This is my guide to raising ducklings, or at least the way we’ve done it. This is now our 4th time to raise ducklings, and we think we’ve got this down. Each time, we’ve done things just a little bit differently based on our living situation at the time and the time of year and weather. The only consideration for ducklings that may be different at high altitude would be the weather. Any time prior to July may be too cool for small ducklings to be in an outdoor shed or other area–they should spend their early days in a warmer, indoor location. The best time to start ducklings in our cooler area would be July or early August. Our 2019 ducklings were hatched August 1.
Most of our information for raising the ducks has come from these two sources:
“Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks“ by Dave Holderread. The book contains a lot of helpful information, but is a little hard to follow, and there is sometimes conflicting information from one chapter to another. The index is not well done, and many things are hard to find. I often think, “I know I read this somewhere,” but cannot find any reference in the index. That said, reading this book provides everything you’d need to know to raise ducklings for the first time. It was our main reference at the start, and we ordered our first two flocks of ducklings from Dave Holderread.
Metzer Farms at metzerfarms.com has been our next go-to resource for information. The website has lots of easy-to-find information about care & management, health issues, and breed comparisons. We ordered our second two flocks successfully from Metzer Farms.
BROODER & HOUSING
It is important to provide a safe, warm housing for the baby ducklings, especially for the first couple of weeks. This is described sufficiently in the above resources. Over time we have adapted our brooder situation a little differently each time.
2. We used the same brooder box in our Guffey location in June 2015 and August 2016, but here we put the brooder box in our workshop/storage area underneath an old desk we could hang the heat lamp from. We did not use the burlap “flooring” this time, but had the same type of ½” hardware cloth framework topped with screen for the first week until the duckling’s feet could handle the hardware cloth. The screen mesh was easier to work with and wash off. We got a nice thermostat we could use with the heat lamp which is quite helpful, and we continue to use it with ducklings and throughout the winter months in their current housing.
3. With the 5 ducklings in 2019, we did something a little different. Our former brooder box had developed some leaks and we didn’t want to use our space in the workshop for smelly ducklings. Being August, rather than June, the nights are warmer, and we knew we would feel comfortable setting them up in our duck house (the “duckagon”).
The duckagon already had electricity to set up light and heat-lamps, so all we had to do was hang them, plug them in and set the thermostat. Since we had some older ducks when we first got these ducklings, we put up a partition to separate the older ducks from the younger ones. We had a cat carrier which we thought would work well for the first week, and used it by removing the top half. It’s about 17″x24″ and 10″ high with the lid off. The cage-like door was not usable without the lid, so Tim made a screened filler for that section, which enabled a little more ventilation. We filled the bottom with wood shavings. There was room for a small feeder and small waterer. For the
first two days the wood shavings were covered with a piece of mesh screen to keep the ducklings from eating the shavings. Once they knew what food was and I wasn’t so concerned about them eating the shavings I removed the screen. (I’m not sure how important it was to add the screen. I’d read in some places that it would be important to do this, and in others that wood shavings would be just fine. Since I had some screen on hand I went ahead and did it.) This cat carrier a.k.a. duckling brooder was then placed into our duckagon under the heat lamp.
Note: This cat carrier/duckling brooder worked just fine for 3-4 ducklings for a few days, but for more ducklings or after the 3-4 ducklings are a week old, they will require much more space.
For the heat lamp we use a reptile heat lamp bulb like THIS ONE. As compared with the red heat lamps often used, this doesn’t get quite as hot, it is safer (particularly hanging over wood shavings), and it does not add light. We feel that the red light emitted from the more traditional lamps may not be good for the ducklings. Our thermostat kept the lamp on or off as needed, and it seemed to provide the appropriate amount of heat: 90° the first week, 85° the second, and 5° less each week thereafter until the ducklings were fully feathered. At that point, it was getting colder here at night, so the heat lamp was left on at 50° at night only for a few more weeks.
