duck house because they don’t WANT to go to bed and it’s not FAIR.
The kids are learning to wear long sleeves when they handle them, because the little claws tipping their webbed feet are no joke, and can really scratch you up. They like us and they know us, but they’re not especially placid creatures. I would classify them more as “hysterical morons.”
One of them, EJ, is quite a bit bigger than the others, and I suspect he is a male. EJ has a paler, pinker bill than the rest, who have orange beaks (that doesn’t seem to signify anything in particular; it’s just how we can tell he’s EJ). Coin, the other somewhat larger, feistier one, had a bald spot on the side of his head, which has transformed into a lighter feathered spot that is fading as he turns all white. The other two, Fay and Ray, are smaller and more docile, and are harder to tell apart.
They’re much more amenable to being picked up and snuggled.
It’s actually been a while since I’ve been able to tell them apart. Today I bought some colored plastic bands to put on their legs, so that should help.
We still don’t know if they’re male or female. The males have tail feathers the curl up and over fancily, but the female duck butts are more plain. Our ducks are still growing their adult feathers in, so it’s too soon to say.
I would be delighted if we got some eggs eventually. Pekins lay about 3-5 eggs a week starting at about 20 weeks of age (so around August, I guess). Duck eggs are large and rich and delicious. But honestly, we mainly got the ducks as pets, and also as a way to get used to having poultry. I figured once we had ducks for a while, it would be easier to transition to getting chickens, which really would be for the purpose of having eggs. I’m not especially interested in chickens, but fresh eggs are freaking fantastic.
Oh, another change they’ve been going through is learning how to quack! EJ started quacking first, and it was just exactly like when an adolescent boy’s voice starts to crack: Startling, unexpectedly deep, and pretty funny, and clearly not in his control. Some of the other ducks have started mutter-quacking more and more, and now they “peep” and “weep” about half the time and quack the other half. Hilarious. They quack a lot, but they’re not very loud. They do set each other off, and if one quacks, they all quack. Sometimes they quack at the wind.
When we’d had them for about a month, they were so big that they had begun to squabble with each other in their tub at night, and were panting because they were too hot indoors, but kept spilling their water so they had nothing to drink. So it was time to move them out! Damien built a lovely solid duck house.
A duck house just needs to be a big, secure box to protect them from weather and predators, that is off the ground so their feet don’t get too cold, and had some ventilation so their humid duck breath doesn’t make it moldy in there. It has a slanted roof so the snow will slide off it, and it has a giant door in front for opening up to clean it out, and smaller door inset in that, for the ducks to go in and out on a ramp (but we need to add some kind of grips to help them get up and down). The floor is covered with hay that needs to be changed once a week. It’s painted inside, and we still need to paint the outside.
Pekin ducks are quite cold tolerant. You mainly have to give them straw, and protect their feet from getting too cold (which is why the house is raised up on cinder blocks). When it gets below 20 degrees this winter, we’ll move them into a dog crate in the basement, which is unfinished but heated.
Their duck house is surrounded by an old upside-down trampoline frame with chicken wire zip-tied onto the legs. Ducks are not clever escape artists, so this is enough to keep them enclosed, and they’re very happy to eat grass, hunt bugs, and scrabble in the mud. They are in sight of the house during the day, so we can keep an eye on them, and we put them into their duck house at night, to protect them from predators (raccoons and skunks, and occasionally coyotes, foxes, bears, and anything else that might wander through. We have a highway on one side of the house, but conservation land on the other, so you never know what might be in the yard).
They also have a kiddie pool for drinking, splashing around, and washing themselves, and a tray for their protein crumbles. We have also been giving them more and more kitchen scraps, like peas, kale, lettuce cores, and strawberry tops. They go absolutely bananas when they eat. Like the Cookie Monster, but even more so. It’s like they’re blind and in a panic and the food is running away and there are sirens going off. And then they just suddenly lose interest and stroll away, with a streamer of kale dangling casually off their head. They’re so entertaining!
We don’t plan to give them meat, because it can make them a little mean, but they do love bugs and worms. Boy do they love worms.
They love to splash the water out of their pool and make mud. They are constantly making themselves filthy and then washing and fluffing themselves. It’s a full time job, which is good because I don’t think they can read or anything.
There is absolutely zero brain power in them. They’re so dumb, they’re not even dumb. Like, you wouldn’t call a bunch of dandelions or a sky full of clouds dumb, and a bunch of ducks exist in the world in the same way. They’re just a little force of nature, and they are what they are. For some reason, this makes them very soothing to watch in action. I like to just sit down on a rock and watch them duck around. Sometimes they give me a little duck side eye, which is hilarious.
The other animals adapted to the ducks very quickly. The cat took one look at them and just decided, yeah, this isn’t happening. This was smart, as the ducks work as a team and would have beaten the crap out of him, even when they were little. It’s hilarious, though. He won’t even look at them. He goes outside and literally looks anywhere besides in their direction.
The dog ADORES THEM. He thinks they are his AMAZING FOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS and they SMELL SO INCREDIBLE and they DEFINITELY WANT TO SEE THE COOL STICK HE FOUND and SOMETIMES THEY BITE HIS FACE HA HA GOOD ONE DUCKS and LET’S HAVE ANOTHER SMELL. He is constantly begging to go outside, and as soon as you open the door, he rushes right over to the ducks. Just can’t get enough of them. They either ignore him or jump at him and bite his face. They have never been scared of him. They don’t especially dislike him, but they’re not as impressed as he thinks they are.
The parakeet has started imitating their peeps when he wants attention. The lizard just keeps his own council. Never know what that guy is thinking.
And I think that’s it! Go ahead and ask me anything. I love these ducks. Not one second of regret so far.
10 thoughts on “I’ve got a heart like a duck”
I want a duck or two at some point. Our feed store had them too and I stood there fawning over them for a good five minutes. They also had a lone gosling, who looked very gangly and gigantic among the duckies. Almost too cute for words.
We don’t have ducks, but we have chickens. We trained our chickens to go into their house by putting a light in it on a timer to go on in the evening and off after dark. No idea if it would work for ducks, but might be worth a try.
An incredibly fun read on a topic I never thought about – they really are cute!!! I know I would not enjoy cleaning up after them, though, so I am glad I am enjoying them from a distance!
What water will they use in the winter when everything is frozen there?
You can buy water thawing devices for this purpose!
This post made me laugh until I cried, Simcha.
Reading about and seeing your ducks gives me second-hand anxiety but also makes me laugh in delight. Enjoy them! Better you than me!
So cute! We’re never getting ducks but I think there is a remote possibility that someday we’d get chickens (for the eggs). I am worried about the smell though. We’re packed pretty tightly in our neighborhood and I’m afraid the neighbors would complain. So no chickens unless one of the neighbors on the other side of our fence gets them first.
My questions: Do you plan on eating the male ducks? Will you raise/sell a new generation of ducks, if any?
To follow up on Philly area’s questions: if you don’t want to get rid of the male duck, and you don’t want more ducklings, can ducks be “fixed”?
No, they can’t be fixed. We could probably keep any males in a separate pen if we wanted to keep them. That might be an option, as we’re pretty attached to them, and we do have the space.
We haven’t quite decided what we will do once we sort out the male/female question, except that we’re not going to kill any ducks! The best case scenario is that they will turn out to be all female, but if one or two are male, I think we’ll just go ahead and eat fertilized eggs, as long as we collect them promptly. If more than two are male, we’ll have a problem with them harassing the females, and we’ll have to give them away, I guess. I would like to hatch eggs at some point, but we’re not prepared to do that right now.