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    Guide to raising ducks

    There’s a lot to learn about how to take care of a duck, although many find them to be more low maintenance than chickens. Once you learn how to raise ducks in your backyard, homestead or on the farm you will be rewarded with loyal pals who are great at insect control, lay nutritious eggs and produce delicious meat. Plus, you’ll have hours of entertainment watching them waddle the yard and play in water! This guide for how to raise ducks shares all the basics for starting your flock, and raising ducks for eggs, meat, and family companions. 


    Raising ducks

    When deciding to raise ducks from eggs or as ducklings it’s important to start with research. From answering important questions about your plans for your ducks (eggs, meat, or both?) to preparing all the supplies for their arrival, review these basics before you dive in.

    • Choosing a type: Ducks can be raised for eggs, meat, or both. In fact, ducks will lay eggs year-round, beginning at about 5 months and continuing for 5-6 years. Ducks can live peacefully with chickens, with the biggest differences being a need for a deeper water source like a small pool or pond and niacin (B6) supplementation for strong bones. Many homesteaders choose to raise female ducks for egg laying and male ducks for meat. Also, like chickens, it’s a good idea to have a higher female to male ratio such as 3:1 to help prevent fights and injuries.
    • Choosing a breed: Most people don’t choose to raise wild mallard ducks and instead choose breeds developed from the original wild mallard breed. Pekin ducks are the most popular domestic duck breed because they are friendly, produce a lot of eggs, grow quickly for meat production purposes, and have beautiful white plumage. Rouen’s look more like wild mallards, but are twice as big, and are also a great, readily available dual-purpose duck. Khaki Campbells and Welsh Harlequins are both good layers. Muscovy’s and Runners are great pasture foragers. Muscovy’s are also devoted brooders and make fun, fascinating family pets.
    • Buying ducklings and preparing supplies: Once you have done all your research, and selected your breeds and types based on your needs, you are ready to purchase your eggs or hatchlings in the spring or summer. If you have never hatched poultry from eggs, starting with hatched ducklings may be a better choice for you. Ducks are very social creatures and need a constant companion. Many recommend starting with at least 3 in case something happens to one. You will need supplies for the brooding period before they are ready to live in a duck house/yard on their own (See Brooding Ducks for more).
    • Ongoing duck care: After about 8-9 weeks of direct care from you, your ducklings are considered adolescents, and at 18-20 weeks they are adult ducks. They will need you to: provide shelter, food, and water daily, including swimming/bathing water, offer access to exercise/outside time, collect eggs, and clean the duck house weekly. You should also be prepared with a Poultry First Aid Kit (see more below) to help care for sick or injured ducks.

    For more tips on raising ducks read our article, How to Raise Baby Ducks for Beginners.

    Domestic duck basics

    Ducks like to travel together and will develop strong bond with each other. Because of this, having a starter flock of around 3-5 is highly recommended. Domestic ducks are usually too heavy to fly and will only need their flight wings clipped if they are smaller and lighter. Domestic ducks don’t tend to be particularly broody on their own, but you may have more luck with Mallard, Rouen or Dutch Hookbill breeds. Duck eggs are 30% larger than chicken eggs, have thicker whites and yolks and higher fat and nutrient content. Still, they can be used in all the same ways as chicken eggs.

    Domestic ducks are not the same as wild ducks. Domestic birds are missing the defense systems wild ducks have, putting them at risk for harm. Do not release domestic ducklings and adult ducks into ponds.



    Raising ducks for...

    Raising ducks for eggs

    Ducks offer many of the same benefits of chickens, including laying around 100-300 delicious eggs per year depending on the breed. When fed a nutritious and wholesome diet, ducks produce rich, tasty eggs that are 30% larger than chicken eggs. Some people even prefer duck eggs over chicken eggs for baking! Start by learning more about egg-producing duck breeds and duck raising basics.

    Raising ducks for meat

    If you decide to raise ducks for meat production, you’ll have new breeds to consider, differences in raising and feeding, plus the added steps of slaughtering, processing, or butchering. Raising larger breed ducks for meat may also be a more sustainable option for small homesteaders than raising hybrid chickens. Learn more about ideal meat duck breeds and how to raise ducks.


    Brooding ducklings

    Brooding ducks requires much of the same supplies and care as brooding chickens. You can expect ducklings to grow much faster than chickens and they may also imprint or develop strong, friendly bonds with you, as their primary caregiver.

