Tips for Raising Healthy Ducks

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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.

Quality feed

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.

Health Issues

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 

Friends

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!


21 comments

  1. Lynn says:

    Hi. Great information here!

    I was wondering what you do with your doghouse. Do you line the floor with straw or shavings? How messy is it to clean? My 3 ducks are about to leave their brooder, and their house is a kennel with a dog house in it (plus a claw-foot bathtub which will be converted from brooder to pool).

    The doghouse is heated with a plastic mat that will go on the floor and I’m wondering what would be the ideal setup for warmth and cleaning.

    Thanks for your opinion in advance!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Lynn, the floor of my duck’s house has peel & stick vinyl floor squares. They cover the floor and go about a foot up the wall. They make for really easy clean up for all the mud and muck the ducks like to drag in. I put straw on top of the vinyl flooring for them to nest in. You’ll have to be careful with the heating mat that whatever you put in there doesn’t become a fire hazard. My house isn’t heated at all and have been fine through even some harsh New England winter conditions

  2. Christine Armstrong says:

    Finally I have found a page with Q & A duck style ?
    My daughter bought me two blue crested ducks one died so she soon there after got me two really cute little yellow duck’s
    I’ve had chicken’s for a few years now but, no duck’s this is a first for me and I am loving my duck’s
    So far no problems except with my blue crested her name is Duckie she can be a little tricky at time’s with her seizures & she had breathing problems for a little while but, at the moment she is doing great
    I can’t wait for them to start laying eggs
    I still haven’t figured out how to tell if any of the 3 is a male
    Thank you for all the information
    It’s been very informative

    • Liz says:

      Hi Christine! Glad you found us! Unfortunately sometimes crested ducks can have neurological issues like seizures. Their skulls actually have a mutation with the crest that leaves them more susceptible to head injuries. I am glad to hear she is doing great though! Some breeds can be really hard to tell the sex until they are 4-5 months old so you might have to just wait! ?

  3. john mastropolo says:

    I live on a lake. I’d like to raise some ducks that can use the lake. Could I place a den close to the lake so they can make use of it? If they use the lake will they come back to the den? How old should they be before allowing them in the lake?

    • Liz says:

      Anytime you let ducks free on a large public lake you will run the risk of them finding a new place to nest and not coming back. Domestic ducks that have been raised since babies and are used to relying on humans are more likely to come back to where they know they have a steady meal though. I would give them a solid 5-6 months in an enclosure (like a chicken run) with their den inside located next to the lake. Firmly establish that this is their home, they are safe there, and can always find food there. Then hopefully once you let them loose on the lake they will be in the habit of returning to the den at night

  4. Valerie says:

    what are the best breeds of ducks for back yard in an enclosure, wont be able to free range them, but have an enclosure for them a fenced off area and will have a pool for them, used to have 6 chickens in the area, do ducks need more room so less ducks would be comfortable in it? or could I Have 6 ducks? am looking for best breeds have already read to steer clear of muscovies and mallards, but any ones that would be happier enclosed then not.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Valerie! There are many duck breeds that do well with confinement. You are right to not choose Mallards or Muscovies, as lighter birds who can often still fly they are better if they can have free range time. You might want to consider Call Ducks, they are mini ducks (like bantam chickens) so they would do great in the run. Other breeds that would work well are Cayugas, Orpingtons, Swedish & Rouens. They are all calm, docile domesticated breeds. You might also like to check out my article on duck breeds https://thecapecoop.com/great-backyard-duck-breeds/

      • Dan Rodrigues says:

        WHY NOT. MUSCOVY DUCKS…. I HAD 2 N THAT BECAME NOW THEYRE A FAMILY OF 5. WOULDMT CHANGE EM FOR THE WORLD.
        MOM… ROSIE. 2yrs
        DAD… SOPHIA. 2yrs
        1st daughter… CHIRPY. 6months old
        2nd daughter. SWEETUMS, SWEETIE. 3m
        3rd SON. CHOMPERS. 3m

        • Liz says:

          Muscovies are great with sweet temperaments, it’s not that they are bad ducks, the only problem is that many of them are light enough to fly still so they could fly off if you let them free range. Most breeds of domestic ducks have been bred for generations to be too heavy to fly off. Mallards & muscovies are wild breeds and many can still fly

  5. Rebecca Deacon says:

    I had 2 males and a female and trying to introduce 2 new female ducks but the males I have are being quite aggressive is there any hope?

    • Liz says:

      Males can make introductions difficult, especially in the spring when they are feeling territorial (you would think they would let more females come in but I haven’t seen this to be the case). Last summer I had a really hard time getting my drake to accept two new ducks. He chased them off for months. On days when he was really being a jerk I would lock him in the run and let the ladies get used to each other and enjoy some stress free free-range time. Are your boys just chasing them off? Hitting them with their neck? Biting them? If they are biting and causing injury you might need to lock them up for a bit. He did eventually accept the new ducks – it took probably two months though. But during that time it gradually got better each day. Good luck!

