Ducks are one of my absolute favorite homestead dwellers. Yes, they are great for eggs as well as meat, but their personalities and antics are what really sells them in my book.
From the sublimely arrogant to the classic class clown, these waddlers are always fun to watch.
Whether you are considering raising ducks for meat, eggs, or pure entertainment, ducks can be a great addition to your homestead.
Getting started with ducks can be an exciting project. Here’s what you need to know, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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- Raising ducks will quickly morph from physical benefits – food for the belly – to food for the soul.
- They have dramatic personalities and can be very entertaining to watch.
- Ducks are highly intelligent. They can easily be trained,
- Ducks love to eat pests like slugs and snails. For this reason, they can keep your vegetable gardens pest free.
- Manure from ducks can refresh nutrients in the soil.
- Ducks are easy to raise.
- If you are looking for a steady supply of eggs but do not want to go to great expense on feed, ducks can take care of themselves. They will happily survive on leftover fruit and vegetables, mosquitoes, cockroaches (I agree with you, let’s get 100 ducks!), fly larvae, and worms.
- Duck eggs are tastier and much more nutritious than chicken eggs.
- Duck eggs will help control your cholesterol levels.
- Ducks have significantly more meat than chickens and the meat is very flavorful.
- Duck meat has less fat and more nutrients than chicken, making it a healthier option.
- Their dirty water can be used to water your garden, it is very rich in nutrients.
- Ducks work through grass easily mowing with their beaks, and fertilizing with their… poop, poo, dodo, nasties, whatever you call it.
- Ducks, for the most point, are very friendly with other animals. They can be paired with goats, cows, chickens, and more.
- Their down feathers are in great demand. This could help with your income.
- Ducks eat more than chickens.
- Ducks are very messy.
- Ducks are noisy.
- Keeping things hygienic is very laborious.
- They need clean water to drink and swim every day.
- Ducks do not lay their eggs in nests; they will look for a quiet, well-covered spot to lay eggs.
- This means every day is a real-life easter egg hunt.
- Ducks require a bigger area than chickens to play and forage in.
A Happy, Healthy Environment
Ducks need several things in their environment to thrive.
- Ducks need space. Ducklings need 1 square foot per duckling up to four weeks old. A mature duck will need 5 to 6 square feet per duck.
- Ducks need a well-protected shelter to get out of the sun, wind, and out of the rain. Their shelter needs to be well ventilated.
- Their shelter should provide complete darkness to keep the ducks relaxed at night. Ducks do not like light at night; it disturbs their sleep.
- In winter, they need extra bedding to keep their feet warm, and they may need a heater to keep their shelter warm.
- Many people do not provide their ducks with a pool or pond to splash about in. This often leads to ducks competing to play in their drinking water. Ducks do not need a massive pond. A child’s splash pool will work. If you have an old bathtub, this will be ideal as it is easy to empty and clean.
Ducklings are best started as purchased vs. being hatched for newbies. Make sure you use a reputable breeder to ensure healthy ducklings.
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, and 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?
Environmental Risks That May Endanger Your Ducks
Not paying close attention to the environment can be devastating. There are a number of risks to watch for:
- Broken glass on the ground can cut their feet.
- All plastics are a big no. If ingested, it will not be easy to remove. Your ducks will die a painful death.
- Barbed wire or similar wire can easily slice through your duck’s flesh painfully.
- If the temperatures rise early in spring and summer, your ducks will start nesting early. This is important to note because if your duck’s nest they will produce ducklings. Their food sources are limited because nothing will have had time to grow during the early temperature rise.
- Climate change can produce droughts, extremely hot temperatures, extremely cold temperatures, floods, or even an increase in major storms. Be aware and make sure you have a Plan B just for your own peace of mind. Make sure you have sufficient shelter from the elements; plan for higher ground to take your ducks should flooding occur; have heaters ready for the cold; be aware of all the ways climate change can affect your duck’s living conditions.
- Predators are a threat to your flock. Make sure your ducks are safe by securing their homes.
