Shipping day old ducklings has been done safely for years. Inside the egg the duckling begins to form just outside of the yellow yoke. At the very end of the hatch the duckling absorbs the whole yoke that is left through its belly button. They come out of the egg with a belly full of nutritious yoke. In nature the mom sits on the nest for as many as three days waiting till the many eggs that she is sitting on are hatched. So the baby ducklings can go for a few days just sitting with mama waiting for them to get up and start exploring for food and water. I have watched this myself. Special note in shipping: It may not be necessary depending, but when ducklings arrive give food and a bit to drink, but then take the water away for 5 min and then give it back to them.. do that about 4 times before letting them have the water full time. They can over drink and actually drowned themselves depending on how dehydrated they are.
DUCKLINGS AND WATER
In nature, while they are sitting with mama duck, they are also getting coated with the mothers oil that she has on her feathers that helps her feathers be waterproof. A duckling without mothers oil will not be waterproof and can't be let to swim in water for the first couple weeks. Your biggest challenge will be to keep these little stinkers dry and warm. I notice the larger the area that I brood in the better the brooding experience is for me in regards to keeping them dry. Some people get creative and put them in a rabbit hutch with a heat lamp so that the water can fall to the ground instead of soak them and their bedding. You could also put a sheet pan under their water with a cookie sheet over the top of it so they can climb up, get a drink, and all the extra water falls into the pan. Why all the water mess? They take a drink and often shake their little heads and the water falls all over the sides of the waterer and on to their bedding. Make sure they are actually drinking the water. They will tip their heads back to golpe the water. Option to be used wisely: During warm whether I have let them brood completely outside on my lawn and at night I have put them in a tote with some cracks for air. You have to be confident that they are warm enough using this strategy. This way all the water falls to the ground and gets absorbed. I just move the pen to a new spot when it looks too wet and poopy. The way I am currently brooding my ducklings is using a greenhouse. I overwinter my flock in my greenhouse. I then use the greenhouse for plant starts and make a pen for brooding in the Spring and Summer. I also have electricity to it so that at night I can turn on a heat lamp. Greenhouses can get very warm at times, so keep an eye on temperatures. If it's too hot (110 degrees plus) consider moving them to a pen outside of the greenhouse or placing a shade cloth over the greenhouse or using a fan to keep the temperature down. If your ducklings seem lethargic and weak from the trip, you can make a sugar water mixture; add 1/2 cup of sugar per gallon or you can use a poult/vitamin pack.
They need to be warm and have access to a heat source.. a heat lamp or the sun on a nice warm day or a brooding plate. You can tell if they are warm enough if they are walking around, eating, drinking, and sleeping separately. If they are all huddled up together they could use a closer heat source. You have to use your best judgement. Note: if you have them in the sun make sure they have shade as well and that its not windy.
I use purina all flock raiser or non-medicated chick starter. Now they make even medicated safe for ducklings, or so I've read, but it's completely unnecessary. I find that ducklings very very rarely get sick. After 2 1/2 weeks of age I give them a feed with 16 percent protein, I use a layer feed, but I have read that the calcium can be a problem, however, I have not had any problems with the layer feed. And (optional) I take away food and water at night time. The lower protein helps proper wing development. After 8 weeks, if you have chick feed you would like to use up, you can then give them it without worry. Note: If the ducklings have any leg issues that you notice, the go to is using a Niacin supplement in their water. Use 500mg of Niacin for a 5 gallon bucket of water. You can do this preemptively if you like. I start my ducklings with a bit of niacin in their water.
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"Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks," by Dave Holderread.
I love this book. I go back to it often to learn one thing or the other. I highly suggest buying it. You can find a used one or check at your library, or just splurge and buy it new. Its not a waste of money or time.