Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An Experiment To Reduce Cracked Eggs

All our ducks are in buildings that are 40' wide.  Along one side we have a 5' wide concrete pit that has a wire floor over it.  Nipple waterers run the length of the building, centered above this pit. Most of the nests are on the opposite side of the building so they stay as dry as possible.   As you know, ducks always congregate near their water to not only drink but play and bathe in the water.  One problem with the wire floor is that any eggs laid on the wire floor have a much higher chance of getting cracked.

It was brought to my attention that some flocks were laying many of their eggs on the wire - resulting in dirtier eggs and more cracked eggs.  So for several days we recorded how many eggs were laid on the wire and how many cracked eggs there were for each breed.  On average, 15.3% of the eggs were laid on the wire (more than I expected!) and 2.8% were cracked or broken.  This was too high, too!  So we decided to run an experiment.  We chose our flock of White Layers as the test flock as it is fairly large and it was above average in wire eggs (34.5%) and cracks (3.4%).



We put a fence along the wire pit (the fence on the left in the picture) and put in two gates, one at each end.  For ten days I went out each evening before their lights went out (about 8:30pm), moved the ducks off the wire platform and closed the gates.  This prevented the ducks from going on the wire floor from 8:30pm until 7:00am the next morning.  In the morning the gates were opened and eggs collected.  Some eggs were laid along the fence but the vast majority were laid in the nest boxes where they should have been all along.  A few ducks would not have laid when the gates were opened at 7:00am and would deposit their eggs on the wire when they were drinking, but it was less than 1% of the eggs.  None of this surprised us.

The experiment, however, was to learn how soon they reverted to laying on the wire again after I stopped closing the gates in the evening.  You see, I had no desire to spending 45 minutes each evening walking through duck pens herding ducks and closing gates.  So after 10 days of keeping them off the wire during peak egg laying times (3:30-6:30am), I stopped closing the gates at night.  They could go on the wire, drink anytime and lay their eggs anywhere.



Before we started our experiment, they were laying 160 eggs on the wire.  Now that they are "trained" we are only getting 45-55 eggs on the wire (10.8% of eggs laid).  Prior to the experiment we were getting 3.4% cracked eggs from our White Layers.  During the period they had no access to the wire at night we had 2.8% cracked but now we are down to 1.8% cracked!  I have no idea why it is less now than during the 10 day "training" period but the key is we are getting fewer cracked eggs than before.

So what is the moral of the story?  You can often train your birds to do things that are better for you, better for them or better utilizes your resources.  We are going to move the fence to some other flocks that are laying too many eggs on the wire and see if we can train them to lay in their nest boxes, too.  I hope so!

How have you trained your ducks to make your job easier, increase their productivity or improve their environment?

17 comments:

  1. I have been training my ducks too. It is amazing how they stick to a routine. Mine starts in the morning. We let them out of the duck house. They walk across the 60' tarmac in front of the shop to their 1 acre day pen where they stay for about 2 hours with their breakfast. They stay all day there when we have to go somewhere. Then we let them out and they walk down into the 10 acre meadow where they swim and play. Around lunch they come back up and get a snack. They devour this in 10 seconds flat and head back down into the meadow to play. In the evening they come back home and hang around the yard and duck house waiting for bed time. They do have food and water inside of it, which gives them an incentive for coming home. We never herd them around, they know the routine and pass it on to the new birds. Overall they can range on 22 acres, but they do not care for the wooded area.

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  2. I appreciate your information on training your ducks. I will try it as well.

    Katharina, sounds like you have a very nice set up for your ducks. I applaud you.

    ssmith1373@gmail.com

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  3. Speaking of training...I have seen videos of farmers herding their ducks using a long stick with a flag on it. Do the ducks stay within sight of the flag at all times? If so, this would be a great way to get them to forage certain parts of the garden, get mosquitoes out of the ditches, etc. and then lead them back to their shelter at night. Any ideas on how to train the ducks? I have googled "training ducks" and keep coming up with how to train herding dogs using ducks, ugh! I want to train ducks, not dogs! Thanks

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  4. Re: the flag. I occasionally use a flag to move my ducks if I don't have a dog handy. The ducks move AWAY from the flag - it doesn't lead them. You can snap the flag in the air to "lift" the ducks from a graze and get them moving in the right direction, and then lower it and gently swish it behind them as needed to urge them back to their shelter. If they fan out or singles start splitting off, you are putting too much pressure on them and need to back off a little. Think slow & steady. Once they're used to the routine they don't need much persuading to return home in the evening and if you run late, they'll be at the pen waiting for you.

