Ducks bring so much fun & joy to the farm yard! With their giant floppy feet, the way they waddle across the yard, the sheer joy they get from splashing in a kiddie pool, ducks really are a great addition to any farm! While many backyard farmers start out with chickens, and ducks certainly can live along side your chickens (click here to read about raising ducks and chickens together), raising ducks is a bit different. Check out my tips for raising healthy and happy ducks!
Water, water and more water
Ducks and water go hand in hand. One of the most important things you can do for the health of your ducks is to provide them with an unlimited source of clean, fresh water. They don’t need a giant pond or even a little pool. What they absolutely do need is a clean water source. They need to have water available to digest their food, they need to be able to dunk their head in the water to clear their nostrils and keep their eyes clean, and they need to be able to preen in the water to activate the oil gland at the base of their tail. A large dog or livestock bowl will do the trick. Each duck will drink about 4 cups of water each day. So if you have a small flock of just 4 ducks that is one gallon of water just for drinking, every day.
The ducks *will* dirty that water, and they will do it faster than you might think possible! When you keep ducks there is no way to keep them from climbing into their water bowl for a little swim. They will toss sand and dirt in the water and drop food in it as they are eating. To keep your duck water clean, I recommend doubling the bare minimum amount (so 8 cups per bird). Each day give the bowl a quick scrub with a brush & splash of vinegar, dump the old water and fill it up with fresh water. I like to keep a brush hanging right by the bowl to make this quick and easy.
If you have space to give them for swimming they will absolutely LOVE it. You don’t have to dig a huge pond, a tiny kiddie pool will work just fine. The water will be gross and you will just have to accept that for your own sanity. It will be clean for maybe the first 10 minutes after you fill the pool, but then all bets are off. By the end of the day, it will be be dark and muddy looking. If you just have a couple birds, you could probably dump the pool every couple days. When your flock get bigger though it will likely be an every day chore. A small pool works out well because they are easy to dump and quick to refill with a hose. About once a week, I like to scrub the pool out with a scrub brush and a little vinegar to keep the algae at bay.
If you can find waterfowl feed and you are only keeping ducks that is the way to go. Most people that keep ducks also have other poultry in the yard and feed their birds a layer pellet or crumble. Adult ducks will do just fine with a chicken or mixed flock layer feed. A pair of adult ducks will go through about a pound of feed each day. When raising ducks on mixed flock feed, keep in mind that when your ducks are young they will need extra niacin in their diet. Ducklings grow much faster than chicks and the niacin helps support their fast growing bones. An easy way to give them what they need is to mix in some brewer’s yeast with their feed until they are full grown. Ducks should never be offered feed unless there is a source of water to go with it, it could result in choking on the dry feed. click here to read more about feeding your ducks
Bugs, Greens & Calcium
Ducks are not vegetarians, they enjoy a large range of insects. They are never happier than when they can dig with their bill in a mud hole looking for worms, slugs or other creepy crawlies. My ducks enjoy catching flies and are quite good at it! They will wait for the flies to congregate on a pile of poop in the grass, then lower their neck and run at them with their beaks open scooping up flies like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos! If at all possible, let your ducks out in a grassy area to free range every day. If free ranging is not safe for your area, they will love a treat of meal worms or live crickets from the pet store.
Providing fresh leafy greens each day helps round out their diet. Particularly if your birds can’t get out to free range (or in the winter when green grass and leaves are unavailable), tossing them some leafy greens or vegetables will ensure they are getting all their vitamins. Ducks love it when you float greens or herbs in their pool or water dish. It helps the greens stay fresher, and mimics their natural instincts for fishing greens out of a weedy pond. Some veggies to try include romaine lettuce, kale, corn, peas, cucumber and many herbs including oregano, rosemary, basil & parsley. Click here to read more about treats for your ducks
When hens are of laying age their bodies use up a lot of calcium preparing the eggshells. If they are not getting enough calcium in their diet, they will lay less eggs, lay eggs with weak, thin shells, or begin to have weak bones as their body “steals” from their calcium reserves to produce eggs. If you have laying ducks you should always keep a bowl of either oyster shells or crushed egg shells out for them to eat as needed. You will notice that the males, babies & much older females mostly ignore the bowl of shells, but the young hens will enjoy them.
Shelter from predators
Domesticated duck breeds have been bred for generations to be much larger than their wild counterparts. The reason for this is two fold. One is obvious, bigger birds mean more meat. The second is so that they will be too fat to fly away. Ducks in general are quite slow on land. Their floppy, webbed feet and short, squat legs are not meant for running. To escape predators, wild ducks take to the water or to the sky. Ducks on a farm don’t often have a huge pond to swim away on, and are too big boned to fly off. Domesticated ducks need to be provided protection. If your birds free range, make sure there are places they can hide like large bushes and tall grasses. At night they should be locked up in a secure run or coop. Ducks enjoy sleeping outdoors year round so as long as your run is secure (totally surrounded included buried wired and a solid roof) you can let them sleep in the run with a small house (think dog house) where they can retreat to if they want. If your run is not secure, you will want to close them up in a coop at night.
Ducks are really healthy animals and rarely will give you issue. Parasites are generally not a problem thanks to the amount of time spent in the water, and they are extremely cold hardy. It is still a good idea to keep a stocked first aid kit so you will be prepared in an emergency. Click here to see what I keep in my duck first aid kit
Ducks are really social! Ducks are meant to live with other ducks, they will be sad and quite anxious if you only keep one duck. A trio of ducks will be quite happy waddling about your farm. Although my ducks live with the chickens, they keep to themselves and don’t really socialize with the chickens. If you will only be keeping a few ducks, I would recommend going with all females. Tossing a male into the mix will mess with the group harmony. If you keep a male you should have at least 3-4 females with him so he doesn’t over mate a single female. Males can also be territorial, particularly during mating season. When it’s not mating season, however, most drakes are quite nice and much easier to keep than a rooster!