Tales from the Animal Whisperer: Raising Ducks!

Have you thought of raising ducks on your homestead? Whether for meat, eggs, or pets, ducks are a lot of messy fun!

If you speak with anyone who has ever had ducks, they either love them or hate them. There is no in between. The best part about ducks is they are fun and funny and really good pets – think a goofy, waddling dog that quacks. The worst thing about ducks is they are messy. The messy part has to do with water, water, water. They eat and drink at the same time, grabbing a bill of food and slopping it in the water. They grab a drink of water and slop it in their food. And all that water makes for runny poop. So, if you don’t mind a little wetness and a little poop, ducks may be for you!!

Ducks are just like chickens in that if they don’t have a momma to take care of them, they need a warm brooder. While you can place chickens in any kind of brooder, even a cardboard box, ducks need a little more thought. They seem to visibly grow every single day and reach adult size in about a month. That’s a pretty big bird from a little fuzzy duckling in four short weeks, so be prepared to move them in those few short weeks!!

BROODER

We raise ducks in our large Christmas tote (about 2’x4′) for the first two weeks, then we move them to the mud room in a blocked-off area about 3’x5′ for a couple weeks. If the weather is nice, we move them out to their house and run, and we keep an eye on the nighttime temps and bring them back into the mud room if it’s too cool. Ducks do need a heat source until they are feathered, but not as hot or as long as chickens. We keep their brooder about 80-90 degrees for the first week, then lower the temp to 75-80 for the next couple weeks. Fortunately, we’ve only raised them in the spring, and by the 4th week, our temps are higher than 70, so they can go outside. They can handle nighttime temps down to 50 if they have friends to curl up with to stay warm.

DUCK DIET

As fast as they grow, their diet is very, very important. Purchase good duckling/gosling food with 20-22% protein and add brewer’s yeast to their food. Brewer’s yeast comes in a powder, and you add about a 1/2 tsp to every cup of food. To keep that powder from falling to the bottom, you can wet the food down to the consistency of oatmeal. You know they love water, so if you add too much water, they won’t care one little bit! Once they hit about three weeks of age, start adding 1/3 of their diet as organic oats. Plain Quaker Oat Meal is fine. This fills them up but lowers the total protein in their diet. When you’ve used up all their duckling food, you can purchase plain flock crumbles or pellets, which tend to be 16-19% protein. By the time they’re three weeks, it will seem they are going to eat you out of house and home, but once they hit full grown, they’ll slow down on the food a little. Once they are grown, they’ll eat just about any fruit or grain or greens. They are great foragers and will even eat the bugs in your lawn, but they generally won’t tear up your garden like chickens do. They just nibble around the plants, looking for slugs, snails, and larvae.

DUCK ENRICHMENT

Ducks are social characters and once they get to know you, they will greet you with peeps and squeaks every time you come near them. They’ll start quacking about 4-6 weeks. They like new activities, so if the weather is within 10 degrees of the brooder, you can take them outside (supervised) for small amounts of time. (From experience, you can carry four ducks in a laundry basket.) They also like anything to do with water, so you can let them “swim” in the sink or the tub. Use tepid water, not hot, not cold, and not too deep. They don’t have the ability to float because they haven’t gotten that oil covering from their mother. They will have to mature and develop that themselves. While they are swimming, you can tear small bits of kale or sprinkle green peas in the water. They’ll eat it all up and love it! Keep an eye on them while they’re in the water so when they get tired, you can get them out and put them back under their heat source. They also like blueberries and cut up bits of any fruit.

EGGS

Once your ducks reach egg-laying age, about 5-6 months, you’ll find your ducks lay more regularly than your chickens. Some folks like duck eggs, some don’t, but all agree they are great for baking. They have more fat than chicken eggs and your cakes will love that extra richness. You can change your ducks to “layer” feed once they start laying, but you don’t have to. Layer feed simply has more protein and calcium to help them lay more. If you’re not concerned with how many eggs you get, you can just keep them on “flock” feed.

MEAT

We only raise ducks as pets and for eggs, so I can’t speak to raising them for meat, but many people do raise them for meat, and it seems any breed can be used for that purpose.

MIXING DUCKS AND OTHER BIRDS

Ducks seem to get along with everyone. Chickens ignore them. Geese think they’re cousins. The only thing you need to look out for is if you have a drake (male duck) who wants to be amorous with your hens. Roosters don’t have an actual pecker and doesn’t enter a hen, but a drake has a corkscrew pecker and can damage or kill your hens. It’s just something you need to keep an eye out for.

MOVING TO THE OUTSIDE PEN

There are two things that are Must-Dos! First, make sure your pen is predator proof. Ducks have NO ability to protect themselves from predators. Use a secure pen and house!! Second, make sure they always have water available. They need the water to swallow their food and to clean out their bills. We ran a water line from our 50-gallon rain barrel to a two-foot-long piece of roof gutter sitting between some screwed-together 2x4s. We added a floater, so when the water goes down, the trough automatically fills back up. It is deep enough to dunk their entire heads, but not deep enough to climb in and splash all the water out. When I put them in their house for the night, I dump out the trough so they have fresh water every morning. Within five minutes of them going to the water in the morning, it’s muddy. They don’t care, but I want them to start out the day with fresh water.

DUCK PONDS AND HOUSING

Ducks do not need a pond to be happy, but they would enjoy a small pool if you can provide one. They also do not need their own house, they can sleep with your chickens in your chicken coop. They do need some bedding as they will sleep in a nest on the floor; they don’t roost. Or, you can give them their own house. We use a dog house with a drawbridge door we added. We painted the floor with truck-bed liner, so it’s waterproof. Ducks would rather sleep under bushes, so be prepared to pick them up and put them in their house at night for a while. To train them to come to you and train them to go into their house, you’ll have to invest some time with them, offering their favorite treat. They won’t automatically put themselves to bed like chickens, and they don’t seem to be the smartest animal on the farm…

… but they could very well be the funniest and the cutest!!

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