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Lou's Tips

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The American Bantam Association has published a new edition of Sheraw's The East Indie Duck. 


One thing that one should not ever skimp on is the quality of feed supplied to breeders and growing young stock. To do so is a false economy which will come back to haunt you in the long run.


Often, one of the first symptoms of health problems in waterfowl is loss of weight. It is a good idea to regularly pick up birds to see if weight has changed. Often, it can be combined with handling for another purpose such as treating for mites.


Ordinarily, it is not good to include substantial amounts of corn in the diets of either waterfowl or other poultry. In areas where winter brings extreme cold, however, adding 20-25% whole corn to the diet will aide the birds in maintaining flesh during the extreme cold. Decrease the corn as the weather warms in the spring.


Remember that you will get out of your birds the quality you invest in them. That means quality feed, housing, and care.

Waterfowl feed in particular should contact higher levels of some vitamins and ingredients such as marine fish meal which penny pinching feed producers often omit.


As this is West Nile Virus season in the Midwest, here are some reminders about symptoms:

Young waterfowl look ruffled and unwilling to move around one day and are dead by 24 hours later. It most often (but not always affects birds in their first year and it can attack both ducks and geese.


Because Mandarins tend to "dump nest" even when there are plenty of nest boxes to go around, eggs incubated naturally may hatch over several days instead of all at once.  That is because because other females may add eggs even after one has begun the incubation process.


The moisture content in the air in a room in which a incubator is kept greatly affects the moisture inside the incubator. Likewise, so does the air temperature in that room. In some circumstances, it may be impossible to properly regulate  the tmperature inside the machine if the outside temp is too hot or too cold.


When hatchlings struggle to get out of the egg and appear "sticky" and bloated, there is probably too much moisture in the incubator during incubation. In some situations, it may be necessary to run the incubator with no water in the tray for a period of time to "dry down" the hatchlings. 


How often should one turn waterfowl eggs in an incubator and how should they be positioned?

I turn my waterfowl eggs three times daily if at all possible. They lay on their sides and are turned to the opposite side.

I do use an automatic turner for chicken eggs which are positioned on end with large end up.


This time of year, I often find myself in need of more nest boxes for my bantam ducks. A five gal. bucket (available at any big box store) with a top is excellent for that purpose. 

Drill a 2 inch hole about 3 inches from the bottom of the bucket with a hole saw and bed it with shavings or fresh straw.


Fertility is a major factor in having a good breeding season. In my experience, fresh swimming water is a stimulant for all types of waterfowl. Changing the water often results in males immediately treading the females.


Do not wait until you want eggs from your breeders before beginning to feed a breeder feed. A 2-3 week headstart is recommended. Also, start making oyster shell available when eggs are expected soon. Oyster shell should not be available to birds not breeding as it can cause harm to non-breeding birds.


One of the hazards of winter flock keeping in my neck of the woods is the risk of falling on slippery ice. This year, the ice has been especially bad so I have taken extra measures to safeguard my health. I have used wood shavings removed from the pens to cover the ice and provide traction. I usually pile it up or add it directly to gardens right over the snow.


It is important to know what disease one is dealing with when flock members become ill. Poultry supply vendors can be a resource but one should not hesitate to get expert help for serious outbreaks. Many states have Diagnostic Labs associated with major universities. It may be necessary to send them a bird lost to the problem but the cost of knowing what the problem is and how to treat it is worth paying.


Right now, the eastern half of the U.S. is dealing with a protracted spell of severe cold weather. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of providing a continuous supply of clean, unfrozen drinking water for all types of poultry. Water consumption is tied to feed consumption. There will be losses if that problem is not attended to.


An excellent type of penning for bantam waterfowl is a raised cage. I make mine 4X8 ft. in size divided in two lengthwise. The bottom is hardware cloth except at the end where the covered nestbox is located.

They are great in the spring for breeding units and also in the fall to condition birds


One does not want to wait until an emergency arises before locating needed medications. I like to have a broad spectrum antibiotic on hand at all times. I also keep Laryngo vaccine and a wound dressing ointment handy just in case.


Common symptoms of a disease to watch for in both landfowl and waterfowl include loss of weight, poor feather condition, and diarrhea. Behavioral changes such as loss of appetite or inactivity are also important signs of ill health.  


Both landfowl and waterfowl have metabolisms much faster than do mammals. Because of that, an illness or disease can cause them to fail in health much more quickly. If the keeper does not check his/her birds closely for telltale signs of illness, a bird can be too sick to benefit from treatment when the problem is discovered.  


I am sometimes asked if one can keep multiple pairs of Mandarins together without them changing mates.

I find that once pairs are well bonded, they stick with their mates longterm. Of course, that often means keeping them separately until their bond forms.


Keep in mind that feed consumption is closely tied to water consumption. Because this time of year in most parts of the country birds need to consume more calories to break even with the cold, a supply of clean, unfrozen water is vital for their health.


My own experience suggests that leaving Mandarin breeding stock full winged makes them slightly more likely to select a nest box and to breed than if they pinioned or wing clipped. I suppose that it seems more natural that they are able to fly up to a higher (and more secure?) nest box.


Perhaps the most efficient type of waterer for chickens is the nipple type. They come in several capacities up to over three gallons and even are available with built-in heaters. There is little spillage which keeps the litter dry and chickens seem to take to using it very quickly. The water also remains unspoiled by droppings.


As this is the time of the year that many people buy breeding stock, I thought a tip in that area would be timely.

When purchasing breeding stock for a new foundation flock, always purchase at least two pairs if at all possible. Invariably, one will lose or find infertile the single bird purchased.