Deciding to raise ducks could be the best thing you ever do on your homestead. But raising ducks successfully means starting outright. In this guide, we’ll talk about everything you need to keep your ducks safe, happy, and well.
If you want to raise ducks, you will need some accommodation for them. Whichever ducks you keep, they will need some bedding. Water is key, in containers and potentially in a pond. They need water to drink but also water to clean themselves in. You’ll also need food for your ducks and food containers.
In some areas, predator protection will be required. If hatching and rearing young ducklings, you’ll need a brooder and heat source. In some areas, with short winter days, supplemental lighting for your ducks may also be a good idea.
In this article, we will look at each of these areas in a little more depth. We’ll help you determine more precisely exactly what you need to keep the ducks you want to keep in your particular location.
One of the first things to think about once you have decided why you are keeping ducks and which breed or breeds you wish to keep is where they will live. Unlike chickens, ducks will not need to be provided with a place to roost. All they need is a very simple shelter.
Ideally, a duck house should ideally be elevated slightly off the ground to keep it dry. But the ramp leading to it should not be too steep or high, or your ducks will be afraid to step on it. Nesting boxes are optional because ducks will tend to make their own nesting area inside or outside the coop.
The coop should be well ventilated, and your life will be easier if it is easy to keep clean. Entrances and exits to space should be large enough for ducks to enter two at a time – since ducks are not good for forming an orderly queue and could get stuck as they rush and jostle to get through.
The duck house itself should be large enough to provide four sq ft (0.37 sq m) of floor space per duck.
Of course, ducks will also need outside space to be happy and healthy. While you will likely provide most of their feed, they also ideally need somewhere to forage. The more space, the better, but ducks will be happy if given enough space to stretch their wings and run around. At a very minimum, you should provide 15 sq ft (1.4 sq m) per duck in an outside run.
As a general rule, stocking density should not exceed 30-50 ducks per acre. And this is based on the assumption that most of their diet will be provided by you, not by foraging. Of course, the richer and more biodiverse the environment and land, the happier and healthier your ducks will be. One thing to bear in mind is that ducks can integrate very well and be beneficial in an orchard or forest garden system.
In some areas, it will be essential to make sure that you provide fencing and take other steps to keep your ducks safe from predators. What predator protection is required will, of course, depend on which predators are present where you live.
Some dogs and cats can be an issue, so think about how your own and your neighbors’ pets could be kept away if necessary. Depending on your location, other predators that might pose a threat to ducks include raccoons, skunks, coyotes, hawks, owls, and snakes, for example.
Taller fencing can help to limit losses to birds of prey since it will be difficult for the birds to swoop directly downwards. You may decide to create a smaller fenced area where the ducks will stay most of the time, then allow them to access out of this yard area to forage zones periodically and perhaps under supervision.
In areas where burrowing predators get in under fencing, it will be important to consider building a coop with a solid floor to prevent this issue. Concrete is a common choice, though a more eco-friendly alternative to consider is limecrete.
Both in a brooder and in your main duck house or coop, bedding material is another very important consideration. Pine shavings or straw are ideal because they are comfortable and absorb some moisture – ducks generate quite a bit of moisture to this is key. The bedding, especially in a brooder but throughout duck accommodation, must be highly absorbent.
Do not use newspaper or cedar chips for ducklings. Slippy paper can damage the duckling’s legs. And cedar chips may give off harmful fumes.
It is important to clean out the bedding from brooders and coops regularly to avoid mold or fungus growing in the wet and soiled material. Unless that is, you decide to opt for a deep litter system, which essentially involves covering over manure and mess with a thick layer of carbon-rich material and allowing it to compost in place, topping it up regularly.
The deep litter system can often be a good solution, both in a duck house and in any permanent fenced run area outside. With the deep litter system, you will remove the built-up composted bedding every three months or so and using it to grow food on another part of your homestead. It can be used as a mulch around fruit trees, shrubs, or perennials, or to make new growing areas, for example, or added to a further composting system and used when well rotted in an annual vegetable plot.
Whether you opt for a deep litter system or clean out more regularly, it is important not to let ducks walk around with their feet in their mess and manure, as this can cause them problems such as ammonia burns and infections.
