Ducks are very popular farm and backyard animals, with many uses. They are good pets and make for an excellent meat source, but they also provide eggs and can be used for weed control in your garden.
These popular waterfowl have been domesticated since the Bronze Age where Asian farmers first bred them for consumption and trade. Their popularity has spread across Europe over time, eventually making it all the way to North America. Nowadays, more and more people want to know how to keep ducks on their property.
This article is a summary of what I have learned as a duck owner and breeder. It is a comprehensive guide for beginners who are interested in raising and keeping ducks. We will go through everything from getting your first ducks, keeping ducks, and managing issues that most duck keepers experience. For more in-depth info on any specific topic addressed here, we’ve included links throughout the article.
Table of Contents
Why Raise Ducks?
Ducks are a great way to get fresh eggs and/or meat. They also make excellent pets as they can be quite social when raised from the egg, though you will find some shy ducks out there too.
Some people keep ducks to control the pests around their property, such as slugs and snails. They will eat these creatures up quickly, so they don’t have much of a chance to infest garden plants or yards (though be careful to keep them out of your vegetable garden as they may eat your plants).
Ducks have a reputation for being dirty, which is true to some extend. They do make a huge mess in the run and part of your yard. This is partly due to the fact that they poop a lot, and their poop is very messy. But more importantly, they love water, and their love for water is not limited to a bath. They will poop in the water and then swim around in it. They will also drag water out of the basin and turn dirt patches into a mud pit.
However, ducks are also quite clean and they will do their own part to keep themselves clean. They will often bathe or swim in water when they can, and they will groom themselves by picking at their feathers.
Are Ducks Hard to Take Care Of?
Ducks are considered one of the easier poultry species to care for. They can even thrive in a backyard with very little effort from you.
Does that mean ducks are easy to raise? Ducks are relatively easy to raise, but they will require some of your time. They are not a species that will thrive in captivity without the proper care and attention given to them on a daily basis. If you do decide to take this responsibility, expect plenty of time spent caring for your ducks.
Ducks need fresh water regularly and should be provided with clean, cool water at all times of the year. You can make water available to them in various ways, as we will get to later in this article.
Ducks also need access to feed on the same basis as other poultry: daily. They enjoy most fresh vegetables, including lettuce, dandelions, carrots (chopped), and many more. You should provide constant access to grain, corn, and feed pellets in order to give them the necessary nutrients.
What Is Needed to Keep Ducks?
Before you buy your first ducks, you will need to purchase supplies and equipment. Here is a list of essentials:
- A large, deep container that they can swim in and that will provide them with drinking water. Or a waterer that they can drink from at all times. Ducks like to swim, but it’s not essential. However, the water must be deep enough that they can dip their bill and face in it. Ducks need water to clean their nostrils and to soften their feed in addition to drinking.
- Feeders. Medium-large chicken feeders with space that more can eat simultaneously are great. Hence, each duck gets its fair share of feed.
- A shelter where they can roost at night and in bad weather conditions. Ducks don’t need an enclosed duck house, but they do need shelters where they can cover. They sleep on the ground and thus don’t need a roost.
- A pen, either welded wire pens to keep them in a certain area or a run covered by hardware-cloth.
- Bedding material like straw and hay, or other materials that is great at absorbing moisture.
- Duck feed. Ducks can be fed a mix of grains like wheat, corn, and oats, or commercial duck feed.
When buying supplies for your ducks, be mindful of how many ducks will occupy the area and buy accordingly.
Getting Your First Ducks
There are a few things to consider before you bring home your very own ducks. The first is whether to get adult ducks or to buy eggs and hatching them yourself.
Hatching fertilized duck eggs means you will need an incubator and learn how to use it. While incubating eggs can be fun and a great way to teach children about life cycles, it’s also an extra thing to manage, and you may not fare so well the first time.
Buying fertilized eggs or newly hatched ducklings is definitely cheaper than buying ducklings or adult ducks. However, you will have to buy an incubator and build or buy a brooder box and a heat lamp.