- Extreme weather can cause destruction of bugs, grass, vegetation, and underground pests by either starving the ground of nutrients, flooding, or washing off the soil the ducks need to digest their food.
- Disease flourishes in warm weather. Be wary of changes in the temperature to prevent tragedy.
There are so many breeds to choose from if you decide to introduce ducks on your homestead.
These are the 20 best breeds to raise on your homestead, listed in popularity:
- American Pekin
- Khaki Campbell
- Indian Runner
- Welsch Harlequin
- Swedish Blue
- Silver Appleyard
- Abacot Ranger
- Golden Cascade
- Jersey Buff
- Hook Bill
Choosing a Reputable Breeder for Your Start-Up Ducks
When choosing a breeder, you do need to do some homework.
You need to research breeders in your area to find out whose ducklings are healthy and will survive and whose ducklings start with diseases, will come with parasites, and will not be strong enough to ward off infections.
Ask your neighbors for references. I found just by asking that question, I would be going home with a troop of ducklings (we had nice neighbors).
Check out the facility they are coming from. Make sure it is hygienic and that other ducks there are healthy.
Splish Splash Ducks Like Playing in Water
Not that that should surprise anyone, but when raising ducks, you 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 oil to cover their feathers from their mothers that keeps them afloat in the water.
When you have ducklings, YOU are the mother, you are not able to add that protective oil and consequently 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 – 3 times daily and keep it as fresh as possible. Wash the waterer properly at least twice daily; bugs can quickly be spread from drinking water. No one would like to drink from a smelly, slimy, algae-ridden water source.
For older ducks with feathers, they will love to have a little water to swim and play in. A hard, plastic kiddie pool, an old bathtub, or a big doggie bathtub will do just fine.
Ducks are happiest when they can fully submerge, but if all they can do is dip their heads, they will be good.
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. They do this to pick up the dirt and use it to break down and digest their food.
This process leaves the ground around the bath very muddy, slippery, and generally just one big mess. There is very little you can do about this.
You can provide water far from their splash pool, with their food within reach, and you can keep things hygienic by properly cleaning the tub and filling it up with fresh water daily.
You should not waste the water, the used-up water is so good for your garden. You can pour the water directly into the garden by dipping a bucket in the bathtub or siphoning the water into a bucket or even directly into sprinklers. It’ll fertilize the plants with a ready-made “tea”.
It is very important to place their feeding bowls near sand and a separate water source aside from the pools they swim in. Ducks defecate in the water they swim in.
They need both sand or gravel and water to properly digest 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. The water source should sit low and be narrow, this ensures the ducks will not mistake drinking water for swimming water.
If you think about the gutters on your house, that is the size in height, width, and depth appropriate. Gutters can be used with some bending and welding.
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.
Raising Ducks for Eggs
When raising ducks for eggs, know that they are excellent 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.
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 again for homemade mayo as long as I have ducks.
The only problem with raising ducks for eggs in the backyard is that ducks do NOT lay in nesting boxes. Ours are known for waddling around, stopping, then just dropping an egg and going on with their day.
Each morning starts with 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. yes, they continue to lay throughout the winter months.
Mostly the eggs are near their source of water, and that does give us a place to start our hunting.
Raising Ducks for Meat
For all fowls, the best time to butcher is 12 weeks.
Ducks can be butchered as early as 6 weeks, but this will not yield as much meat.
Duck meat is classified as red meat. It contains an abundance of protein, iron, vitamin B, selenium, and omega fatty acid.
When a duck gets sick it goes down quickly. You need to take action to prevent, identify, and treat your ducks in advance so that you are ready when sickness comes.
Prevention is Better than a Cure
The best way to ensure good health is to implement good hygiene and take every opportunity to prevent disease from being carried into your flock.
Here are some practices you can adopt to keep your ducks healthy:
- Limit the risk from outside by using sterile foot baths at the entrance to your duck’s enclosure.
- Limit entrance to only family or trusted help to limit disease from being spread from exposure from the outside world.
- Only purchase ducks from well-vetted breeders.
- Quarantine new poultry for 2 weeks to ensure the new birds are healthy.