Our situation this year was a bit unique in that we received two more ducklings 1 week after the first three ducklings arrived. (One of the original four died and we were sent a replacement for that duckling along with a companion.) We were encouraged to keep the smallest ducklings separated from the larger ones for a week, with the ability to see each other. So, when the second two ducklings arrived, the first three were put into the main duckagon compartment and the new ducklings were placed in the carrier-brooder in the duckagon for the first two days. The big ducks and little ducks were able to see each other through the screened doorway. We found that the little ones stayed close to the screen, and the bigger ones huddled nearby as well. When we took the carrier-brooder out to clean after 2
days, we let all ducklings be together. They were fine, so we removed the brooder and allowed all ducklings to have their half of the duckagon together (apart from the adult ducks). At this point, all food & water for ducklings were shared, inside the duckagon, which was filled with wood shavings.
FOOD & WATER
FEEDERS & WATERERS
For feeders, I’ve used chick feeders with holes large enough for ducklings’ bills. I used a small, circular one in the small brooder, and a longer one when they were in the large house area. As ducklings get bigger and do not have feed in the house overnight, they graduate to their outdoor feeder. Whatever is used, it’s best to use something they are not able to jump in, with some sort of restraint over the top.
For the duration of their stay in the small cat carrier/brooder, water was given in a small mason-jar type waterer, and feed in the small round feeder. (see first photo) When ducklings were moved to the main floor of the duckagon, water was in a 1-gallon size waterer, and they ate from a longer chick feeder. The gravity-feed waterers are ok for young ducklings, but generally I don’t like them. Ducklings need to dip their heads into water to keep their eyes clean, and are unable to do this with the gravity type waterers. Additionally, the gravity-fed waterers get really gross and smell bad after only a few hours, and they need to be cleaned often.
Once the ducklings are big enough to drink from a deeper bowl, that’s what they get. When ducklings were about 3 weeks old, they were given water in a ceramic bowl from my kitchen, about 4.5″ deep and 5.5″ wide, placed on an old lid to capture spills. I found that the deeper bowl was actually LESS messy in the duckagon than the gravity waterer. I placed a couple of perpendicular wires across the top of the bowl to keep the kids from jumping in (which they did). When the ducklings were 4-5 weeks old the water was removed from the duckagon. They only had water during the day and got used to the lack of nighttime water just fine. The duckagon remained dryer and cleaner.
Ducks & Water: there’s no way to keep everything clean. Get used to it.
A WORD ABOUT NIACIN
Duck breeders stress the importance of adding additional niacin to either the ducklings’ feed or water for their first 8 weeks of life. The lack of niacin can result in splayed legs or other deformities. I don’t know how the poor little wild ducklings in nature get this additional niacin, but the breeders all say to add it so I do. Normally, feed that is formulated for chicks does not contain enough niacin, so the additional niacin should be added for ducklings. Niacin can be added in powder form (emptied out from capsules for humans) and added to their drinking water, or brewer’s yeast is another helpful source, easily added to their feed. I’ve tried both methods and prefer adding brewer’s yeast to the feed. The niacin does not seem to dissolve very well in the water, even when I’ve tried adding it to warm water. To treat water with additional niacin, add 100-125 mg per gallon (this allows for huge waste & spillage); OR, add nutritional yeast flakes or brewer’s yeast to food at the rate of ½ Tblsp per 8 oz feed.
Feed has been given to the ducklings as a combination of suggestions from Holderread and Metzer, based on the feed locally available. We want to provide our ducks organic feed, and therefore the eggs we will eat are essentially organic, with the exception that the ducklings we purchased were not designated organic. Since we had such a small number of ducklings and did not want to purchase a 40 lb. bag of starter feed, this year we got the Dumor Chick Starter, 19% protein, which was locally available in a small size. I wanted about 22% (per Metzer) but Holderread suggests 18-20% protein, so we went with the 19%. Metzer suggests that if 20% is used, the ducklings should be fed that amount until 4 weeks old. Since we have a combination of ages of ducks, we went with a compromise: at about 3.5 weeks for the little ones and 4.5 for the big ones we began lowering the protein content by adding whole oats.
Although feed formulated specifically for waterfowl would be preferred (and may already contain the necessary niacin), it is expensive and hard to find locally. Shipping this is out of the question. Normally I feed our ducks Ranchway Easy-Feed Organic feeds for poultry. The Ranchway facility is located in Fort Collins, where we used to live, and we used to buy directly from them. Since moving to Guffey we have found Ranchway feeds locally available at a few feed stores. I often have to special order feeds I require, but that is not a problem. I get everything in 40-50 lb. bags.
