Many years ago I asked my husband to stop and get chicken feed on the way home from work. He came home with a feed bag over his shoulder and a little box in his hand. The kids, who know the look of an chick box when they see one, came running. But on this day it wasn’t chicks in the box, instead inside were 2 little ducklings- the ultimate impulse buy!
Those 2 ducklings, Jill and Bill, taught us a lot. Like how ducks love each other- it was heartbreaking when Bill got sick and Jill refused to leave his side. When he passed she was frantic. But after a brief depression, she decided to turn her back on being a duck and became a chicken instead. Even to this day, old Jill spends her life in the chicken coop. Following the rooster around and completely ignoring the other ducks outside her fence.
Ducks are a wonderful addition to any homestead. I think I might actually prefer them over chickens. So how exactly do you raise ducks? And how does raising ducks differ from raising chickens? Let’s talk about that.
How to Get Started Raising Ducks
The easiest way to get started is to head to your local feed store in the spring and purchase yourself a few ducklings- at least 2, just like most animals ducklings do not like to be alone! Most of the time ducklings will be sold straight run- meaning they are unsexed and you won’t know if you are getting a drake (boy) or hen (girl). You can also purchase ducklings from an online hatchery or a local farmer.
Wait, let me back up a minute. Before you get your ducks, you should probably decided on a breed and know what your goal is.
Are you raising ducks for meat? You probably want a Pekin.
Raising ducks for eggs? I whole heartily recommend the Khaki Campbell. Remember Jill? She laid an egg a day for over 2 years and then continued to lay less often for a few more years after that. Seriously she was a machine.
Just want a duck for a pet? Get which ever ducklings you find cutest!
Okay, back to bringing home your new ducklings. If you have ever raised day-old chicks, raising ducklings is much the same, with a few exceptions. You need to have a nice brooder area for your ducklings.
- A heat source. Most commonly a heat lamp with red bulb. Like chicks, they need about 90-95 degrees at the start and then reduce the temperature 5 degrees until they are feathered out and the brooder temp is the same as the room temperature.
- Bedding- we use pine shavings for the chicks, but I recommend a pelleted bedding for ducklings since they are SO messy
- Food- a good chick food crumble will suffice. We use a product called Super Breeder for our little ones and it is good for all ages of poultry. Make sure your feed is unmedicated.
- Water– NOT an open pan. Ducks drink a lot. So the quart sized mason jar waterers aren’t usually enough. Go for at least a gallon.
Play with and handle your ducks often so they aren’t scared of you. Ours absolutely love mealworms for a treat and came running when they saw the red bag. Red is still their favorite color!
I sense you might have some questions, let’s pause for a little FAQ:
Frequently Asked Questions About Raising Ducklings
Can you raise ducklings and chicks together?
No. While you can raise ducks and chickens together, I would not recommend keeping the babies together. Ducks are very messy and will get the bedding of your brooder pretty wet. These conditions could cause a chick to get too chilled and potentially die. Ducklings also grow faster than chicks and can trample them as they grow.
Just how messy are ducklings?
In short, Very. Ducks like to rake their beaks through their bedding and their water. They will get their water everywhere- on themselves, on their food, on their bedding. This is why I recommend a pelleted bedding. We use a compressed wood bedding that is very absorbent and will more than triple in size when it gets wet. This keep the brooder drier longer. We also set their water on top of a wire covered bowl. This way most of the spilled water goes down into the bowl and not in the bedding.
Ducks are water birds, right? Can I give them a bath or a pool to play in?
It’s true that ducks love water, but these are domesticated ducks. In the wild the mother duck will provide the oil for her ducklings. Incubator hatched ducklings do not have this oil covering and their own oil glands will not be fully working until they are older. Once they are about 5-6 weeks old you can let them play in the water a little- we let them play in our bathtub with warm shallow water- and place to climb out of the water, while we cleaned out the brooder. If it’s very warm outside you can let them play outside supervised for a bit too.
Related Reading: What Do Feed Your Backyard Ducks
Caring for Your Growing Ducks
Once your ducks have outgrown the brooder and are fully feathered, they are ready to move to their coop. Like, chickens ducks need a safe place and shelter from wind and rain. Once they are large enough, they can share the chicken coop if you like, but since they will always be messy you might want to separate duck house for them. Make sure your duck house is secure from predators at night.
Ducks love to free range. They are great hunters and will search out all sorts of worms, grubs, pests, and even mosquito larva. The more grass and bugs they have access too the less feed they will consume (and give you healthier eggs!). Plus the more room they have to roam, the less muddy their run will be.
Proper nutrition is a must for ducks. A good laying pellet (not crumble) works well for ducks. You may need to give them supplemental Niacin, this is as easy as sprinkling nutritional yeast on their food. You can learn more on my post about What to Feed Ducks.
Raising ducks really doesn’t take much. Food. Water. Shelter. The biggest things to remember when raising ducks has to do with water.
- Drinking water must be available at all times. Ducks cannot swallow their food without water so they need it close by especially at feeding times.
- Ducks need to be able to fully submerge their heads in water. This keeps them healthy, their nostrils clear and their mucous membranes moist.
- Ducks will find water. This includes your kids’ wading pool, your goat’s water trough, and your chickens drinking water. They make it a tad difficult to keep any water sparkling clean!
Do you want a comprehensive look at raising ducks AND learn how to raise them for a PROFIT? Check out Duck Dough: The Complete Guide to Raising Ducks for Profit and turn your love for ducks into dollars!
The most asked question I get about raising ducks: Do ducks NEED a pond?
The answer is no. They don’t need a pond. All they must have is water deep enough to submerge their head in. That said, they will thank you if you give them water to play in. We have a few larger tubs for our ducks and have used a kids’ plastic wading pool in the past. They LOVE the water and it is pretty entertaining to watch them!
As your ducks grow, you will start to see- and hear- a few changes. After about 10 weeks you might be able to tell if you are raising drakes or hens. Here are a few tips on how to tell the difference:
- Hens are LOUD! They have a loud, almost laughing quack.
- Drakes have more of a hiss, no loud cock-a-doodle-do here!
- Drakes will get a small curl on the back of their tail
- In some breeds, beak and leg color can tell you the sex.
- Drakes tend to have darker heads or more color than females
Want to see ducks in action? Check out this Facebook video of my daughter feeding her ducks!
Raising Ducks for Eggs
Your hens will start laying eggs at about 20 weeks of age. Like many other poultry, proper nutrition, low stress, and light can affect a duck’s laying.
Ducks do not need nest boxes and often prefer to make their own nest in dark corner of their house or in under brush in the yard. We use straw in our duck house since it makes for a nice egg nest.
Ducks tend to lay in the early morning. We keep our ducks locked in their run until about 10 am every day, that way we don’t have to go on an egg hunt all over the property to find eggs. Many egg production breeds will lay an egg a day provided they are getting about 17 hours of light (either natural or supplemental).
We love our duck eggs! They are rich and have more protein than chicken eggs!
-> Want to know more about duck eggs? Read Duck Eggs vs Chicken Eggs: What’s the Difference
I think that about covers it. If you raise chickens, you will have no problem adding in ducks. And they are so much fun to watch and play with! Do you have a question I didn’t cover? Post it in the comments!