Shetland ducks

To continue with our plans to support rare and native breeds and to grow our flock of laying poultry we decided to hatch some Shetland ducks. Originating from the islands the name suggests the last few individuals were brought together by a single breeder in the 1980s in an effort to rescue them from extinction. Still critically endangered these are amongst the rarest ducks in the world.

But more than that they are very cold hardy, active foragers and can be prolific layers - even compared to our existing ducks, white and khaki Campbells.

So in early May we sourced some hatching eggs and set the incubator running. Despite 18/19 showing as fertile when candled part-way through incubation only 7 hatched, although one had to be euthanised as it couldn't stand.

Raising ducklings

Ducklings have to simultaneously be the cutest things you have ever seen and also the messiest creatures imaginable! They can turn a freshly cleaned pen into a quagmire of shavings, water, food and duck poo literally within minutes. They also grow almost while you look at them and brooders rapidly run out of space. But despite this they don't get waterproof feathers for many weeks, so aren't hardy enough to be turned outside.

They outgrew (and out-smelled) the pen in our spare room within a couple of weeks, then the IBC we had converted within another week, meaning that they were moved into a pen in the lambing shed by about 5 weeks old. Once they had feathered up they joined the other ducks in the garden at around 8 weeks and have stayed there since.

Finding a drake

The next job was to find an unrelated drake to join the flock so that we can collect fertile eggs to either hatch ourselves or sell to others who want to help keep this lovely duck breed going. We had joined the breed's Facebook page and found another keeper literally just down the road. She had some drakes and we arranged to meet up and see whether we could swop. The only issue then was working out which of ours were boys! Drakes have a distinctive curled tail feather but as ours were only about 10 weeks old and this doesn't develop until later we had a problem.

The solution was to catch our ducks one by one and see what noise they made. Ducks quack and drakes make a raspier sounding, quieter noise. To our surprise we had 5 ducks and 1 drake, which was about as perfect as we could have asked for. We duly swopped our drake for an unrelated one (far right in the right hand picture above) who has settled in well with the girls. Next year will see us trying to hatch our own home-bred Shetlands.

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