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  5. I used lettuce to train my flock of 40+ ducks and geese to come to me when I clap my hands! When lettuce can be purchased at the local gorcery store for under 40 cents a head I buy 20-30 heads to give to my feathered critters as treat. I would clap my hands to get thier attention, then start throwing lettuce out, they come a running from all corners of thier 1 acre pen. In no time I had them trained to "come" when I clap. Works great when I let them in my front yard and they start to wander out the driveway to a busy roadway where they might get hurt. I clap and they immediately come back! It's really quite commical to see them rush me looking to get all the lettuce before any other duck/goose does!

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  6. The natural inclination is for the birds to travel away from anything moving above them. If you want to train them to follow the flag, you will have to incorporate it with pleasant things..... like food. Plant a flag in the middle of their feeder, carry it when you fill their feeder, carry it when you bring them treats, etc.

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  7. Great comments (I am Anonymous #1 who asked about the flag). I am referring to using the stick and the flag not to drive the birds, as you would with a team of oxen, but to keep them in a certain small area, unattended for short periods of time without having to use a portable fence. I had read somewhere that the flag is shown to the ducklings as soon as they hatch, so they are imprinted and think that the flag is their mother and thus follow it. I doubt that theory, but if that's true, then I guess I am too late.

    I will try the positive association technique you suggest, John.

    Thanks for the feedback and a very informative blog.

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  8. You may have read it in Raising Ducks, "The herder may carry a long pole, often adorned with a flag or some feathers, which the ducks recognize. When their destination is reached, the pole is stuck in the ground, and the ducks learn to stay within sight of the pole." But, as you said, that training probably has to start soon after hatching.

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  9. All is not lost if an egg is cracked. As long as the shell membrane is in intact, it has a good chance of hatching. I understand the reluctance to set cracked eggs, for fear of contamination through the break in the shell, but in my limited experience, I've had several eggs that were cracked from the onset of incubation hatch successfully. During incubation, the cracked areas appear to heal over as if they've had spackle applied.

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  10. Yes, you can also seal the crack with fingernail polish or silicone caulking. Don't apply too much, just over the crack. The objective is to prevent the embryo from loosing too much moisture through that crack.

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  11. Several of my duck eggs had small holes on the rounder end of the egg because the cat had somehow gotten to them. I sealed the ends with masking tape. I then renewed every week in the hopes that bacteria has not formed on the tape. It's brilliant that you can pull back the tape every week and see what's happening inside the egg! It should not be long until they hatch now!

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  12. Interesting. Please inform us on how they hatch.

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  13. The ducklings have hatched out fine, however, sadly, a couple of days later they died. It's very strange as lately I hatch my ducklings, they are livley and cute, eating fine and definately not too cold, then they just slowly drop off and cease to eat. I tried another batch and the same thing happened again (these ones did not have cracks). Before these two hatches the ducklings were fine and grew up... Does anyone know what's going on here? Is it a disease or am I perhaps doing something wrong? I don't know what I could be doing as I have always carried out this same procedure and only with these latest batches something is indeed wrong. It's horrible watching them die, and I can't do anything to help them.

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  14. Normally if they die within a few days it is because of bacterial infection (do they hatch with swollen bellies or unhealed navels?), or an improper environment (too wet, too cold, etc.). I think most diseases don't cause mortality for at least a week or two. Are you feeding them a commercial, well balanced starter feed?

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    1. The bellies aren't swollen and only a couple hatched with out of the ordinary navels, but they quickly scabbed over. It's never too wet or cold and the ducklings are feed on scrambled eggs, duck crumbles and insects, and plant matter. It's very strange...

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  15. The next time they hatch, I would try feeding only the duck starter crumbles. Maybe there is some type of reaction to the plant matter or insects. This would be uncommon but is still possible. But something is causing a problem. Each time, try something different until you find a cure. Good luck!

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  16. I trained my flock of runners to use a doggy door. I live in Alaska and the winters are cold, so heat loss through an open hole in the barn is not a good thing, but I wanted my ducks to be able to access fresh air when they want. They were terrified of the flap at first, but I would push a few of them through one at time to get to their outside covered deck, and then leave a few on the inside. They naturally want to be together, so eventually one of the smart ones would push through, and the others would rush through behind it before the flap closed. After a while they all are able to open the flap on their own.

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