Diversify your flock with ducks!
Last spring, my husband thought it would be fun to add ducks to our homestead; remember, diversifying isn’t just for stock portfolios. He did some research to make sure that we could provide the right environment for them and found that it was going to be easier than expected. Backyard Chickens.com was a wonderful resource. Here are some things to know if you want to keep ducks.
Quick note about ducks. Ducks make chickens look like the brain trust of the poultry world. Seriously, our ducks are surprised every morning when they see their water bowls. Our joke is that every morning one of them says, “Hey, guys. Water!” We moved their pond a week ago and they still don’t realize it’s there… they find it by accident. They’re cute and useful and we’re glad we have them, but it isn’t for their brains.
Check laws/restrictions. As with chickens, some municipalities allow ducks, some do not. Don’t forget to check any bylaws or restrictions in your HOA, if applicable.
Free-ranging vs. enclosed run. Ducks don’t imprint on their home the same way chickens do. Free-ranging is possible, but a it’s harder. You might be chasing duckies every evening to get them into a safe place for the night. Since we were ranging our chickens, but not the ducks, we wanted to keep our chickies and duckies in separate “homes.”
Duck hut and run. Each duck needs about 4 sqft in the hut and about 10 sqft in an enclosed run. After building our chicken coop from scratch, we took an easier route and bought a Rubbermaid shed for our ducks. We built a 15’ x 15’ run by combining 2 chain-link dog kennels from Lowes. Since we only have 4 ducks, this was large enough to give the ducks room to wander about, as well as space for their hut and pond.
Duck huts have different requirements from chicken coops. The size requirements are the same as chickens, but things change from there. Unlike chickens, ducks don’t roost on perches; they roost on the ground, so keep a soft material on the floor such as straw or wood shavings. Nest boxes are also unnecessary for ducks. They use them occasionally, but not often – so, add them if you want to, but understand that they may not be used. Actually, ducks tend to lay eggs wherever they happen to be. We find them in corners of the coop, the middle of the yard and occasionally in the nest boxes. Remember that a run will need netting or chicken wire across the top to keep the airborne predators away.
A note about duck poo – it has a much higher percentage of water than other poultry, so it’s runnier and messier. A hut with a plastic floor makes cleaning infinitely easier.
Duckie pond. As you probably guessed, your ducks are going to need access to some sort of pond. Ducks don’t have tear glands and dunk their heads under water to clean their eyes, so the pond is for more than just exercise and recreation. Honestly, domestic ducks spend as little as 10% of their time in the water. That said, they enjoy water and the time they spend in it. We’ve had 2 different ponds – one was a raised plastic livestock trough and the other is a plastic kiddie pool. Ponds tend to get pretty dirty, pretty quickly meaning that they need to be drained and cleaned from time to time. Even in-ground ponds need to be cleaned due to the copious amounts of dirt, mud and poo the ducks track into them. This is the reason we didn’t build an in-ground pond. My husband added a drain to each of the ponds to facilitate draining and cleaning. Ponds don’t need to be terribly deep, just deep enough for swimming and dunking their heads.
Select the right breed for you. Ducks are kept for the same reasons chickens are kept – for meat and eggs, and occasionally as pets. So, think about which is more important to you. The next important question is which breed will thrive in your climate; this is especially important in areas with extremes – heat, cold, drought, etc. Ducks are much more cold-hardy than chickens. Ducks also vary quite a bit in size; from ~ 5 lbs. to as much as 20 lbs. Poultrykeeper.com has very good information on duck breeds. Pekin are large white ducks and the most common breed for farms/homesteads as well as commercial operations. We selected Black Swedes because of their size; about the same size as our adult chickens.
Adults vs. ducklings. There are pros and cons to both. Ducklings are usually easier to find, but take more time and effort. They are just a couple of days old when you get them from the hatchery, and need to be in a brooder, in your house or in a heated shed/garage, away from adult poultry for 6-8 weeks. A brooder can be any durable box (think plastic or wood) such as a large plastic bin, old cooler or even a kiddie pool. Provide a source of heat, like a heat lamp, and voila! You have a brooder. We used a kiddie pool for the sole reason that duckie poo has a very high amount of water, and (as I mentioned above) the plastic was easier to clean.
How to get the ducklings. There several options when you are ready to get your ducklings. Many independent farm/feed stores and most Tractor Supply locations will have ducklings available to order or buy in-store in the spring. The biggest drawback to these options is that if you miss the dates, you have to wait for a year before you get another chance to buy. If you’re getting a large flock (20+ birds) or if you missed the local opportunities, there are some great online hatcheries. They’ll overnight day-old ducklings to your local post office and you’ll need to pick them up. Rural post offices are very used to this, but I’m not sure how more urban post offices deal with this. It might be a good idea to contact your local post office before placing an online order.
Note for online orders: you may have ordered ducks, but don’t be surprised if the delivery that you pick up from the post office includes a few chickens, too. Online hatcheries often use male chicks as “packing peanuts” for small orders. If that happens, then you’re going to have several baby roosters, and you’ll need to decide what to do with them. Humane euthanasia is an option unless you need a rooster for your chickens. Even then, no one needs more than 1 or 2 roosters – I promise.
Duckie maintenance. Ducks have been a wonderful addition to our homestead; however, they created their own challenge when it comes to upkeep. Their webbed feet seem to attract and hold onto water and other runny stuff, such as duckie poo and mud. This gets tracked everywhere – the hut, the yard, water bowls, their pond, etc. Expect to drain and clean their pond at least weekly during warm weather; less often when it’s colder. Depending on the ground cover of the run, the coop will need cleaned every 2-3 weeks. Water bowls will need to be cleaned about 2x week.
Ducks and chickens. The first summer we had both chickens and ducks, we kept them separate because our chickens were ranging, but we wanted to keep the ducks in the run. After a chicken massacre by a fox and fisher cat, our chickens are now kept in the run only. We decided to try co-habitation, and it’s worked remarkably well. Both groups of birds tend to ignore each other, even when we had our roosters. This is partially attributed to having only female birds. If both chickens and ducks are hens only, there’s less chance for “disagreements.” Roosters and drakes have reputations for being indiscriminate when it comes to romantic partners. Our rooster didn’t bother the ducks much, but I’m glad he isn’t part of our flock any longer and that issue is gone. Occasionally, one of the ducks will lay an egg in a nest box and that upsets my Amerucana hen, but other than that, they cohabitate pretty well.
All in all, our ducks have been a wonderful addition to our Homestead. They have great personalities, albeit it is more of a “flock” personality than an individual one. I love watching them “discover” their water bowls and pond every day.