Backyard Ducks for Absolute Beginners

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*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!

Backyard Ducks for Absolute Beginners

Check out these great general duck raising articles!

Ducklings 101 by The Cape Coop Farm

Tips for Raising Healthy Ducks by The Cape Coop Farm

Duck Breeds for your Yard by the The Cape Coop Farm

Best Tips for Raising Ducks by Timber Creek Farm

Adding Geese & Ducks to Your Flock by Timber Creek Farm

Backyard Ducks are Calling your Name by Rodale’s Organic Life

Raising Ducks or Chickens? on HGTV Gardens

Duckling Needs

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

Backyard Ducks for Absolute Beginners

Check out these awesome duckling articles!

Add New Ducks to your Flock by The Cape Coop Farm

Electrolytes for Poultry from 104 Homestead

Hatching Ducklings with a Broody Duck by The Cape Coop Farm

Started Chicks and Ducklings by Homestead Honey

How to Raise Ducklings by The Frugal Chicken

Basic Duckling Care by Fresh Eggs Daily

How to Start Raising Ducklings & Goslings in Your Backyard by Mother Earth News

Water

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

Backyard Ducks for Absolute Beginners

Check out these articles on duck pools!

Building a Duck Pond on Backyard Ducks

How I Keep Water for My Ducks Clean by Hoss-It-Is on YouTube

Feed

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!

Backyard Ducks for Absolute Beginners

Check out these awesome articles on feeding ducks!

3 Tips for Feeding Ducklings by Timber Creek Farm

When to Switch Your Poultry’s Feed by 104 Homestead

Healthy Treats for Backyard Ducks by Fresh Eggs Daily

Housing

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!

How Safe is Multi Flock Housing? from 104 Homestead

Duck House Plans by Fresh Eggs Daily

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!


23 comments

  1. Annie says:

    So glad that you are providing predator proof housing and pen!!!! I have had backyard ducks for 9 years now and you are in for a treat. They are so much fun to watch and interact with.

  2. Michelle Baker says:

    I have a year old duck.. She apparently has a broken pelvis.. the vet has been treating her for pain, inflammation and respiratory. It’s been 2 weeks. Is there any hope she will ever walk again? I keep her in a sling and she has water time alternating often.. I’m heartbroken.

    • Liz says:

      That is so sad! I’m glad she is in good hands with your vet. Animals have an amazing capacity for recovery. She might not ever walk normally again, but I hope she will find a way to be mobile! One of our ducks was born with deformed legs. She can’t keep up with the other ducks when they are foraging, but she does her best and just needs to rest often. I think you are on the right track with water therapy, just like with humans, it’s a great way for her to build her strength with lower impact. I hope she pulls through!

  3. Joyce says:

    Our old drake is attacking our 3 month old duckling – sex unknown – who is still following mum around. Is this jealousy? Will he carry on until we either move the duckling or he kills it?

    • Liz says:

      Awww poor duckling! Is the mum not protecting the baby? Drakes usually ignore ducklings but sometimes they can get grumpy and feel like the ducklings are monopolizing the female’s times. This can be especially true if they are early spring ducklings and they are around when mating season is getting into full swing. If the mum is not protecting the baby I would definitely either separate the mum and baby or the drake until the duckling is bigger and able to hold his/her own.

  4. Joyce says:

    Thanks Liz – no she isn’t. She had been broody for months but never laid eggs. We got the just laid eggs to eat and decided to put 2 under the duck. Rewarded with 1 duckling. Made a crow safe pen and sleeping place for mum and baby once she started showing herself more and have just dismantled it as she had been wandering round the garden and feeding herself.for quite a few weeks and mum was getting agitated at being confined. Guess we will have to fix it back up. Baby had been spending quite a bit of time in the bush house where there are places to hide but it wouldn’t do for night as it is not.secure

    • Liz says:

      We hatched baby ducks last summer twice with a broody duck and both times we got just one duckling and both times it didn’t make it because the mom wasn’t watching out for them. We have hatched chicks several times all with great luck. I think maybe domesticated ducks just aren’t as attentive as momma chickens. I think it sounds like setting your broody pen back up is a good idea for when you aren’t around.

