We suspect one of our ducks is getting broody again. Apparently it’s quite common. Hopefully this time we’ll be good smallholders and our broody duck will be a happy mammy duck. So in an effort to rectify the mistakes of last time, we did a bit of research about things we did wrong last time. And oh boy, were there a lot.
Aylesbury ducks in an ideal situation need water for swimming in order to raise their fertility and hatching rate. That’s not to say that without it, they won’t hatch ducklings, but it certainly raises the chances. Unfortunately we are a bit late on this one. Their pond which was hardly luxurious to begin with is under repair/maintenance/redesign. Call it what you will, it’s got a big Out of Order sign hanging on it. We’ll cross that bridge another day.
A sitting broody duck should be kept separate from the rest of the flock. And she certainly shouldn’t have to fight to get her spot on the nest because the others want to lay. We left them all in together and often found two ducks squashed in on the nest with a third looking to get in and lay. At one stage there were two of them trying to sit on the same nest until we made a second clutch of eggs available for the newcomer. This time we’ve got a broody coop ready and waiting for action. More on that later.
A duck will only sit on a clutch of between six and fourteen eggs depending on her size. She needs to be able to cover them all well with her body when she is sitting. If she has made her nest, the eggs should be in a single layer beneath her in order to ensure that all get even heat. I got greedy. Aylesburys are big ducks. I thought she could sit on a dozen or so easy. Not so easy. She had made her nest narrow and deep. There were a double layer of eggs at the bottom. This time around, we’ll go for quality, not quantity.
Don’t disturb the sitting duck. Because we were letting the other ducks in on top of the sitter, they were going in and laying eggs on top of her own. We had to shoo her off the nest to take out the fresh eggs and then root around to make sure we got her eggs back in beneath her. This time round I reckon if we have her on her own, that mistake should rectify itself.
Leading on from having to root around for her eggs, it turns out that ducks are able to tell if an egg is bad and will roll it out of the nest. So, while I thought I was being helpful to mammy duck and finding eggs outside of the nest and placing them back in if still warm, I was actually undoing her good work. This time around, we’ll trust the momma instinct.
How did I know which were her eggs and which were the fresh newly laid ones? I marked them with a black felt tip pen. Clever or what? Turns out, it’s the or what option. Duck eggs have very porous shells and the felt tip can poison the baby ducklings. Those poor babies never stood a chance with me around.
I’m going to stop now while I still have any faith in myself. All is not lost because we have a plan. Mr. Fairweather has built a broody copy for our mammy duck. He salvaged a chipboard crate from some builders and did a DIY conversion job.
First he made a divider for the crate out of plywood and a few off-cuts of timber. He cut a small doorway out at one end to allow mammy duck (and hopefully ducklings) to get in and out of nesting area.
Then he made a roof for the nest box with an overhang to protect the entrance. This is basically a sheet of ply cut down to size with blocks of timber fitted to underside. These blocks allow you to locate the roof position over the nest box and also give you a grounding to screw the roof down to so it doesn’t blow off in the next storm.
Nest box area was almost complete. We want the nest warm but with a bit of drainage. He rescued a bit of Styrofoam board from Little Paddler’s cot packaging and cut it slightly narrower than the width of the nest box and about half the length. This would raise the nest up off the ground and insulate the eggs from below but also allow any liquids the get away from the nest down the side. A small hole drilled below will be all it needs to drain.
The rest of the crate is given over to feeding and exercise area for mammy. It’s good for mammy duck to get off the nest to feed and drink every so often and doesn’t harm the eggs. He cut an entrance way in the external wall and with another few off-cuts of timber and ply, made a little slot for a sliding door so if needed we can let mammy duck out of the broody coop altogether. A clear piece of perspex with a timber handle makes the door.
Voila. Fool proof broody coop!
On a slightly different note I have news. It’s official, we are now smallholders (in my mind).
Where there is life, there is also death. We reared, slaughtered and ate one of our own animals – our surplus drake. Let me just say now that there are no pictures of the deed here in this post. We decided to figure out what we were doing ourselves before we even attempted to explain it to anyone. We did however find some great resources that talk you through everything and everything was done very humanely. The other ducks were not privy to the deed either and so hopefully remain untraumatised. I’ll write a more detailed blog post about it another time but I just wanted to say “I can actually do this. I am a smallholder!”