25 Important Facts You Should Know Before Getting Ducks
So many people jump into getting ducks without knowing anything about them. But because they didn’t do their research they quickly realize how fast they grow and messy they get. Then these ducks are dropped at a local pond or just set free. Those ducks will end up being a meal very quickly as they cannot fly away. These are some important facts you should know before getting ducks.
1. You Need More Than One Duck
Ducks are very social creatures and they need to be housed together in a group, minimum of 2 ducks. Having one duck inside your home will not do and is not recommended. Ducks are not meant to be housed indoors and they need a 24/7 buddy. Most breeders will not allow you to buy only one duckling as it’s cruel and not fair for the single duck to be the only one.
2. Ducks Need Approximately 2-3 Square Feet per Duck
When building their duck house you will need to create a space big enough for each duck to have 4-6 feet of floor space per duck. If they are being kept in a penned in area outside their duck house they will need 15 feet of floor space per duck. We built our duck house 6’X 4′.
We currently only have two ducks but it is built for no more than 6 ducks. It’s better to build a bit bigger as you may end up wanting more ducks down the road. Check out How To Build a Duck House for a detailed guide on what a duck house needs.
3. Ducklings are Not Waterproof and Will Drown
Ducklings will only be waterproof if the mother duck has covered them in her oil. When ducklings are raised without a mother duck they are not waterproof until their feathers come in.
If left in water for too long they will become water logged and can drown. They get their feathers in by about 6 weeks old and as they preen they will coat themselves with oil from their oil gland.
Ducklings can have supervised swim time from about 1 week of age for 5-10 minutes at a time. It is important not to use cold water as they can become chilled quite easily.
When they are done from the bath they should be given access to the heat lamp for them to warm back up. Giving your ducklings short swim times can actually help develop the oil gland and ducks should be good to have unsupervised swimming by 6 weeks old.
4. Prepare for Predators Before Putting Ducks Outside
Domestic ducks have no defense. Most breeds cannot even fly away. Ducks have many predators and their duck house needs to be sturdy and sealed off from anything that may try to get in.
Depending on where they are able to forage you may need to fence in an area on all sides and the top to protect them from predators. They have many predators that come from the ground as well as the sky. Predators will change based on where you live but some common predators are foxes, raccoons, mink, bobcat, coyotes, badgers, hawks, eagles, and owls.
If the ducks will be on a large body of water there are underwater predators as well – snapping turtles, bass, northern pike, and bull frogs. These types of predators will grab and pull the ducks underwater and drown them. They can also nip at their feet causing injury.
5. Ducks are Very Messy
When ducks are around water they CAN make a huge mess. Notice that I did not say they ALWAYS make a mess. You can plan around it and avoid the muddy mess. Things like give them a large bucket of water that is not filled to the top. When the bucket is filled to the top they dunk their heads and it splashes over. If smaller buckets are used they can end up tipping them over.
When there is puddles, ducks love to stomp their feet and dig their beaks into the ground. If their pool is surrounded by grass and or dirt when they splash around it will create mud. Its best to put the pool on a bed of rocks to aid in drainage and stop the creation on mud.
Make sure you have proper drainage in areas you don’t want turned into a mud puddle. If it rains and part of your yard gets puddles the ducks will turn that area into a mud pit… you may not like it but your ducks will love it. How To Build a Mess-Free Duck Pen has some great preventative measures and some fixes for avoiding a messy duck pen.
Ducks poop A LOT. And their poo is wet. In the coop this can cause a lot of problems. They need dry bedding or they get infested with flies/ parasites and the ducks can get bumblefoot. When ducks are housed with just ducks their flat feet push all the bedding down flat and then they poop on top.
This creates a dry layer at the bottom, wet bedding in the middle, and the top is just poo. If you have chickens housed with the ducks they will scratch and mix up the bedding dispersing the wet poo into the dry bedding.
I use pelletized horse bedding and hay. The pellets expand and crumble when wet, turning to sawdust. To stop the duck house from getting too wet I keep a pitch fork beside the entrance of their coop. Every morning when I let them out and collect the eggs I “fluff” the hay and every couple days I add some extra hay on top.
When it gets fluffed in the morning it has time for some of the bedding to dry before they go back in and stomp it all down at night.
When they are still in the brooder they may need bedding changes multiple times a day depending on how you have it set up. Check out How To Make a No-Mess Duck Brooder for a full explanation.
6. Ducks Do Not Need Food and Water in the Coop Over Night
Keep the food and water out of the of the duck house overnight to cut down on mess. The more they eat and drink the more they poop. They will also spill or drip water all over the place from drinking. This will also keep the rodents away from the coop.
