If you own chickens, you are familiar with the term “chicken math”. At first you are only going to get 3 hens and then before you know it you have 13, not because of accidental chick hatching, but adding new, cool breeds of chickens is addicting! Well I can tell you “duck math” is also alive and well. There may not be as many cool breeds of ducks as there are chicken breeds, but I have to say the ducks have wiggled their way into my heart and their hilarious antics and sweet natures just make you want to get more. Luckily, adding new ducks to your flock is not as stressful and time consuming as adding new chickens. Chickens have a strict pecking order in their flocks that rules every aspect of their day from who gets the choicest treats to who get the best roost space. They are constantly jockeying for better position in the order so they don’t usually take kindly to new additions.
Ducks on the other hand, have a pecking order but it isn’t as strict so making new additions isn’t as stressful to them. They may not mind more guests at the pool party, but especially if you are introducing ducklings to an adult flock that has a drake you want to ease everyone into the idea.
Drakes will be more territorial to newcomers during mating season (spring and summer). Of course this is also when feed stores are flooded with sweet little ducklings, so it is when you are most likely to be making additions. A drake will also be more aggressive if you are trying to add another adult drake. Before you add another drake, make sure you will have at least 3-4 females ducks per drake to minimize fighting. Additionally your existing females might also get aggressive if there is a drake present, they might want to make sure the newcomers know this is HER drake. If you have an all female flock of adults and introduce ducklings this is usually the easiest with the least drama. It’s best to wait until ducklings are at least 7-8 weeks old and at least partially feathered out to start making introductions.
Step 1 – Initial Meetings
The first couple times you introduce the new ducks to the older ducks it should be on neutral ground. Free ranging in the yard is a great place for the initial meeting. There will be plenty of room to run away if needed and the older ducks hopefully won’t feel as threatened. Stand nearby as they check each other out and be ready to break up a fight just in case. Ducks are super inquisitive by nature so they will want to investigate these newcomers. They know right away these new creatures are the same as them, even though they look different and are much smaller.
Some body language to look for include head bobbing, this is a duck greeting, a way to say “hi, who are you?”. This is hopefully what you will see. You will know negative body language when you see it. The older ducks will run at the new ducks, using their necks to try and push over the ducklings. If this happens, I would stay close, but let nature run it’s course. Step in if the ducklings seem overly stressed or if the older ducks start biting. I would stage these initial meetings once a day for maybe 15 minutes each for 3-4 days in a row.
Step 2 – Safe Cohabitation
After they ducks have met a couple times, the next step is to bring the new ducklings out for full days. You most likely do not have the time to sit outside watching over the interactions so you will want to create a barrier between the old and new ducks. This way they can see, hear and smell each other but no one can get hurt. If your older ducks free range in the yard during the day, try securing the ducklings in the duck run. Alternately you can section off part of your run with some chicken wire. This lets the ducklings get used to their new home outside of the brooder and the old ducks get used to the idea of new ducks living in their space. I usually bring the ducklings back inside the house at night to let the old ducks have their space back. After 3-4 days of this we move to Step 3. An alternative in step 2 is if you have an older duck that is taking to the ducklings and being nice, you can add the nice adult duck in with the ducklings in the run. Let them all bond together before setting them free with the whole flock.
Step 3 – Overnight Visits
Next you want to let the ducklings spend the night outside where they belong. Section off your duck sleeping area so you have two separate spaces. Just make sure where ever you have your ducks sleeping is predator proof! Preferably it is somewhere the old and new ducks can see each other the whole night but can’t get to each other. After a couple nights of sleepovers, it’s time for the final step!
Step 4 – Full Fledged Friends
The last step is to let the old and new flocks merge. Let them all out to free range, hold your breath and hope everyone behaves! Try to make this happen on a day when you will be home all day so you can keep an eye on things. Hang out with them for 15 minutes or so, if it seems like everyone is being cool, you can go about your business but try to stay close and make frequent check ins. Definitely keep a closer eye on any drakes to make sure they aren’t being bullies and make sure you have plenty of food & water available so they aren’t fighting over resources.
That’s it! In another week or so, you will never even know to look at them that they were ever anything other than a big, quacky family 🙂 Keep in mind that just like humans, ducks have their own personalities. Sometimes it takes hours for new ducks to decide they like each other – sometimes it is weeks or even months.