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Beginner’s Guide to Raising Ducks

Many people don’t consider ducks when they decide to raise backyard poultry. Their experience with them is limited, so they don’t realize how personable and healthy they can be.

Ducks can best be described as comical as they waddle around the yard, eating bugs out of the mud. One of their favorite snacks is mosquito larvae, which can significantly decrease your mosquito population.

Ducks are known for being prolific egg layers, laying an extra large egg a day through most of the year. Duck eggs are highly prized by bakers, but are also a popular eating egg.

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Read: Raising Ducks for Eggs

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Raising ducks is a beneficial and rewarding experience. Not only are they healthier than chickens, but they tend to be better layers than many breeds. They may just be the ideal poultry for beginning homesteaders.

Large duck breeds such as Pekins rival chickens for meat production, usually being ready for harvest at 8 to 10 weeks of age. Their meat is comparable to roast beef, making them one of the more flavorful birds to raise for meat.

Ducks are also known for being very hardy birds. They are not prone to many diseases that afflict chickens and tend to live much longer lives than most chicken breeds.

The most common complaint you hear when you ask about raising ducks is that they are messy. While they can certainly make use of a good mud hole, a little management and pre-planning will ensure your ducks enjoy a dry pen and you can continue to enjoy green grass.

Before getting ducks, it’s important to understand the best ways to house, feed and care for your ducks. Doing your research ahead of time will help eliminate a lot of the trial and error you experience.  

It’s been years now since we got our ducklings, and I couldn’t imagine our little farm without them. They require certain allowances, but they have turned out to be extremely easy animals to raise. You’ll find that some farmers have given up their chickens in favor of ducks.  

Before you run out to buy your own baby ducks, here are some basic considerations all new duck owners should know.

Domestic Ducks are NOT Good Swimmers

While wild ducks are known for their swimming abilities, their domestic cousins are not. Yes, they can swim; however, they are heavier and not as agile as wild ducks, which puts them at a disadvantage to predators in the water.  

Many domestic duck breeds are flightless, which also puts them at a disadvantage to predators.  Care should be taken if you live near a body of water to protect your ducks from predators in and near the water. Ducks should have at least one area that is sloped to easily get in and out of the water. They should have shelter nearby, and should be locked in a predator-proof duck house at night.

Here in Florida, our most common problems around water are alligators and raccoons. If you have alligators in your water, I recommend fencing the ducks off from the water since there really is no way to protect them. Raccoons typically only present a threat at night, so ensuring your ducks are locked up at night is crucial.

Ducklings can actually drown very easily when they are first hatched. Again, they are not wild ducklings and are not born with the same waterproofing and endurance as wild ducklings. Their down can become waterlogged and actually pull them under the water. They can also tire quickly and stop paddling, which will cause them to sink.  

Ducklings should not be allowed in water deeper than they can stand up in. Short, supervised swim time in the bathtub or sink is ok. I typically give my ducklings a dog bowl of water in their brooder so they can play.

Ducklings and Niacin

Niacin is a very important nutrient for all ducks, but especially ducklings. Niacin deficiency can result in lethargic behavior, trouble walking, and even death. Adult ducks can usually fill their nutritional needs by foraging, but ducklings living in a brooder do not have those green leaves and bugs available to them.  

If you can find a food specifically designed for ducks, it should have the proper amount of niacin in it.  I’ve found that many feed store employees are not even aware that ducklings have different nutritional needs than chicks and often recommend chick starter for both.  

If chick starter is all that is available to you, then you’ll need to add a niacin supplement to their diets. I add brewer’s yeast because it’s a great source of B vitamins (including niacin) and is cheap and easy to acquire. I just sprinkle a little bit over their food every day.

Ducks Cannot Climb

Ducks are not designed for climbing, which means housing, food, and water need to be kept low to the ground. If ramps are necessary, make sure it’s a very gradual slope with lots of traction so their webbed feet don’t slip.  

For housing, we’ve found that a coop just a few inches off the ground works best.  

They also need a pool with short sides. We’ve found that a plastic concrete mixing pan works very well and lasts longer than a kiddie pool. We tried using a low Rubbermaid water trough because it’s only a couple inches taller than the concrete pan, but they wouldn’t use it. The concrete pan has sloped sides and is easy for them to get in and out of.

For food, we use black rubber dishes.

Ducks Need Water

You’d think that it would be a given that ducks need water, but I never realized just how much.  First of all, your typical chicken waterers will not work. They need a water source deep enough to dip their whole heads in.  

Ducks use the water to clean their eyes, nostrils and bills. Ducks can develop eye infections without the ability to wash debris out of their eyes. It also helps them eat. You’ve never seen messy until you’ve watched a duck take a bite of food, dunk their bill full of food in water, then go back for another bite.  

As a result, they go through a lot of water. However, without it, ducks can become dehydrated and dehydration can look a lot like vitamin deficiency.  

You’ll also need to know how to keep their duck pool clean. Dump and rinse all water sources daily. You should also scrub them out with bleach water at least monthly to kill algae and bacteria that will build up on the surface.

Learn More: Backyard Duck Pond Ideas

Ducks are Messy

Ducks do not do well in small spaces. Besides needing plenty of space to properly forage, they can easily turn a small pen into a mud pit.  

