Winter Ducks

Our ducks fare well even in the winters here at 9,000 feet. Our temperatures can range from roughly +60F to -20F. The other day it literally started out at -5F and reached +60F in the afternoon! Most often the sun is out at least a portion of the day, occasionally not. Sometimes it’s quite windy, other times not. Sometimes there is snow on the ground, other times not. No matter the weather, the ducks will usually spend most of the day outside, and often out foraging for whatever tidbits they might find. Only on the coldest days they might spend a good portion of the time in their house, outside of the wind and cold.

Ducks are quite well adapted for the cold. As water birds, the rain and snow are no problem for them. Their feathers shed off the water, and their down keeps them quite warm. I guess that’s why we make coats out of down with water resistant outer shells for ourselves!

With these cold temperatures the water does freeze, and winter adjustments need to be made. There are different ways of keeping the water liquid. My best solution is to keep a water heater in the bowl. It is on a timer, and usually turns on around 3am, so they will have water to drink in the morning. I turn it on occasionally during the day if the water is freezing, just for an hour or two off and on. The timer we have makes it easy to adjust like that. We keep our bowl on a raised platform over a hole in the ground, covered with hardware cloth. Normally the water will slowly drain from the hole into the earth. In winter this hole fills up with ice and never melts, so I need to be careful to empty the bowl without spilling more water into (onto) this hole. Recently I got out the flame thrower, melted the ice under the bowl as much as I could without burning the frame, then raised the bowl off the frame with an additional support to keep it from freezing onto the frame. I’ve found it’s helpful to keep all snow cleared from around the bowl as soon as possible. If not done, it quickly ices up and makes it nearly impossible to lift the bowl for emptying and refilling.

Notice the wire frame over the top of the bowl–this is not only to hold the electrical wire up (it goes upward to the framework of the pen), but also to keep the ducks out of the bowl. I keep this deeper bowl for them in the winter so they my dip their heads into deep water and keep their eyes clean, which is important. On occasional warm days I will fill a pool for them to bathe, but that doesn’t happen often.

Inside their house (the duckagon), I keep a heat lamp for the coldest of nights. It is on a thermostat and also a timer. The timer is set for the thermostat to come on at about the time we usually lock them in the house at night, and goes off around the time I usually let them out in the morning. The thermostat is now set for around 28F. I don’t want it running all the time, just on the coldest of nights, and often I find that even when it’s pretty cold, it’s in the 30’s, probably due to their own body heat keeping the house warm. When they were younger and it was getting cold, it was used more often and set at a higher temperature, but they are big girls now and can handle more cold. I keep one of the vents (under the roof edge) open most of the time, only closing it on the coldest of nights, maybe when it’s under 10 or so.



A couple of years after starting our garden, we decided it might be time to add some chickens, for eggs and perhaps for their meat. As we began researching chickens, how to raise them, what kind of housing they would need, what breeds we might want, and so on, we ran across some references to ducks, in books and on blogs. We began to think that ducks might be for us. There are several reasons we chose ducks:

  • Ducks are generally healthier than chickens. Ducklings don’t catch the diseases chicks frequently do (such as coccidiosis), and therefore don’t require medicated feed, which is often found in chicken feed.
  • Ducks have a longer life span than chickens.
  • Ducks not only lay eggs for more years, they lay more eggs per year. During the lay season they lay nearly one egg per day.
  • Ducks lay their eggs quietly, early in the morning.
  • Duck eggs are superior, especially for baked goods.
  • Ducks do not scratch and destroy the ground, they walk on top. They don’t destroy the garden as much.
  • Ducks are wonderful bug-catchers. They catch mice, too!
  • Ducks are more heat-tolerant.
  • Ducks are more cold-hardy. (After all, what do they make jackets out of???)
  • Ducks are cuter. Of course, that’s a matter of opinion. 

All things considered, the verdict for us was DUCKS. Since then, we’ve raised three different batches of ducklings. First, Welsh Harlequins, at our home in Wellington. Second, Golden Cascades, here in Guffey. Third, also in the high country, a “six-pack” consisting of two Welsh Harlequins and one each of: White Layer, Cayuga, Fawn & White Runner, and Chocolate Runner. These are the ducks we currently have, and are hoping will begin to lay eggs for us as spring 2017 approaches.

Click on the links below for more information:

Welsh Harlequins (Wellington | 2011-2014)

Golden Cascades (Guffey | 2015-2016)

Tags: ducks