7. Ducks Live a Long Time
Ducks live for an average of around 10 years. Generally it’s the bigger the duck, the shorter the life-span. But some breeds of ducks can live for up to 20 years. Before you welcome ducks into your life ask yourself if you’re ready for the commitment. It’s just like getting a dog. The ducks will need you to provide them with their daily necessities and need to be let out every morning and locked up every night. If you go away on vacation, someone will need to care for them. Check out How to Care for Ducks for a detailed guide on the basic necessities of ducks care.
Some people use automatic doors that open and close at certain times, or by how much sun light it gets. The only problem with these doors is occasionally the ducks don’t get to the door before it closes and then they are locked out for the whole night unless you go and put them in.
8. They Have Somewhat Different Dietary Needs Than Chickens
Ducks need more niacin than chickens. As ducklings they can eat chick starter as long as it is not medicated. As adults, laying ducks and chickens can eat the same food. Ducks should have a feed with higher niacin but if you have a mixed flock of ducks and chickens (or other poultry) you can use an “all flock feed” and offer the ducks a niacin supplement like brewer’s yeast.
If your birds are able to free range most of the time they will get enough greens and bugs that they won’t need any supplementation. I have two ducks that are on a poultry layers diet with 16% protein and they free range all day. Our local farm store does not have a specific duck diet.
Just like chickens, ducks can eat food scraps from the kitchen however, they need to be cut up into bite size pieces. Ducks don’t have the pointy beak like chickens to peck apart food. Here is a long list of what ducks and chickens can and cannot eat.
9. You Will Not Get Rich from Your Ducks (eggs or meat)
It can be costly to set yourself up for ducks. By the time you’ve paid for the ducklings, or fertilized eggs, set up a brooder with heat lamp, built a duck house, pool, and enclosure that’s predator proof, and paid for their feed, it would take several years to make a profit.
I personally should be making a couple dollar profit each month within the next 2 years. We used scrap wood from a fence we had torn down to build the coop and pen and used some scrap metal sheeting for the roof. We only needed to pay for the ply wood and a couple 2X4s. For the pond we bought a kiddy pool and some rocks for the splash pad (where the pool sits).
You may break even
I have 2 female runner ducks and they each give me an egg every day. The first couple weeks they would often skip a day. Eggs used to cost me about $6-7 for a carton every other week.
I currently pay $14 for a bag of feed, which lasts me several months because they get most of their food from free ranging all day. And then I make $5 every other week or so when I sell a dozen eggs.
So my ducks pay for their own feed and give me a little extra (that theoretically pays off the cost of building their brooder, duck house, pen, and pool). But it will take them continuing to lay an egg every day for a year or two before we even come close to breaking even. I will be adding some more ducks this spring which will help but it still wont make me rich.
10. Duck Breeds are Not Created Equal, so Choose Wisely
There are many types of domestic ducks that people keep as pets or for the eggs or meat. If you do not have a large space then some of the smaller breeds may be a better idea. Smaller ducks also equal smaller poos. Call ducks are very small, but they are not quiet and not recommended for the city. For those living in the city choosing a small quieter duck would be a wise choice, like runner ducks. The number of eggs ducks lay can vary from bloodline to bloodline.
Some of the most common ducks are Indian Runners, Pekin, Silver Appleyard, Khaki Campbell, Muscovy, Saxony, Cayuga, Swedish, Call ducks and Rouens and there’s many more. Looking online there is a huge range from what the approximate number of eggs each breeds lay per year.
However, from talking to other duck owners (specifically ones with multiple breeds), they say they all average about 200 per year. Indian Runner ducks seem to be the best layers for the most part, laying up to 350 a year. The ducks lay an egg a day, or more, and take a break in the winter.
Considering Meat Birds?
If you are considering eating your ducks any size duck is fine to eat. We raise our ducks for eggs and pets but we hatch our own eggs so we end up with more males than we want. Those males get a great beginning of their life and then when they reach maturity they get added to the freezer. Runner ducks who average about 4-5lbs feed two people.
If you are planning to use your ducks for meat than a larger breed like a Pekin (the most common commercial duck meat) and Muscovys are good choices. The Pekins grow to about about 12lbs and Musocvys can get up to 15lbs.
If you are looking for a quiet duck the Muscovys are great as they are super quiet, however they are good fliers so their wings may need to be clipped depending on your housing situation. They are also some of the best mothers. They will sit on a nest of eggs and protect the ducklings once they’ve hatched.