They do a lot of splashing when swimming, so don’t be surprised if half of the water from the pool ends up on the ground around it.  

Their poop is also very watery, which adds to the ground saturation. Bedding may only be a short term solution. Mulch, straw and shavings will prevent the ground from drying out and make for a very smelly mess. If used, bedding will need to be raked up and replaced regularly.

Of course, free ranging solves most of the issues with small spaces, but it isn’t completely problem free.  

Ducks have hard bumps on their bills that allow them to dig in the mud for bugs. If they find a wet or muddy spot that they like, the ducks will dig in the soft mud to find food. This action can create a small mud puddle.

Fence ducks out of any areas where you do not want them digging. If you have a large enough run, you can also regulate them to only free ranging during certains days or times.

When you do allow them to graze, ducks will help keep your yard and garden free of mosquitoes, snails, slugs, and grubs.

Learn More: Natural Pest Control for Gardens with Ducks

You will still need a secure pen and house where they can be protected from predators at night. Focus on a solid house with hardware cloth over any ventilation openings. Avoid any openings large enough for a racoon to reach through (approximately 1” or larger).

Raising ducks can be an enjoyable solution for the homestead. Their needs are fairly simple and the rewards are numerous. They are friendly pets, economical eaters and many breeds can be used for both eggs and meat. They are also beautiful and relatively free of disease.  

So, next time you see a few cute, fuzzy ducklings available for sale, consider adding them to your backyard flock. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get attached.

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Gay

Saturday 6th of February 2021

Thank you for the great tips for beginners! We recently bought 10 acres which includes a large pond (about 1 1/2 acres). There are existing coops. We are considering ducks, but there is also an in ground pool. Do you have any suggestions for keeping the ducks out of the pool without fencing it? Will the pond be more attractive to them with the weeds and bugs? The pond is alongside the house, pool and coops, so keeping them on the opposite side of the property isn't an option. We want to free range as much as possible for bug control. We are considering Muskovies as first choice, Welsh Harlequin or Saxony as second choices. Thank you for your insights!

Bonnie

Wednesday 10th of February 2021

Honestly, the pool might be more attractive because predators tend to hang around natural ponds. I think your best bet is going to be either fencing them away from the pool or creating an enclosure for them.

Maryellen

Sunday 2nd of February 2020

I'm wondering where to find recipes for preparing Pekins? I attempted to google it and all I got was Peking Duck. If the meat is like roast beef, does that mean it can't be cooked like chicken? Does it TASTE like roast beef? I'm tempted to give it a chance, but Pekins are literally my favorite duck ever, so I don't want to butcher one if I don't know what I'm doing with it. Thank you!

Bonnie

Friday 7th of February 2020

There are a few ways to eat duck. I usually roast mine slowly for a few hours. You can turn it every hour and prick the skin so the fat renders off of the bird. It makes a crispy skin and the meat doesn't end up greasy. This is a good example: https://juliasalbum.com/how-to-cook-duck/

I also like seared duck breast. I sear the skin side in a cast iron skillet, then finish it in the oven.

There are also some recipes for cured and smoked duck meat in the charcuterie book I own, but I haven't tried them yet.

The meat is definitely more rich than chicken. Roast beef is probably the closest comparison. The fat is like butter and is great for sauteing vegetables or flavoring popcorn and roasted potatoes.

James Brady

Friday 26th of April 2019

Do u think a 30x25 open area with a pond big enough space

Bonnie

Tuesday 30th of April 2019

How many ducks? How big is the pond?

Daniella

Wednesday 4th of July 2018

I have 6 pekin ducks. I have a 20ft by 20ft pen they live in, they are not free range. They have a large house and the pen is completely covered with chicken wire. Do I need to lock them in their house at night, or will they be okay just locked in their pen? If I do lock them in their house, do they need food and water and how do I keep that from becoming a mess? Looking for my ducks to be happy and healthy. Thanks!

Bonnie

Thursday 5th of July 2018

It's probably best to go ahead and lock them up at night. Birds often like to sleep against the wire at night, and predators can actually reach in and kill them through the wire. Also, chicken wire isn't the strongest fencing in the world. Many predators can break right through it if they're motivated enough. I wouldn't put their food and water inside the coop though. It will make a mess and attract mice and rats. They'll be ok overnight. Just give them food and water when you let them out in the morning.

Joan Espenshade

Tuesday 18th of July 2017

I have four ducks and recently they have wondered and are now crossing the road in our area. We do have a pond for them but they seem to be more content to wonder off and our neighbors have seen them at their house and also crossing over the road to the other neighbors. This is a major road and I am so afraid that they will get killed. How can I keep them from wondering without penning them up? They have always been free to wonder around our property before. We now have them penned up in our barn and feel bad for them so they were free to roam before.

Bonnie

Wednesday 19th of July 2017

That's tough. Unfortunately, I can't think of any good way without some kind of fence. We also have large livestock, so the parimeter of our property is fenced, in addition to cross fences for paddocks. What kind of ducks are they? How much space do they have? Mine have a smaller pen that they're penned in at least overnight. They don't tend to wander far when I let them out. In fact, I wish I could get them to go over to my garden so they could take care of the slugs and mosquitoes. You could try penning them in the barn overnight, then start letting them back out to range during the day. Feed them in the barn at night. Unfortunately, it's going to be difficult to break since they've already started wandering.