Are you getting ready to welcome some little fluffy ducklings?! Ducklings are easily some of the cutest babies on the farm – those flappy webbed feet, the sweet little bill, chubby cheeks. Super cute!
If you aren’t quite sure yet if ducks are right for you – click here to read my Ducks Pro & Con List. Ducks are mighty cute, but they are also mighty mess, so be ready!
The first thing you need is a place for those babies to live. Because ducks like to splash in water and make a mess, many people use a spare bath tub to brood ducklings. Put their water & feed near the drain, and all the spilled water goes right down the drain. If you do this, put down rubber shelf liner in half the tub. Add straw on top of the shelf liner in the back half of the tub. This way the ducks have a place to rest that isn’t slippery. They need to grow strong legs and they can’t do that if their feet are always slipping out from under them!
What if you don’t have a spare bath tub? I use a large Rubbermaid tub. Click here to see how I made it. Get the biggest bin you can find and follow the instructions in the link to add hardware cloth to the top. I put an old baking sheet in the brooder bin and put the feed & water on that, it helps contain some of the water. If you don’t have other animals that might hurt the ducklings (like cats or dogs) you can use a plastic kiddie pool as a brooder.
Straw is my choice for brooding ducklings. I usually use pine shavings with chicks because they are absorbent. With ducks the shavings just absorb all the liquid they splash about and very quickly become a soggy mess. Straw will stay drier giving them a place to nest. Under the straw I like to put rubber shelf liner. It raises up the bedding a bit to keep it out of the muck and gives them a sturdy, non slip flooring.
For the first few weeks, ducklings will need to be kept warm. Use a heat bulb with a red filter to ease stress. Start out at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and go down about 1 degree each day. You don’t have to be crazy about getting it just right. By the end of the first week, aim to be around 83 degrees, by the end of the second around 76, and around 69 by the end of the third week. By then, if the ducklings are in your house it should be about room temperature.
Plant saucers or ramekins work great for feed & water in those first few weeks. Traditional poultry feeders can be difficult for ducklings to navigate with their wide bills. Ducks need water to digest their food, and they need to be able to dunk their entire head in the water to clear their nostrils and eyes. So a shallow, wide container is needed for their water bowl. It should not be more than an inch or so deep for the first week or so. Young ducklings can be awkward on their feet and you don’t want them to fall on their back in their water bowl and drowning.
Non Medicated Chick Starter Feed
It’s better if you can find waterfowl starter feed, but that can be hard to come by. Chick starter feed will also work. You want to buy non medicated feed. Chick feed is sometimes medicated to prevent coccidiosis, which is common among chickens, but pretty rare in ducks. Ducklings also eat much more than chicks, so they will end up over medicating themselves. Look for a high protein feed – around 20% is good for the first two weeks. From 3 weeks until they start laying you will want a “grower” feed with slightly lower protein (16-18% is good). Too much protein during this later duckling stage can cause a wing deformity called angel wing. Click here to read more about feeding ducks at different life stages
The one thing chick feed will not provide your ducklings with is enough niacin. Ducklings require 2-3 more niacin than chicks, and a deficiency during their critical developing months can lead to lifelong bone and joint issues with their legs. To increase their niacin, add 1.5 tablespoons of brewer’s yeast to every 1 cup of feed. The brewer’s yeast has a tendency to settle to the bottom of the feed, so I add it every time I fill up the feed bowl. If you mix a ton of it into the whole feed bag, much of the brewer’s yeast will end up at the bottom of the bag. You should keep adding brewer’s yeast until they are 20 weeks old and full grown. During adulthood, you can still add it now and then as a dietary supplement, but it isn’t as critical as when they are ducklings.
Spray Bottle with Diluted Vinegar
Ducklings are messy. You don’t want to use harsh cleaners or bleach to clean up the brooder space. Mix equal parts white vinegar & water in the bottle and use this to clean the duckling’s space. You will be cleaning the brooder. A lot. I usually clean the duckling brooder three times per day. I keep my cleaning solution, paper towels and small trash bags right next to the brooding space to make it convenient and quick. Vinegar smell not your thing? Click here to see how I make this natural Citrus Lavender Cleaner
Optional Fun Additions
Mirror – Ducklings love other ducklings, and they love looking at their reflection. Make sure any mirror you add is plastic and shatterproof. Self adhesive mirror panels can be found in most craft stores and are perfect for this!
2 or 3 inch deep baking dish – Once your babies are at least a week old, they would love to have some splashing time! Make sure the dish you use is easy enough for them to get in and out of on their own and they should be able to stand up in the water. If you have space in your brooding area, a paint tray also works great for this with a shallow and deeper end.