How to Raise Ducks

It’s a little odd to be blogging about rheumatoid arthritis and have my google hit stats list “raising ducks” in the top five searches that led people to this site.  While I’m no expert, I have raised ducks for the past four years and can pass along a few tips:

  1. Create a safe duck yard
  2. Find a reliable source of feed
  3. Learn about ducks (ongoing process)
  4. Acquire ducks
  5. Enjoy

 
Duck Yard

Choose your location carefully.  The prevailing summer breezes should carry the scent away from your home.  A duck yard should have:

  • fencing
  • shelter
  • nest boxes
  • water feature (pond)
  • feed

This applies to all livestock:  fence first, then get the animals.  We have tried the reverse order a few times, and while it can work temporarily, it’s not recommended.  A fence is not so much to confine the ducks as it is to protect them from predators.   Dogs, coyotes, raccoons… domestic ducks don’t fly, so they can’t fly away to escape.  If you’re going to take care of ducks, you need to protect them.  To contain domestic ducks, a fence only needs to be about three feet high.  However, that is too short to exclude predators, so you’ll need a fence tall enough to keep out dogs and raccoons.  Four or five foot woven wire works well, but if there is a chance that you’ll hatch out ducklings, you’ll need to use chicken-wire around the lower foot of the fence.  Ideally, you’ll dig a shallow trench and have the bottom of the fence below ground-level.  This discourages dogs from digging their way in, and also prevents ducks from squeezing out when the lower edge of the fence rolls up.  Size depends on whether the ducks will always be confined to the duck yard, or if it is just for night-time protection.  I have a smaller yard because I turn my ducks out to pasture during the daytime.

Shelter should be available.  In the summer, ducks need shade.  In the winter, sometimes they like to get out of the snow.  Other than that, they’re not fussy.  Ducks don’t need roosts like chickens; they sleep on the ground (or in the water).  My ducks usually prefer to be outdoors.

Nest boxes are another good idea.  Adult female ducks lay eggs.  For some reason this basic biology surprises some people.  Anyhow, back to nests:  I have some nest boxes that are fairly open, and others that are small, dark, and private.  The ducks prefer the small, dark, private ones.  Just remember that ducks are pretty stupid about their eggs, and don’t always lay in nest boxes.  They’ll lay eggs out in the middle of the field, and even in the pond.  If your whole purpose in raising ducks is to obtain their eggs, you will want to consider enclosing the entire duck yard in bird netting.  Crows steal eggs.

Ducks are waterfowl.  They will be much happier if you can provide them with water deep enough that they can play in it.  A child’s wading pool will work as a short-term solution, but it’s not the best thing to use.  First, it’s not deep enough.  Second, you need to change the water frequently, and wading pools break when you dump them out.  Third, a wading pool isn’t very big; it won’t hold more than a couple ducks.  Finally, pools are dangerous for ducklings; they somehow manage to get in, but will drown when they can’t get out.  Your water feature will ideally be something that ducks can walk into, swim around in, and walk out again when they’re done swimming.

If you consistently feed your ducks in the same area, they can be trained to come for food.  You can throw food straight onto the ground, but if you’re using poultry feed, you’ll have less waste if you use a feed dish.  I have multiple feed dishes so that all my ducks can eat at once without fighting over the food.  They also need lots of clean drinking water at all times.

Duck Food

 I purchase unmedicated poultry food from the feed store.  The nutritional requirements of ducks is not the same as chickens, but it’s close.  If my ducks were going to be penned up all the time, I would spend the extra money on duck food.  Since I turn my ducks out to pasture during the daytime, they have a chance to supplement their diet by foraging for bugs and leaves; buy the less expensive poultry feed that people give to their chickens.  Ducks like leafy greens:  lettuce, spinach, dandelion leaves, grass… so don’t limit them to store-bought feed.

Ducks are finicky about their food.  They don’t like to change brands of feed, they don’t like to change between all-purpose and layer pellets, and they don’t like to change between pellets and crumbles.  To keep your ducks happy, pick one kind of feed and stick with it.  If you have to switch, do it gradually by mixing the old and new together, gradually changing the percentage of each.  If you abruptly switch, don’t be surprised if it throws your ducks into a molt.

Ducks also like to eat slugs.  You can turn them loose in your yard and let them feast — in which case I wouldn’t recommend going barefoot until after a few really good rains.  Another option is to pick up slugs, place them in a container the slugs can’t crawl out of, and then throw the slugs to the ducks — kinda like watching kids scrabble over the candy falling from a piñata.

Learn

Your public library should have some good books about all types of livestock, including ducks.  One of my favorite’s is Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks.  Another good source of information is 4H.

Acquire

The above-mentioned book lists sources.  Your local feed store can order ducklings.  Want-ads might lead you to an existing flock.

Enjoy

Enjoy your ducks.  Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions.

 

Next… back to RA.