You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “like a duck to water.” You’ve probably even used it, when you discovered, say, that your kid likes the beach or your husband enjoys woodworking.
But you don’t know the half of it unless you’ve actually seen a duck take to water.
We’ve had our six Pekin ducklings for two weeks now, and I can safely say that they care about only two things: each other, and water. They show a passing interest in food, but I think they only eat in order to drink, because they require water to swallow and clear their bills.
When we first got them, I used a one-quart waterer – the kind with a mason jar and a lid with a trough that you put upside down. When the ducklings were no bigger than my fist, they would go through an entire quart in about three hours. That’s a half-cup per hour, per duckling.
My first thought was that they had read the ubiquitous recommendation to drink eight cups of water per day, but not the recent news that this particular recommendation is nonsense, with no foundation in science. How else to explain a creature who weighs only ounces dispatching four pounds of water every 24 hours?
If I were to drink the same amount, proportionally, it’d mean nigh-on 150 gallons of water per day. And you thought those eight cups were tough!
Which brings me to the central mystery of ducks: where does all the water go?
Some of it spills. Not a whole lot, but enough to turn the newspaper and wood chips lining the brooder into a soggy, poopy mess. Instantly. I thought chicks were messy, but ducklings make them look like June Cleaver.
Like all poultry, ducks don’t pee. Their liquid waste is incorporated into their feces, which is soft, but not liquidy. Most of the vast quantities of water they drink must somehow be metabolized by their little tiny duck bodies. It’s unfathomable.
Oddly, their consumption hasn’t increased in proportion with their size. At two weeks old, they’re easily four times the size they were when we got them, but their drinking has increased only marginally. Which is something of a relief – I’d done the math, and pictured myself refilling a three-gallon waterer every fifteen minutes.
Now that they’re big enough to withstand cooler temperatures, we’re keeping the ducks in the hoophouse. I cordoned off the patio section, and we leave them in there to drink to their hearts’ content. The bricks are easy to clean, and I can just sweep the poop out the door. We still use the heat lamp at night, but I think we’ll only need it for another week or so.
We’d planned, when they were fully feathered, to keep them in the turkey pen and give them a little pool to paddle around in. Given their affinity for water, though, a little enclosure next to the pond is looking better and better. We’ll have to build a house for them, to protect them at night, but that’s okay. My husband enjoys woodworking.