Ducks and Other Waterfowl
There’s a lot to consider before opening your own waterfowl sanctuary. We literally opened overnight when we discovered a number of ducks in need of sanctuary and then spent a good year catching up to ourselves. It was a 7 day a week job that took place 365 days a year–in addition to our full-time jobs and parenthood.
Today things are quite a bit easier. We’ve learned to design better pens that are more fully functional. We know how to better pace ourselves and we understand our own limitations.
For those of you who’ve asked for it, here’s a bit of advice about opening up your own sanctuary.
The first thing you will need is a safe and predator proof pen for your rescued waterfowl. Our suggestion is to start small–that is, begin with no more than 4 ducks and then expand and build more pens as you grow.
The reason for this is simple, you will quickly learn what works in your set-up and what doesn’t. This information will help you to design more efficient pens in the future.
Starting out with only a few ducks will also keep you from taking on too much too fast. You want to build up to what you can handle, not overwhelm yourself right from the get-go.
Consider seasonal changes as well as landscaping when designing your pens:
Do you need special “trip” outlets for heated water buckets during cold weather?
Will the grounds you choose be able to handle heavy rain and allow for drainage?
Is there ample shade to help keep your rescues cool in summer?
Are there dangerous tree limbs looming over the site of your pens that could fall and cause damage or injury?
Have dangerous chemicals ever been dispersed in the place where you want to build?
Taking care of rescued waterfowl takes time. We spend an hour a day in the morning and again in the evening just with the day-to-day tasks. In addition to this are trips to the vet, disbursement of medications, pen maintenance and so on…
In the heat of summer water sources need to be kept cool. This means kiddy pools & water buckets will need to be changed frequently.
In winter special attention needs to be given to snow and ice. Shoveling and sanding pens as well as keeping aviary nets clear during storms is hard work and can take an entire day.
Consider your vacation day options at work. Do you have emergency time at your disposal for vet visits and snow days?
What about family vacations? Who will RESPONSIBLY watch your rescues while you are away? We resort to separate vacations to ensure that a knowledgeable and experienced caretaker is ALWAYS on our premises and ready for any emergency.
Finding a qualified, experienced and compassionate vet is one of your highest priorities and this most be done BEFORE you begin rescuing.
You also need to find a 24/7 back-up vet for times when your regular vet is unavailable or off-duty.
Your vet will also need to write you a letter if you are interested in listing your shelter on Petfinder (which we highly recommend if you will be adopting out your rescues). Petfinder’s staff will provide you with detailed information after you contact them via their website.
Finding funding for your sanctuary is another of the most important things you will be doing. You need donations to provide for feed, hay, supplies, building materials, utilities and vet care (at the very least).
Having your own website helps in this regard, but you also need to know other ways to generate funds.
Unless you are a professional grant-writer or have similar experience & connections, not many organizations are open to approving grants to waterfowl shelters simply because they honestly don’t understand the need for them. Also, it takes a lot of time to organize grant proposals, and in our experience, we have been more successful at raising the funds ourselves.
We have a handful of procedures at Majestic. We have adoption procedures that flow from the initial application to the signing of contracts on adoption day. We have volunteer procedures that flow from applications to liability waivers onto actual work days. In addition, we also have operating and emergency procedures.
Here is an example of our quarantine procedure:
Newly rescued ducks and geese are placed into our quarantine pen immediately upon arriving.
We created our own medical form that enables us to perform an immediate, standard precursory exam of every bird who comes through our sanctuary. If we discover any ailments/conditions that require vet care, we arrange for an immediate appointment.
A fecal sample is brought to our vet for lab testing to rule out parasites.
A precautionary worming and delousing is also performed to prevent parasites from invading our flock.
The newcomer is given an original name and an identifying leg band, which are charted in their medical files and on a magnetic wipe away board.
The new rescue remains in quarantine for a minimum of 14 days to ensure they are in excellent health.
A magnetic wipe away board is used to indicate where each duck and goose is located in the sanctuary during the day and another indicates what pen/barn they are located in at night. This also doubles as our emergency back-up plan, which means in our absence, anyone could come in and be able to tell which birds are in which pens.
Small magnets are loaded with information. They tell us the bird’s name, gender, leg band color, special needs and which birds need to be adopted out together. Here are a few examples:
Deirdre does not wear a leg band.
Deirdre is blind in her Right eye
She is a female duck (pink heart).
All ducks with a red corner are original sanctuary members and are unadoptable.
Jasmine has one pink leg band.
She is a female (pink heart).
All ducks with a yellow corner must be adopted out together.
Jasmine has one injured eye.
Lilly has two yellow leg bands.
She is a female (pink heart).
All ducks with a lavender corner must be adopted out together.
