Posted by Jennifer Sartell, Professional Homesteader & Blogger, Fri, Aug 31, 2018
There are few things in this world cuter than baby ducklings. Over the years I’ve raised many breeds of duck, and as a whole they are a pleasure to have on the homestead.
Ducks are gentle birds, which makes them great for children to raise. You don’t have to worry about fingers getting pecked or crazy roosters rearing up after your little ones. When you hand-feed a duck, it scoops up the food with its smooth bill ever so sweetly. Ducks will also imprint on people. Imprinting is when a bird assumes you are their mother. They will follow you everywhere and remain loyal for life if interaction is continued.
Social Personalities and Male/Female Balance
Ducks are social birds, so they appreciate having at least one other duck in their flock.
Ducks are almost impossible to sex as ducklings, so you may have to wait until they are feathered out before you know if you have males or females.
For breeds such as Mallards, you can tell the males from the females depending on the feather pattern and coloration. But in some breeds, like Pekins or Khaki Campbells, sexing can be a little more questionable.
Drakes (male) will, in some breeds, develop a curled feather above their tail. The drake will also have a softer, more whispery quack.
Hens (female) will have a louder quack and no curled tail.
More often than not, males and females will pair off if you have a balanced flock. Occasionally you will get an overzealous drake that will try to mate with all the hens. Drakes like this can be relentless and even drown a hen in deep water while trying to mate.
Flocks also do well with several females to one male.
Ducks can be fed an all-around flock raiser, and they also do well on chicken layer.
Some breeds, such as Pekins, tend to become overweight easily, so it’s best to feed them a specified amount twice a day like a dog. ? cup per bird (depending on the breed) should do well.
Ducklings should not be fed a medicated feed meant for chicks.
Ah, water and ducks. The big difference between raising chickens and ducks is the amount of water that ducks require to be happy and healthy.
Ducks can be raised without a body of water, but they will be MUCH happier and cleaner/healthier if you give them something to splash around in. At the very minimum they will need a kiddie pool. Make sure that the ducks are able to step in and out of the pool easily. You may have to stack some patio stones depending on the size.
The pool will need to be emptied once a day to keep it clean and keep odors away. So, factor in several gallons of water being poured into your yard area when designing the coop/run.
If you plan to introduce your ducks to a natural body of water, caution should be taken to not overpopulate the area. Duck droppings can disrupt the bacteria balance in stagnant water especially. If you have any questions, contact your local county extension.
Depending on how your coop is designed, ducks may also need a waterer along with the pool. Ducks need water in order to swallow their food, so a water source should be located in close proximity to the feeder. The waterer must be designed so that the ducks can submerge their nostrils. They must also be able to scoop the water with their bill. Drip systems are not the best for ducks.
Keeping a Duck Pen Clean
I’m not going to lie… ducks are messy! EVERYTHING gets wet. It’s just the nature of ducks. They will track water to and from the water pan to the feed pan until you can’t tell the difference. When designing your duck coop, linoleum works well in making the floor water resistant. We also use a pelleted compressed pine bedding meant for horse stalls. It expands when wet and is super absorbent. Allow for drainage and be willing to clean and refresh bedding often.
Eggs and Nesting
Most duck breeds are ground layers. They will appreciate a covered, floor-level nesting box in which to lay their eggs. Bedding should be replaced often, as ducks have wet feet and tend to soil their eggs quickly.
Ducks have little defense against attacks by predators. They are slow, most farm breeds can’t fly, and their bodies lack the talons and sharp beak that chickens have. So, a coop must be secure.
If you plan to free-range your ducks, think about adding a couple of geese to your flock. Our geese protected our ducks wonderfully! And they get along very well.
Ducks Must Be Trained to Come Home at Night
Unlike chickens, ducks can see in the dark. So, they will not have that same homing instinct that your chickens might have to return to the coop each night. When I first raised ducks, their instinct was to sleep in our pond. Every night it was a struggle to try and get the ducks out of the water and into their coop.
At a very early age, teach them to come in at night for their dinner. Ducks are smart, and will come when called if they know they will get food. Again, that’s why it’s best to feed them twice a day rather than offer free-choice feeding.
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