Water and Water Containers
Water is another vital thing you need to raise ducks. Ducks are essentially water birds, and they need water not only to drink but also to clear their bills and clean themselves. The water that you provide should be deep enough to allow your mature ducks to completely submerge their heads.
The ability to swim is not an absolute requirement, but ducks do love to splash around and will welcome the chance to spend some time on and around water. In a smaller space, it is a good idea, in addition to providing water for drinking and bill cleaning, to give them a shallow kiddie pool to splash in.
Just note that if you do not have a larger body of water, ducks pools will need to be changed daily if small and every week or so if they are larger.
In terms of drinking and cleaning water, you will need to provide each duck with around 1 liter of water per day. Remember, the water container must be deep enough for them to get their whole head under the water to clean their bill and feathers. Make sure the container is sturdy, secure, and not easily tipped over. It is very important to make sure that ducks have constant access to water and that you refresh that water on a regular basis.
Ducks obviously also need food. Most of a ducks’ diet should consist of a specialist feed – either one that you buy or one that you make up according to a recipe designed to meet ducks’ specific nutritional needs. The protein content is important, and the amount required will depend on the breed you are keeping and their stage of growth.
Most homesteaders will buy in this feed. But if you want to be entirely self-sufficient, then, of course, you will have to consider how much land will be required to grow the food for the number of ducks you wish to keep. Starting a ‘duck garden’ to provide some or all of your ducks’ food can be a cost-saving and eco-friendly choice. Just remember to factor that in when deciding how much land you need to raise ducks.
Ducks need a varied diet to be healthy. And whether you buy or make the main feed, you should also be sure to allow ducks to forage for an additional component of their diet and supplement with scraps from your vegetable garden, etc.
A mature duck will typically eat between 6 and 7 oz (170 and 200g) of feed per day, more for meat birds and particularly large breeds. Though needs can differ, and this is just a rough rule of thumb. I described in this article what to feed ducks in more detail.
Of course, you will also need containers in which to provide the main feed to your ducks. As with water containers, these should be sturdy and not easy to knock over – ducks can often be clumsy and ungainly creatures.
It is a good idea to make sure that the food container is not too close to the water provision, so it does not get wet and messy. In a brooder, food and drink should be provided in shallower, smaller containers and should be placed at the end of the brooder furthest from the heat source.
For Ducklings: Brooder
If you are rearing ducklings rather than mature birds, then you will, of course, need to think about their requirements early in their lives. Ducklings are remarkably hardy, but you do need to take good care of them to prevent any accidents and to make sure they grow up healthy and strong.
A brooder is a confined space, safe from predators and dangers. It is important to make sure that space is ventilated, and it should ideally have natural daylight. It should confine the ducklings but not make it likely that they will scramble and hurt themselves trying to get out. Make sure they have enough space to move around and flap their wings. In a few weeks or months (depending on the breed), the ducklings will be ready to move to their permanent accommodation.
For Ducklings: Heat Source
When ducklings are raised in colder conditions, a heat lamp of some kind is often required in the brooder to keep the babies safe and warm. A heat lamp or brooder heating plates will help ducks to grow faster. Typically, ducklings will sleep by the heater while their metabolisms are low and will go there to dry off if they get wet while drinking.
It is important to do your research and choose the right heat source for your brooder. It is also essential to make sure that this heat source is safe and well secured.
Optional – Supplemental Lighting
One final thing to consider is that ducks will generally stop laying completely over the winter months in temperate climates. If you are keeping layers in more northerly climes, supplemental lighting in the winter months may make things easier for you on short winter days. And may increase your yields of eggs.
Supplemental lighting is not a necessity, but it could be something to consider, especially if you live in an area that has few daylight hours over a long winter. For cost and environmental reasons, it is a good idea to consider using renewable energy. And you should make sure that any lights you choose to install are as energy-efficient as possible.
Optional – A Pond
Many people imagine that a duck pond is essential. But if you want to raise ducks, you do not necessarily have to have a permanent pond. However, ducks will thrive and truly revel in access to water, so including a duck pond in your homestead plans can be a great idea.
