How Ducklings Arrived at our Farm
Ducks were welcomed to our farm because of 4-H and a grandfather that could not say "NO" to a granddaughter. Together, they picked out 6, 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 ideal. 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. Baby ducklings can be purchased at the a local farm store or a breeder. An advantage of buying from a breeder is they know their flock and can answer any questions that might arise. Also research the wide variety of ducks available; some are more docile, some lay more eggs, some 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 feather out (this is when they can hold their own 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, very messy and like to play in their water.
The brooder temperature will need to be around 90° for the first week then it can be lowered 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
And play in their water they did! I knew ducks loved water but I did not anticipate the amount and the mess; splashing and playing all day in the water. In order to keep some of the mess down, I placed their water container on cookie rack with a pan underneath to catch some of the water. It helped but their webbed feet still waddled water everywhere!
By the time the ducklings are 6-8 weeks old, they will be drinking half a gallon of water a day. It is important for ducklings 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 6 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 keep their mucous membranes clear. Use a large adult duck/chicken feeder; they will quickly grow out of the small duckling feeder.
Fresh Air and Grass
By 6 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 nice; allowing them to be moved outside sooner than chickens.
I was so excited. New home=less mess. Wrong again.
Our ducklings were housed in a calf hut with a fenced in grass area. It quickly became a muddy mess and we had to move them. The area 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 secure 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. Their house was bedded with straw (doesn't mold like 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 the 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.
This has worked great for their pen. Hose the gravel down when you clean and refill the pool. Ducks poop a lot!
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 still 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 he base of their tail, that produces oil; ducks will use their beaks and rub oil all over their feathers. The oil gland will start producing oil about 4 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 have a way out of the water and they are supervised. Baby ducklings can not regulate their temperature and can drown easily.