If you get young or adult ducks, you can buy them at any age. Make sure they’re healthy and avoid buying from sources that don’t maintain a high hygienic standard. You can buy them at a hatchery or from a local breeder. Buying from a reputable breeder is recommended as this ensures better quality breeding stock while also ensuring healthy genes in your flock. Ordering ducklings in the mail is an option but be prepared that some may die during shipping.
In summary, I believe that the best way to get ducks if you are new to poultry keeping is by buying young adult ducks. They are easier and require less work than incubating eggs, which can be a lot of hard work with uncertain results. Alternatively, young ducklings may also provide you with some enjoyment as they grow up but will require more care than an adult duck does at any point in their life cycle.
How Many Ducks Should I Start With?
You’ll want to start with a minimum of two ducks. Ducks are flock animals and will need others around them. Besides, you may also prefer having more than one egg layer.
A good starting point would be three females. Or three females and one drake if you plan on breeding ducklings. Drakes should always have at least three females available for mating purposes. Starting with a small flock is a good way to start and gain experience. Once you’ve gained experience, it’s easy to expand your flock by adding more ducks or other waterfowl as long as there is sufficient space.
Regardless of how many ducks you get, it’s important to have a high ratio of females to males. During mating season, drakes are notoriously aggressive towards other males and will fight amongst themselves for access to females. Their mating act can also be very violent, and by having more females, he will put less stress on each female.
For a flock with more than one drake, I recommend at least five females for every drake. This will help keep the fighting to a minimum.
If egg production is important to you, it’s worth noting that many ducks lay eggs during winter, albeit less often than during summer. In general, most backyard ducks produce between 150-200 eggs per year, while some breeds may lay up to 300 eggs per year. Ducks do not need a drake to lay eggs
Duck Breeds and Their Characteristics
Ducks come in many sizes, colors, and temperaments. It is important to know that different duck breeds have been bred for different purposes. If you want lots of eggs, then meat ducks are less suitable. There’s nothing wrong with them – just use the right bird for your purpose.
Some people prefer specific kinds of ducks such as Moscovys because they’re quieter than other breeds but don’t forget that each type has its own pros and cons depending on which you feel most comfortable around. Whatever kind of duck appeals to you, they are all pretty similar to one another. They will usually get along in a mixed flock even if they look different.
Some of the most common breeds for having as backyard pets are American Pekin, Welsh Harlequin, and Rouen ducks. They are all known to be very friendly and are easily tamed.
If you want ducks primarily for egg production, then the Khaki Campbell, Buff, and Welsh Harlequinwill provide 300 or more large eggs each year. Indian Runner ducks are also very prolific layers, although their eggs are smaller (chicken size). Duck eggs taste very similar to chicken eggs, but they are even better for baking as your bread and cakes get more fluffy.
For meat purposes, the Muscovy is by far the best duck because of its large size and delicious, almost beef-like meat. Other popular meat ducks are Pekins and Aylesbury. Both of these breeds grow quickly and have very flavorful meat.
How Do You Keep Ducks in Your Backyard?
The best way to keep ducks in your backyard is by providing a large enclosure where they can be safe during the night and when you are not at home to watch them.
Inside, the enclosure should have a pond or other water source that is preferably a foot deep for them to swim in. Ducks don’t need to swim, but they do enjoy it.
Your ducks also need some type of nesting area, whether it’s an actual nest box inside a coop enclosure or just a shielded place that feels safe. You should also provide straw or wood shavings for nesting as well as a place where they can rummage around for food.
Your ducks might look a bit anxious at first when you put them into their new home because it is so different than where they came from – but they will soon adjust. You’ll have to provide them with a steady supply of water, food, and clean bedding materials. Adult ducks are hardy animals with strong immune systems. However, you’ll still need to be well cleaned not to become infected with bacteria and parasites that can lead to illnesses like botulism.
Do Ducks Need a Coop?