    Basic needs for brooding ducklings:

    • Brooding box: A plastic or galvanized metal tub or baby pool will be easy to keep clean and is reusable if you plan to brood more ducklings over time. It must be tall enough to keep ducklings contained and near their heat source with room for food and water.
    • Bedding: You’ll want to have 2-3 inches of litter, typically large pine shavings. This should be topped off with clean litter daily and cleaned out completely every 2-3 days to make sure your ducklings have a dry, healthy environment.
    • Brooder heat plate and lamp: You will need to provide a heat source and use a thermometer to monitor temps. Keep heaters and lamps away from flammable materials like litter. The temp under the lamp should be 90°F for the first 7 days and then gradually decrease by 5° until you get to 75°F for weeks 4-8. If using a lamp, it will start close and move further away over time.
    • Food and water: The main difference in brooding fowl like ducks and geese is providing enough water. They need water to properly swallow their food and deep enough water to at least dip their heads and clean their bills every day. Don’t give baby ducks more than ¼ inch of water in a shallow bowl to help prevent drowning. In addition to duckling feed (which includes niacin) you may also want to include grit or soil from your yard to aid digestion and some finely chopped greens from your garden.
    • Sanitizer/Cleaner: Clean the area and brooding box before introducing the ducklings. Water and food bowls should be cleaned each time you refill them. Always keep your hands clean before, during and after handling ducks and their feeders to avoid Salmonella contamination. Remove poop daily and change out litter every few days, especially if wet.
    • Security: If brooding inside the home, it’s best to keep ducks in a separate room away from pets and family, for allergy reasons and to keep baby ducks safe. Housing ducks in a garage, outbuilding or other structure may be the best choice, if you can keep them safe and warm. You can also use wire mesh, a lid or cover to keep out predators and other animals.

    Baby duck tips

    Bowls: Ducklings love to play in water and are comically messy eaters and drinkers so food and water bowls should be weighted or attached to the side of the brooder, kept separate, and cleaned daily. Plastic and metal feeders are easy to clean and come in a wide variety of styles. Having two water bowls is a good idea (one for cleaning and one for eating).

    Outdoor and pool time: You can start giving your ducklings short amounts of outside time around 3-4 weeks if temperatures are at least 10° warmer than the temp in their brooder. Ducklings should be supervised and provided with shade and access to food and water while outdoors. Your play pen will also need to be enclosed or covered enough to keep predators away and keep baby ducks from escaping. You can also start giving them supervised swim time in a shallow pool with warm water starting with 5 minutes and gradually increasing. Make sure to get them right back in the brooder after swimming to warm up and preen.

    Introduction to the duck house: Once your ducks reach 6-8 weeks old and have started to grow their adolescent feathers, they’re ready to begin their graduation to the duck house and outdoor pen and be introduced more directly to the rest of the flock. You will want to supervise this process and make it gradual with more outside time each day.



    Duck life stages

    Whether you raise your birds from eggs or adopt an adult duck you are sure to experience the wonder of watching them grow, adapt, and develop personalities. Learn about what to expect from each of the duck life stages for a Pekin duck, the most popular duck breed in America.

    Egg: Pekin duck embryos take about 28 days to develop in the egg. A female duck regularly turns the eggs, so eggs must be turned if incubating without a brooding duck. Incubated eggs are moved to a hatcher about 3 days prior to hatching. A hatcher has a slightly lower temp but higher humidity. This helps the hatchling survive before it develops protective down. Duck eggs may be easier to hatch because they tolerate fluctuations in temperature very well.

    Hatchling/Duckling: Pekin hatchlings have the classic fuzzy yellow plumage and bright orange beaks, legs, and feet that many people associate with ducklings. They require access to clean water but shouldn’t be given more than ¼ inch. They’re not quite ready to swim at this stage because their feathers aren’t developed enough to protect them in water, and they haven’t yet started to produce preen oil to waterproof their plumage. Preen oil develops around 4 weeks of age, at which time they could start enjoying a small pool.

    Juvenile/Adolescent Duck: At nine weeks, a duck is typically 70-90% grown and can be transitioned to a grower feed with about 15% protein until they reach maturity. The sex of the ducks may become more apparent around this time. Male ducks start to show a curled tail feather, called a drake feather, and have one black feather under their wings. They also don’t vocalize as loudly. Female ducks have a loud quack.

