I Raise Calls in 3 varieties:
Gray ~ White ~ Snowy
For pictures of some of my Calls & Wildwaterfowl click here
When I started with Calls, all I wanted was some ducks for my pond but it didn't take long for me to get hooked. I purchased my first Call (a little white drake) from Art Lungdren and shortly after started acquiring more Calls from him (Art). While building my foundation stock, I obtained Calls from other top breeders such as Evy Avery, Charlie Hodum and Darrel Sheraw. It's makes much more sense to start with good bloodlines and quality breeders than trying to breed up from lesser birds. A good pair of Calls may cost more but in the long run, well worth the investment and time saved. Every so often I introduce a few new Calls to keep from to much inbreeding.
I show my Calls around the northeast and mid-west with the Columbus, Ohio show and Springfield, Ma show being a few of my favorites. One observation about showing Calls, competition is always fierce. They are very popular and few other breeds of waterfowl or poultry have more numbers at shows. The National Call Duck Breeders of America holds a national meet every year and you could see anywhere from six hundred to one thousand Calls on display which in some cases makes up a good portion of the total birds exhibited.
Breeding set-ups and procedures
Living in the northeast, my Calls generally start laying in late march / early April. I never push them to start laying any earlier (using lights to extend daylight hours) for two reasons:
1 - My drakes generally aren't ready to fertilize eggs until early April so most eggs layed in early to mid March would be clear anyway.
2 - Due to my work schedule, I can't collect eggs until early evening. We still have cold weather in March and by the time I would be able to collect eggs, they would be frozen.
I keep breeding pens set up in pairs and trios (one drake & two ducks). Once fertility kicks in, I rarely change anything although some years I might be short a drake or like a particular drake so I will rotate him once a week between two pens of females. This has worked well for me (mostly) but you need to keep an eye fertility of these matings as I've had overworked drakes prolapse without noticing it for a week or more.
My Calls all get on the ground at least three times a week for exercise, swimming and just to spread their wings. I have found it greatly helps fertility as Calls like to breed while swimming. My fences are thirty two inches high so I keep all my drakes wings clipped (sometimes they'd like to be in the next yard over). I have built some new pens which can be used year around. They have been designed to reduce daily chores with automatic waterers and rabbit style feeders. Cleaning and collecting eggs are much eaiser and of corse the Calls are more comfortable than my previous pens. Here are some of my breeding pens and fenced yards.
Eggs & Incubation
I keep six trios of each variety and expect each female to lay three to four eggs each week. At the peak of breeding season, I'll collect around one hundred twenty eggs per week. Bedding (wood shavings or straw) is changed often to keep eggs clean- the less you have to handle eggs, the better. For real dirty eggs, I'll use my fingernail or submerge it in very warm water for five to ten seconds. While waiting to be set, eggs are stored in my basement where it's cool and pretty humid.
I use two Leahy redwood incubators and a GQF sportsman as a hatcher. The Leahy's hold four hundred eggs each while the GQF holds one hundred. My Call eggs generally hatch in twenty six days and I set twice a week alternating between incubators. Since my incubators are in the basement, I run them dry because it's already pretty humid there although large amounts of water are used in the hatcher to keep membranes from drying out. I hand turn eggs twice a day and candle once a week to remove infertile and dead embryo's. On day twenty four, I start candling for ducklings that have internally pipped and move them to the hatcher where they will stay until hatched and fluffed out. Here are my incubators.
A word about these old redwood incubators: There are still a lot of these in use out there and maybe I could help anyone looking to fix-up, repair or modify one. The first modification I did was to get rid of the wafer style thermostats, they are aren't accurate or reliable. Replacing them with digital thermostats used for waterbeds was the best answer. They can be set anywhere from 86 to 101 degrees accurate to the tenth of a degree and can handle 300 watts (the heating element for these incubators is 225 five watts). I found them available on ebay for around thirty five dollars.
Ducklings & Brooding
Call ducklings are very fragile especially in the first week. After spending their first day or so in the hatcher, they are moved to brooding pens. I use fifty four gallon plastic tubs covered and heated, welcome mats for flooring and auto waterer's to assure ducklings always have enough to drink. The tubs work well at keeping out drafts and are easy to clean. I use a work light reflector with a double bulb adapter for heat. The use of two bulbs per brooder assures ducklings have heat even if one bulb burns out. I learned early not to overcrowd ducklings as it made for major losses. Around twenty is the maximum number each brooder will support, even that number makes it messy very quickly. Keeping everything dry inside the brooders is critical. Ducklings that get wet can get chilled and die very quickly.
Feeding ducklings is quite simple, I use Purina medicated Start & Grow for the first three weeks along with cut up grass clippings and the occasional fly that buzzes around the light in the brooder. The medication used in Purina helps prevent coccidiosis, I use it on all my waterfowl with no problems. At three weeks I start mixing in duck Purina duck grower pellets and if the weather is warm enough, they can start going outside during the day. For water, the small automatic watering cups made for chickens work very well. Ducklings can't get in the cups and all they have to do is push on the little tab in the cup to get a drink.
As of summer 2014
I am no longer breeding Calls in large numbers and won't be selling them anymore. Hatching Calls is very time consuming and with my daughter off to college I just don't have the time it takes. I will still be hatching but in much smaller numbers so I can keep showing. I will be concentrating on my Plymouth Rocks as they require little time and effort during the hatch.
Living in western NY, winters are long and cold. I write this on a January day with temps in the single digits and wind chills of minus fifteen. Calls are pretty tough and can handle most conditions but need to be protected against wind. When givin the choice, most Calls will stay in out of the wind and must be in some kind of shelter at night. My wintering pens are made of wood including the floor with ventalation at the top and well shielded from the cold wind.
For bedding I use fresh, dry straw for the ducks to snuggle in. It's critical to keep inside quarters as dry as possible because Calls generate moisture and can quickly make things very humid. The two things I do to keep it dry inside - good ventalation and all waterer's are kept outside. Having vents at the top of the coops keeps drafts off the floor and fresh air circulating. I keep five gallon plastic waterer's on heater pans in outside hutches. My waterfowl do not have access to swimming water when temps are below freezing, I don't have anyway to drain my pools during freezing weather.
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