This post gives a simple guide and my six recommendations for keeping ducks in the backyard like: eating and drinking needs, habitat requirements, sociability, and general care. Some people may not realise that ducks are as easy to keep as chickens but to ensure this special breed of poultry is kept happy in the backyard there are a few measures which need to be taken (and maintained).
Ducks were my third breed of poultry I decided to keep, as with most poultry keepers, I started my poultry obsession by keeping chickens and then I also started breeding quail.
Pekin ducks about 8 weeks old (image above)
I always wanted to try keeping our quacky feathered friends, but to keep ducks was my biggest worry (without me taking the time to do much research about them) because I thought they would be a lot harder to integrate into my property – I thought wrong…
So I held-off the notion of keeping ducks until one day I received an email from an old school friend who just happened to stumble on my website (www.selfsufficientme.com) he saw that I was into poultry/self-sufficiency etc, and coincidently he wanted to give away his two ducks so he thought he would contact me and ask if I would take them. Besides the surprise about being contacted by Derek (whom I hadn’t seen for about 20 years) I have to admit to being a little hesitant in taking his ducks but then I thought… “What the hell.”
Recommendation 1 – Have a bucket yes, but go further and also install a larger water source big enough to enable your ducks to swim.
Now that I had two ducks it was time for me to do some reading on how to care for them and the first obvious theme I came across about keeping ducks was they need at the very least a bucket of water to enable them to dunk their heads and clean out their bills/nostrils.
When I initially collected them from Derek he also informed me all ducks required was a bucket of water and my research found many reports stating the same, however, I wasn’t sold on the idea that a “water bird” could be happy with only a bucket of water to dunk a bill. It’s true ducks will certainly survive with just a bucket of water for drinking, washing down food, and dunking their heads, but would they really be happy with this arrangement? My observations found ducks are not happy with just a bucket and really do need at least a tub for them to get in and play, clean themselves, or even mate.
Now, this water source doesn’t have to be big or complex – it could be as simple as a blow up kiddies’ pool, a small poly tank (open top), a small purpose built pond, or a dam depending on the size and type of property.
Drake with ducklings as mother duck swims in the poly pond situated within the pen (image above)
If you situate the large water bucket near the ducks feed they will use the bucket to help eat and to wash their bills instead of the pond. The ducks will love the pond but won’t spend all day in it and mainly use this water source for washing, playing, mating, and cooling off in hot weather.
A word of warning, small duck ponds do require regular cleaning so be prepared to drain the pond and clean it out – it may be prudent to install an easy drainage system or pump. Larger water sources like a small dam or large pond will probably not need cleaning out (at least not very often anyway).
My recently dug small duck dam with a pair of Khaki Campbell's (image above)
The bucket your ducks use will also need cleaning out (usually daily) because they murky the water up as they clean their bills and wash food down.
Recommendation 2 – Try and give ducks access to pasture or a grassed area for them to graze and forage.
Ducks eat quite a lot of feed (more than chickens) and they also like to eat lots of grass so having access to grass is important. Naturally, ducks will survive on commercial feed alone but if we want our ducks to be happy we should let them forage also whist still providing commercial feed for them.
Foraging is a natural instinct for ducks as they hunt for small frogs, slugs, and worms. Ducks don’t dig like chickens so they are less destructive in the garden and can be particularly helpful in and around orchards.
Free ranging drake finds a frog to eat (image above)
Ducklings require a high protein feed so if you buy young ducklings ensure you get an appropriate duck grower feed. Adult ducks can eat the same feed as chickens as long as it is not medicated because medicated feed is harmful to ducks.
And similar to chickens, ducks love kitchen scraps like lettuce, and bread as long as they are fresh and it helps if the scraps are diced up to make it easier for the ducks to eat. Also, choose open feed containers to give the ducks plenty of room for their bills (PVC chicken feeders work well for ducks). It’s hard to find a commercial feeder specific to ducks in Australia.
Drake eating from a PVC chicken feeder (image above)
Recommendation 3 – Try to collect the duck eggs as early in the morning as possible otherwise they might start mysteriously disappearing.
Some breeds of duck are amazing egg layers, for instance Khaki Campbell ducks can lay up to 300 eggs a year! Duck eggs are larger and higher in protein than chicken eggs, which make them excellent for cake making and often are sort after by people into their fitness (like bodybuilders).
