Our first ducklings were growing up, they were flying around the ranch and staying gone longer and longer. I was really missing the days when they depended on me for fresh water in their wading pool and the scoops of feed they would get every day. They were about five months old and fully mature and independent, but they were always ready for me to herd them into the aviary at night. One night I found a shallow nest with an egg outside the barn, right where it could get crunched by a horse or eaten by a predator. I brought it into the house to check to see if it was developing. I cut a hole in the top of a box and set the egg in the opening and put the box on top of a lamp. Nothing much to see, but I wrote the date on the egg with a pencil and put it in my incubator. The next few days I found 4 more eggs scattered in different danger zones and put them with the first egg. Later I found out that I could have simplified the hatching and brooding process by putting them in at the same time. About a week later, I was candling them again and each one had a little black spot that was the eye. I would carry them back and forth just about every day and I would always write little notes on their shells. One was really active and I loved to see the shadowy image jump around in the lamplight. I drew a little heart on his shell and named him Koduck. I loved to check on them several times a day during the 28 days of incubation. I would check the temperature, 101 degrees was perfect for ducks and add water to keep the humidity adjusted. They were on a rack with an automatic turner to keep them from sticking to one side of their shells. I read all about the birth defects that can happen, like when they stick to the shell or get a crooked wing or neck……not cool! On the 26th day I was peering at them and I heard a little peep! It was Koduck making an early appearance. His little beak was showing through a little crack in his shell. They are born with an “egg tooth” and the process is called pipping. He took his time to enter the world and I have hours and hours of videotape of the blessed event. I hurried to get the “nursery” ready with a red heat lamp and a tiny bit of water. When a duckling is hatched without a mother hen, they do not have the benefit of waterproofing that she would provide them. The Mama has a gland that enables her to coat her babies right after hatching so that they can swim with her immediately. They will develop their own gland a few weeks later. Koduck finally managed to free himself from his shell and I resisted the urge to help him out. He hopped over to his egg mates and started rolling them around. They had been on an automatic egg turner until the last fews days, this gives them a chance to settle into position for pipping. His feathers were still matted down and I scooped him up and put him into his warm little home.
The other four hatched one by one and joined their older brother. They gobbled up their feed and grew noisier and messier every day. Their little peeps soon turned to quacks. At a few weeks old they were ready to come out for a few supervised swims in the wading pool and some early flying lessons. This consisted of our son Peyton racing and chasing after them to encourage them to take flight. I’m sure that they would learn by themselves, but without a Momma duck around, we wanted to ensure that they would be able to flee from the raccoons, possums and coyotes that lurked nearby. When they took their first full circle around the barn it was great fun to see the little flips and rolls when they made their crash landings while learning to navigate around the house and barn. It still amazes us to see them circle around the ranch and our world comes to a halt every time as we marvel at the beauty of these awesome gifts.