Adding ducks to our homestead was a natural step after chickens.
Well, at least to us it was. We wanted some personality, some different meat and a variety of eggs in case we decided to sell them. It was mind boggling to us how different they were in the beginning, and how fun they are now. Getting started with ducks can be an exciting project and here are some things you need to know.
Ducklings are best started as purchased vs. being hatched for newbies.
Since there are so many differences with chicken hatching vs. duckling hatching it can be frustrating for a newbie. There are changes in humidity levels, turning the eggs and heat temps that drove us crazy at first. So, if you are new to ducks, may I recommend that you get hatched ducklings to start?
Ducks are waterfowl.
Not that should surprise anyone, but they will need lots and lots and lots of water. Seriously, gallons. But only after they have feathers. When they are in the wild, ducklings get an oil to cover their down from their mothers that keeps them afloat in the water. When you have ducklings that YOU are the mother, you are not able to add that protective oil and they can actually drown in a large pool of water. They get waterlogged, and exhausted and without that oil, they can sink. For ducklings, they can easily use a regular chicken waterer to get their daily water needs. Plan on filling it 2-3x a day and keep it as fresh as possible. For older ducks with feathers, consider a plastic hard kiddie pool. If you don’t have the room for a kiddie pool, a washtub or low bucket works just as well. Ducks are happiest when they can fully submerge, but if all they can do is dip their heads, they will be good.
Speaking of water, ducks will make a huge mess out of whatever water you give them.
They love to play and splash around in it and will dip their bills in the dirt surrounding the water, then back in the water. If they can get into the pool or bucket, they will also poop in that water. Plan on changing it at least daily. You can pour the water directly on the garden by dipping a bucket. It’ll fertilize the plants with a ready made “tea”.
Ducks also need water by their food.
They will grab some food, dip their bill and wet that food down to swallow. You can place just a small waterer or bucket near their food to keep the mess at bay. We use a chicken waterer near our duck food so they don’t get wet food everywhere and have it get all moldy or smelly.
Ducks are great foragers.
They will catch mosquitos in mid air, grab some grubs from the garden beds, and find all the worms by digging their bills into the dirt. Of course, the tradeoff of that is tiny holes all over, but to me it’s worth it. We let our ducks loose in our garden beds in the evenings while we are working in it, and they get all the bugs for us. The ducks are also not nearly as destructive on a garden bed as a chicken, which is why they get let out there.
Ducks also need food from you.
We *personally* use a “all layer” food for our ducks and chickens since they live together and eat from the same area. Some people may not agree with that, but it works for us. It also helps that we are not buying several different types of feed for our flocks. Since ducks DO need more niacin, we add a duck supplement in the form of brewer’s yeast to some feed out in the garden area. When we let them play in that area at night, they get the niacin they need.
Ducks are great egg layers.
Our ducks will lay 5-6 eggs a week, consistently, all year long. They don’t mind the cold winters, or the super hot summers. They just keep swimming, just keep swimming. 🙂 Their eggs are also on average 1 1/2 times the size of a chicken egg and are GREAT in baked goods. Duck eggs are fluffy and rich tasting in an egg dish and I will never use a chicken egg for homemade mayo as long as I have ducks. The only caveat is that ducks do NOT lay in nesting boxes. Ours are known for waddling around, stopping, then just dropping and egg and going. Each morning begins a new and exciting egg hunt for us, especially in the warm months. During the winter, the eggs are usually in the barn, but not always. Mostly they are near their source of water, and that does give us a place to start our hunting.