Raising ducklings is easy, and in truth, much easier than raising chicks or turkey poults! Keeping ducks require a few simple items, a duck waterer, the correct duckling feed, and a predator safe duck brooder with heat.
The decision has been made to incorporate ducks onto the property. And to be quite frank, who can resist ducklings? Not many. However, raising ducklings is different than brooding chickens and other poultry. Ducklings have their own set of rules, and these rules must be followed.
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Outside of being absolutely adorable, ducks have multiple purposes on the property. Outside of egg and meat production ducks are excellent at pest control. Fly problem? No longer a problem with ducks around! Not to mention, they also consume slugs from the garden.
Raising ducklings means one thing. In the near future you will be receiving a plethora of ducks eggs. Overall, ducks are more prolific layers than chickens are. Not to mention, they will lay eggs for a longer period of time than chickens do.
A duckling reaches maturity quite quickly, as early as 17 weeks. This means egg production can occur as early as that, though not always. Expect the first duck egg between 17 to 30 weeks.
The final bonus for raising ducklings is this: ducks tend to lay prior to sunrise. Unlike chickens and their desire to lay at odd times throughout the day, fresh duck eggs will be waiting for you first thing in the morning.
Ducks are Hardier than Chickens
Overall, ducks are healthier than other poultry and are less susceptible to becoming ill. In addition to this, ducks are cold weather hardy and can handle 20 degrees Fahrenheit well. However, anything colder can cause frostbite issues on their feet.
With that said, there are health related issues duck keepers must watch for:
Raising Duckling – Breed Selection
Selecting a duck breed is as difficult as selecting what breed of chicken to raise. In truth, there is no wrong option when it comes to raising ducks. The decision to raise a heritage breed was important to our homestead. Alongside of raising heritage Welsh Harlequin we have raised Cayugas, Khaki Campbells, and Pekins.
The Livestock Conservancy website is a great resource to assist in selecting a breed. Heritage duck breeds can be purchased through reputable breeders.
Hatcheries are another source for locating heritage breeds. However, before a hatchery duckling is considered a heritage breed there are requirements which must be met. Learn more about heritage breeds on the Livestock Conservancy’s website.
Dual Purpose Breeds
A duck marked dual purpose raised for meat as well as for egg production. A great example of a dual purpose breed is the Muscovy. Welsh Harlequins are another excellent dual purpose breed.
Top 10 Duck Breeds for Egg Production
As mentioned ducks are prolific layers. With that said, make sure to learn what the top 13 breeds for high egg production are.
Raising ducklings is messy. Very messy. Setting-up a duck brooder properly is key to minimizing some of the mess which ducks can cause. Ducklings will require care until fully feathered. Between 7 to 9 weeks young ducks can handle being moved to the coop (or a larger duck brooder), as long as the coop is draft free. One other thing, the overnight temperature must remain above 50 degrees.
Duck Brooder | Housing
A large duck brooder, such as a stock tank, is beneficial when it comes to raising ducklings. As a matter of fact, an extra large Rubbermaid container will house ducklings for only a short period of time. Plan for bigger housing once the ducklings have outgrown the existing duck brooder.
Ducklings require 1/2 square foot for the first week, increasing by 1/2 a square foot each week until they are ready to move to the coop.
Like chicks, ducklings require heat until they are fully feathered. There are two options to use as a heat source: a heat lamp or a heating plate. The brooder temperature for a ducklings first week of life is 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Every week thereafter the brooder temperature will need to be adjusted 5 degrees lower.
A heat lamp with an infrared bulb
A heat lamp is the primary cause of brooder fires. Make sure to secure this source of heat well using either zip ties, twine, or wire ties. A thermometer designed for brooders will help to monitor the temperature.
Ideally, this is the best option for providing heat. A heating plate replicates the degree of heat released by a mother duck hen. Heating plates have a very little risk of causing fires, even when knocked down. The height of the heating plate is adjustable, accommodating the rapid growth of ducklings. Unlike a heat lamp, the temperature within a brooder will not have to be monitored when using a heating plate.
Because a duckling’s waste is mostly liquid pine shavings are the best option to be used when raising ducklings. Line the duck brooder with 3 inches of shaving, changing it as needed. Gently raking the shavings each day helps to move around the waste and save on bedding.
Duck Waterer and Feeder
Ducklings have larger heads than chicks. Using open feeders, such as, ramekins, allows the ducklings to eat with ease.
First and foremost, ducks (and ducklings) must have water available when feed is being offered. Ducks use water to help wash down the feed; without it they can choke.
There are a few options when it comes to selecting the best duck waterer. But let’s be honest, raising ducklings in a brooder equates to a sopping wet messy space. There is no way around it. However, there are ways to minimize the amount of water being splashed around.
The first 2 weeks – Place a plate under smaller the duck’s waterer to catch the overflow of water.
2 to 9 weeks – Use gallon size apple juice jugs (the plastic is heavier with these) and drill two holes on the side. The holes must be large enough to fit the duck’s head easily. Make sure the holes are low enough to accommodate the size of the ducklings.
