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The Country Life: Things are just ducky

March 26, 2017 Updated: March 26, 2017 at 8:55 am
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A doghouse-turned duck house provides a corner for these two ducklins to hide in. A heat lamp keeps them warm. Photo by Bill Radford, The Gazette

Good news: The ducks are out of the bathtub.

My wife and I decided to add to our menagerie recently with a pair of ducklings. The first surprise was their size. We expected cute little fluff balls, but at only a few weeks old they were already nearly a foot tall. It seems their breed is known for "rapid growth rates."

The second surprise was their lack of intelligence. We kept them in the bathtub for a couple of days, knowing they weren't ready to be exposed to the elements. Young ducklings aren't well feathered enough to fend off the cold. But they were so messy - and so loud - that I set up a pen for them outside that included a doghouse complete with a heat lamp (and a thermometer to make sure it didn't get too hot or too cold). That gave them the option of being warm and cozy - an option they ignored, as we checked on them in the middle of the night and found them out in the frigid air.

The woman we got the ducks from confirmed that they might not be smart enough to realize they could return to the warmth after stepping out of the doghouse. So after two nights of chasing them back into their house at 2 a.m., we gave up and returned them to the bathtub for another week. (Our lovely, new clawfoot tub, by the way - part of a bathroom renovation completed last summer with ducks NOT in mind.)

Now the ducks are back outside, but with a wire-grate door on the doghouse so we can lock them in on cold nights. And we did that for a few nights, but they finally seem to have gotten the hang of going in and out.

The ducks - a boy and a girl - are pekins (not to be confused with Peking duck, the duck dish you find in Chinese restaurants). The duck you see on those Aflac insurance commercials is also a pekin, and it's believed that Donald Duck was modeled after a pekin.

According to the website of Metzer Farms, a duck, goose and game bird hatchery, pekins are the most common domestic duck. The breed, the site states, has been farmed since at least 2500 B.C. in China and was brought to the U.S. in the 1870s.

Pekins are rated No. 1 in ducks at The pros, the site states: "Friendly, forage well, close to house, easy to tame." The cons: "Eat a lot, poop a lot."

According to Maple Leaf Farms, touted as "a world leading duck producer," white pekin ducks offer "a tender, mild meat that is preferred by most Americans and adapts to a wide range of flavor profiles and cuisines."

Maybe so, but our duo never will end up on the dinner table; they're pets, though the female is welcome to provide eggs to accompany our allotment from our 10 hens.

By the way, if you're thinking of getting a pair of cute ducklings or chicks - or bunnies - as an Easter gift, the general consensus is: Don't. (Consider the plush or chocolate kind instead.) The Humane Society of the United States and similar groups warn that the baby animals often are abandoned once they're not so little - and that many don't even make it that far because they're not properly cared for and die at a young age. (Did you know, for example, that ducks need water when eating? It helps them get food down.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cites a health threat in warning against giving chicks or ducklings to young children: the risk of salmonella. Live baby poultry can carry salmonella; kids and others can be exposed by holding the birds. The germs also can get on cages and coops.

One thing not to worry about if you get pekin ducks: They're generally too large and heavy to fly away.

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