Duck Tales: Co-Broodies and a Poopy Shirt

Co-Broodies - 2 Muscovy Ducks on Nest

When you spend time with ducks, you learn not only about their behavior, but also when their coop needs cleaning. A large coop like ours can go weeks between cleanings, but wet weather (and wet ducks) can shorten that timeline. Maintaining a clean and dry coop helps ensure that the ducks stay healthy, so yesterday was cleaning day.

In anticipation of upcoming wet weather, I decided to forego the grass hay we’d been using in the coop. It forms a nice, easily-removed mat from the damp and the poop, but it’s not the most absorbent material. Pine shavings not only absorb moisture really well, they smell nice…a real added bonus. I’m primarily concerned about keeping things relatively dry and clean, especially with regard to the nest boxes. Dirty eggs are no fun. We had, earlier, replaced the jumbo hooded litter pans with shallower, uncovered pans because the ducks were sleeping (and pooping) in the big nest boxes; in retrospect, that may have been because we put the nest boxes in too early – since they weren’t laying, they used them as litter boxes. Betting that they were now ready to utilize the nest boxes for their proper function, I filled them up with a layer of straw, topped with grass hay. There was only one way to find out if they’d use them to lay eggs in: put them back in the coop.

After raking off the grass hay mat, I stirred up the remaining layers of deep litter (which includes a base layer of pine pellets, topped with dried leaves and pine shavings, among other ingredients). The chickens, ever curious, decided to hang out in the coop, too, but instead of scratching up the litter before I started in on it, they scratched it around after I had already stirred it. Very helpful. They also peeked into the new nest boxes, probably gauging whether they were roomier and nicer than the ones in the chicken coop. It’s not unusual for us to find an errant chicken egg or two in the duck coop…just as we regularly find duck eggs in the chicken coop nest boxes. They have their preferences.

One of the reasons I wanted to replace the shallow nest boxes was that there were a couple of ducks that seemed to be broody. These are girls who think they want to hatch eggs, and will only leave the nest to eat, drink, and bathe. Ironically, the broodies didn’t manifest as such until after I had already set duck eggs in the incubator. They have excellent timing – the same thing happened last year. A broody will beat an incubator for hatch rate any time, but it takes a toll on the ducks to care for these eggs: they take roughly 35 days to incubate, so the broody isn’t able to forage like she normally would, she shortens her eating and bathing time, and she loses overall condition. They’re incredibly dedicated mothers.

They’re also pretty fierce when they think they’re protecting eggs. Two of the girls, who look very similar, were crammed into one of the shallow nest boxes, and they did not want to be moved. They sounded their warning peeps (anyone with any sense takes the hint to leave them alone), and they gave me serious stink eye. I, however, was also determined to replace that box with a bigger, better one. One that would allow them more privacy. I managed to grab one girl and put her into the new nest box (she protested mightily) and when I went for the other, she was doing everything she could to stay out of my hands. I finally grabbed her and in the midst of doing so, she tore up my nitrile glove. No biggie. I put her in the box, too, but she jumped right out. Undeterred, I placed the new box in the corner where the old one had been.

As I was crouched down with the nest box, I noticed a smell. It was unmistakably duck poop, but I was in the duck coop, so some of that fragrance was to be expected. It really smelled close by, though. I looked around and realized that there was a splat on my pants. Then I spied a matching splat on my shirt. I checked the rip in my glove and realized that there was a good-sized poop stuck to my wrist. For crying out loud, I’d been pooped on! Not realizing it, I had managed to smear it on my shirt and then when I crouched, it transferred to my pants. Awesome. Afterward, I just threw everything into the washer for a thorough cleaning.

Moral of the story: Muscovy are known for projectile pooping, and when you’re messing with broodies, you had better be prepared for them to use every tool in their arsenal to repel you…including smelly, viscous poop. Farmers can’t be afraid of poop, though – it’s just part of the job. Next time I’m attempting to move a broody, though, I’m bringing reinforcements.