Waterfowl FAQ: Part 2

This article on waterfowl frequently asked questions (part two) is being republished from Acorn Hollow Bantams website with permission from Lou Horton.

Q. I am losing ducklings after 3-4 days in my wooden brooder. They appear to be healthy when I put them in the brooder.

Ducklings and goslings are very vulnerable to infection for the first few days of their lives because their navels are an easy entry point for bacteria until they are fully healed and closed. Common bacteria (primarily Salmonella) is almost always present and will attack ducklings, goslings, and chicks if proper sanitation is not practiced. Before the young birds are placed in the brooder, a powerful sanitizer should be used on all interior surfaces. I prefer Tektrol but a diluted chlorine bleach/water solution will also work. Wood can harbor bacteria for a prolonged period so it should not be assumed that sanitation is not required if the brooder has not been used in a long while. Some breeders place their brooders outside on a sunny day to let the sun sanitize it after the season concludes. Such a practice is fine as long as it does not take the place of a thorough soaking with a chemical sanitizing agent. Metal brooders are less porous and therefore easier to sanitize than wooden ones.

Q. I have lost goslings while using the chick starter commonly available in my area. Is medicated starter feed a problem for waterfowl?

The medication you mentioned is common in chick starter and protects them from Coccidiossis which frequently causes losses among chicks especially when they are under stress. It is a very common bacterial infection. Waterfowl can get Coccidiossis but it is much less common in them. Coccidiostats which are arsenic based are lethal to waterfowl. Brands such as Renosal are arsenic based. Coccidiostats that employ Amprol do not harm waterfowl. The best policy is to avoid medicated starter feed.

Q. Can one sex ducklings and goslings day old?

It can be done but it is a pin point operation and is best left to those with experience. Ducklings can be sexed by differences in their voices by about six weeks of age. Goslings are more difficult to sex even as adults.

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Q. Help! My flock of six week old goslings were caught in a rain storm and they are lying all over the yard and are not moving. Are they dead? What happened to them?

Both goslings and ducklings are very vulnerable to hard rains until they are well feathered. Their lungs are located near the surface of their backs and are easily affected by hard/cold rain. If found quickly, they may not be dead. Try reviving them by placing them under a strong heat lamp or even in an oven set on a low temperature and door open. In either case, towel them as dry as you can and then keep your fingers crossed. Speed is of the essence. I do not let young ducklings or goslings outside for extended periods unsupervised until they are well feathered over the backs. Do not assume that because some sort of shelter is provided, that they will have sense enough to use it.

Q. My flock of ducks sleeps overnight in an area in front of our barn which is protected by a big yard light. There was never a problem with predators until recently when I began losing one or two birds a night. Sometimes there was nothing left and sometimes only the head of the victim was to be found. What am I dealing with and how can I protect my birds?

You are probably being visited by a Great Horned Owl. They will continue to prey on your flock until you make your birds unavailable to them or until you have no more birds left for them to eat. Put the birds in a tight barn at night or in a pen with a top made of wire mesh or a solid roof. I do not recommend that you attempt to shoot or trap the owl because they are protected. Besides, another owl or another type of predator will find your flock sooner or later if you do not protect them better at night. Waterfowl are creatures of habit and can easily be trained to enter a pen or other shelter at night. Just make sure to close the door after them.

Q. I own a small flock of Pekin ducks. How can I tell the males from the females?

The females will be the ones which “quack”. The males have a hoarse whisper of a voice. Males also usually have a couple of curled “sex” feathers at the base of their tails.

Q. I have a pond and I have always wanted some ducks to put on it. Will they be O.K. in that situation?

Probably not for long. In most places in the U.S. and Canada, predators which will prey on ducks and even geese if they are unprotected at night are plentiful. Raccoons, coyotes, owls, and mink are but a few of the common predators to worry about. Waterfowl usually need shelter at night if they are to be safe from such animals. If one cannot or will not provide such shelter, one should not attempt to keep the birds.

By Lou Horton