A small backyard duck keeper may depend on the space available, be able to create a pond large enough for five birds or so. But creating a pond large enough for 30-50 birds would, of course, be a much, much bigger project. Just remember that fish and ducks don’t mix – so don’t try to introduce ducks to an ornamental koi pond, or you’ll just end up with a mess!
Making a duck pond with moving water is a good idea – so consider creating a solar-powered water feature if you do not have flowing water on your property. Create a wetland filter to make a natural filtration system to deal with excess nitrates from duck manure. Vegetation is key to maintaining the pond system.
A duck pond does not need to be deep – around 18-24 inches (45.7 – 60.1cm) should suffice. And there should be a shallow beach to one side. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to provide, at a bare minimum, 6-9 sq ft (0.55-0.84 sq m) of pond area per bird. But the bigger the pond, the better, and the easier it will be for the system to self-regulate. Container ponds without a filter or vegetation must be emptied and refilled daily or on a regular basis. Natural duck ponds are therefore much lower maintenance long term.
Remember, a duck pond could be integrated with other systems and water management schemes on your homestead. So it can be a good idea to think holistically. Remember, a pond could also be integrated with irrigation plans, used for growing areas in your garden. And it could also be a key component in wildfire safety plans.
Knowledge of Ducks
It is also worthwhile mentioning intangible things you need. You do not need to know everything about ducks in order to be able to raise them. But a little knowledge of ducks will certainly help.
Book learning is one thing. But the best way to familiarise yourself with the basics is to speak or correspond with people who have actually kept ducks before. A few words of real, practical, real-world knowledge and sage advice can make all the difference. If you have a question, there is surely someone who has been there and done that before and found workarounds for common issues and problems.
The good news is that when it comes to livestock, ducks are one of the easiest animals to rear. Even if you are new to keeping animals on your homestead, ducks can be a pretty good option for beginners. While many new homesteaders keep chickens first, ducks are not that much more difficult, and in some ways, can even be easier to raise.
Reasons to Keep Ducks
To Raise Ducks Successfully, You Need To Know Your Reason For Rearing Them
It is worthwhile taking a moment to talk about why you should consider keeping ducks in the first place. Since your reasons for keeping ducks will have a bearing in exactly how you will keep them and what exactly you will need.
Some people will keep ducks for eggs. Others will keep them for meat. You may even primarily keep ducks for pest control. Ducks are fantastic at eating slugs and a number of other pests that you might encounter on your homestead. Integrating them into a forest garden or other food-producing area can be of great benefit to the system as a whole. Of course, like other livestock, ducks will also contribute their manure to maintaining the fertility of the ecosystem.
Those who keep layers will find that their needs differ somewhat from the needs of broiler birds. So it is a good idea to set clear goals from the outset. So you know exactly what you want to achieve and what your ducks will do for you.
Of course, to raise ducks and to prepare for your new livestock correctly, you need to know which ducks to choose. The breed you choose will depend on your primary goal or goals. And will dictate exactly what they need.
Good layers and meat birds include:
- Buff Orpingtons
- Khaki Campbell
- Indian Runner
Though there are many different dual-purpose, layer, and meat ducks to choose from, some ducks are, of course, larger than others. And different breeds can have slightly different needs. So it is important to decide which ducks you are getting before you start thinking about what exactly you need to raise ducks on your property.
Of course, there are still other things to consider. For example, you need to think about whether you will need any veterinary care if your ducks get sick. And whether you will have to pay for any medications should things do wrong.
You also need to think about any costs that might in incurred if you send birds for slaughter rather than dispatching and dealing with meat birds yourself. So if you plan on eating meat from your ducks, you need to think about whether you are willing to do it all yourself or need to outsource this job.
There may not be a huge financial outlay involved in keeping ducks, especially if you take a DIY approach and construct things like the duck house and any fencing that is required yourself. And especially if you make some or all of your own duck feed. But it is still likely that you will need some money to keep ducks. So your budget is also something to consider. Make sure you work out how much money will be needed to get started and to provide your ducks with everything they need over time.
Raising ducks is certainly not rocket science. In fact, it is something that even kids can be heavily involved with on your homestead. But make sure you start small, build from the basics, and progress from there. If you do so, you should be able to enjoy sharing your space with quacking friends for years to come. And enjoy the many benefits that ducks will bring to your homestead.