Housing ducks is relatively simple compared to chickens as they don’t need a coop. However, unless you have built an enclosure that is safe from predators, they should be kept in a coop every night. To avoid mold and humidity, ensure that fresh air can flow through the building.
Ducks prefer to be outside, and they can handle most weather. Still, you should provide them with a sheltered area that shields them from heavy rain, storms, and harsh weather conditions.
Ducks do not require roosts, and they will sleep on the ground in any safe location, such as their nest or any sheltered corners of the pen. They are also very good at making their own nests of straw and wood shavings.
How Do You Keep Ducks Safe at Night?
To keep your ducks safe, the enclosure should be made from wood or other sturdy materials. Use hardware cloth on the top and sides so that predators cannot get inside, while your ducks can still see outside. Ordinary chicken wire is not enough to keep out most predators, as they will usually be able to rip through it in a matter of minutes.
The bottom of the run should also be covered with hardware cloth if you want to keep your ducks safe from predators digging their way under the fence. In some locations, electric wire will provide necessary additional safety measures.
If there are bears in your area, you may want to take additional safety measures. Bears can be a nightmare for poultry owners. They’re strong and intelligent animals, capable of destroying any ordinary coop or run in seconds. You can’t just rely on ordinary electric fencing to keep them out either – bears may not be deterred if they already have a taste for duck meat.
Reliable options against bears are:
a. An impenetrable bear-proof construction that they won’t be able to get their paws around.
b. Set up an electric fence at least twenty feet from the coop or pen. This will deter the bear before it gets close to your sitting ducks.
How Many Acres Do You Need per Duck?
Ducks require about fifteen square feet of outdoor space per bird. Meaning, you could have 2,904 ducks on one acre of land.
The type of enclosure that’s appropriate to raise ducks in depends on how many birds you want and whether they will be free-roaming, or if they’re only in a pen or a coop at night for example.
Ducks require a lot of space compared to many other poultry species. This is primarily because they make a lot of mess and get very dirty in a small enclosure.
Can I Let My Ducks Roam Free?
Domesticated ducks can free-range. However, they should not be near traffic or busy streets and will need protection from predators. Ducks will usually stay within a few hundred feet of their home as long as there is water and food. If you have sufficient land, there is no need to keep them fenced in.
If you have a smaller plot, you can keep your ducks within the confines of the yard by setting up a fence. That’s not exactly the definition of free-ranging, but it’s much better than being confined to a pen all day.
Having your ducks roam free on your land has lots of benefits – to you and your ducks:
- Your ducks will benefit from the exercise they get, and you’ll also likely find that the meat is better.
- They will probably be happier because they get to explore and follow their natural tendencies. Plus, it just feels good knowing that your animals can enjoy life as nature intended.
- Ducks love to eat grass, weeds, and other plants, which can be a great deal of help in keeping your yard tidy. Just keep them out of your vegetable garden.
- Duck poop is rich in nitrogen, which is great for your soil and, by extension, your plant and your lawn.
- Ducks love to eat bugs and slugs and will happily gobble them up before they do too much damage to your garden.
- They will poop less in their run, which means you will not have to clean it out as often.
Be sure that wherever they roam, there is plenty of shade from trees or bushes, so they’re protected from the sun and heat, as well as protection against hawks.
If you have concerns about predators, keep your ducks inside an electric fence. In areas with a lot of predator activity, they may have to remain within a predator-proof run. Or you may consider getting a guardian dog. A good livestock dog is a wonderful predator deterrent.
How Do You Take Care of a Duck?
In this section, we will discuss how to take care of your ducks on a daily basis and how to manage issues that most duck keepers experience.
How to Feed Ducks
Ducks are omnivores and will eat almost any plants or animals that they can find. They also need a constant supply of clean water to drink, so they need to have access to clean water at all times.
Ducks will happily eat most vegetables and fruits that are given to them. Duck keepers should also provide their flock with a constant supply of protein because they need it for healthy egg production.
To ensure a healthy diet, ducks should be fed duck and geese pellets containing calcium, niacin, and protein. I like to mix pellets with 20% wheat for added protein, carbohydrate, and iron. Young ducklings need less protein for healthy development.