At 3 weeks of age, I began mixing the Ranchway Easy-Feed Chick Grower (20% protein) with the DuMor starter feed for a couple of days, then went straight to the Grower feed. When the ducklings reached 5 weeks of age, I began mixing in some organic whole oats at a ratio of 1 lb oats to 3 lbs feed. This mixture reduces their protein content to about 17.5%, and I continue to add oats to their 20% feed for the remainder of their lives.
When the ducks reached 10-11 weeks old I needed more feed. Per Holderread they do not require as much protein at this time, but finding the best feed isn’t easy. I had some old layer feed left over from our previous ducks that had been a goofy mixture with less % protein, so I bought another bag of the Grower and mixed in that old layer feed 50/50 (along with the oats). The next bag of feed I buy will be 20% layer in preparation for these ducks to lay eggs. That will be around the middle of December when the ducks will be 18 weeks old.
Hopefully these ducks will begin to lay eggs sometime between 20-26 weeks, which for us will be January-February. The last ducks we raised started laying at 27 weeks but we did not add lighting to encourage laying. Other ducks we have had began laying at about 23 weeks. This time we will begin lighting their paddock and house sometime around 16-18 weeks. That’s another story for another post, another day.
WEEK 1: Ducklings were allowed to “swim”, supervised, in a flat tray of water the first week.
WEEK 2: The second week they were allowed to swim in a large bowl filled with water. This is the bowl that later would become ther drinking water bowl. They were only swimming with supervision for 10-15 minutes during sunny, warm afternoons and could easily get out on their own.
WEEK 3: Swimming was allowed in the large kiddie pool, filled half full the first 2 days then all the way full after that. Swimming time was generally on warm, sunny afternoons. For 2 weeks they were only allowed in the pool with “lifeguard” supervision (us). If left to get in and out on their own they spent way too much time in the pool, and without being fully feathered at this time they could get chilled with too much water time.
WEEK 5: Swimming is now allowed all the time. No lifeguard necessary!
According to Metzer Farms, “Ducklings and goslings can be introduced to swimming water as early as one week of age but you must be very careful. They must be able to walk in and out of the water very easily. The water should not be too cold and they must be able to find their heat lamp for rewarming without difficulty. As they have no oil on their feathers at this age, they cannot be in the water for long periods or they will become waterlogged and chilled. Do not allow this to happen! But this exposure to water speeds the development of their oil gland and they can probably be swimming freely by five or six weeks of age.”
SOCIALIZING WITH HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMALS
In our experience, we have not had any problems with our ducks and other animals. We have had horses, dog and cat. Shortly after we got our dog Goldie, as a 7 month old puppy, she was introduced to our ducks. We used a shock collar and gave her a jolt when she got too close the first time, and that took care of her desire to bother the ducks! Goldie does not enter the ducks’ paddock and mingles freely with them in the yard. The cat was kept apart from the ducklings until they reached her size, and basically she is overwhelmed by several large ducks that are always together and squawking. When she gets too close the ducks chase her off. The ducks were not at all intimidated by the horses and freely went into their paddock to pick up bits of grain around their feeder. They seemed to know not to get to close to the horses’ feet.
As for humans, we’ve had mixed experiences. In the past we’ve chased the ducks around to get them away from an area where we didn’t want them, or if they were too noisy they’d be chased away from the house. This made them want to run away from us most of the time, and we think it made them more nervous and certainly less friendly. In our attempt to have calmer ducks, with this bunch we spent more time with them when they were small. We picked them up more and sat down on the ground with them, feeding them bits of lettuce from our hands. At this point (14 weeks old) they are much friendlier, and one of them will come to me and peck at my hand or heels if I let her. I’m not sure if they are more quiet; these ducks still quack, especially at mealtime.
All the ducks we’ve had here in Guffey have found their way to our deck, and seem to want to pay us visits, leaving deposits freely on the deck for us to step on. We don’t mind the visits, but don’t want the deposits. So, ducks are banned from the deck by being chased off with stomping feet and loud chastisement! They get the idea, and the bad human behavior only happens when they step onto the deck.