Today I was busy. I put off doing brooder chores until I was ready to head to bed. I figured, as long as they get their food and water refilled at least once a day, everything should be OK, right?
Early this morning, as I was finally ready for bed and remembered - I forgot the brooder chores! - I went down to give my little ducklings their daily refills. Their water bin was empty, but the bottom was still moist, so I knew they hadn't been out of water for long.
I figured, since I moved the bigger birds out to the barn brooder, it would be an excellent time to take the separator out and give them full run of the 8-foot long brooder.
I sanitized the big (5 gallon?) waterer that the previous birds had used, refilled the food bin, and then removed the separator. The ducklings ran to the big water dish and drank and splashed, and seemed to be having a good time.
Because I also released the two tiniest ducklings and the three baby chickens at the same time, I wanted to observe for a while to make sure they wouldn't get bullied.
To my horror, after a couple of minutes of my precious little beepers running around, one had what appeared to be a seizure half way between the food bin and the waterer. Head pitched back upside-down over it's back, legs came out from under it, and it rolled onto it's back. Legs in the air, kicked for a moment, then stiff, then kicking, then stiff, body contorting into a horrible crumpled mess. I reached into the brooder and set the duckling upright. He seemed OK, but so exhausted he couldn't move.
No sooner did I take my hand off the duckling, two more ducklings resting under the heat light twisted their heads back, fell over sideways, legs kicking, flailing in the air. I tried to put them upright but these two wouldn't stay upright. Their heads pitched back at unnatural angles, their little eyes flashing as their nictitating membrane zipped across their eyes. As I was trying to hold them upright as they kicked their legs and their heads tipped back over their bodies, another duckling fell over at the food bin and started seizing. I set the two down and tried to get the newest victim upright.
In desperation I asked Siri "Can ducklings die from drinking too much?" - I tried to buzz through some comments as I tried to keep babies upright at the same time. Not finding any information, I took a moment to quickly type up an SOS to a duck and goose forum on Facebook. What did I do wrong? And how do I make it stop?
By the time I got it written and sent (maybe three minutes), the first two ducklings were dead, the fourth was dying, and another duckling was starting to seize. I called my husband, frantic for any input (remember it's 3am and he's in bed).
What did you sanitize the water dish with? The same thing I have every other time, and rinsed it well.
Is the water bad? Has the tap got a problem? No, the water seems fine.
I took the big water container out and dumped it out. I refilled their smaller water bin that they are used to and gave that to them instead. Some continued to drink, running back and forth to the food bin (which was never empty, but ducks really need water in order to swallow food properly).
Then the responses from the Facebook group started to come in. While people have heard of ducklings drinking themselves to death, it seems very few people have actually witnessed it, and those who have, don't tend to talk about it, but just take it as a lesson.
So I am taking one for the team. I'm going to openly admit that tonight, I lost several ducklings. I killed them on accident by letting them run out of water, even if for a brief time, and they were so thirsty, that they literally drank themselves into convulsions and died. I am entirely responsible for this massacre. Had I just done the brooder chores after dinner like I usually do, this wouldn't have happened.
Please, don't make the same mistake I made today. Learn from my mistakes. Never ever let your ducklings run out of water. Not just for a few minutes, not ever! It can kill them!
I am ready to head to bed now. There are still two more ducklings in the brooder that had seizures that didn't die (yet). One looks a lot better and may be fine, but the other is weak and lethargic. I fully expect it to be dead when I do morning rounds.
After watching my babies die before my very eyes, I made the judgement call to leave the smaller water bin in the cage. Some of them were still drinking from it when I came up to write this up. Do I remove the water to stop them from drinking to prevent them from over drinking to death? Or do I leave the water in because being without water overnight will just cause a repeat catastrophe when I give fresh water in the morning? I chose to continue access to water and I hope the worst is past. Many of the ducklings were settling down to sleep.
It's been a rough night. Please, please, do whatever it takes to assure your ducklings always have a source of fresh water! Add a second waterer, buy a bigger waterer, refill it multiple times a day if you need to. But please, don't put your ducklings in the position where they could potentially drink themselves to death.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Please heed my warning and take my experience to heart. No baby should have to go through this. It's completely preventable. As of morning rounds they will be getting the bigger waterer back again. They won't be thirsty anymore from having the small one all night, and this way they will not run out if I'm a little late doing brooder chores again.