How old are Dusty and Otter?

They turned 3 years old on March 24th 2018.

What kind of ducks are Dusty and Otter?

Dusty is a White Crested duck and Otter is a Cayuga duck. It is believed that Crested ducks have been bred by humans since Ancient Egyptian times. The crest is formed from a genetic mutation (which humans have selectively bred for) that forms a gap in their skull where fatty tissue and a poof of feathers form. Many ducklings of this breed don't survive this deformity, those that do can have neurological issues. Some turn out ok but many suffer, for this reason we do not recommend supporting the breeding of this type of duck.  Otter is a Cayuga duck, some believe her breed originated near Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. If true, it would explain her enjoyment of the snow, cold hardiness and love of ice cold water :) We recommend adopting ducks from rescues and sanctuaries whenever possible. Just like with dogs and cats there are too many that need a new home to support an industry that breeds them for money and without any regard for their care.  Always adopt. Contact local farm animal rescues in your state (you may be surprised how many there are!

How did they get their names?

We had a hard time deciding on names for the girls when they were babies. You often can't tell the sex of a duckling until it's a few months old so we knew we wanted gender neutral names. After a few weeks of throwing names back and forth without anything sticking, we decided to go to the place my husband loves best, the National Parks here in the PNW. I picked up a few of the topographical maps that he uses for backcountry hikes and we began going through the features one by one; rivers, mountains, peaks, lakes and glaciers; all with unique and original names. When we came to Dusty Glacier and Otter Lake, we knew who was who and that we had finally found their names.

Will they fly away?

Dusty and Otter are both domesticated ducks. They are bred to be heavy and therefore no longer retain the ability to fly like wild ducks do. They also view us as their family so have no reason to leave. 

Do they live indoors with you or outside?

They live outside. They have a large custom built, very secure enclosure that they spend most of their time in. They have a built in pool, private enclosed garden, and cozy sleeping quarters. In their enclosure they are completely safe from predators at all times, which is the most important thing! (Please see detailed blog post about their house for more info) They come out to play, exercise and forage 2-3 times per day with our supervision. They occasionally come in our house for short visits, they like to listen to music, snack and poop on our floor.

Are the girls biological sisters?

They are not biological sisters as they are two different breeds of duck. They were adopted as babies at the same time and have been together since they were a few days old.

Do they lay eggs? Since you guys are vegan, what do you do with the eggs?

We haven't consumed any animal products, including eggs, in over 10 years. We learned about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle and the amount of suffering it helps to curtail and never looked back. After reading about the dairy and egg industries and how many animals suffer for months or years before being killed we decided we just couldn't support such a thing. Even small organic farms deal with the same issues, as hens can only lay for so many years before their strained bodies can no longer handle the burden. Chicks unlucky enough to be born as boys are ground up alive or gassed. Dairy cows are torn from their babies at birth, regardless of which type of farm they are born on. It's a system of oppression and slavery that we do not condone. We don't view eggs as food for humans so we usually compost any that the girls produce, though due to their egg laying problems there aren't very many at all (see following question for more info). Many bird parents feed the eggs back to their birds (for nutrition) by hard boiling then crushing them up with the shells. Birds lose many nutrients and minerals when laying so feeding them back to them is a great thing to do. Some girls (like Dusty and Otter) do not like to eat them, it just depends on the individuals preference. We've heard that chickens like them more than ducks do.

Why do the girls have problems laying eggs?

We don't know the exact reason that they both have chronic reproductive health issues, but suspect that they may have contracted a respiratory virus or infection as babies (likely at the feed store they originally came from) before we got them. We noticed soon after adopting them that they sounded like they had stuffy beaks and Dusty's eyes were a bit red. They acted like heathy, happy ducklings otherwise but as a new duck mom I wanted to be sure we didn't overlook any potential health problems. We took them to three different avian/exotic animal vets until we found someone who specialized in ducks. They were treated for possible infections and seemed to improve. When they started laying eggs a few months later they both started having problems forming the shell properly. They are fed a fortified layer feed and have 24/7 access to oyster shell which is used as a calcium supplement to aid in shell formation. We have given them every type of calcium imaginable in every form and nothing has helped. Our vet is a bird and poultry expert and has them under his close care. There is a possibility that a respiratory infection permanently damaged their reproductive organs, especially their shell glands. We have decided to give them both hormone implants which are simple to administer and prevent the girls from laying eggs. They must be replaced every few months to keep them egg free.

What is a hormone implant and why do they need it? 

