Why Keep Ducks
Ducks provide a multitude of services to the backyard keeper. Ducks provide not only meat and eggs, but control pesky bugs, slugs, snails, and the occasional mouse. Not all ducks fly and not all breeds are loud. Ducks provide a self reliant household with many good returns.
Keeping a rooster in the city is often not possible because of noise. A drake, or mae duck, is not overly noisy and does not sit on the fence and crow like a rooster will. This will allow you to keep your own self sustaining flock when living in the city or near neighbors.
At this time there is a movement toward locally raised food. Maintaining a flock of ducks right in your backyard can’t get much more local. There are those that choose to keep their ducks inside wearing diapers, but that is not the scope of this writing.
Feeding Your Ducks
The easiest and most balanced way to feed your ducks is to provide commercial pellets. Egg laying pellets provide the right amount of nutrients for egg laying birds. If your ducks don’t have a balanced diet with the proper nutrition then they may not lay as well or grow as fast as they could.
Make sure you do not feed them medicated feed. Most readily available medicated feed is for chick starter, however ducklings cannot tolerate the same amount of medication as chickens. Feeding medicated chick starter to ducklings can cause fatalities.
Ducks, like chickens, or any other egg layer needs calcium to make up the shell of the eggs. A free choice container should be set up with oyster shell if you do not regularly add it to the feed. Some feeds contain calcium and this isn’t necessary. Having a free choice of calcium in the form of crushed oyster shell is always a good idea however.
Ducks do not have teeth to chew their food. Ducks, like other birds, utilize a crop to grind their food. Rocks and grit are eaten and enter the crop. When food enters the crop it is ground up by the rocks and the digestion begins. Without proper grit to process their food they may not uptake the needed nutrition from their feed. Free choice of grit is always a good idea. These free choice grit and oyster shell should be always available in a small feeder readily available to them.
Ducks will eat out of the same types of feeders chickens will eat out of. Ducks have a larger bill so the feeders must allow the ducks to get their bills in to get food. A flat dish or bowl will also work. Ducks will waste less food if the dish is deeper than a couple inches and if they are fed pellets.
Watering Your Ducks
Ducks will drink out of the same types of waterers that chickens or turkeys will use. Like the feeders, though, their bills are larger and must clear the openings. Ducks will drink out of nipple waterers like most other birds will.
They will also drink out of crocks which should be heavy enough to avoid tipping over easily. Crocks and open waterers should be set upon a wood frame with a wire mesh floor or wood slat floor to avoid being messy. Ducks are messy with water and a platform to keep them off the water will help keep the run, yard, or cage clean.
When most people think duck, they think pond. While most ducks do like ponds they don’t need a pond necessarily. You don’t have to provide your ducks with water to swim in at all. Some ducks like water more than others however. Indian Runner ducks don’t particularly like swimming. In many cases having access to a tub of water to wash their feet and bills will be enough. Again if this water is on a raised platform it will help keep the ducks cleaner and minimize the mess.
Providing swimming water is a big mess and cleaning water with droppings in it is usually a smelly ordeal. Offering swimming water a time or two a week might be a better option for some people.
Ducks under 5 weeks of age should not be given a water tub unattended. If the water tub is shallow and easy to enter and exit it may be possible to introduce them earlier. To be safe you should supervise their swims at ages earlier than around 5 weeks.
Ducks kept in pens may have the frame of the pen made in such a way that a rectangular tub may be fitted in after the wire is laid. This allows the water tub to be flush with the floor and integrated into the design of the pen. This will be cleaner if the water tub is on the opposite end of the nest or housing area.
The water tubs should be cleaned out regularly. Having it drain off readily is important as it can be muddy and smelly if allowed to sit stagnant. In areas that get rain consider making a gutter to collect rainwater to fill and wash out the tub in the cage setup.
Keeping Ducks in a Pen
Ducks may be kept in the same kind of coops that chickens are kept in with some provisions. The traditional chicken ark is a good way to keep ducks that aren’t allowed to free range. The ark can be moved around to help keep the ark floor clean. Rotating the ark to a new place regularly is the best way.
However layering the floor with wood shavings, hay, straw, or grass will also help. The spent duck bedding has too high a nitrogen level to add straight to your garden. The spent bedding must be allowed to compost for some time to break down. It is best added to your compost bin or pile.
Keeping Ducks on Wire
If wire floors are used, floors for ducklings under 3 weeks should be made of ½ inch mesh, also known as hardware cloth. This welded wire should be attached to a frame to keep the wire flat. For ducks over 3 weeks ½ by 1 inch wire is suitable. Coated wire is the best option but smooth galvanized wire will be acceptable.
Wood slats were once widely used as flooring for duck pens and is still used in asia. Wood floors should be made from slats and spaced ½ inch apart. Wood floors tend to collect more droppings and become smelly more than wire. It is a cheaper option but is a bit messier than wire.
Keeping ducks on wire is a way to avoid foot fungus and bumblefoot. The wire prevents an overly dirty floor that can harbor excess biological buildup. An area with straw or other bedding should be kept in the cage to allow for the ducks to rest their feet.
Ducks kept on wire would preferably be allowed to free range regularly. This is a good way to keep your area clean, reduce smell, and allow your ducks to roam around the yard safe and under your supervision.
Keeping Ducks in a Yard
Waterers should be located outside far away from the duck house. This will reducing tracking water to the bedding and soiling it more. Ideally you should have your water tub, pond, and waterers as far away from the duck house or bedding as possible. This will help reduce the mess.
Bedding should be changed regularly. The housing area or area that is meant to be dry should have the bedding changed regularly. Duck droppings are much more watery than chicken droppings making it more difficult to rake out like a chicken run. Wood shavings or straw bedding can be useful in chicken runs, but it is almost a necessity in a duck run or pen.
