Water, water, everywhere

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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.

A rare, non-drinking moment

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.

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Comments

  1. How will you keep them from taking off, if they’ll be near the pond? Clip their wings?

    My neighbor, who knows I’m planning on chickens, and whose son is allergic to chicken eggs, was over yesterday to tell me that Michael had a duck egg, and tolerated it. I mentioned that ducks are supposed to do better in Oregon because of the wet weather we have, and she said that was kind of what she was getting to; duck eggs are hard to find. I haven’t decided whether or not I want to do ducks too, I mean, one species at a time- please! So I told her about the farmers market where we found ours. I wouldn’t mind keeping ducks in addition to chickens, but I’m not sure I have room for them too. Plus the pond requirement is a bit of a quandary. I’ve read they don’t have to have water, but they do if they’re going to develop their resistance to water at an early age. Plus, I’d want them to be happy. I guess they’re something to keep thinking about.

    You once said one new specie a year; are you doing ducks instead of turkeys? I have to admit they’re a lot cuter than turkeys…

  2. Tamar! I would love to come over and see your ducks sometime soon 🙂 We had ducks in Portland (for laying) and they were as sweet as could be. Happy Spring!

  3. Paula — At this point, I don’t know much more about raising ducks than you do. I know they like water, and that they make a huge mess. I, too, have read that they don’t require water for swimming. The main reason we’re thinking about keeping them down by the pond is that I wouldn’t worry about the waterer or the pool going dry (they can’t fly, so all we have to do is put a little fence in the water). That, and it would be big duck fun. I’ll report back as I learn more.

    Jess — Come on down! We’d love to show you the ducks. But hurry — this offer is only good for about 7 more weeks.

  4. Brooke S says:

    Tamar, I’m currently in nursing school, and we recently went over Fluid and Electrolyte balance. I know ducks are a far cry from the average wailing infant…. BUT…. until 6 weeks an infants kidneys cannot concentrate urine constituents and their intake and output of fluid is vital because of it. Basically their bodies are growing at an extremely rapid rate, and their intake is liquid. Couple this with the kidney function: fluid is a must on a constant and large supply (for their size it seems) Maybe the ducks have a similar mechanism?

  5. dianne says:

    Not ducks but I came across this article from the New York Times on building a Pizza oven,…have been waiting to see yours finished so I can encourage my husband that it is possible…
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/may/04/build-wood-fired-cob-pizza-oven-They are doing the ‘corn cob ‘type???? just thought you might want to see it.

  6. I have 3 ducks (2 Khaki Campbells and 1 commercial hybrid) for eggs, and they’re fabulous! Great fun to watch and keep. Not the smartest animals, but watching them herding them up at night to go to bed still makes me laugh.
    They won’t put themselves to bed at night like chickens do. They think they’re quite safe by their pond, so we’ve taught them the command ‘bed!’. Said firmly whilst ushering them towards their house, they do go in, quacking indignantly.

    Please don’t keep ducks without water. I’m sure some breeds are more water orientated than others (Katy and Clover the KC’s are more excited by it than Honeysuckle the X breed) but they love it so much, they must have enough to get in, no matter what professional/commercial keepers say.

    Ours have a plastic sandpit (the type that looks like a turtle, and the lid is it’s shell). It was going to be binned by the local preschool as the lid was missing, but it’s perfect for a few ducks. Please bear in mind this is the wide expanse of water that they are going to escape on to should they be chased by a predator…

    I can change the water regularly (you think they’re messy now!) and refill it easily. They can’t swim in it, but they push themselves around, stick their heads under the water and generally splash around having a whale of a time, especially when I’ve just put clean water in. They genuinely appear happy, and I think it would be cruel to deprive them of something they so obviously enjoy. On a practical level, ours get filthy with very muddy beaks from rootling around- their water dispenser isn’t adequate for cleaning.

    Tamar, if you can stop them from swimming off into the wide blue yonder with the fence, by the pond sounds ideal. Ours make no attempt to even try to fly.

  7. They’re really cute, mostly because they’re yours and not mine, and therefore my garden is not a wet, fecal-strewn bog with duck prints where flowers used to be (Mine is a dog playground with chewed toys and poop landmines).

  8. Awww… they’re SO pretty, such a gorgeous a color-combo of pastel yellow & pink.

    If they were mine they might not even make it to 9 weeks(!)– I fear I’d stroke them to death, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

  9. Oh….they are so cute! We’ve had lots of pekin ducks from baby age to grown up age and they are all delightful. We always tried to keep them on the pond as this kept them safer from predators. Here in Australia we have foxes and they do awful things to the ducks. When they are near the pond and on the pond they clean themselves to the whitest of whites and there’s nothing nicer than seeing them swim around together. Post piccies once you get them sorted please.