- Make sure that all companion animals, like cows, goats, horses, or chickens, are healthy before introducing them to your ducks.
- Clean tools or machinery, particularly tires, before bringing them near your ducks. Tractors get dirt stuck in them potentially introducing viruses or bacteria that can be in soil or feces.
- Wear protective clothing like boots and coveralls to limit exposure to any illness you have been exposed to.
- Immunize your ducks against any local diseases found in your area. You should consult your vet to find out what risks are present and the best vaccines to prevent these diseases from killing your ducks.
- Make sure your duck’s enclosure is properly cleaned and ventilated.
- Use good feed, offering vitamins and minerals needed for good health.
The most common diseases your ducks could contract are:
- Duck virus hepatitis
Duck virus hepatitis is spread by oral or parenteral infected tissue. It only occurs in ducklings under the age of six months. It is highly infectious, and it is a very serious disease that can lead to hemorrhaging and tissue necrosis. It has a 95% fatality rate.
- Lesions on the liver
- Loss of balance
- Spasmodical paddling
- Sudden death
To keep your ducks safe, they should be kept in small batches for at least the first 5 weeks; strict biosafety procedures for foot baths and hygiene should be adhered to; and early vaccination are all important.
- Duck virus enteritis
While duck virus enteritis is a genetic disease (in this case a virus that attacks the genes) it is a highly infectious disease spread by eating contaminated food, or from the air the birds breathe. It is also known as duck plague. Depending on the duck’s general health, strength, and resilience, and the strain of duck viral enteritis, the death rate can range from 5 to 100%.
- Extreme thirst
- Partially closed eyelids
- Nasal discharge
- Sudden death
There is no cure for duck virus enteritis, for this disease, prevention is the only remedy. Hygiene and a lower population density are your best strategies.
- Riemerella anatipestifer
Riemerella anatipestifer is an airborne disease that can also be spread via lesions on the ducks’ feet. The death rates for riemerella anatipestifer range between 10 and 75%.
- Eye discharge
- Weight loss
Treatment involves medicating with sulfaquinoxaline or penicillin and streptomycin.
- Avian cholera
Avian cholera is caused by the Pasteurella multocida bacterium. This is a highly infectious disease with death occurring 6 to 48 hours after infection.
Treatment with antibiotics is very effective in lowering the occurrence of deaths, but hygiene and depopulation are also needed.
- Matted or soiled feathers
- Mucous discharge coming from the duck’s mouth
- Labored breathing
- Bloody or strangely colored feces
- Unusual behavior
- Loss of appetite
Colibacillosis is a disease that is spread by fecal-oral or direct contact with sick ducks or animals.
While deaths do occur, the death rate is only around 10%.
- Reduction in the number of ducklings hatched
- Infection in the yolk sac
Antibiotics are very effective in treating colibacillosis.
Aspergillosis is caused by mold that grows in wet bedding, straw, and on surfaces that are not cleaned regularly.
It has a death rate of only 12% but there is no treatment. The disease can be overcome with a good diet, supplements, and excellent hygiene practices.
Ducks contract aspergillosis when they are in a stressful situation caused by poor hygiene, poor quality food, dirty runs, and inadequate ventilation in their run.
Toxins can be spread via the consumption of old food.
- Digestive issues
- Excessive salivation
It is important that you start appropriate treatment as soon as you see the symptoms above.
Provide your ducks with plenty of water, nutritious food, and a clean run to flush out toxins.
- Aflatoxin poisoning
Food that is moldy, with fungus on it, may cause ill health.
Aflatoxin poisoning has a high death rate of 50 to 90%.
The only real treatment for aflatoxin poisoning is the removal contaminated food or drink.
- Liver damage
- Reduction in the number of eggs produced
- Poor quality eggs
- Eggs that do not hatch
- A long, painful death
Botulism comes from stagnant water, exposure to decaying flesh, or decaying vegetation.
Most cases of botulism result in death. In diagnosing botulism, the main symptoms that your ducks are suffering from botulism are paralysis of the inner eyelids and neck muscles. If you find your duck has no control of their head, there is a good chance they are suffering from botulism.
