There is no better feeling than when on the 28th day, you look in your incubator to find that your precious eggs have started to hatch. Ducklings are not hard to look after as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
The ducklings can take up to 24 hours to hatch. They start by making a small hole in the shell this is referred to as piping, once this done they will tend to rest for a few hours until they continue to break free from the shell. It is important that you don't help them unless they have there seems to be a major problem as they will loose at blot of vital fluid.
After they have hatched they will need to stay in the incubator for a few hours to rest and also for its fluff to dry out. Once the ducklings have dried and are moving around in the incubator they need to be moved to a brooder of some sort. If you only have a few ducklings the simplest brooder can be made from a cage or a tank with a light bulb suspended. The temperature below the bulb should be at around the same as the incubator was. Its important to watch the behaviour of the ducklings as they will tell you if its too warm or too cold. If they are all cuddled up together they are too cold and it they are all spread away from the bulb and each other then they are to warm.
For the first few days the floor of the brooder should have a non slip material placed on the floor, a tea towel will do fine. This is to prevent the young ducklings from slipping and damaging their legs. A small amount of water should also be added but care must be taken that it only covers their beaks as they will catch a chill if they get too wet.
The ducklings do not need to eat for the first 24 hours or so as they will still have their yolk sack. However I like to place a little food in with them straight away so at least they have the option of eating. At this age they should be given chick crumb, if you are hatching call ducks you can get extra fine chick crumbs but i fine the normal once small enough for them. I like to mix this with a little water to start with as it makes it easier for them to swallow and also ensures that they eat it with water which is very important. After a few days the chick crumbs can be fed dry, but water must be available at all times. You will be amazed at how much they can eat at this stage of life so it is important that food is kept topped up.
Your ducklings should be fed chick crumbs until they are about 5 weeks old. At this age the amount of protein they require changes and they should be fed on grower's pellets, which will form their staple diet until they are at laying age and then they should be fed on layers pellets. At the age of 5 weeks they will also enjoy cooked vegetables that have been allowed to cool. A little corn can also be added to their diet but not too much as this can make them fat. I can't stress how important it is to have water available whilst they are eating as this helps them digest the food more easily.
As I have already mentioned for the first few weeks of their life your ducklings will need to remain in the brooder. After the first week the temperature can be reduced each day. The best way of doing this is to move the bulb up. After about 3 weeks depending on the time of year the ducklings can be moved from the heat, if you have brought the ducklings from myself than they will already be of heat. Again look at their behaviour they will tell you if they are too cold.
Unless it is warm outside they may need to stay indoors for another week until they get used to the change in temperature. Once again if the you have brought them as ducklings they should be off heat and the best way to keep them is in a plastic toy box or smiler. After a week the ducklings can then be moved outside during the day into a small run. It will still be important to bring them inside at night for a while.
Once your ducklings start to grow feathers they will be able to remain outside at all times. They will need however somewhere that is fox proof at night, a rabbit hutch or something similar is ideal.
As I have already stated on a number of occasions, ducks and particularly ducklings require water for drinking at all times. As they have been hatched in an incubator they do not have the natural water proofing that would normally rub off from their mothers feathers, so it's important that they do not get too wet for the first few weeks as they will soon catch a chill. After a few weeks of age a small bowl should be placed in with them that allows them to splash around. This is important as it helps to spread their natural oils around their body and so make them water prove. Once the water can be seen to roll of their down a larger container can be added for them to swim in which they will thoroughly enjoy.
The sexing of ducklings is very difficult and will take a great deal of practice until you are able to tell and even then you can not be 100%. The only way that it can be done in young ducklings is by vent sexing this involves bring the internal organs to the out side.
The best place to do this is a well lit room or out side. Hold the bird across your knee, on its back using your arms to hold them down. use both your hands to push the tail back and part the fluff so as to expose the vent. Then use your fingers to apply pressure to the side of the vent and use your thumbs to apply pressure to the top and bottom to evert the vent. A male will have a small penis that will show as a spike, about 3mm long and a female not.
The practise of vent sexing is very delicate and should first be practised on older ducklings as a general rule you will have more drakes than ducks.
This is a three week old female duckling.
Here you can see the small penis of a three week old duckling
Once your ducklings are at bout 7 weeks of age they will start to grow their adult feathers and their appearance will change a great deal. It is at about this age they can start to be treated as semi adults. Please look at CAREING FOR DUCKS for the next stage of life.
If you have a question please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and i will be more than happy to help.