Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

One Morning in March

Yesterday was a nerve-wracking day.  My 15 Muscovy ducklings were due to arrive by U.S. Express Mail at the Post Office by noon.  They were hatched in PA on Tuesday, the 15th, and shipped in a special box that afternoon, guaranteed to arrive before noon on the next day (yesterday).  I knew the Express Mail truck would arrive about 6:00 a.m., so at about 9:00 in the morning, I called the Post Office to see where they were.  I explained to the lady on the other end of the phone that ducklings are more fragile than chicks, which can live 4 days without food or water after hatching (if need be).  Ducklings, on the other hand, need food and water within 24 hours or they will die.  She assured me they would probably be on the 10:00 truck.

When I hadn't heard anything by 11:00, I got a tracking number from the shipper and called the Post Office again.  I was on and off the phone all day, trying to track down my ducklings, which had last been scanned in Harrisburg, PA at 8 p.m. the evening before.  That did not bode well for them arriving in GA any time soon.  I called the national tracking center, and they opened a case to track the ducklings.  Our own postmistress gave her personal phone number to the central Post Office in Chattanooga and told them that if the ducklings arrived that night, she would personally go get them and deliver them to me.  She stayed up till 11 p.m., trying in vain to find them.

I didn't sleep well that night, praying for my poor little ducklings every time I woke up.  Suddenly at 6 a.m., Herb burst in to the room to tell me that our postmistress had found the ducklings and they were at the P.O.  He had to leave for an early breakfast appointment, so I had to go get them.  Half asleep, I stumbled out to the truck, turned the heat on blastingly high, and drove into town.

When I arrived at the Post Office, the man there told me that a couple of the ducklings were dead, but his co-worker assured me that some were okay because they kept popping out of the box, and she had to keep putting them in.  They were extremely unhappy, raising quite a racket!  I hopped into the hot truck and drove home as fast as I could over the pitch-black roads.

One by one, I lifted them out of the box, crouched by the brooder box in the cold, black morning.  As I lifted each duckling out, I dipped its beak in the water several times until I saw it drink the water.  Once they were all out and had drunk, I put aside the box with one dead duckling, an extra the hatchery had sent.  Then I began taking the ducklings one by one to give them more water and make sure they found the food and could peck at it.
I also verified the temperature under the two brooder lights I had set up for them, to be sure it was the requisite 95° they need during their first week.  Since several of them tried to peck at the shavings, I ran to get some newspaper on which I scattered some food so they wouldn't use their energy eating useless wood chips.
After nearly an hour of crouching over the ducklings, everyone seemed to be eating, drinking, and moving around.  In fact, when I had my hand in the brooder box, they waddled away to the far corner.  It looked like I could take a break to get some coffee and breakfast for myself.  (Note:  These pictures were taken a little later, as I was too busy working with the ducklings to take pictures right then.)
It was still dark about 7:30 when I left them, spread out under the two lamps, some of them eating or drinking, and some of them sleeping.
About 9 a.m., I took Herb out to show him the ducklings, and to my shock, one was dead.  I looked closely at them all and found one who seemed a bit sluggish when I picked him up.  So I began to dip his beak in the water, only to find that he didn't smack it together to swallow the water.  I held him in my hands under the light, working on him for the next 10 or 15 minutes--getting him to drink, then opening his beak to drop in a crumb or two of food.  Herb and I both talked to him, encouraging him to eat and drink, but despite all our efforts, he faded and died in my hands.
After that, I called the hatchery and found out that ducklings can benefit from electrolyte salts dissolved in water.  I had found and purchased the last package at Tractor Supply, so I mixed up a batch and replaced the ducklings' water with it.  Then I spent the next hour and a half dipping beaks into the electrolytes and making them drink.  Every duckling that drooped in its sleep (like the one beyond the jar of feed) got woken up and forcibly given a drink.  Over and over I pushed them to drink until they were all hopping and waddling about, moving to the drinker on their own.  Finally, I felt as if I could leave them on their own, but I checked back several times during the day.  When it grew too warm as the day warmed up, I turned out one of the lamps. 

Later in the day, I added more electrolyte solution and more feed, happy to see that my babies were noticeably consuming them!  As the sun set, I turned the second light back on; after dark fell, I went back and checked the temperature with the thermometer, lowering the lamps until it was warm enough to get the ducklings through the night.  I left them tucked up, warm and with plenty of food and electrolytes, my 13 little ducklings.  Hopefully 13 will be a lucky number for you, better than for your three poor siblings. Sleep tight, babies, I'll see you tomorrow!


  1. Such cute little critters! I'm glad to hear the rest of them are OK.

  2. Thanks, Barbara! Isn't God amazing to have created baby animals so cute and adorable? I mean, He could have made them ugly and wrinkled, but in His goodness He chose to make them adorable! AND to give them instincts! Our 26 baby chicks arrived this morning, and they came out of the box wanting to peck on the ground. I put their food on a sheet of newspaper and in a clay pot saucer, dipped their beaks in the water, and they went to town!

  3. Can't wait to meet them...and to be them too! I love duck!! ;-) -wicked smile.

  4. Jenny, don't count your ducklings before they're hatched, I mean, frozen. They are awfully cute, and I'm having a hard time thinking about food when I watch them. I practice doing that while I watch the chicks, and it's easier with them because they don't have quite the cute factor that the ducklings have.


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