*edited to add – this article was written in 2016 just before we got our first ducks. As we learned more about our duck friends, I’ve add some links to this article to help beginners learn more. Feel free to click around!
I am SO excited! We are only T minus 3 days until ducklings arrive! Like every other homesteading addition we have made, this one came on suddenly. About 4 weeks ago we were at the feed store picking up some chicken food when we saw a sign advertising the baby chick breeds that would be available in the coming weeks. Having no need for baby chicks this season I knew I should have steered far away from that list but I was of course drawn to it like a chicken to a bag of worms. My kids were with me so it was all the more dangerous!
The kids noticed right away that the first weekend in April was special because it was not baby chickens but baby ducks that would be coming in. I’m pretty sure just the week before I was talking to someone about how messy and time consuming ducks were and how we would never go there.
The whole way home the kids talked about how awesome ducks are and I could feel my resistance weakening. Later that afternoon while cleaning up the chicken run with my husband he says “I bet we could section off part of the chicken run for a couple ducks”, then “we have lots of scrap wood by the shed we could probably build a house for free” (which we did, check out how here!)
I knew I was beat. Next thing I knew we were sketching out plans, buying duck books and pouring over websites about raising ducks. I asked some of my blogging friends to share their ducky knowledge with me and I think I am as prepared as I can be. I am sure the next few weeks will be a learning adventure! Let me share what an absolute beginner has learned about raising ducks. If you aren’t sure ducks are right for you click here for my article on duck pros & cons!
To read the full collection of my duck keeping articles click here!
Check out these great general duck raising articles!
Ducklings need to be kept warm in a brooder with a heat source just like baby chicks. The consensus among most people seems to be that brooding them in a spare bath tub is the way to go.
You can shut the door to keep out other pets, the water and mess is easy to wash down the drain and all the surfaces are scrub-able. Unfortunately, we only have one bathroom in our house. Since not bathing for over a month does not sound like fun to me, tub brooding isn’t an option for us. So we are going to be using our Rubbermaid bin chick brooder (click here to see how we made it).
For ducklings you start out with 90 degree heat on the first day and then try to go down about one degree per day for 2-3 weeks. By the end of three weeks, that would bring you to 69 degrees and if you are brooding your ducks inside, the air temperature in your house is likely just as warm. When the outside temperatures are consistently in at least the 50s and the ducklings are at least 4 weeks old, they can move outside. Click here to read my post on brooding ducklings
Check out these awesome duckling articles!
Everyone knows ducks love water. What does that mean for a backyard flock? Providing water for swimming is not a must but it will make your ducks super happy, and who doesn’t want super happy ducks?
What IS a must is providing LOTS of fresh drinking water (full grown ducks can down as much as half a gallon of water A DAY!). A typical Mason jar chick water dish will work for ducklings for about the first week. After that with their big, awkward feet they will knock it over and they will have a hard time dipping their bills into the little holes.
Ducks need constant access to water for drinking, for mixing with their food and for keeping their nostrils moist. The water bowl should be deep enough that the duckling can dip their entire head in the water, but not so deep they could accidentally drown.
Very young ducklings are very awkward on their feet and sometime get “turtled” (stuck on their back). If that happens while in the water it can be deadly. If your bowl is too deep, you can add some small stones on the bottom. When they are a week or so old, you can start providing water deep enough for supervised swimming time. Start out with a shallow pie pan, moving up to something as deep as your kitchen sink or bathtub. Always supervise little ones while swimming as they will tire quickly and could drown. Until their feathers come in, swimming time should be short and you should towel dry the ducklings afterwards to help them warm up. Click here to read my post on duck ponds
Check out these articles on duck pools!
I have looked both at my local feed store and my local Tractor Supply and couldn’t find any special waterfowl feed. I did find plenty of mixed flock feed appropriate for both chickens and ducks. I wondered what the difference was and if a mixed feed could really provide good nutrition for both birds.
What I have found is that ducklings will do just fine with a standard NON MEDICATED chick feed. Ducklings will eat more than chicks so if they are eating a medicated feed, they could ingest too much medication. You should look for a non medicated chicken starter feed with about 20% protein for the first 2-3 weeks of life. Around 3 weeks ducklings growth will kick into high gear. They will eat so much feed, they could get a protein overload which can cause liver & kidney damage so you will want to switch to a lower (16-18%) protein grower feed (NOT layer feed which has added calcium).
The one thing that chick starter feed won’t provide enough of is niacin. To support ducklings fast growth and to help them develop the strong legs they will need for a life of swimming, you will need to provide niacin supplements if you can’t find waterfowl starter feed. You can buy niacin tablets and crush them into their water, but many people simply get Brewer’s yeast and sprinkle that into their feed. click here to read more about ducklings & niacin
Around 20 weeks old your ducklings will be full grown and getting ready to lay eggs. At this point you can switch them to a chicken layer feed (16% protein with added calcium for strong eggshells). Is all this attention to protein amounts really necessary? Growing ducklings don’t need as much protein as chicks and too much protein can cause a condition called Angel Wing, a deformity where their wing feathers sag down and out. To prevent this, their protein intake needs to be at the proper amounts. Many duck keepers will mix rolled oats (a low protein grain) into their feed to further dilute the amount of protein the ducks are consuming by having them eat less feed if they can’t find lower protein feed. Click here to read my full post about feeding ducks at all stages!
Check out these awesome articles on feeding ducks!
Duck houses & runs have similar space requirements as chickens. 4 square feet of inside space and 10 square feet of outside space is considered adequate. Ducks don’t roost at night so they don’t need roosts, just straw nests on the ground. The house doesn’t need to be fancy, just a secure, dry place to nest will keep them happy.
Your ducks will love you if you can provide water access for them. A natural pond is the easiest option, but most backyard farmers aren’t lucky enough to have one of those! A kiddie pool is great and easy to empty.
Ducks have even less predator defenses than chickens. They are slow on land so they can’t run away, and most modern domesticated breeds have been bred so that they are too heavy to fly away. Providing a secure predator proof run & house are super important. Our ducks will be sharing our already predator proof run with our chickens (solid, sturdy roofing, wire buried around perimeter, secure latches on doors). Click here to see the duck house we built
Check out these great duck housing articles!
Armed with this basic knowledge I am hoping we are ready to welcome our ducklings in a couple days. I am looking forward to starting this new adventure and you can bet I will be sharing our successes and missteps on here soon!