The incarceration of Darth Duckling
When we realized that we had eleven chickens instead of ten, we joked that all of our problems were the fault of that 11th duckling. As it turns out, we weren't entirely wrong.
After the ducklings had been outside a few days, I noticed that their feathers were coming in, and then disappearing. There were a lot of squawks out there as ducks had their feathers pulled. At first, it looked like nearly every duck had damage.
Looking through the duck books, it seemed I had the mysterious "feather cannibalism", which had kind of mysterious causes - diet? stress? close confinement? - and no clear cures except trimming bills, which I'm nowhere near capable of doing.
After a few days of observation and panic, though, it became clear that one duck had nearly all of his feathers. I also saw that same duck attacking lots of other ducks. This morning while I was setting out their water and food, I saw him attack five ducklings.
Over the weekend, I'd pulled that duck out to look at him.
I know - never name the livestock. We'd planned to slaughter and eat ducks based on personality - mean ducks first. Unfortunately, he's only four weeks old, so small and covered with largely unpluckable feathers. That wasn't a great option, for now.
(He also fought and squawked, and it was really clear he wanted to be back with his friends/victims. He even escaped the cage as I was bringing him back and forced his way back in through the fence, but got his foot stuck. I freed him from that disaster.)
So, today I built a separate little cage in a corner of the main cage, using the same fencing plus chickenwire to make sure he can't escape into the main area. Darth has food, water, the heating block from the chickens' water, and no one but himself to blame.
So far, the results are promising. He can't bite at his fellow ducks, and he doesn't whine like he did when I took him far away. He would clearly prefer to be in the main cage, but he can't be. I've heard much less pained squawking from the ducks, though I wonder if another duck will rise up in Darth's place.
One thing that's funny - the other ducks come over to visit him. They never spent much time in that corner of the cage until today.
We'll see how it goes. I'm hoping that isolating the worst perpetrator will at least give the other ducks a chance to grow their feathers back and generally heal from their wounds. I don't think Darth was the only one doing it, and I'll be keeping an eye on the rest. I definitely don't want to have to build eleven little cages in there.
An hour a day in the garden has kind of turned into an hour a day with ducklings. Hopefully this will settle down soon.