11. Ducks Need a Pool or Pond
So to be technical ducks do not NEED a pool or pond. The only 100% requirement is they have fresh water that is deep enough to dunk their head.
However, ducks get dirty, fast, and if they aren’t able to have a bath every couple days they can end up with parasites or mites. And if you have ever watched ducks in a pond you will see how much they love it. They are naturally drawn to water.
Many ducks prefer to mate in water rather than on land. They don’t need a big pool but something that is big enough that all your ducks could fit in at the same time… because believe me they will all want to be in there at the same time. So if you want a happier and healthier duck, I would give them a small (or large) body of water.
Be warned that if you have a large pond that has large fish, or other predators mentioned above, they can nip at the ducks feet and could kill a duckling.
The only exception is Muscovy Ducks. They are not derived from the mallard family and they tolerate drier conditions. They can be quite happy with just a bucket of water to dunk their heads. But, they still benefit from a bath every couple days. A large tote filled with water will do just fine if you don’t have a permanent pond set up.
12. They Need Access to Water Deep Enough to Dunk Their Heads
This is super important for ducks. They breathe through their nostrils. When they are foraging and going about their day they get dirt and food in their nostrils. They clean them out by putting their head under the water and blowing air out their nostrils. They also use the water to keep their eyes clean.
I put out two buckets of clean water (placed in two areas of the yard – shown in picture above) every day. Don’t worry if they make the water dirty. It will look like mud in under five minutes. They don’t need the water to stay clean they just need it to be fresh. In the summer I often replace the water mid-day as the water gets quite warm and they go through more of it faster.
13. Males can Sometimes get a Prolapsed Penis
Occasionally male ducks can end up with their penis stuck sticking out, also known as a prolapsed penis. This can be caused by trauma, over excursion during mating, or from an infection, most commonly venereal disease.
If it stays out for too long a vet should be contacted. But the first thing you can do is separate from the rest of the flock and provide clean water to the male every day, especially before bed. They need very clean bedding to prevent any sort of infection. They do sometimes go back in on their own.
14. Ducks Make Holes in the Ground Searching for Bugs
When ducks are searching for bugs they poke and wiggle their beaks into the ground. It can be frustrating if you’re looking for the perfect lawn. I like to think of it as them aerating the lawn. They aren’t huge holes, you probably won’t trip on them. They are about the width of the ducks beak.
I just grab a handful of dirt and fill in the holes then throw some grass seed on top. If you don’t have puddles or any standing water on the ground there will be less holes and wont be as big. The more water the bigger the holes.
15. Some Ducks Take a Break from Laying During the Winter Months
Ducks can take a break from laying when the days get short and the weather grows cold. With chickens they just slow down on their laying but don’t typically stop completely. I say ducks CAN take a break because not all ducks are the same.
My ducks started on laying on Jan 4th at six months old. I’m located on the west coast of Canada so we were in our darkest days of winter with temperatures between -5C and 10C when they started laying. They have both continually laid an egg every day since about two weeks after their first egg.
The ducks are two weeks apart in age and started laying 2-3 weeks apart. Both ducks would have the odd day during the first couple weeks where they wouldn’t lay. But they never went more than 1 day without laying.
For more information on duck care in the winter check out the post Caring for Ducks in Winter
16. Females are Loud; Males are Quiet
One way to sex your ducks is to listen to their quacks. Ducks typically find their voice by 6 weeks old. Females are very loud and males are much quieter and raspy. If you want quiet ducks you may be interested in Muscovy ducks. They are very quiet, males and females.
Another way to sex your ducks is when mature the males get a little tail feather that curls up
Ducks will let you know if they need something. They will quack and quack until you figure it out. When my ducks run out of feed before the end of the day they will start quacking and running at me as soon as I step outside. They keep quacking until I fill up their dish. They also do this if they want fresh water.
17. Keeping Ducks with Chickens
You can raise chickens and ducks together; however there are some things to consider. The nutritional needs are a little different as mentioned above. But that is easily managed.
If housing them in the same coop you will need a board or level of some sort under any perches. Chickens go up to roost and the poop goes down, if there is nothing under the perch the ducks may get covered in chicken poo.
If you have male ducks you need to make sure there are enough females for them. If they start trying to mate with the hens it could get bad. A roosters penis does not come out of their body while mating, ducks do.
You can imagine how the hens feel about a duck trying to mate with them. It can also cause serious damage to the hens. It is ok for rooster to try to mate with ducks as nothing will happen.
