|General hints on care |
Call Ducks are the smallest Domestic Duck. They are easy to look after and are inexpensive to feed. Their requirements are as follows.
1) A secure place for your birds, particularly at night. This can be a shed, a poultry house with a run, or a fenced-in garden with a coop but I feel the ideal would be an enclosure. This means that the Calls can stay out 24 hours a day in a vermin-proof pen.
2) Food: this consists of chicken layer pellets and whole wheat. If you can obtain duck pellets so much the better. BOCM-Pauls (Mardens), Bibby (Slimbridge), Allen & Page (Smallholder), and Marriages all produce food for ducks (UK suppliers). You should also give them access to small quantities of mixed poultry grit containing limestone chips. This is for grinding down food in the gizzard, and for extra calcium for the duck in the laying season. Make sure the particles are small enough for Calls. Break up the larger pieces if necessary.
3) Water: ducks need water to drink and also to bathe. This does not mean that you have to have a large pond; a tin bath sunk in the ground or anything similar will do. Make sure the birds can easily get out–a duckboard will suffice. Of course if you have a pond it will mean that you do not have to clean it out and add fresh water so often.
Standardized colours of Calls include Mallard, Blue Mallard (Blue Fawn), Apricot Mallard; Silver, Blue Silver, Apricot Silver; Black, Chocolate, Bibbed and Magpie (all with the black gene); Mallard Pied; White. The Dusky has now been standardized by the CDA and BWA in Mallard, Blue and Apricot plus the Khaki (brown dusky). The Yellow Belly from Holland has also been included in the 2008 Standards. So amongst all of the various colours I am sure you will be able to find some that appeal to you.
Call Ducks become very tame and will be a pleasing addition to your home and family. Children in particular find that because they are small enough to handle they become irresistible. Also they are extremely amusing to watch and will give you hours of pleasure with their inquisitive behaviour.
A word of warning - your coffee breaks etc. will tend to lengthen if spent watching the ducks, as they become compulsive entertainment.
The best all-round food is wheat. This is why it is used as a basic food at such places as Slimbridge. Wheat contains more protein than maize, and is higher in vitamin B. It is also cheaper. There is no point in buying ‘mixed corn’ which is basically wheat grains and split maize. The cut maize is the yellow bits. The only real benefit of maize is in very cold weather when it provides extra calories and oil which may help to keep the feathers supple and waterproof in winter. Protection against wet-feather is best achieved through cleanliness and a good diet.
Ducks, and especially Call ducks, generally lay few eggs over the winter period. Cool weather and short days reduce their output. During this period, the birds like whole wheat in the diet. On rainy days, when pellets left out in the open are spoiled, ducks can be fed wheat under water. For Calls, this can be in a shallow bowl on the grass. If you have a pond or stream, even put the bowl in the water. The bowl of food stays cleaner (less mud is put in it) and the bowl keeps the grains of wheat together. Feed pellets dry in a bowl at the end of the day, or make a permanent canopy for the food bowl to keep the rain off.
Winter pellets should preferably be a waterfowl maintenance ration such as that made by Slimbridge. BOCM-Pauls division Marsdens also make a game maintenance ration which can be feds to ducks. Hen layers can be used as 50% of the diet (the other half should be wheat). However, hen layers do contain additives such as egg-yolk colour, and the calcium content is too high for non-laying birds. That is why the rations should be split with 50% wheat if layers pellets have to be used i.e. to reduce the calcium when birds are not in-lay.
When birds are due to lay, the duck looks rounder and fuller in the abdomen. A duck-breeder pellet ration should be offered from the beginning of February. This is more expensive, but will contain more vitamin A, D and E than maintenance and layer rations. The trace element content also differs. If you want ducks to breed, they must have the correct diet for healthy embryos. It pays to give them the best food—and this includes free-range food if they can get it safely.
Calcium and phosphorus
Egg shells need calcium and phosphorus for their formation. That it is why it is important to feed a quality breeder ration in the spring where these two minerals are available in the correct ratio. Anderson Brown (The Incubation Book) cites the correct ratio in most breeder rations as 3% calcium to 0.6% available phosphorus.
Help the ducks get enough calcium–especially Call ducks—by liming the ground if the soil is acid. This may be needed in high rainfall areas in the west of the UK. Calcified sea-weed is probably best because it contains trace elements too. Also make mixed poultry grit available. This can be bought loose from pet shops, or in bags for about £4.00 from poultry feed stockists. The pieces are quite large for Calls, and may need breaking with a hammer occasionally. The birds love to select the grade of chipping they require from underwater. If you have a small stream, just leave the poultry grit loose in the water, or contain it in a heavy, broad-based clay plant pot in the water itself. This will keep the chippings clean. There is no need to worry about the Calls getting too much calcium from the environment. If the ducks do not need the extra calcium, they will not pick up the lime-rich grit.
Quite often, Calls lay thin-shelled eggs. They may also lay eggs with no shell, the contents only being contained by the membrane. Quite frequently, this situation cannot be remedied by diet and such a bird is not a breeder. However, it is important to make sure that you are providing enough calcium, in the ways suggested above, to give the birds the best conditions possible.
Insufficient calcium may also be a contributory factor in the ducks having difficulty in passing eggs and becoming egg-bound. More on this in the next newsletter. So do make sure that your Calls have breeder rations in the spring. If you cannot get these, then ordinary hen layers will have the correct calcium—but not the correct vitamins and trace elements for breeding healthy ducklings.