A lesson on Baby Ducks

Did you know that ducks need to learn how to swim? 

Ducks and other waterfowl have an oil gland at the top of their tails, from which they spread oil around all their feathers.  Ducklings, however, are not born with a functional oil gland.  The mother duck will spread her own oil on her ducklings so that they can safely swim right away without getting waterlogged.  

If you are raising ducklings without a mother duck, they will not have their own oils at first and will be unable to swim safely.  Even a shallow dish of water can be fatal to a baby duck.  Whenever they get wet and have no oils, they will get cold and maybe even die if they are not kept warm enough and helped to dry off.  

But when is it safe to give your ducklings water to play in?  They love to play in water even when they are too young for it, and it is tempting to give them some even right away.  There is no standard age that has been agreed upon for when it is safe.  Some people say at 4 weeks old they have a functional oil gland.  Some people say wait until 8-12 weeks old, because their oil gland does not function well until they have their adult feathers mostly or fully grown in.  One duck farmer even says to give them supervised water play time every day from the time they are 3 days old, and then put them under a heat lamp and help them dry off until they can do it themselves: this farmer claims that the regular early exposure to water encourages early and healthy oil gland development.

Video: Learning to swim at the Bar SZ Ranch
Information: Courtesy of Local Harvest, Duckling’s First Swim