A hormone implant is about the size of a microchip and is inserted much the same way. It slow releases hormones into the duck's bloodstream which prevents her from laying eggs. Birds who have chronic laying problems (like Dusty and Otter) or who come from farm operations where they were bred to be super-layers, greatly appreciate this medical intervention as it can save their lives. In Dusty and Otter's case, the inability to properly form a shell meant that they were both laying shell-less eggs, sometimes called soft eggs. These eggs only have a thin membrane encasing the contents, which means if they break internally the duck is exposed to the risk of bacteria causing a fatal infection. If they don't break they are stuck trying to push out something that's the consistency of a water balloon. We have watched the girls push for hours trying to get these soft eggs out, they are exhausted and frustrated and it's very hard to watch. In the worst case scenario, a duck can have these soft eggs start backing up internally (internal laying) and the yolk and other egg material can fill up their abdomen. If left untreated they will eventually die. Otter unfortunately went through this last year, she developed an infection which we caught just in time. But her belly was filled with egg material and she had to be treated immediately to survive.  If you suspect your duck is having a hard time laying, either with soft eggs, being egg bound, or internal laying please contact an avian vet immediately. 

Are all ducks as friendly as Dusty and Otter are?

All ducks have the potential to be as sweet as Dusty and Otter, but I suspect they are so social because of the quantity of time they spent with us at a young age. Most ducks are kept indoors until they are fully feathered at around 2 months old. Dusty and Otter lived in our house until they were 4 months old as we were completing the building of their custom duck home. I think that the extra two months of intense socialization at a time when they were turning into adult ducks made them really feel like we are a family. Most house ducks I've seen seem to be the same way, while many outdoor ducks seem to be quite comfortable doing their own thing. It likely depends on how much you interact with them, how much they trust you, and of course their individual personalities. It is not a breed specific thing from what I can tell. 


Who built their house? How does their pool drain?

Their Dad designed and built their house for them. He is a talented artist and carpenter and they seem to really appreciate his careful attention to detail. Included in their enclosure is a built-in pool, cozy sleeping quarters, and an enclosed private garden. The entire structure (including underground in the garden) is covered in 1/4" hardware cloth. This is to prevent any predators from getting in. Ducks and chickens are extremely susceptible to being preyed upon, and this was my biggest fear for the girls as we have raccoons, coyotes, foxes and eagles in our area. We made sure every panel of hardware cloth was secured with screws every few inches, made sure all doors closed securely and were fitted with padlocks, and made sure the ground in their garden had hardware cloth running underneath so no animals could dig in from outside. Their pool is a large rubbermaid stock tank that is fitted with a shower drain in the bottom. We attached pvc pipe with a ball valve to the shower drain and open the valve to drain the pool water into our garden every other day. The pool is sunk into a hole in their deck so they can hop in and out easily with the help of a step. 

What do ducks eat? What can't they eat?

Ducks need a constant supply of healthy feed, either waterfowl feed or chicken feed, and access to clean water at all times. They wet their food as they are eating so it's important that they have water nearby. The water should be deep enough that they can wash their bills and heads in it as this is how they clean out their eyes and nares (nostrils). We feed the girls a fortified layer feed which has the nutrients needed for their age group. We add a teaspoon of brewer's yeast to their food everyday which is essential for leg and foot health and helps to prevent painful staph infections from developing on their feet (commonly known as bumble foot). They forage in our yard 2-3 times per day, usually for an hour each time and eat bugs, grass, weeds, and dandelions. They also get healthy snacks like lettuce, cucumber or tomatoes thrown into their pool once a day for enjoyment and enrichment. They can eat many fruits, veggies and healthy grains but shouldn't eat bread or processed foods like cookies, crackers etc as they can cause nutritional deficiencies and make them sick. Please do not feed ducks in parks, especially do not feed them bread. 

If I want ducks, what do I need to know?

Keeping ducks is a long term commitment. They cannot be released into "the wild", local ponds, parks, or lakes, It is illegal to do so. Unlike their wild duck ancestors they no longer retain the ability to fend for themselves, cannot find adequate nutrition, cannot fly away from predators or migrate for the winter. This means that they will likely die a painful and preventable death. All domesticated ducks need constant human care, they need protection from predators, clean and dry quarters to stay safe in during the day and sleep in at night, regular feeding, and access to clean water for drinking and bathing (warning: they poop a lot). They wake up at sunrise and go to bed at sunset so need family around to let them out to forage, put them to bed and keep them company. They need straw or other bedding changed everyday, and food and water bowls and pool water cleaned. They need access to an avian vet who sees ducks as many develop various health problems. Their health problems can be uncommon and expensive to treat, just like a dog or cat they need to receive proper care in a timely fashion to prevent suffering. They can live for 10-20 years and are not easy to re-home so bringing them into your life is a big decision. Finding a duck sitter who is comfortable cleaning up after them and attending to any duck emergencies is also necessary. They are very loving and emotional beings and view their humans as part of their flock, so being around them everyday to make sure they are happy and healthy is the most important thing.