Once your sweet little hatchlings have made it out of the egg safely and have completely dried, it is time to move them to a brooding box. This is somewhat like an incubator, except it is not kept as warm, there does not need to be a lid and humidity is not a factor.
You can choose to buy a brooding box at your local feed or animal supply store, or make your own. It it most likely cheaper to make your own, and it is very simple. Basically all you need is a plastic storage tub, at least twelve inches deep, a heating lamp, and a place to keep their food and water. You can also find these supplies at a feed or animal supply store or even at some supercenters(which supply food and non-food items).
Before moving your ducklings from the incubator to the brooding box, be sure to have your brooder ‘pre-heated’. This will keep the ducklings from getting too cold before the brooder has a chance to heat up. Keeping an exact temperature maintained is not necessary as it was in the incubator. You basically just need to keep it warm. You can use a regular 60 watt bulb in your heating lamp and hang it over the brooding box. The best way to determine how high or low to hang it would be to watch the ducklings. If they tend to spread out away from the light, you have it too close and should raise it a couple of inches. If you notice that they are all huddled up under the heating lamp, you will need to lower inch by inch, until they seem to be comfortable. After the first week in a brooder, the ducklings will not need it as warm, and a week after that they should not need a heating lamp at all. By this time you may choose to move them to a bigger pen. If it is outdoors, be sure it does not get cold at night. Although the ducklings will not need a heating lamp at this point, they will not be able to handle cold weather very well just yet.
Something else to look out for in your brooding box, would be a slippery floor. Ducklings have very delicate legs at such a young age and slipping around on the floor of your brooder can cause them to have spraddle legs. This is a condition where the legs bow out to the sides and they can not stand. The best way to prevent slippery floors is to provide a thin towel on the bottom of the brooding box or a non-slip pad(you can find these at your local supermarket; they are normally used for placing under rugs to prevent them from slipping or in cabinets).
During the ducklings’ time in the brooder, you should give them a chance to swim for a little while everyday. Ducks are very aquatic birds and they love to swim! If your brooder is not quite big enough to hold a second tub filled with water, you can choose to purchase another plastic storage tub and fill it about half way, or at least six inches deep, with tap water. The bigger they get, though, the deeper the water needs to be. They will soon learn to dive under water. It is very entertaining to watch them learn and begin to dart through the water so fast. Also, be sure to provide them with a way to get in and out of the water as they please, during their ‘recess’.
Something to be aware of while raising hatchlings, is that it is normal to find a clear liquid coming out of their nostrils. This does not mean that they are aspirating or drowning. This simply means they are over eating or drinking, or that they are over excited. If you are handling the duckling during this time, you may need to put it back in the brooder and let it rest for a while.
Raising ducklings requires a little TLC. It is easy to do, though, since it is so fun to watch them play and grow. They tend to do the cutest things. Even the way they waddle around is cute!