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Lou's Tips

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This is the time of year that many people purchase hatching eggs. It would seem sensible to put such eggs into the incubator as soon as they arrive. It is better to let them settle for 12-24 hours first on a level surface before putting them in the incubator. Doing so usually results in better hatches, all other factors being equal.


While adding suplemental artificial light is a tried and true method of stimulating chickens to extend their laying period, I do not recommend doing so with waterfowl. They are extremely sensitive to such stimulation and often fertility will be poor in such circumstances. I recommend letting the longer days of spring stimulate the start of egg production for more consistent good results.


Eggs laid during extremely cold weather do not need to be cracked to be affected. Chilled embryos are often less likely to hatch. Picking up eggs often is a real necessity.


Now that the weather is beginning to cool in many parts of the country and most adult waterfowl have completed their moult, it is a good time to worm them. Worming adds stress so avoid worming your birds when other sources of stress are present.


Avoid using the plastic spiral bandettes on either waterfowl or chickens since they can cut off circulation and eventually cause infection and lameness.

A good alternative would be small zip ties which are made in many colors.


Are you losing ducks that are becoming suddenly sick and are dead in 2-3 days? West Nile virus usually takes most of it's victims this time of year (up until a killing frost). Young birds are the most frequently affected. Mosquitoes that have bitten infected wild birds are the culprits.



Take every opportunity to do "double duty" when you handle your birds. For example, I usually take the time to spray my chickens for mites/lice even if I am just moving them from one pen to another. I also check for broken feathers every time I handle either the ducks or chickens.


Product Warning: GE  and Sylvania make a Teflon coated light bulb designed for "rough service". Teflon contains a chemical called PTFE which is toxic to many species of birds including poultry in confined spaces. Even one bulb burning in a poultry building can be fatal. GE's packaging has no warning about it's toxic effects on the label.


Do not forget to refresh your supplies of vaccines and other medications kept on hand for emergencies. All have shelf lives which should not be ignored. They are cheap insurance policies.


Do not let ducks in particular create or play in mud. Several diseases can be contracted by them when they are allowed to do so including Ecoli infections and Enteritis. Sand is an excellent way to prevent that situation.


Mealworms make a wonderful treat for both chickens and ducks when they are moulting in particular since they are very high in protein. They are easily obtainable both live and freeze dried.


To help both chickens and waterfowl through the moult, a supply of greens is really beneficial when there is no pasture. Also, a little treat of freeze dried meal worms once in a while helps replace the protein used up in feather production.


When moulting after the laying season, both ducks and geese are run down and need special attention. Access to pasture and clean bathing water changed often will do wonders in conjunction with a good ration of duck grower. Do not worm while birds are in moult.


While on average the males with earliest fertility tend to be last year's young ones, every situation is unique and time should not be wasted switching males in case the one you are using is shooting blanks. Not a good plan to enter the season depending on a single male in any mating.


Do not overlook the synergies between raising poultry and gardening. Chickens can do a wonderful job speeding up the decompostion of compost because their scratching keeps the compost turning. Also, their manure and bedding makes excellent raw material for compost.


Allowing very young ducklings or goslings to run out of water for an extended period can cause losses from the"staggers". If it does happen, supply only room temp. water and do not allow them to drink too much at a time for a while.


Do not get into the habit of helping hatchlings out of the egg. Doing so only masks the symptom of incorrect incubator management, usually having to do with improper humidity settings.  Correct the problem and the little birds should hatch well on their own.


Waterfowl are actually much more vulnerable to extreme heat than to extreme cold. Plenty of fresh, clean water and shade are a must when temps soar. Avoid activities which requires the birds to be moved extensively when it is very hot. Last but not least, do not worm waterfowl during extreme heat.


More on taming Mandarins:  Once the birds accept your presence in their pens, the next step is to entice them to eventually eat out of your hand using treats such as live or freeze dried mealworms. Again, patience and short training sessions are key.


Taming Mandarins or any other bird is one part strategy and two parts patience. Offering treats to them when they are hungry is fine after you have gotten them accustomed to your presence in their pen.
Move slowly and be prepared to enter the pen and just sit for 10-20 minutes at a time. When you speak, speak softly and move slowly. Gradually, they will lose their fear of you.  After several sessions of doing this, it would be


On the topic of using "foster mothers" for important hatching eggs, consider the size of the duck you are using compared to eggs/ducklings to be hatched. While larger birds certainly cover more eggs, they can also break them and crush newly hatched ducklings. Bantam ducks can make excellent setters for exotic species.


If one can incubate waterfowl eggs naturally (either using the mother or even a broody chicken) for the first two weeks and then finish in an incubator, one can often achieve almost the same results as if the entire incubation period were accomplished naturally rather than in an incubator.


The use of multiple males in breeding flocks of ducks frequently causes problems. Interference in mating is common as the males struggle to establish dominance. I much prefer smaller matings with one male each. One can also quickly determine which males are fertile with that system.


Breeders of exotic species of waterfowl in particular should be wary of feeding processed feeds containing "distillery grains". Some species are likely to be adversely affected by it. No tests have been attempted on any species other than commercial chickens to the best of my knowlege.


Do you have enough brooder space to avoid overcrowding your chicks, ducklings, or goslings as they get past the hatching stage? One of the primary causes of losses is the overcowding of young birds as they advance in size.