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Ten Things you Need to Know about Raising Ducks

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Here are ten things you need to know before you start raising backyard ducks.

Every spring it seems that there are lots of new duck owners. Whether it's just the season, or the result of impulsive Easter purchases, I tend to field a lot of questions from whose raising ducks for the first time.

Many of those asking questions already raise chickens. For some, these ducks are their first foray into backyard poultry.

Although ducks and chickens can share a coop and run and co-exist quite nicely, there are some things you should know about raising ducks before you get your first little fuzzy quacking balls of fun.

Ten Things you Need to know about Raising Ducks

1.  Ducks need a water source deep enough to submerge their heads into. 

Typical chick waterers aren't deep enough for ducklings. To keep their nostrils and eyes clean, they need to be able to dunk their entire head into the water. 

Successively deeper water containers, such as plastic take-out containers or Tupperware containers work well for growing ducklings. 

Adult ducks need a water tub 4-6" deep for good health. Gravity and nipple waterers don't work for ducks. 

They'll empty them in a heartbeat and then happily play in the mud puddle underneath!

2.  Swim time should be short and supervised when they're young

Ducklings that don't hatch under a mother duck (i.e. any you buy from your feed store or an online hatchery or breeder) aren't waterproof until they are about a month old. 

That won't stop them from sitting in anything filled with water that they can, though.

But that means that they can easily drown or get chilled, so swims should be short and supervised. 

Swimming is good for their leg muscles and helps to teach them to preen and get their oil glands working however, so providing ducklings a shallow dish (a paint tray works really well) to paddle around in is beneficial. 

But sinks, bathtubs, kiddie pools and deeper tubs should be reserved until they're at least four weeks old. 

3. Ducks don't need a pond 

Adult ducks can have unsupervised access to a kiddie pool or small pond, although be aware that many ponds have snapping turtles in them that will harm the ducks, and since domestic ducks can't fly, they're vulnerable even on the water to hawks and eagles as well as fox and dogs.  

When we were looking for a property here in Maine, I actually didn't want one with a pond on it. 

Much as the ducks would have loved it, I worried I wouldn't be able to get them off it at dusk, thereby leaving them vulnerable to predators overnight. 

My ducks get to splash around in a kiddie pool almost every day in the warm weather, and that keeps them happy enough.

4. Ducklings should only be fed un-medicated feed

Ducklings aren't too susceptible to Marek's or coccidiosis or many of the other pathogens that chickens can get. They can be started on chick feed, but only the non-medicated formula. 

They should only be fed chick starter for the first two weeks, then switched to a grower feed with lower protein in it (around 15-16%) from week three to around laying age (18-22 weeks or so) when they can be switched to regular chicken layer feed.

Watch out for the multi-flock feeds. Many are formulated for meat birds, not layers or pets and have way too much protein (20%+) for growing ducklings. 

Too much protein can lead to fast growth and leg issues.  I like to add some rolled oats into my ducks' feed to cut the protein levels even more.

5. Ducks need a brewers yeast supplement

Although ducklings can be fed chick starter feed if you can't find waterfowl feed, it should only be the UN-medicated kind and needs to be supplemented with niacin. 

Ducklings need more Vitamin B3 than chicks do, so adding a brewers yeast supplement is commonly recommended.

In fact, since niacin is water-soluble and doesn't build up in the body, ducks really need the supplement for life in order to keep their bones and legs strong.

6. Feed outside and always provide water as well

Ducks make a big water mess around their water tub. They go back and forth from the feed to the water, wetting the feed in their mouth with the water to help them swallow it. 

It's very important that you always provide ducklings especially with plenty of water whenever they have access to feed, because they can easily choke. 

I give my ducklings both feed and water 24/7, but once they are adult and living outside they get feed and water outside - always outside- it makes too much mess inside their house. 

And only during the day. 

7. Domestic ducks can't fly

Since domestic ducks can't fly and are really awkward on the ground, they are even more vulnerable to predators than chickens are. 

They really need to be confined in a secure pen during the day, and locked into a coop or locked structure at night. 

Free ranging should only be allowed if you can supervise them or if they have a dedicated guard animal protecting them.

8. Male ducks don't quack

Although it is possible to vent sex ducklings at hatch (there's a great tutorial on the Metzer Farms site), generally the first sign that you have girl ducklings is hearing them quack.

Male ducks don't quack. They make a soft raspy sound instead. And a male duck will grow a curly tail feather. Some breeds can be sexed at hatch by their color.

Obviously later on, the females will start to lay eggs, and in some breeds, the head and wing feathers will be more colorfully feathered in males than females, and male ducks often have larger heads.

9.  Males can be very aggressive maters

Male ducks, especially when they're young, can be pretty aggressive with the females. It's important to have enough females if you have a drake (a ratio of at least five females to one male is good).

And be sure to keep an eye on them during spring mating season and be ready to separate them if you see signs of the females being over-mated (broken or missing feathers on the back, wings or back of head, bubbling eyes, limping, etc.)

Usually as the male ages, he should settle down, and providing a kiddie pool is beneficial. 

Ducks traditionally mate in water to relieve the stress off the female's legs (and also in the case of wild ducks, provide a measure of protection from predators).

10. Ducks don't use nesting boxes or roosting bars.

These low-maintenance quackers will be perfectly happy bedding down in the straw on the floor of a chicken coop or shed or other secure structure and then will make their own nest in a corner to lay their eggs in.

It's really easy to convert an existing shelter to a duck house, as long as there's plenty of ventilation and wily predators can't get in.

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Further Reading:
Raising Ducklings
All About Duck Eggs
Duck Care Guide
Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy Healthy Ducks Naturally 

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