You can feed adult ducks chicken feed supplemented with brewer’s yeast or niacin tablets. Just be aware that chicken feed contains too much protein for ducklings.
How Much Feed Does a Duck Need per Day?
An adult duck will consume about six ounces of food per day which equals about 45 pounds of feed per month for a flock of four.
However, if you let them free-range, they will forage a big portion of their caloric needs and eat much less supplementary feed. In the summer, where there are plenty of insects, slugs, and greens available, up to 50% can be replaced with foraged food. But always ensure they also have access to supplementary feed.
Watering Your Ducks
Ducks need constant access to fresh, clean water to live and stay healthy. They should have a water supply in their pen so that they can drink and soften their feed. Unlike chickens, ducks don’t have a crop and water is essential to help digest their food.
Ideally, there would be an area for swimming with deep enough water to cool them down during the hot summer months. Ducks don’t need to swim, but they will be a lot cleaner if they have access to a pool of water – and probably much happier. A kiddie pool or a large rectangular mortar bucket will work great.
Common Duck Injuries and Other Health Problems
Ducks generally have a strong immune system, but they are not invincible. It’s important to be aware of some common health problems that they may experience.
Ducks are exposed to many different bacteria when they rummage through the water and mud. These bacteria can cause them to become sick or die, and they may even spread it to your chickens or (in some rare cases) you. Some diseases among ducks are:
- Avian influenza: Very contagious, can infect a wide variety of birds and is often fatal.
- Duck plague: A viral and highly fatal disease widespread throughout most of the world.
- Botulism: A life-threatening disease caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water.
Bacterial and viral infections need to be managed fast before it spreads to the entire flock. Read more about duck diseases here.
Ducks with parasites may experience stunted growth, decreased egg production, low appetite, open sores on the body or head area as well as weight loss. Parasite problems are often linked to dirty living conditions in combination with improper diet, but even well-kept ducks can get parasites.
Most parasites found among domesticated ducks originate from their natural habitats such as ponds, marshes, and feedlots, where they get it from wild birds such as geese and gulls.
Preventing and Managing Duck Illnesses
Always keep a close eye on your ducks for symptoms of disease and parasites, such as weight loss, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and decreased activity level. Contact a veterinarian if you think your birds might be infected.
Duck keepers should also take care when handling sick birds as many of these diseases can easily spread among all flock members if not contained. A quarantine area is recommended for any ill animals that require isolation from other healthy individuals. Here is an informative article on the best ways to take care of a sick duck.
The best way to keep your ducks safe from disease is by maintaining a clean environment which includes good hygiene around feeders and water sources. Use hay or wood shavings in the pen and house, which will absorb most liquid waste and keep ammonia levels down while letting you scoop out solids often enough that they don’t pile up too high.
In this final section, we will cover some of the behavior patterns to expect from your ducks. This information can help you anticipate problems before they happen and react accordingly, reducing the stress between duck keeper and flock.
Do Ducks Get Attached to Humans?
Ducks can form strong attachments to humans who provide regular care for them. However, it takes some effort on your part. You should spend time each day feeding them healthy snacks, hanging out in the yard together so you can pet them and play with them, and spending time in the duck house talking to them.
Feeding the ducks regularly will help establish trust and foster attachment. The more you interact with a duck, the closer it becomes. It’s important not just because of that but also because it helps keep the flock calm and stress-free.
Are Ducks Friendlier than Chickens?
Ducks are typically friendlier and less aggressive than chickens. It’s hard to compare ducks and chickens in this regard, as friendliness is a trait that varies from one individual to the next. Still, I have found this to be true in general.
Most ducks are very calm and gentle. They are easy to handle, and people will often enter the pen without worries or concerns about being attacked. They will recognize you as their owner, come when they’re called by name, follow your movements around the yard or pond with interest, even climb onto your lap for pets and treats.
