There are ducks at Leafhopper Farm! These little peepers hatched out of the incubator this week and I’m learning so much about ducklings. These Magpie Ducks Anas platyrhynchos come from a fellow farmstead, Hawthorn Farm. They are a heritage breed from Whales which was recognized in The United States in 1977. Magpies are great hunters, seeking out the little critters who eat my gardens. The patchy markings on the ducklings will stay with them through their entire lives. The black spot on the head is typical, along with yellow down that will turn bright white. This breed traces back to runner ducks (more upright carriage), including Huttegem, a French-Beligan breed developed from Indian Runner Ducks. The Huttegem looks just like the Magpie with a mask of dark feathers, rather than a cap. Maybe I’ll start selecting in that direction.
Most domestic ducks are mallards with fancy plumage. But there are unique characteristics in all the Anas platyrhynchos morphs. What matters most to Leafhopper Farm is utility, not looks. Though if we’re already domesticating and breeding, we might as well appreciate aesthetics.
In the first year of the farm, Cairina moschata was introduced. These feisty birds were a fond memory in childhood, where in Oklahoma, Moscovys were common, as they took to hot temperatures well and would not fly off. A lake near home had a resident flock, and I think people would sometimes drop new birds off to keep the genetics fresh. The C. moschata do not quack, making them an ideal suburban inhabitant. They do hiss though, and poop everywhere, but that’s typical of water fowl. We find their foul follies particularly putrid, as they are much more moist, owing to the dietary direction of ducks.
The Leafhopper Farm Moscovys were short lived. Due to inept penning, (none whatsoever) the ducks rallied to my covered porch in November at dawn every morning to enjoy the first rays of sun. It was smart, but smelly, snotty, and slippery. They went to the crock pot later that Winter. I had a lot to learn about ducks. Now I’m starting again with new understanding, and some great electric net poultry fencing.
The biggest prep for ducks is water, and I’m already managing for the better.
This watering system idea is working beautifully, and I can’t stress enough how important water management is for successful duckling rearing. This milk jug with a small slit cut in the upper face of one side allows the ducklings to stick bill and head into the water, without getting fully immersed. Multiple birds can drink at once, and the reservoir is large enough to last the whole day. Duckling water should be refreshed daily, so this is perfect! 5 gallon buckets will become the adult watering station, and perhaps an occasional swim in the pond to allow for some bathing and splashing about.
Ducks need a lot of protein, so I’m putting brewer’s yeast in with their starter feed (Scratch and Peck). They also love greens, as long as they are cut up into fine pieces. There’s a little Swiss Chard Beta vulgaris (beets), in with these babes. They have a brooder in too. Ducklings need to be over 90 degrees (F) for comfort. It will be great to document the growth of these Magpies. As they mature, personalities will develop. I’m not planning on getting too attached, as this is a utility breed and many will be eaten to sustain us on the farm. With luck, we’ll also have eggs, and eventually, more ducks!