Did you know that duck eggs are not only larger than chicken eggs, they’re also higher in fat, which means that your baked goods will raise higher and taste richer. If you’re thinking of adding a few ducks to your backyard, you’ll want to learn how to raise ducklings. While adult ducks can often be found on Craig’s List or a local farm, I highly recommend starting with ducklings. Not only are they adorable, you have a better chance at ending up with friendlier adults if you handle them and let them bond with you and get used to you from a young age.
Ducklings are usually available from your feed store or a local farm, or you can order them from Metzer Farms. The Metzer Farms website has wonderful information about different duck breeds and allows orders of a minimum of just two ducklings, making it easy to raise ducklings. Or you can try your hand at hatching duck eggs, which isn’t much different than hatching chicken eggs, although the incubation period is 28 days versus the 21 days that chicken eggs require.
How to Raise Ducklings
Raising baby ducks isn’t much different than caring for baby chicks. Ducklings need a safe, draft-free brooder that is heated for the first few weeks to keep them warm until they grow their feathers. While you can use a cardboard box as an inexpensive brooder, ducks make quite a mess in their water, so a plastic tote or metal tub is a far better choice.
Newspaper gets too slippery when it gets wet, so some rubber shelf liner, an old yoga mat or something easily rinseable that the ducklings can easily grip with their feet is a great choice for the bottom of the brooder. After the ducklings are a week or so old and have learned what is food and what isn’t, you can add some pine chips to help absorb the water mess the ducklings make.
You should start the temperature at 90 degrees Fahrenheit when you first get your day-old (or few days old ducklings) and then you can lower the temperature a degree a day (7 degrees a week) by raising the heat source, until your ducklings are fully feathered – at around eight weeks old. At that point they can be moved outside into a secure coop or house with an attached predator-proof enclosed run, as long as the nighttime temperatures aren’t falling much below 40 degrees.
Feed and Water
If you’re tempted to raise ducklings, I’m sure you’re wondering what do you feed baby ducks since duckling feed isn’t something you generally see at the feed store. Well, ducklings can eat chick feed (Be sure to choose the unmedicated feed since ducklings aren’t susceptible to coccidiosis, so don’t need the mediation.), but it’s a good idea to add some raw rolled oats (such as Quaker) to the feed. The oats reduce the protein levels a bit, which slows the ducklings’ growth. If ducklings grow too fast, that puts too much of a strain on their feet and legs. You can add the oats up to a 25 percent ratio into the feed. Adding some brewers yeast to your ducklings’ feed is also beneficial to ducklings because it provides them some added niacin which also helps build strong legs and bones. A 2 percent ratio of brewer’s yeast to feed is recommended.
Ducklings also need water — lots of it. They can easily choke if they don’t have access to drinking water any time thy are eating. They drink lots more water than baby chicks do and what they don’t drink, they splash all over the place. They also need deeper water than chicks do. Ducklings need to be able to dunk their entire heads into the water to keep their eyes and nostrils clean. Keeping the water clean is another story. Ducklings manage to fill their water with feed, dirt and also poop. If they can manage to sit in the water dish, they will. So their water needs to be changed frequently. If you decide to raise ducklings, you’ll quickly discover that keeping their water crystal clear is not possible, but at least making sure the water is fresh and not full of poop is what you should focus on.
Floating some chopped grass or herbs, edible flowers, peas or corn in their water provides great fun for your ducklings. Just be sure that you offer them a dish of chick grit or coarse dirt to help them digest the fibrous treats.
If you raise ducklings that haven’t been hatched under a mother hen (those from a commercial hatchery), you should be aware that they aren’t waterproof until they are about a month old, so they can easily get chilled or even drown if they are allowed to swim unsupervised. However, short, supervised swims in warm, shallow water when they are just a few days old can help them to learn to preen their feathers and gets their preen gland working, which then begins to add the waterproofing to their feathers.
Can Ducks Live with Chickens?
You might be wondering, can ducks live with chickens? And the answer is a resounding yes! I’ve raised our chickens and ducks side by side for years. Our ducks sleep in the chicken coop in a corner on straw bedding and lay their eggs in the straw in another corner. They share a communal run, eat the same food and enjoy the same supervised free range time.
If the idea of adding a few ducks to your backyard is intriguing to you, you might be interested in reading my book Duck Eggs Daily which is available from the Backyard Poultry bookstore. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to raise ducklings. And be sure to visit my Duck Eggs Daily Facebook page for daily information, tips and photos from me and my ducks.
Are you going to raise ducklings this year? What breeds will you be getting? Let us know in the comments below.