If you have young children in the family, ducks will probably be an excellent choice. The chances are good that they will soon develop an attachment to the ducks and want to care for them.
Are Male Ducks Also Friendlier?
Drakes can be very aggressive during mating season, but they are also quite harmless to humans. An angry or defensive drake can appear intimidating. Still, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to do more than puff up his feathers and produce a few hoarse quacks. Perhaps he’ll snap at your legs but not break the skin.
An aggressive rooster, on the other hand, can hurt you if you are not careful. They are much more agile in their attacks, and they have sharp beaks, claws, and spores. Though it’s not very common, a child (or even an adult) can get hurt by an aggressive rooster.
What is the friendliest duck breed?
Some of the friendliest breeds are Mallards, Muscovy ducks, and Pekins.
A breed that is often considered friendly because they will let you pick them up without fussing or struggling. However they can also get spooked at times by loud noises, so it’s important not to introduce too many new things all at once when interacting with your duck if this happens. It may take longer for them to warm up on their own accord than ofter breeds.
The Peking duck is one of the most popular backyard breeds around because of its great meat and the size of their eggs. But they are also very friendly with humans, so if you want a pet duck, this is one to try out.
Peking ducks are known for their calm demeanor, but they are not nearly as social with other animals or humans as some of the other breeds. This can make keeping them in a mixed flock difficult because they may will have more interest in staying near their owner than interacting with anyone else.
These ducks tend to have a calm temperament. While they are not always as friendly with humans as the Rouen of Pekin, several owners have commented on how sweet these birds can be when treated well.
They may act aggressively if startled or threatened, so you’ll want to go slowly when introducing any new people or animals into their lives.
Are Ducks Quieter than Chickens?
Ducks are quieter than chickens. But it’s important to note that chickens and ducks make different noises, and both can be loud at times.
Most duck breeds constantly quack throughout the day but seldom loudly. You will usually not hear them unless it’s a large flock or you are close by. However, when they get upset or excited, they can be very noisy. The quacks are often rough and nasal-sounding and not particularly melodic or musical.
On the other hand, Chickens have a louder and more audible clucking, but they remain quiet most of the time. Only when they get upset or lay an egg will you hear their very loud cackling. Although, chickens are also somewhat easier to upset than ducks.
If you live very close to your neighbors, they may get annoyed by your ducks’ constant chattering, but at some distance, they will rarely notice. Your hens are almost guaranteed to get loud about once a day each, but otherwise, they will remain mostly silent.
However, this does very much depend on the specific breeds and individual chickens/ducks. Some birds are much louder than others.
An apparent distinction between the two species is with the males, however. Roosters are very loud. They can literally crow for hours and hours on end and often very early in the morning. Drakes don’t crow or make other noises – usually, they are even quieter than female ducks.
How to Keep Ducks Quiet?
The best way to keep a flock of ducks quiet is to make sure they have plenty of food and water and a safe environment. Stress and hunger will make them noisy. If they feel threatened or are in an unfamiliar environment, they will call out loudly.
That being said, some duck breeds are much more suitable to quiet neighborhoods – and one in particular: The Moscovy duck is an especially quiet bird. This breed does not quack whatsoever – only hissing (and even then sparingly). If silence is golden in your backyard, Moscovy ducks are the perfect choice for you.
Will Pet Ducks Fly Away?
Most ducks have the genetic disposition to fly, but usually, domestic breeds won’t because they don’t have to. As long as they have a place to eat and nest, they will stay put. Flying also requires a slim body and very well-developed wing muscles, which most adult domesticated ducks don’t have.
If your neighbor has a pond, pool, or other body of water, they may fly the short distance. Some ducks also like to fly atop your roof for a view. But domestic ducks are unlikely to join the wild mallards flying above, although I have seen them try and fail. I’ve never seen any of my ducks fly very far, and if they could, I suspect they would always return in the evening.
If you’re worried about them flying away or into your neighbor’s pool, you could keep them inside a covered enclosure all day. You might also want to consider Indian runner ducks, which cannot fly at all.