Learning to swim

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Ever curious what it is like to raise a baby duck without other ducks? Remember baby Ballard duck? Would you believe that little Ballard had to learn to swim? Because he was raised with chickens, humans and a dog, he had to figure out swimming all on his own. Luckily the sensation comes quite natural for ducks as they figure out what their clunky webbed feet are for and how wonderful the water feels on their toes. When baby ducklings grow up with their mama duck they pick up the oils from her feathers that keep them from taking on too much water. Ducklings without their mama don’t have the ability to wick out water.

When we first started taking him to the little mini-pond in our backyard for supervised water time. He would nearly fall in, stretching his beak way out into the water without actually getting in. We did this for weeks and each time he would go a little further, eventually covering his feet but refusing to get in the water.

Then one day he finally did fall in! He was on his toes in the water as far as he could go and stretching his little neck out as far as he could when it happened. He fluffed up like a possessed duck and splashed around in excitement, ducking his head under water as the water swirled around him. It took yet another week before he fell in in a similar way again.

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As you can see in the photo above, in the coming weeks he began to get a different kind of feather on his belly that kept his down feathers from soaking up all of the water. They allowed him to actually swim and learned to dive and spin around in circles making, what I call, his happy duck noises. I kid you not, he even did somersaults! He also learned t that he could scoop up algae and see under water, and eventually swallow our goldfish whole.

So yes, baby ducks will eat your goldfish, and yes they can actually drown their first weeks of life. Because we took him out so often to play in the pond, and often left the chickens in the brooder, little Ballard would follow us around the yard.  He tripped over his big, pigeon toed feed as he waddled around the yard after us. His enthusiasm for the water also taught the baby chicks that water is actually kind of fun to splash around in, and they often congregate around the pond while Ballard splashes and zooms around.

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Eventually Ballard graduated to a full size horse trough full of water where he had to actually swim because he couldn’t stand on the bottom. Once he got that down, he would dart in circles and swim under water, searching for treats on the bottom. He now has regular access to his own kiddy pool, which he naps in as the chickens huddle around.

Stay tuned for more updates as little Ballard grows up! Still at this size, we didn’t know if he was going to be male or female. I’ll point out next time the tell-tale signs of young male Khaki Campbells.

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