The crutch indicates a leg injury or limp. (Once she recovered, we changed out the magnet with one that did not feature a crutch.)
Duran “Rio” has one blue leg band.
He is a male (blue heart).
All geese with a rust corner must be adopted out together.
In addition to these magnet boards, we have one other that indicates detailed daily/weekly medical regimes for ducks and geese with special needs.
Emergency Back-up Plan
Have an emergency plan in place. What is an emergency plan? It can range from what to do in a power outage to what to do if you can’t make it home one night. Make sure a well-versed person can come in at any time and know exactly what to do.
They should be able to:
Easily perform all day-to-day tasks.
Determine which bird is which in any given pen.
Administer any medications at the appropriate times to the correct birds.
These are just a few of the types of considerations that should be a part of your emergency back-up plan.
A few tips:
Volunteer at a local animal shelter before opening your own. Try to find a shelter that is as similar as possible to the kind of shelter you would like to open for practical experience and foreknowledge about the kinds of issues that tend to come up.
After opening, reach out to other shelters like your own and find ways to work together. Can you help find each other potential adopters? Maybe organize a dual fundraiser? Discover new ways to educate the public?
Start small (with no more than 4 birds in your shelter at any one time) and keep it small for at least one year, so you can see how the seasons affect your pen. Figure out what works and what doesn’t before expanding and building new pens. Starting small will also enable you to envision how much time and effort will be required for additional rescues. Time management is an essential part of sanctuary life.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on more than you can handle. Give yourself time to decide if this endeavor is really for you before you expand your efforts.
Design your pens to be both functional and attractive to meet your needs, the needs of your rescues and the aesthetics of your potential adopters. This includes keeping your pens clean & tidy!
Having a great relationship with your veterinarian & staff means everything to your sanctuary. Foster a professional and friendly relationship and it will directly benefit your rescued ducks and geese. This means treating everyone in their office (including their other clients) with respect and kindness, showing up on time for all of your appointments and paying your bill in full at the time of service.
Don’t rely on anyone else to get the job done. Always have your back-up plan ready and be prepared to do everything yourself. Although people often have good intentions, you will soon discover that you and your rescues can’t rely on good intentions alone. Be entirely self-reliant so these instances won’t negatively impact you or your sanctuary.
Understand from the get-go that you are not going to be able to help every animal out there who needs you. If you don’t make peace with this notion from the very start, your emotional health will soon suffer. Instead, find peace in helping those animals you can.
Rescuing takes a great deal of emotional strength. Be prepared to deter any guilt trips, threats or unfounded criticisms when it comes to your inability to take in a particular animal from someone. Also prepare yourself for the advice they are about to give you on how you should be running your shelter. Maintain your composure and point them towards other alternatives for the animal whenever possible, but ultimately, don’t internalize any of what they are saying. It’s not your fault.
A good supportive friend or family member to lean on is an absolute must in rescue work.
Be patient and kind when pets are being surrendered to you. No matter how irresponsible or unreasonable the owner is, you’re only chance of educating them is if they like you enough to want to listen. Bite your tongue, let them talk, make gentle corrections if necessary and always smile while you talk. After they leave, call a friend for a good vent and some emotional support. Remember, if they leave your shelter feeling positive about the experience, they may talk about it to others. Donations will find their way to you in a number of ways.
Word of mouth is everything. Maintain an impeccable reputation. Take full responsibility for your animals. This can be as simple as accepting an animal back from an adopter without a guilt trip if things don’t work out or as complicated as helping an animal who becomes unexpectedly ill immediately after their adoption. Whatever the situation is, work towards a quick and friendly resolution for the sake of everyone’s well-being, especially the animal’s.
Never take on more than you or your other rescued animals can handle. This means learning to say, “No.” You need to be able to properly provide for all of your animals at any given time while ensuring that any newcomers will not overcrowd, overstress or negatively impact any of the rescued birds already in your care.
Take time to enjoy what you’re doing. Handling situations with jeopardized animals can be extremely difficult and emotionally taxing, but don’t let things get you down. Take some time each day to visit with your rescues and enjoy their company. They are your inspiration, so keeping them in sight is vital to your endeavor. Let them help you keep focused and they will reassure you that you are doing all that you can and that you’re dedication is not going unnoticed.
Know when to quit. If you discover that you don’t have what it takes to go on any longer, plan out a good place to stop. Shelter work is not for everyone and it’s a lot harder than it sounds. If you burn yourself out, you won’t be providing the high quality care that your rescues deserve. Stop taking in new animals and continue working on finding good homes for the ones you already have. When this is done you can close your doors and feel good about the work you’ve done.
[Originally published at the Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary website. Reprinted with permission.]