Duck eggs are more expensive to buy than chicken eggs because they are harder to commercially manage and the ratio for feed consumed to eggs produced is high, which makes it less economical compared with chickens.
Ducks will usually lay very early in the morning or sometimes through the night and they don’t always lay in a nest which can be annoying when collecting the eggs and leave the eggs vulnerable to scavenging crows or other animals. The best way to encourage ducks to lay in one spot is by providing an easy to get to secluded spot on/or close to the ground lined with litter for the ducks to nest.
Some duck eggs in a nest – I found these in the corner of my chicken shed (image above)
Recommendation 4 – Incubate your own duck eggs and raise a few ducklings… Even if you just do this once in your life, as it’s a great experience for both kids and adults.
Domestic ducks aren’t the best parents and won’t usually sit on their eggs (some breeds are better than others). Duck eggs are incubated the same as any other poultry and can be easily done at home these days with trendy small egg incubators taking between 28 – 33 days to hatch out.
Brooding the ducks from hatching until they are ready to be released without artificial heat (usually into a growing pen) takes about 3 weeks depending on ambient temperatures.
Ducklings are incredibly cute (I didn’t need to tell you that) and they are robust so growing them isn’t difficult at all as long as the correct non-medicated feed is supplied.
Some common types of domestic duck breeds are:
- Pekin – White/cream colour, yellow bill, can get to 4.5 kg, and my personal favourite (kept for meat and eggs).
- Muscovy – Several colours including black, big bird can get over 5 kg, makes a hissing sound instead of a quack, can fly and perch, (kept for meat).
- Rouen – Nice flashy colours very pretty, can get to about 5 kg, originally from France, (kept for looks and meat – meat is darker than other duck breeds).
- Khaki Campbell – Usually brown/grey, around 2 kg, and awesome egg layers (kept for eggs).
- Indian Runner – Light brown or white, upright stance, 2 kg, originally from Malaysia/China, (kept for eggs).
Pekin ducklings at 5 weeks in a growing pen (image above)
Recommendation 5 – Keep more than just one duck, have at least two so they can keep each other company.
Ducks are very sociable creatures and keeping at least two will ensure they stay happy. Most ducks will get along with other poultry and usually stay out of the way keeping to themselves.
Unless ducks are hand raised and given lots of human attention they will mostly remain quite flighty and afraid of people. I spend a fair amount of time with my ducks and they remain jumpy running away whenever I approach them. Some breeds of duck are more trusting than others though and I remember a certain Muscovy, which would visit our local tennis centre from a near by lake and allow people to pat him.
Pekin ducks enjoying each others company (image above)
Recommendation 6 – Don’t rely on ducks to always put themselves to bed before dark like chickens do as they sometimes need to be rounded up.
Ducks are pretty weather proof and nothing much phases them apart for the heat and sun. Nevertheless, a shelter should be provided for them so they have a nice dry, safe place to rest and sleep at night. Ducks usually find a spot on the ground to sit – they don’t perch – so if the enclosure housing the ducks has a hard surface then lining the floor with a thick litter such as straw will make it more comfortable.
Most domestic ducks can't fly… well they sort of can, to jump down off obsticals, but they can't fly over a fence, however, Muscovy ducks can fly quite well so keep that in mind.
Often my ducks will seek a shady tree and some grass to lay on during the heat of the day and in the late afternoon. If there isn’t a lot of shade around then it’s imperative the ducks have a shelter like a barn/shed/cover to escape the elements.
Also, as the saying goes “a sitting duck” they are completely vulnerable to predator attack especially from dogs and foxes. It’s important to ensure that ducks have a safe area to roam and a fox/dog proof pen/enclosure to be locked up at night otherwise the consequences will be devastating.
Ducks should put themselves to bed like chickens do in the evening (in the safety of their pen) but they don’t always and may, in fact, develop a false sense of security so decide to sleep outside the pen in the open paddock. Therefore, if you do have a free-ranging area which is secure through the day but open to possible fox attack by night ensure the ducks have followed the chickens to bed and not missed the automatic chicken door closing for the night.
There’s plenty more to say and write about ducks and I intend to do just that by sharing my experiences on keeping backyard ducks right here on SSM.
If you’d like to chat more directly about keeping ducks and view more images check out our forum and become a member (it’s free).
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
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