  6. Jodie Schaeffer says:

    Hi. New to ducks. I have three four week old ducks that have been very happy until today. I have them in my office with me in the morning so they can walk around and get some exercise. I’ve placed an old vinyl tablecloth on the ground for easy cleanup. My issue is that today, while they were all asleep on the floor, I was sitting at my computer and they freaked out. Now I can’t get them to calm down. I’m afraid they are going to hurt themselves so I placed them back in their box. What I thought would be their safe space. But the are still extremely jumpy. There is no one else in the house. If one was injured, could the pain be causing that? They are all walking fine but very tentative. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Liz says:

      hmm I wonder what spooked them? It doesn’t take much, and ducks are flock animals so when one gets worked up they all get worked up assuming there is some sort of danger. It could just be possible one is upset then gets the others upset but by the time the first one calms down everyone is freaking out. Let them calm down in quiet, dark room alone for a bit. Once they have calmed down, let them out again and watch them as they walk around. If one is hurt it will be limping or moving funny. It’s hard to say from here, but if I had to guess I think they are all just fine, they are just making each other jumpy

  7. Drew says:

    I have 4 ducks and one is a Pekin which is growing a lot faster than the others. I think he is about 8 weeks old and he weighs 7.8 lbs. He’s been having knee issues for the past 3-4 weeks and pigeon toed. We started supplementing with brewer’s yeast and niacin as soon as we noticed. The past 2 days he’s not been eating or drinking very much and just lays. You can tell he is in pain. I took him to the vet today and got some pain meds and orders to keep up the niacin until 18 weeks old and add in leafy greens. Leafy greens have definitely been lacking. We have 7 days worth of pain medication for him.

    Do you have any recommendations on proper niacin and leafy green types/amounts? And any other suggestions whatsoever for his legs to heal and be strong enough to walk without pain? Swimming rehab etc?

    Thanks

    • Liz says:

      Ducklings that grow extra fast definitely tend to need more niacin to keep up. Did your vet give you a specific niacin level? I would defer to their knowledge, but if they didn’t give you any guidelines, I would suggest 20 mg per day. When I have one duckling in particular that is struggling I use liquid niacin (vitamin B3). Give him 2-3 drops per day (drops, not dropperfuls). This will ensure that he is getting enough if his friends happen to scoop up the brewer’s yeast from the feed. Peas are rich in niacin and ducks love them – other good choices would be spinach (in moderation as too much isn’t good for them) or kale. Keep in mind that as soon as your duckling starts eating food other than their chick starter they will need grit. Ducks don’t have teeth so they need grit to help grind up their food in their gizzards. You can buy grit at the feed store, or if they are outside already and have access to dirt and sand they will find it on their own. Swimming is excellent for helping ducks build muscle tone. If you could get him in the tub or pool for swim time daily that would be great (in water deep enough that his feet won’t touch the ground as he paddles). Just keep an eye on him and take him out of the water if he looks like he is tiring out.

  8. Bobbie says:

    Hi Liz so I got two 10 week old welsh harlequins from someone because I was looking for girls around the same age as my one girl and boys. To say the least they are way different then the ones we raised. Totally unsocialized crazy running away and quacking so loud that my neighbors are not going to be happy. Is there anyway to help chill them out I mean I can’t even believe how freaked out they are I’m thinking I might have to find a home for them. Any advice would be great

    • Liz says:

      They are likely just really freaked out – they are suddenly in a new environment with new ducks and a new human. Some ducks take to changes right away, but others need more time. They may not ever end up as friendly as your guys, but in time, they will likely take cues from the “resident ducks”. Once they see that your ducks are trusting you and realize they are safe in this new environment, I bet they will settle down.

  9. Katie says:

    Hi, I recently purchased 3 pekin ducks for our backyard coop. Two of the ducks seem very happy and well but the third seems a bit off. for example, he/she won’t swim in the kiddie pool like the other two ducks, he/she will just sit on the outside looking in. He/She also seems to retain more water in the feathers than the other two and it sounds possibly like there is wheezing coming from the duck when laying down… it’s hard to tell which duck is making the noise but it is certainly when they are laying…I’m not certain it is a wheezing noise – as this is my first time with ducks, I wonder if this noise is normal.. is he/she ill or just adjusting? We’ve had them 2 days now.

    • Liz says:

      Wheezing noises are not normal, and if she isn’t preening herself regularly that could explain her lack of waterproofing. They have a preen oil gland at the base of their tail that they rub their bill against and then distribute the oil on their feathers. She could just be stressed out a bit and feeling out of sorts with the new surroundings. The wheezing is a little concerning though. If that continues I would recommend you get her some VetRx Poultry, it can be bought without a prescription and treats colds and respiratory issues

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