This DIY waterer will help prevent splashing while allowing the ducklings to fully submerge their heads. At this age it is important to allow ducklings to wash the eyes and nostrils daily. Doing so will help prevent crusty dry eye and remove any feed which had ended up in the nostrils.
At 5 weeks of age, remove the feed and water each night. Ducklings can go 8 hours without food or water. By removing these options the brooder will remain drier longer.
Protein Levels in Feed
Because of how quickly ducklings grow it is imperative that the type of duckling feed being offered is high in protein. Ideally, the crude protein level offered should range between 20 to 22%.
Medicated Chick Feed
Secondly, do NOT offer medicated feed to ducklings. Medicated feed contains Amprollium. Some argue that because ducklings consume much more feed than chicks they may overdose by consuming too much feed. However, there are studies which debunk this theory.
Make the best choice for your property as to whether or not you will offer medicated feed.
Good Feed Options
Provide a non-medicated crumble or organic cracked grain as duckling feed.
Scratch and Peck Starter (organic whole grains) contains 20% protein, whereas Scratch and Peck Turkey Grower contains 20.5% protein. Organic cracked grains are an excellent option to provide.
Once the duckling have matured offer fermented whole grains. Not only are fermented grains healthier option for ducks, it is more filling. Fermented feed also minimizes the amount of feed offered daily.
Purina Flock Raiser is also another safe option to provide as duckling feed. Flock Raiser contains an adequate amount of protein and niacin needed for growing ducklings.
When feeding whole grains, fresh greens, or herbs grit must be offered. Often made of crushed granite, grit helps the crop break down the mentioned items. Offer grit free choice in a separate bowl. Another way to offer grit is to lightly sprinkled it directly onto the feed, keeping the amount of grit to a few pinches per cup of feed.
Greens and Herbs
Providing beneficial dried or fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, and sage boosts the immune system naturally. Grass clippings (no more than 2 inches long), dandelion leaves, plantain, and garden greens are also excellent treats.
However, there are foods which should never be offed to ducks. These items affect the overall health of young ducklings and adult ducks.
- Dried Beans
Duckling Care – Holistic Alternatives
More times than not, feed options found in feed stores do not contain high enough levels of niacin. Offering niacin in addition to the feed will often balance the levels needed. Brewer’s yeast can be purchased at many feed stores, adding a few scoops to the feed daily can fight niacin deficiency in ducklings.
Niacin deficiency refers to inadequate levels of vitamin B, especial B3. This condition is often due to consuming industrial feed which was meant for chickens and not waterfowl. Symptoms include minimal weight gain, failure to thrive, and inability to walk.
Offering natural probiotics on a regular basis establishes a healthier digestive system. Simple items such as raw apple cider vinegar in the water, fermented foods, an extra kombucha SCOBY or kefir grains are items which contain natural probiotics.
Synthetic probiotics, often found in local feeds stores or online, should not be offered on a daily basis. A synthetic option is meant to be offered for short period of time.
Offer herbs to boost the immune system of all poultry and livestock. Raising ducklings, or any livestock for that matter, requires providing optimal care. Adding fresh or dried oregano, thyme, and sage to the feed daily will do just this.
Additionally, infusing garlic in the waterer or minced with feed every few days is also beneficial to boost the immune system.
Keeping Ducks – Tips and Tidbits
Ducks are Creatures of Habit
Ducklings and ducks are creatures of habit. They are temperamental and require routine; without this a flock can become stressed. Ducks prefer to be let out and put away for the night at the same time. They also prefer to be fed and cared for by individuals they recognize and are used too. Something as simple as a new color of a water bucket can cause them concern and to become stressed.
Keep in mind, a stressed duck causes a reduction in egg productivity.
A Pool is Not Necessary
There is a misconception that a swimming area is needed for domestic ducks. This is not true. Ducklings and adult ducks need water deep enough to rinse their eyes and nostrils daily. Water is also need to prevent choking.
With that said, a pool is a great source of entertainment for both, them and you.
Ducklings enjoy swimming. Though, keep in mind, they must be fully dried off prior to returning to the brooder.
To dry wet ducklings use a blow dryer on low warm heat. Once thoroughly dried immediately place them under the heat lamp or heating plate. By 7 to 9 weeks of age (and fully feathered) ducklings will not need to be dried off.
Domestic Ducks Can Not Fly
This statement is partially truthful. Many domestic ducks cannot fly, though there are a few which can. Unlike their wild relatives, domestic ducks are bottom heavy. This prevents ducks from being able to take flight.
Cooking with Duck Eggs
Hands down, duck eggs are absolutely delicious to consume. But more importantly, duck eggs are an excellent when used for baking.
- The whites of duck eggs have more protein than chicken eggs, which helps to create a higher and lighter product
- The yolks found in duck eggs are richer in flavor due to its fat content.
Homemade egg noodles is an excellent way to use up eggs. An old fashion egg custard pie is a great dessert option and takes only minutes to prepare.
The joy which comes from raising ducklings is priceless. Keep in mind, keeping ducks comes with great benefits such as eggs, meat, and slug control.