Ducks that are kept for eggs must maintain a suitable level of nutrition to produce eggs regularly. Commercial feed for egg layers should provide the proper diet. Feeding a ot of corn or scratch grain is fun but it overall lowers their intake ratio of protein to carbohydrates. Feed scratch grains and corn sparingly. Table scraps are fine to feed to the ducks as long as you are also providing them with your own balanced diet scraps. You are eating a balanced diet yourself aren’t you?
Around 20 to 24 weeks of age the hens should start laying provided they have a balanced feed and plenty of light. Ducks, like chickens, rely on the photoperiod to regulate egg laying. Longer days produce more eggs. The short day of late fall and winter usually produce less eggs. Adding supplemental lighting in the shorter days can help produce more eggs. From a natural standpoint the birds could use a break in laying for their bodies to rest.
Ducks tend to lay their eggs earlier in the morning, so letting them out after you get breakfast is the best way to get the eggs. If left to free range they tend to lay their eggs in hidden spots under bushes or out of the way, making it hard to find them. Letting them out after they have likely laid their eggs already is the most promising way to retrieve their daily eggs.
Ducks, just like chickens, do not need a drake (a male duck) to make the hens lay eggs. If you are solely wanting eggs to eat you do not need to keep a drake. If you want to sell hatching eggs or will hatch out ducklings yourself then you will need the services of a drake. Some people prefer fertilized eggs for the table, and a drake is the only way to do that. There is no flavor difference between an unfertilized egg and a fertilized egg.
Drakes should be kept in ratio of one drake to every 4 or 5 hens. One drake per backyard flock of six or seven hens should suffice. Too many drakes per hen is not a good idea as the drakes will harass the weaker hens. The idea is to spread the hens around so that the drake inst too aggressive with any one hen.
Hatching duck eggs from your own flock is a great way to produce more birds for your self sustaining flock. Whether you are growing your flock, replacing older members of your flock, or growing ducks for the table you will need a drake (male duck). Fertilized eggs may be placed in an incubator or a broody duck (or chicken) can hatch them. Eggs placed in an incubator should be placed pointed end down.
Duck eggs hatch in about 28 to 35 days depending on the breed. The difference in chicken and duck eggs is that ducks need a higher humidity level, especially the last two weeks. The last several days the eggs are not rotated to allow the ducklings to align themselves upright in preparation for pipping. The ducks generally pip a small hole and then cut a line across the egg shell so it can free itself from the eggshell.
Brooding ducklings is much like brooding baby chickens. They need a warm place, typically 95 degrees so they can move closer or further away to regulate their body temperatures. Too hot a location they cannot move away from will cause fatalities. Typically, ducklings that are piled together are too cold, and those that are spread apart away from the light are too warm. Finding a happy medium is not difficult if they have plenty of space and a warm heat source.
Food and water must be provided. Marbles or rocks should be placed in open water dishes to keep the ducklings from accidentally drowning. Non medicated starter feed should be given as a free choice all the time. Clean drinking water should be available at all times as well.
Growing Out Ducklings
To get ducklings to grow at their prime rate they should be fed properly. After the non medicated chick starter there is a developer feed. A good quality non medicated developer will ensure your birds have the proper amount of protein and other nutrition to grow strong, fast, and healthy.
Around three to five weeks it is time to change from starter to developer feed. At the developer feed stage it is a good time to introduce grit to the birds. As ducklings they do not immediately need grit. When they start feathering out they need t be given grit with their feed.
When he ducklings are fully feathered they can go outside into their protected cage, coop, run, or safe area.
Wing Trimming and Pinioning
Some breeds of ducks can fly very well, some cannot fly at all. Runner ducks are not good at flying. The wild type ducks can fly. In order to keep them from flying, if they can fly, their wings can either be trimmed or pinioned.
Trimming wings is a painless and temporary solution. One side of the wings primary flight feathers are trimmed down. This l of flight feathers on one side makes the ducks fly off balance so they can’t fly. Ducks replace their feathers so they must be checked periodically to ensure they haven’t grown back in.
Pinioning is a more permanent solution. As young chicks the last section of one wing tip is removed. This will not grow back and the bird will not be able to fly for the remainder of its life. Usually the hatchery will offer the option of having your birds pinioned and will cost a small amount per bird to have it done or you.
Choosing a Duck Breed
There are many breeds of ducks to choose from. The breed you chooe should meet what yo expect out of them. There ar basically three categories of ducks to choose from. Egg, meat, and ornamental ducks are the greatest reason why these types are kept.
The egg laying breeds are likely what brings the widest interest in keeping ducks. The best egg laying breeds are the Khaki Campbell and the Indian Runner duck. They are both a medium sized bird, are quiet, and lay eggs well. Egg laying breeds should produce more than 200 eggs a year.
Meat breeds typically do not lay as well, and usually lay under 200 eggs a year. The Saxony duck is a large duck but it lays a good bit less than the egg breeds. The Muscovy is a larger breed that can be utilized for dual purpose. The Muscovy is friendly, quiet, grows well, and lays fair. The Muscovy drake typically doesn’t fly much and can’t get off the ground very well but they can fly and should be pinioned or have their wings trimmed.
There are many ornamental breeds available and your personal preference would play into that depending on what you like to look at. There are many different types of ducks that are visually appealing. The Mandarin is one of the most popular ornamental breeds for looking at. Typically the ornamental ducks are not raised for meat or eggs. They were not domesticated and selectively bred to grow fast, heavy, or produce eggs.
Get Some Ducks
Ducks make a great backyard flock for both meat and eggs. They may not be quite as common as chickens but they have plenty of reasons going for them as a backyard stock choice. You might be surprised how much character and production they bring to the table.