WINTER CARE OF YOUR BANTAM DUCKS
Tara Lee Higgins
This article is about what works for us in keeping our bantam ducks comfy and happy.
Let’s face it, we’ve been smitten by Call Ducks and Indies; bantam breeds as opposed to standard sized ducks. One may keep about five Calls/Indies to one Rouen or Khaki Campbell or Runner duck in regards to facility size, feed amounts, etc. We are not particularly fond of duck eggs, so egg production for consumption is not relevant to our situation. Ducks which produce lots of eggs must eat more to manufacture those eggs. Our bantam ducks produce quite a lot of eggs as it is.
Bantam ducks are small, hardy, easy to feed, require less space to contain, fun to look at, less mess, good resale value, less energy/resources exhausted in egg production, will set on their own eggs, make excellent mothers, good longevity, and very personable pets.
Some believe it is economical to cut corners in feeding livestock. In this hobby, we feel that this is the least of our concerns and allow our birds access to as much good food as they desire; using exercise and genetics to encourage the compact, typey, potential in our bantams. Make sure in the fall that you purchase enough bird food to tide you over the winter and into the spring (please note: never use medicated feed for waterfowl). Sometimes suppliers will only purchase poultry food as a seasonal item; bird starter food in spring, grower in summer and finisher a bit later. If you want to keep your birds over winter, do not put yourself in a bind and rely on your supplier to have out-of-season food when you run out in November.
Another good point: always feed your ducklings and goslings actual “duck and goose STARTER”. I tell you this because if you use run-of-the-mill chicken or turkey starter (turkey starter can have more medication that chick starter) your ducks and geese could end up with a condition called “angel wing” or slipped wing. What happens is the wing feathers grow in backwards and it looks nasty; does not harm the bird, but inhibits flight.
We feed a 16% protein, non-medicated duck and goose pellet mixed with steam rolled corn (less dusty than the unwashed cracked and we find that whole corn is too large), whole oats (great for healthy feather production especially during their moults), and wheat (we prefer not to use more than 1/3 wheat in our ration – too hot) along with fresh romaine lettuce, vegetables (chopped celery, carrot peelings, peas, etc.), grass, and alfalfa hay. We do not use barley.
Ducks will nibble all day, but do like to eat at least twice a day: morning and afternoon. The evening meal seems to be the most crucial as this allows them to fill their crop to maintain heat during the coldest part of the day, at night. Having food available “ad lib” is great, but this also seems to encourage rodent to overrun your facilities. We store the bulk of our bird rations in a cool, rodent-proof building; our mixed bird foods in rodent-proof metal garbage cans, placing smaller amounts in tall plastic dog biscuit containers in their pens. We feed the ducks their ration in shallow stainless steel puppy pans or shallow black rubber pans; emptying them every night at dark. As the weather gets colder, increase your birds’ rations (we also add extra corn to the mix) so that they may generate more heat. Watch what is left in the pans; the birds will let you know what their seasonal preferences are.
Domestic ducks and geese do not need to swim all year round; they do, however, need access to fresh water so that they may clean their beaks while eating. We use heated insulated buckets wrapped in puckboard (riveted) or a 5-gallon cut pail (insulated by being from the bottom with foam insulation). We fabricate a puckboard top that limits access; otherwise your ducks will swim in the buckets. Place a rubber mud flap under your waterers to inhibit mess (dabbling) and ensure that loosening the inevitable ice build up is possible. Change the water often, even in cold weather! Remember that you are keeping this water warm (above freezing) and therefore providing perfect conditions for bacteria/algae growth. Use a clean toilet bowl brush or plastic bristle brush to scrub out buckets and feed pans — bleach once in a while and rinse thoroughly. We switch out the heated buckets to rubber pans in the summer. Encircling your pools/ponds with small gravel perimeters decreases mud dabbling.
Do not forget to top up your grit containers … especially in winter. Snow and ice may cover up areas where your birds could have found their own grit. Use grit #1 (chicken size) for bantam ducks, #2 for standard sized ducks, and #2 or #3 for geese; a crushed marble aggregate is great. Mix liberally with crushed/flaked oyster shell (provides Calcium and Manganese and along with Vitamin D3 found in sunshine, produces good eggs shells) and put out in small pet bowls or mix a bit in their food. All birds require grit so their gizzards can grind food.
If you live where it gets cold and freezes up (sometimes it feels like ALL winter), try to keep your facilities cleaned up and avoid too much layering of bedding before the really cold weather sets in. We try out best to do a major clean out by the end of October when the first snow fall is bound to happen. That way we are not in three feet of straw by April and unable to shut doors because there are too many layers piled up. Sawdust is OK for bedding, but it may have sharp wood shavings, it is harder to get rid of (does not compost well, maybe burn it?), and sawdust should never be used with baby birds; they eat it, compact crops, and die of starvation. Oat straw is the best bedding that we have found. It is not sharp, not slippery, has good insulation qualities, is available from those who combine oats and has the added bonus of some seed heads which gives your birds something to forage around for. Our duck barn has dirt floors that we top with 2 to 3 inches of sand, then the straw.
Be careful when using heat lamps in the winter. One singular item could cause a major fire. Also ensure that if you use an extension cord that it is rated for the heavy load that will be drawn on it. Adult ducks and geese are pretty much OK even at -40 degrees C if allowed to get in out of the wind and snow. Use a heat lamp in the insulated building if you need to brood for babies. We have placed a lamp over a mamma duck that was hatching babies in the spring, but do this carefully!
Given the right kind of care and ancestry, bantam ducks can have a life expectancy of about 15+ years. It seems over time, that reliable sources for ducks and geese are getting harder and harder to find. An obvious bonus to keeping your birds year round is that you may be able to let a few hens sit on their egg clutches. By generating your own replacement birds whilst playing a bit with genetics, you may even come up with your own recognized strain.