by Lisa Steele
We started our little backyard flock back in 2009 with six baby chicks and two ducklings. And I’ve had ducks living in (mostly) complete harmony with my chickens for more than a decade. Ducks are hardy and low-maintenance, but whether you’re just starting your backyard flock or thinking of adding some ducks to your chicken flock there are some important things to know about raising ducks.
Probably the biggest difference between chickens and ducks is that ducks need a deep water source. Their water needs to be deep enough for them to dunk their entire head in. That is how they keep their nostrils clear and their eyes flushed. Ducks take a bite of feed and then swish their bills in the water, so while they do need fresh water every day, it will never be crystal clear. Gravity-type waterers don’t work well – instead a large tub or bucket is a better option. And ducks should always be fed and watered outside, not in their coop or house. They’ll just get everything wet and you risk moldy bedding.
While ducks don’t need a pond to swim in, they will appreciate a kiddie pool, large tub or stock tank filled with fresh water to splash around in. In the warm weather, I let the flock out into the yard more often, so the ducks get to swim almost every day. Just be sure they can easily get in and out of any large container of water, especially before they’re full grown. In the cold months, they’ll still enjoy a dip in a large tub on nice sunny days, but it’s not necessary. They’ll take mini baths by splashing their drinking water over their backs and then preen their feathers. This is how they keep their feathers waterproofed.
While special waterfowl feed does exist, it can be hard to find, and ducks do fine on regular chicken feed, as long as you add some niacin to it. Ducks need more niacin (Vitamin B3) than chickens and the best source for that is brewers yeast, although there is niacin in some foods ducks eat like peas, peanuts, whole wheat and sunflower seeds, so those all make excellent duck treats. Without adequate niacin levels, ducks legs can weaken and grow incorrectly.
Although ducks are also omnivores like chickens and enjoy many of the same treats as chickens including dried mealworms or grubs, garden and kitchen scraps, they do tend to be a bit pickier about their snacks. They especially enjoy watermelon, tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli, spaghetti and any type of leafy greens floating in their water tub. Ducks also enjoy roaming the yard looking for earthworms, grubs, slugs, small snakes and other insects. They’ll also nibble on grass and weeds, especially dandelion greens.
Ducks need a safe dry place to sleep at night. A chicken coop, shed or playhouse can easily be adapted since ducks don’t need roosts or nesting boxes. Vents and windows should be covered with ½” welded wire and doors need secure latches. Straw on the floor makes a nice bed for the ducks, and they’ll lay their eggs on the floor as well. Ducks create lots of moisture when they exhale, so their house needs good ventilation year round. Ducks are extremely cold-hardy and would prefer to be outside until temperatures drop below about 20 degrees.
I wouldn’t recommend getting just one duck. Ducks are very social and flock-oriented. One duck would be lonely. I would instead suggest adding a minimum of three ducks. Three females, a male and two females, or three drakes are all good flock dynamics.
Drakes can be pretty aggressive during mating season, especially when they’re young, so it’s important to have enough female ducks and enough space for everyone. Rule of thumb is 2-3 female ducks for each drake.
Female ducks begin laying eggs around five months old and will lay an egg a day for the most part. Duck eggs are 30% larger than chicken eggs and can be used the same way – fried, scrambled, poached, in omelets, or for baking. Because of their higher fat content, they make baked goods taste richer and rise better.
Ducklings take 28 days to hatch from fertile eggs. Ducklings can be fed unmedicated chick starter feed (with brewers yeast added) for the first two weeks, then grower feed until they’re close to laying age.
Ducks bring a new level of entertainment and amusement to a backyard flock and I certainly couldn’t imagine our backyard without a handful!
LISA STEELE is a fifth generation chicken keeper and creator of the popular website Fresh Eggs Daily focusing on raising backyard flocks naturally. One of the world’s most prolific poultry authors, Lisa has written six popular books on raising backyard flocks including Fresh Eggs Daily and Duck Eggs Daily. She lives on a small farm in the Maine woods with her husband, their corgi, a spoiled barn cat, and flock of more than two dozen assorted chickens, ducks and geese. Lisa has been featured in the Farmers Almanac and Wall Street Journal and at Country Living fairs , as well as on the Hallmark Home and Family show, Martha Knows Best on HGTV and P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home on PBS. A long time devotee of preparing seasonal dishes with produce fresh from the garden and eggs fresh from her coop, Lisa is currently working on an egg cookbook for Harper Collins due out in February 2022. Visit fresheggsdaily.com or follow on social @fresheggsdaily.