    Mature/Older Duck: Ducks reach adulthood between 18-20 weeks. Domestic ducks don’t fly, even though they may waddle, run, and flap their wings wildly. Pekin ducks are usually too heavy to get airborne, but smaller or lighter ducks may need to have flight feathers clipped. Adult Pekin ducks will lay about 200 eggs per year or about 1 per day. They aren’t particularly broody so you will likely need to incubate eggs artificially if you want to hatch them. They are friendly, love to paddle around in water, spend time in groups and roam free hunting for bugs. If not being raised for meat, heavy egg production or breeding, they can live up to 8-10 years.


    Housing ducks

    Ducks love to forage, roam, and spend time outside year-round. Even so, you will still need a secure duck house or coop where they can safely sleep and lay eggs away from bad weather, pests, and predators. Most domestic ducks are too large to maintain flight and will stick around the homestead for a good source of food, water, and shelter.

    • Duck house basics: Housing needs will vary based on type and flock size, but ducks aren’t picky. Duck houses can be made from existing buildings like dog houses, sheds, or barns, be pre-built coops or custom-made structures.
    • Bedding: Ducks don’t need roosts or nesting boxes and are perfectly happy to bed down in hay or straw and lay their eggs in the corner of the shed, house, or coop. Straw is often thought to be the best bedding for ducks as it insulates and composts well and isn’t dusty, but pine shavings can also be used. Many recommend the deep litter method, where straw is layered so the clean litter is on the top and soiled litter composts below. This creates a cleaner, healthier environment for ducks and eggs, and cuts down on smell, flies, and cleaning time.
    • Space: Ducks emit a lot of warm moisture when sleeping so the shelter should be well-ventilated and large enough for ducks to fully expand their wings and groom. A general rule of thumb is 4-6 ft. per duck. Unlike chickens, they don’t need overnight food, water, or a heat source inside their houses. It is a good idea to have a separate area for your male duck(s) to prevent fighting and injuries.
    • Outdoor area: Ducks will also need an attached pen or run, portable run or fenced area where they can have outside time while still being protected from escape and predators. Because of their thick layers of feathers and down, ducks enjoy being outdoors year-round, but will need an area in their pen that blocks wind and flying predators like hawks and eagles where they can have quiet and shelter. This could be made with nets, tarps, plywood, or landscaping.
    • Water/duck pool: A pond or pool for swimming isn’t an absolute necessity because domestic ducks are dabblers, not divers. However, they will need a water source that is at least several inches deep for dunking their heads to keep eyes and nostrils clean and clear. If you do have the space for it, your ducks will get a lot of enjoyment out of splashing about, so consider a small tub, pool, or self-cleaning pond. Water will need to be drained or dumped for cleaning every couple of days as well.

    Feeding ducks

    Ducks have similar diets to chickens and other poultry but do require specific nutrients and protein levels. Learn how to feed ducks a healthy diet that meets their needs at various stages of development.

    • When and how much to feed: Begin with starter feed with 20 percent protein for the first 2 weeks or so, phasing down to 15 percent grower feed weeks 3-18, and a 16 percent layer feed after 18 weeks. High protein diets can cause health issues in adult ducks so it’s important to switch to lower protein diets when you are able to. Drakes (male ducks) and non-egg-laying ducks require a maintenance diet that is between 12 and 14% protein. Each duck will eat about ½ cup of food per day.
    • Water: Ducks’ water is essential to eating. Water helps ducks swallow food and keeps beak vents clean. Always feed ducks with water and give ducklings access to water at least an hour before feeding. Adult domestic ducks don’t necessarily need a pond or pool, but they do need a water source deep enough to dunk their heads to keep eyes and nostrils clear.
    • Additional needs: Additional feeding needs for ducks can include oyster shells (for calcium and producing strong egg shells) and grit (for aiding digestion and added calcium) if they don’t have ready access to dirt, small stones, pebbles or sand.
    • Feeding mistakes: Ducks are messy eaters and like to play in their water so it’s best not to keep food and water in their houses to prevent contamination and attracting rodents and flies. A duck waterer that is meant to deter playing may also be a good solution for keeping pens drier and cleaner. If you do use chicken starter feed don’t use medicated feed and supplement niacin (B3). Brewer’s yeast is a good niacin supplement to ensure your ducks grow strong legs and bones.

