If you raise ducks, you might be wondering what the best way to introduce new ducks or ducklings to the mix might be.
There’s no one single right way – but for me, I’ve found that being thoughtful about the process is the best way to do things. Whenever I try to rush the “introductory period,” that’s when things seem to go awry!
Luckily, ducks aren’t quite as particular as chickens. Although they have their own version of a “pecking order,” it tends to not be nearly as aggressively or prominently pronounced for ducks as it is with chickens.
You might tell yourself that you’re only going to have a few ducks – but trust me, over time, you’ll want to add more. Follow these simple tips for introducing new ducks to the flock, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, happy community.
Be Aware – But Not Afraid – of the Pecking Order
If you raise chickens, you’re probably already aware of the pecking order that exists among them. Chickens have a very strict pecking order that guides just about every aspect of their day to day existence, from who gets the best treats to where everybody roosts at night.
Although the pecking order is pretty much set in stone and determined by invisible (to you) factors, it is something that your chickens will likely test the dynamics of every single day.
With ducks, the pecking order isn’t quite as strict. Therefore, when you’re adding new members of the flock, you don’t have to worry quite as much about “offending” anyone. Keep the pecking order in mind, but pay attention to the flock dynamics before you start.
Mind the Season
Ducks tend to be more territorial during the mating seasons of spring and summer. This is especially true of male ducks, or drakes.
However, the reality is that most people get new ducks in the spring or early summer, so that’s naturally when you’re going to be introducing new birds. Just be aware that this might not be the best timing.
Check Your Ratios
Consider how many male to female ducks you have. A single drake will be more aggressive if you attempt to add another drake, particularly an adult drake. You may not notice the effects as much if you are adding a younger drake.
Therefore, before you decide to add another drake, make sure you have the proper ratios around. You’ll want at least three to four females per drake to reduce the likelihood of fighting.
It’s not only the drakes who can get aggressive, either. Sometimes, a female will become more aggressive if there is a drake around, as she’ll want all the new females to know that the drake is her drake, and her drake only.
Therefore, introducing new ducklings or adult ducks to an all-female flock is going to be much easier than adding them to a flock of mostly females and just one male.
Otherwise, wait until your ducklings are at least seven weeks old to begin making introductions. That way, they will be large enough (and wily enough!) to defend themselves.
Plan the First Meeting Carefully
Just like a blind date, it’s important that you introduce your new ducks to each-other on neutral ground. One way that people do this is by keeping a free-range environment in the yard as a common ground.” That way, territorial problems will be less likely.
Be ready nearby in case you need to break up a duck fight, but otherwise, let your ducks do their thing. Ducks are naturally inquisitive, so as you release your new ducks, you’ll find that the “veterans” want to come over and check them out. They might budget them a bit to see what’s going on, or even bob their heads in communication.
Just watch out for aggressive behavior, like biting. You should also pay attention to the body language of your ducks. If any seem particularly stressed, you may want to separate them for the time being.
That doesn’t mean that all is lost, though. You can reintroduce the ducks and stage another meeting, just wait until tomorrow to do so. Ideally, you’ll hold these “meet-ups” three or four times, for about fifteen minutes apiece on back-to-back days.
Time to Cohabitate (At Least Partially)
After you’ve fully acquainted the new ducks to the old ones, it’s time to start acclimating them to their new home.
You’ll want to start by securing your new additions in the duck run. If you aren’t comfortable totally coming into the two groups, you can always separate out part of your run. The new guys have a place of their own.
You can do this for a few days before introducing them all to the duck house. After about a week of these “introductory” meetings both out in a free-range setting and in the duck yard, it’s time for move-in day.
Section off the sleeping area so you have two separate sleeping areas. Both need to be predator proof and resistant to the elements, but otherwise, you don’t need to get too fancy.
When you’re introducing ducks to their new nighttime home, make sure they are going in at night. It can be tough to get ducks to go inside every night, and sometimes you’ll find that they’d rather sleep outside.
Don’t let them, though, as this can pose problems later on. If you find that your ducks aren’t going inside at night, you may need to lock them in for a few days until they figure out where their new home is.
After a few nights of these kinds of “sleepovers,” you can move on to the next steps – full cohabitation!
Once your ducks have hung out together for several nights, it’s time to allow the flocks to merge. Let them all out to free-range together, ideally sometime when you are home to supervise.
After about fifteen minutes, if it seems like everyone is doing well, you can leave them to their own devices.
Watch for Feather Pulling
Most of the time, you’ll be able to add new ducks to your flock with no problem. However, you might need to keep an eye out for specific aggressive behaviors, like feather pulling.
Keep a close eye on all of your ducks, new and old, to make sure they aren’t losing feathers. Although feather loss can often be a sign of nesting or molting, in this case, it’s almost always due to bullying behaviors.
Be Careful About Adding New Ducks to Flocks With Other Poultry
I don’t recommend housing ducks in your chicken coop for several reasons. First, ducks give off a lot of moisture, and this can lead to issues for your chickens in the wintertime, in particular (such as frostbite).
Ducks also have different nesting and roosting requirements than chickens, so it doesn’t usually make sense to keep everybody in the same house.
You also have to be careful about keeping ducks with other poultry, like geese. Adult geese have been known to kill smaller birds during the mating season, so while young geese might be okay, older ones can be disastrous.
Make Sure Everyone is Eating
Again, this is less common with ducks than it is with chickens, but when you add new birds to your flock, it is not uncommon for the newcomers to be “shunned” from the feeding areas.
Watch your words carefully for the first few weeks, and make sure everyone is getting adequate amounts of food. You may need to add extra feeders to provide them all with ample access.
Practice Good Biosecurity
When adding any new livestock to your farm, good biosecurity is essential. You may want to quarantine your new birds for at least four weeks before adding them to a flock.
This can help prevent the spread of disease and parasites, both of which can be introduced easily from outside sources.
During this time, keep a close eye on your new ducks to make sure they are behaving in a healthy manner and don’t exhibit any signs of disease.
Full Acceptance Can Take Time
Ducks aren’t quite as discriminatory as chickens, who will often bully other birds that simply do not look like them (this is where you have to be careful about adding birds from other breeds, in particular), but they can still be a bit snooty when it comes to accepting newcomers.
Therefore, you’ll want to remember that acceptance doesn’t always happen overnight. You might think that your new ducks have fully integrated into the flock, only to find that they’re kicked out from the rest of the group the next day.
In some cases, it can take a full year (or more!) for your flock to be fully integrated. Give it time!
Be Patient and Flexible
When you’re adding any new kind of livestock to your farm, the goal is to be as patient as possible – this can help reduce stress both for you and your birds.
Again, make sure your birds are at least six to eight weeks of age, but use your best judgment. If your birds seem small for their age, you may want to wait a bit longer to do any introductions. This can prevent bullying.
While you’ll want to follow different steps when you’re adding new chickens to a flock, keep in mind that these tips for introducing new ducks to a flock can be used for geese, too. The key is to try to only introduce young birds and be extra cautious with adult birds.
Otherwise, just be patient and flexible. You may need to change your plan if your birds don’t seem to be getting along as well as they should! However, with a bit of caution and careful planning, introducing new ducks to the flock doesn’t have to be stressful at all.
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