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How to raise chicks and ducklings on and off grid

Homesteading is becoming a more common practice these days due to the desire to live healthier and more self-sufficient lifestyles.  Raising, or growing, one’s own food provides a sense of satisfaction, is more affordable and allows the homesteader to have full knowledge of what they are putting in their system.  It is important to know how food is grown, what conditions livestock live in and what they are consuming.  The more naturally these are accomplished, the healthier the product.

Chickens, and even ducks, are considered the prime candidate for the novice homesteader.  They require little space, are easy to care for, inexpensive to purchase, and provide food through both eggs and meat.  Chickens can be obtained in a variety of ways from day old to pullets and up to adults.  If you are in the market for day olds, you must be properly prepared to care for them.  They require adequate housing, warmth, sustenance and attention.

If raising both ducklings and chicks, it is a benefit that their upbringing is quite similar in some ways.  When newly hatched, chicks require approximately 0.5 square feet of space each, and ducklings need 0.75 square feet of space apiece.  As they grow, the space required will, also.  After about a month, the chicks will need 0.75 square feet of space, and the ducklings will have grown to 1.75 square feet after two weeks and 2.75 square feet after 4 weeks.  When they are 6 weeks old, they should be ready for their new habitat.  Their initial brooders should be filled to a good level with litter, preferably something that is not dusty, and a layer of newspaper or paper towels need to be placed on top of the chicks' litter because they tend to want to peck at it, an unhealthy habit.  

 

 

 

The temperature they must be kept at is very much the same.  Ducklings should be at 90 degrees their first week and chicks at 90-95 degrees.  The temperature can be lowered by 5 degrees each week until it is the same as the outdoor temperature, and the little ones are ready to go outside.  Their behavior will indicate whether they are comfortable.  If they huddle together in a corner or underneath their heat source, they are not warm enough.  On the other hand, if they are spread out far away from the heat, they are too warm.  For those homesteaders who live off grid, it is possible to raise chicks and ducklings properly without electricity for a heat lamp.  If you have an upper level where the heat rises to, it is a perfect spot to keep their brooders.  The trick is to be able to withstand the heat in the downstairs area.  If the temperatures downstairs are kept in the lower 80s, the upstairs should be just about right for the chicks and ducklings.  Again, just keep an eye on their behavior, and they will let you know if they are happy, and healthy, or not.

It goes without saying that food and water are very important in all stages of growth, but ducklings should actually be allowed their food 24 hours a day for the first two weeks.  At that time, they can be fed a few times a day.  Be sure that the water vessel used for the chicks is not large enough for them to fall into and drown.  It is best to use a special waterer that allows for them to drink from, but not enter, the water.  Ducklings must have water that allows them to dunk their entire beak.  Food and dirt can get stuck in the airholes, and they need to be able to keep them clean.  It is imperative to note that ducklings can actually drown when they are very small.  They do not have the oily substance on their feathers that allows them to stay afloat until they are about 7 weeks old, so if they are given water to play in, it must not be deep enough for them to drown.

 

 

 

Just as ducklings require a way to keep their beaks clean, chicks need some extra attention where cleanliness is concerned.  They can develop a condition known as "pasty butt" wherein their vents get clogged with poop.  During the first couple of weeks, especially, they should be checked often.  If it appears they are becoming plugged up, wipe down the area with a damp cloth to clean it.  Apple cider vinegar in their water (3-4 tablespoons per gallon) can help prevent this.

Chickens and ducks are a wonderful addition to any homestead.  Not only do they provide food, but they lend an old-fashioned appearance.  Be sure to socialize with them from day one, and your experience with them will increase greatly.  The first large thing they see will become their "mama," and they will be drawn to that person naturally.  There is nothing like having little chicks and ducklings following after you as you tend to your homestead.  Good luck with your new additions and have fun!
 


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Danielle Reid

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