- Lying down for prolonged periods of time
- Inability to stand
- Inability to hold their heads up
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Drooping eyelids and an inability to see properly
- Inability to walk
- Inability to fly
There is no treatment, but if the duck has not consumed a lot of the botulism toxin, they can be symptomatically treated to give them a chance to survive.
- Castor bean poisoning
Castor bean poisoning results from eating castor beans.
Symptoms of castor bean poisoning are very similar to those of botulism. The biggest difference is the presence of tinges of blood in their urine, stools, and mucous.
- Problems with coordination
Treatment for castor bean poisoning includes ingestion of activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, and electrolytes and sugar.
What Does it Mean to Free-Range Your Ducks?
When most people go shopping and buy free range chickens or ducks and free-range eggs, they have this romantic image in their minds eye of birds unchained, foot loose, and fancy free.
The reality of that label on store bought food is sadly one of the most commonly misleading forms of branding.
Technically, a duck can be considered free range if they have a few minutes in the great outdoors. But on a homestead, ducks are free range because they have exposure to a natural outdoor environment with indoor shelter at night or in bad weather.
Free-range should actually mean the exact thing the label says. It should mean birds that are free to roam and forage in a large, open area.
Of course, free-range does not mean that they have access to the entire homestead. This kind of freedom will result in exposure to dangerous viruses and bacteria, it will result in a lack of supervision because we cannot be watching every duck at the same time, and it will definitely result in lives lost to predators.
Whether you are raising birds for meat or for eggs, raising them free-range makes both the meat and the eggs tastier because of the diverse menu and because the exercise ensures less fatty meat.
I highly recommend that you raise your ducks free-range.
Feeding Ducks is Super-Easy
A balanced diet
Ducks are curious in nature and love to taste many new foods. They develop favorite tastes and will let you know loud and clear if they do not like a particular menu item.
Even within a flock, every bird is different and has their own favorites.
Variety is not just about tastes; it is also about good nutrition.
To be healthy and have all their nutritional needs met, ducks need a selection of grasses, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, grains, worms, bugs, snails, water plants, flowers, various pond weeds, insects, frogs, fish eggs, mollusks, and fish.
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, their bills dig tiny holes all over, but to me it’s worth it. When raising ducks, you can let them loose in the yard. They are not nearly as destructive as chickens in the garden.
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.
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.
When raising ducks, they DO need more niacin than chickens. What we do is 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.
For too many of us, giving a duck a treat relates to a darling grandmother, a pond, and bread. Bread is actually one of the worst things that you can feed to your ducks.
The bread expands in the stomach, leading the ducks to feel full enough to stop eating plants and insects because they feel full. This means that your ducks cannot take in the essential nutrients in insects and plants.
The best treats for your ducks are:
- Cooked rice, wheat, corn, and oats.
- All fruit is safe; remove the seeds of apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and pears.
- Vegetables that are safe to feed your ducks include carrots, spinach, kale, cucumber, lettuce, broccoli, and pumpkin. They can be given to your ducks raw or cooked. If you are cooking vegetables do not use salt or spices.
- Small, easy-to-swallow pieces of unseasoned meat. Meat should be given in moderation.
- Cooked eggs that have not been seasoned or cooked in a large amount of oil.
- Beans that have been soaked in water for 5 hours and then boiled.
- Shelled, unsalted nuts.
- Grass cuttings that have not been treated for pesticides or treated with fertilizers.
Feeding your ducks unhealthy treats can result in illness or death.
- White potatoes.
- Green tomatoes.
- All members of the Nightshade family.
- Raw, uncooked beans.
- Raw eggs.
- Avocado skin and pits.
- Uncooked meat.
- The pits and seeds of fruit.
- Onions and garlic.
- Uncooked potatoes and potato skins.
- Green tomatoes and green potatoes.
- Uncooked beans.
- Greasy food: avoid feeding food cooked in oil.
What are your favorite things about raising ducks? Share some tips on raising them with us!
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.