      • Joyce says:

        Thanks Liz – we’re hoping the problem has resolved itself. One of us is around most of the time and the drake hasn’t shown any more interest in the baby. There are a lot of places she can go out of his way in the garden during the day plus he is very slow moving so she can easily outrun him. The chooks and one female duck sleep in the garden shed at night but he is too big to get through the opening from the pen to the shed so she’s safe at night. Maybe he was establishing the pecking order and she now knows her place. We’re still keeping our eye on him.

  5. Martha Groh says:

    I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find an article on bonding/imprinting with 2 ducklings. Is it possible?

    • Liz says:

      You certainly can bond with two ducklings. Imprinting is something that happens right after they hatch, where they instinctively learn to trust the first person (or duck) to care for them. Ducks are going to naturally want to form a bond with other ducks, so your two ducklings are going to want to bond with each other and honestly this is a good thing. People think they want their duck to imprint with them because it’s cute when they follow you around and need you but unless you don’t work, the duck will live indoors and you can be around for that duck all the time it could be distressing for it when you are gone. So to have another duck friend that is always around and bonded to them is a good thing. You won’t have as intense a relationship but that doesn’t mean your two ducks won’t love you, won’t want to follow you around, and won’t be happy to see you. Bonding with your ducklings just requires that you spend a lot of time with them everyday – at least several hours. The more time you spend with them everyday the better your bond will be. If you have a hooded sweatshirt, you can put the hood up and let them sit on your shoulders inside the hood. It helps them feel safe, like they are sitting under their mother duck. You will get pooped on. They really can’t go more than 15 minutes or so while awake without pooping, so unfortunately bonding = getting poop on lol. They do make diapers for ducks, you can get them on Etsy if this is something you are serious about.

  6. John says:

    The duck is VERY jealous. I heard that the old wizard has been putting spells on innocent ducks. Make sure to visit your local shaman for more help.

  7. Sandi says:

    Brand new duck mama! I have 5 ducklings – 3 two weeks old and 2 three weeks old. Unfortunately we lost one of my 3 week olds due to a freak backyard accident. We are heartbroken and now worried about our other 3 week old as the 2 older ones seem to hang out together. Hoping the age difference is so close that s/he will be ok with just the younger ones.

    • Liz says:

      That is sad, it can be hard when one of a bonded pair dies. The little ones will accept her soon, it sometimes just takes a little time

  8. Sandi says:

    One of my 3-4week old ducklings started walking/standing on the back part of his legs instead of the web part. I’m guessing he sprained/strained one or both legs? I’ve read that warm epsom salt swims can help. Along with brewers yeast and garlic. He swims fine and will use full legs but only when he has to. Any suggestions or thoughts on the warm bath and/or brewers yeast?

    • Liz says:

      Are you supplementing his diet with niacin already? Most duck owners use brewers yeast for that purpose. Ducklings grow so fast that they need extra niacin to keep up, and a deficiency will cause weakness or lameness in their legs (walking on the back part of his legs almost always is an early signal of niacin deficiency). This can be permanent if the deficiency is not corrected. So if you aren’t already doing so, definitely get some brewer’s yeast. And the warm bath would be very soothing for his legs (and he will just have a lot of fun splashing around!). You can read more about niacin and ducklings here https://thecapecoop.com/ducklings-niacin/

      • Sandi says:

        Thank you Liz! I had ordered brewers yeast with garlic online but it won’t get here until next week. So off to GNC first thing in the morning! Appreciate the advice and the article.

  9. Alex says:

    Hi Liz,
    We got our first two ducks in February. We have a male and a female, Tibby and Baby. Baby laid her first egg Monday and has lain one each day since. She is not sitting on the nest, and we have not seen them mating, though Tibby does seem to by trying to do so with one of our chickens. Are any of these indicators as to the eggs fertility? Thanks.

    • Liz says:

      It’s certainly possible they are just mating when you aren’t around, but it can take the male a little while to get the hang of it without falling off. Domestic ducks will lay several eggs each week (some breeds lay more than other) but they won’t try to hatch all of them. Some ducks never go broody (the desire to sit on a nest and hatch eggs). Much of it has to do with breed – breeds like Buff Orpingtons and Cayugas are prone to go broody while breeds like Khaki Campbells and Runner ducks might never go broody. The bird’s personality also plays a role too though, some girls just want to be moms and others don’t. There isn’t any way to tell without cracking open the egg if it is fertile. It is highly unlikely that a duck under 1 year of age is going to have any interest in hatching eggs though

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