Meg, Poultry Physical Therapist (PPT)

Things are crazy here at Half Hippie! Every sunny day has been taken over by weeding and planting and sign painting and landscaping or shopping trips for supplies or visits with friends to talk about crazy things like nematodes.

As mentioned in our previous post, we have baby ducks and chickens on the farm!! On Saturday, we noticed that two duck eggs had been pipped with pretty large holes chipped out for about 24 hours. The ducks were still moving inside and were plaintively peeping and sticking their bills out of the egg. I picked one up and chipped a little shell away and saw that the membrane of the egg had actually dried to the baby ducklings; we had made a BIG boo-boo. We had opened up the plug on the top of the incubator to allow fresh air in for chicks and ducklings but hadn’t upped the amount of water in the bottom to keep the humidity high. Ducklings need high humidity to hatch. The general rule is don’t help a chick or duckling out of their shell. If nature intended them to get out, they would. However, this was our mistake and I quickly convinced Brian to help me save the ducklings. We wrapped the shells in warm wet washcloths to try to re-hydrate them a little as we slowly picked off the membrane and the shell. Then we wrapped the baby ducklings in hot warm washcloths and slowly wiped as much membrane off as we could. The duckling Brian broke out quickly recovered but mine wasn’t so lucky.

Brian’s duckling had one foot that was rolled over but otherwise seemed very healthy. Brian’s duck was a nice size, used the other leg fine and was quickly mobile and shoving his/her face into food and water. Unfortunately, my little duck was a whole different story. Both of my duckling’s feet were curled over and the only way of successfully moving was inching along on its belly using its beak as propulsion. During all of this, my poor duckling was making a cacophony of squeaking and, unlike every other duck, didn’t take any naps after hatching.

The closest photo I could find to illustrate what I mean by "curled up foot". Basically instead of being spread out with the webbing taut, they were curled over into little fists. Click on the image to go to where it originated; image not my own, used for educational purposes.

After some frantic google searching, I found a way to “fix” duck feet. Brian held them and spread out their toes so the webbing on their foot was taut and then I put a piece of tiny cardboard underneath and taped across the top of their foot with the sticky part of a bandaid. We left these on for about 8-14 hours and when we took them off, both of the ducks had ‘normal’ duck feet. Unfortunately, my duck was still tiny, not eating and couldn’t even lift its head or stand up. Brian and I put his duckling back in with the rest of our hatchlings and I made up a little box outfitted with a heating pad and a tiny bottle cap of water, and I stayed up most of the night making sure my duckling got water into its little body so it stood a chance of surviving. Lets just say it was a LONG night.

Here's my little duckling with his/her little duckling shoes. Unable to hold up its head, it mostly just laid facedown in anything we placed it on.

By morning, my duckling was doing a bit better. Brian will attest that every time it lifted its head or stood up on its little cardboard shoes the tiniest bit I squealed with delight. Within 24 hours, my little duckling was standing up (albeit wobbly), wobbling around and eating solid food and drinking water on its own. Call me a proud mommy!

My little duckling, closest to the camera, half the size of Brian's duckling. The little chick had a splayed leg that we've corrected, so the three of them are still in my "physical therapy" box until they're all healthy enough to go hang out with the rest of the clutch.

So we learned a lot, especially about the importance of humidity with duck egg hatching. I went a bit mental trying to save a duckling, but I think it was worth it. I’m still trying to come up with a really amazing “survivor” type name. But every time it climbs up my pants leg, or runs in a circle around me or spits food all over the place, I realize it was totally worth taking the time to fix it up.

A closer look at a duckling shoe!

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