    Tips on duck feed, feeders and treats

    Types of feed: Just like chicken feed, duck feed comes in the forms of starter/duckling feed, layer feed, grower feed and organic feed, but they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. Ducks have specific nutritional needs that duck feed addresses such as at least 2-3x more niacin (B3) for ducklings. Young fowl also don’t need medicated starter feed like many chicks do. Duck food comes in the forms of pellets and crumbles. Pellets are great for consistent, less wasteful feeding, but crumbles are preferred for ducklings because they’re easier to eat.

    Feeders: You likely won’t find poultry feeders made exclusively for ducks, but thinking about where you will keep the feeder, and how many ducks will be using it will help you choose the right one for you. Make sure it is easy to set up and clean, prevents pests (likely with a secure lid), waste and mess and is waterproof. Since ducks have larger heads than chickens a more open feeder may be appropriate. A feeder that can be hung up or placed on the ground may also offer more versatility.

    Treats: Small insects, worms, and finely chopped fruit, veggies and greens all make great treats for ducks. Ducks love to forage for bugs and garden greens and are great for insect control. Standard feed should always be given before treats.


    For a deep dive into feeding ducks, read our Duck Food Guide.


    Duck first aid

    The foundations of keeping your ducks healthy and being ready care for fowl when they are sick or hurt are prevention and preparedness.

    • Sick bay: Have a quiet sick bay where ill or injured fowl can be kept separate and safe.
    • First aid kit: Have a poultry first aid kit that is stocked with all the essentials (see below for a starter list for ducks).
    • Observation: Daily observation is important to look for subtle signs that your ducks are unwell and to identify common warning signs of disease, pests, and other issues like bumblefoot. Checking over and handling your ducks also helps get them used to humans when they need to be treated for injuries or illness.
    • Expert help: Have a poultry or avian-trained veterinarian or specialist lined up when you need additional help or prescription medications. Report sick birds to the USDA and have your state’s poultry pathology lab or extension service contact information on hand.
    • Re-introduction planning: Plan for slow re-introductions to the rest of your flock once your duck is doing better.

    Preventive care tips for ducks

    Diet: Feed a well-balanced, appropriate diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals. Ducks specifically need Niacin (B3), calcium (oyster shells), grit, and healthy snacks/treats like chopped veggies, greens and worms, slugs, or other insects they can forage for.  

    Water: Ducks need ample clean water to properly eat their food, keep themselves clean and swim and exercise. Giving ducks a source of water to bathe in is good for feathers, general hygiene, and mite prevention. 

    Health over egg production: Egg production is hard on the body and takes a lot of nutrients. Prioritizing health over heavy egg production will help your ducks live longer lives with fewer medical issues. 

    Protect duck feet: Duck flippers are very delicate, and ducks can be clumsy. Keep duck pen and house surfaces clean, and covered in soft materials like finely ground mulch, shredded leaves, and pine shavings. This will decrease the likelihood of ankle and foot injuries and infections. 

    Biosecurity/cleanliness: Keep sources of bacteria, viruses, and disease away from your birds, property, and people. Frequently wash hands, keep equipment, feeders, houses and bedding dry, clean, and disinfected. Lastly, always secure duck housing and pens against pests and predators. 

    Learn more about Poultry First Aid.

    Basic duck first aid kit

    • Oyster Shell 
    • Rooster Booster 
    • B-Complex
    • Omega 3 Fish Oil
    • Toxiban or Activated Charcoal
    • Vetricyn
    • Polysporin
    • VetWrap
    • Non-stick gauze pads
    • Liquid skin
    • Duck shoes for treating bumblefoot 
    • Tube feeders or large syringes 
    • 1-3 ml syringes 

    Common duck ailments

    Bumblefoot

    Ducks can navigate water and air very well, but they are not graceful on land. This clumsiness can lead their feet to get pretty roughed up when running around the yard. Doing regular flipper checks can help identify cuts and scrapes early before they have the chance to turn into bumblefoot (bacterial infection that creates hardened abscesses that can be life threatening). Look for round, swollen scabs or spots on the feet to identify bumblefoot and consult a vet immediately.

    Egg binding

    Egg binding is a condition that can affect ducks and other poultry were an egg gets trapped in the reproductive tract. It is potentially life-threatening if the egg cannot be released or removed and would require surgery. Once the egg has been released, it’s a good idea to get your duck to go broody so she will sit on her eggs and stop producing for a time. Supplementing with calcium is also a good idea for an egg-bound duck or ducks with soft eggshells. 



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