How Ducklings Arrived at our Farm
We welcomed ducks to our farm because of 4-H and a grandfather that could not say "NO" to a granddaughter. Together, they picked out six at our local farm store and loaded the fuzzy ducklings in grandpa's old farm truck. The proud grandpa and ecstatic granddaughter sang duck songs all the home.
We know quite a bit about raising animals; we have cattle and chickens roaming our farms. So, I thought no big idea. Right? Wrong. Here are some helpful tips, so you don't make the same mistakes I did.
Tips I Learned for Raising Ducklings
Research about ducks before you acquire them. Not like grandpa, who got caught up in the moment and his begging granddaughter. You can purchase baby ducklings at a local farm store or a breeder. An advantage of buying from a breeder is that they know their flock and can answer any questions. Also, research the wide variety of ducks available; some are more docile, lay more eggs, and make better meat birds. Or you can use the internet, a blog, or Pinterest.
Ducklings New Home
Ducklings will need a clean, safe, draft-free brooder (wooden box, kiddie swimming pool, water tank, bathtub, dog crate, large tote) with a heat source for the first 3 to 6 weeks. Weaning them off will depend on how fast they are fully feathered out (when they can hold their heat) and the outside weather temperature and conditions. Our ducklings started in a water tank (like they use at the farm store), shavings for bedding, and a heat lamp (175-watt white bulb). They need clean bedding daily as ducks are very messy and like to play in their water.
The brooder temperature will need to be around 90° for the first week; you can lower it daily. Your ducklings will tell you if they are comfortable. If they are panting and trying to get away from the heat, they are too hot. If they are too cold, they will huddle under their heat source. Perfectly content ducklings will be scattered throughout the brooder and happily playing in the water!
Water, Water, and More Water
I knew ducks loved the water, but I did not anticipate the amount and the mess, splashing and playing all day in the water. I placed their water container on a cookie rack and a pan underneath. It helped, but their webbed feet still waddled water everywhere!
When the ducklings are 6-8 weeks old, they will be drinking half a gallon of water a day. Ducklings need to have constant access to fresh water so they can eat and clean their bills.
Feed, Feed and More Feed
Ducks eat an enormous amount of feed, much more than chickens. Ducklings need to eat a non-medicated crumble with high protein (20%) for the first six weeks then the protein needs to be lowered. As I quickly discovered, they are messy eaters too! If you use pellets, make sure they are small in size. Ducklings digest food quickly, so they need continuous feed and clean water to swallow and clear their mucous membranes. Use a large adult duck/chicken feeder to grow out of the small duckling feeder quickly.
Fresh Air and Grass
By six weeks old, the ducks had grown so fast (about an ounce a day) we were able to move them to an outside coop with a grass run. It was spring, and the weather (stayed over 55°) was lovely, allowing them to be moved outside sooner than chickens.
I was so excited. New home=less mess. Wrong again.
We housed our ducklings in a calf hut with a fenced-in grass area. It quickly became a muddy mess, and we had to move them. The location was not big enough, and they needed time to free-range in the yard. They are excellent foragers, and that adds to a balanced diet. You can find out What Do Duck Eat? in this blog.
Ducklings need a safe house with good ventilation (prevents odor build-up) to protect them from predators, especially at night. They do not need a perch or nesting boxes like chickens do, as they prefer the ground. The house needs to allow each duck 4 square feet of room. Remember, your ducklings will grow quickly!
We fenced in a big area in the yard that included a calf hut, a covered food hut, a *kiddie pool, and a mesh top. We bedded their house with straw (it doesn't mold as shavings do), and they had plenty of room to make a mess when they weren't free-ranging. Solar lights are also an excellent choice to help detour predators.
*We made a square box out of 2X4's, filled it with pea gravel, and placed the kiddie pool on top to allow the water to drain down naturally. You can see this in the picture to the left.
Hose the gravel down when you clean and refill the pool. Ducks poop a lot! This has worked great for their pen.
Besides the mesh top and solar lights, we added chicken wire along the bottom fence to keep predators out. This also prevents the curious ducks from sticking their head through the fence and getting caught.
The ducklings gradually started free-ranging on nice days during daylight hours, but we watched them closely. As they got older, we allowed them to free-range in our yard daily but continued to check in on them.
When Can My Ducklings Swim?
I do not recommend ducklings swimming until they are fully feathered. They have a preen gland located at the base of their tail that produces oil; ducks will use their beaks and rub oil all over their feathers. The oil gland will start making oil about four weeks of age. The oil stops feathers from becoming waterlogged and insulates the ducks from the water and cold temperatures. Under the outer waterproof feathers is fluffy feathers that keep ducks warm. This is why you will see ducks preening themselves; they are just oiling up to protect themselves!
If you allow them to start swimming at an early age, make sure it is shallow and warm, they need a way out of the water and must be supervised. Baby ducklings can not regulate their temperature and can drown easily.