18. Ducks Tend to Have More Personality than Chickens
Ducks are highly intelligent and very social creatures. They also have differing personalities. Ducks are capable of being trained. Pet Assure states that they can “understand commands, play with toys, play games, give kisses, and beg for snuggles like other birds” if you are willing to put in the time and patience to train them.
If you spend enough time with your ducks they will come running to you whenever you are around. Some will let you pet them and pick them up. If you are wanting a friendly duck you need to put in the time to handle them every day.
My ducks were handled a lot as ducklings but as they moved outside and then the winter came i spent less time outside and now the duck who use to come running for back scratches and pets now does not want to be touched. She wants my attention and to be close, but not to be touched.
19. Ducks are Cold Hardy Birds and Can Handle the Winter Weather Better than Chickens
There is a reason winter jackets are often made with down feathers. It keeps them really warm. They can handle the rain, snow, and below freezing temperatures. The only thing they seem to struggle with is the wind. So as long as you have wind blocks and a shelter where they can escape the wind they will be fine.
Using scrap wood and a tarp from around our yard I built a small shelter to provide some relief from the snow and wind.
You can really use anything to offer them the protection from the wind. A table closed off on 3 sides, a covered near a fence, or even a heavily planted area with shrubs and bushes.
20. Ducklings Grow Much Faster than Chicks
Ducks reach full size by 30 days old. Chickens can take 7-6 months and some breeds can take up to two years to reach full size. This is important to know especially if you have been used to raising chicks and then decide you want to raise ducklings.
They grow fast so their brooder will need to be large, or be upgraded quite quickly. You won’t have a very long time to build their outdoor enclosure if you wait until they get big before you start building it.
21. Males Can be Quite Aggressive
Males can be assholes (pardon my language) and can be very aggressive towards people and the female ducks. Male ducks generally need a minimum of 3-4 or more females per male. I have heard stories of some ducks being happy just one male and one female. But more is better. During mating season the males can be friskier than normal.
If the males are too frisky the females end up with feathers pulled from their neck and if they don’t get a break from the male they can end up with bloody necks as well. When mating in the water the males push the females head under the water, this is normal.
However, if the females start honking they may need some help to get away from the male. Females can be drown from males being too aggressive while mating or if the male duck is much larger than the female. For example, if a male Muscovy was trying to mate with a female Runner duck. It does not happen all the time but it happens enough that you should be warned if you plan to have males and females together.
22. Ducks can Sometimes Sleep Like a Dead Duck
Many duck owners have had mild heart attacks when they walk out into their yard to find their duck laying there, looking like it is dead, although they are just sleeping.
I had one duck who liked to lay like that and I would have to go over and startle him to make sure he was still alive. All the other ducks would sleep like normal ducks and tuck their face under their wing.
23. Duck Math
When people decide to get ducks they quickly fall in love and cannot resist their cute little personalities and huge array of colours and breeds. They quickly learn what is called duck math – when 2 ducks turns to 4 and then into many many more.
They are very addicting. If you want two ducks, plan your building plans around more than just those two otherwise you will need to rebuild when the addiction takes over.
24. Ducks are Demanding and Pick up on Routines
Ducks will pick up on your daily routines that involve them and they want you to stick to those routines. If you don’t they will let you know.
My mom lives in my basement suite and each day when she makes a salad for her lunch she puts a bowl of the lettuce bits she’s not using outside her door before she leaves for work. One weekend morning I could hear one of the ducks quacking like crazy, non-stop.
I assumed the other duck was stuck somewhere and she was calling for her. I go outside and look over the balcony and the one duck was standing at my mom’s door quacking non-stop. Normally by this time my mom would have already gone to work and there would be lettuce in the bowl beside her door.
But because of the weekend she doesn’t typically put it out until she makes her lunch. Thankfully ducks respond well to our language and after I told her to stop making so much noise and go find some bugs she stopped all the quacking and started foraging again.
25. They Love to Help You in the Garden
When you are digging or doing anything that involves loosening some of the dirt the ducks will be right in there helping to get rid of any bugs that may be hiding. In the spring before I plant anything in the garden beds I mix in the horse manure and hay that has been composting on top the soil all fall and winter.
When I do this I fold the netting down around the sides so the ducks are able to jump up and get into the garden beds. They poke their bills around and eat any bugs and while they do that they also poop, adding nutrients to my garden beds. Before I start planting the netting goes back out and they are kept out until the fall.
My son has a dirt play area in the yard where he is allowed to dig and do whatever he wants there. The ducks love it when he goes out to play as he will dig up the ground and let the ducks search every shovel full, and of course they always need to inspect his dump truck of dirt for anything missed.
Now that you’ve gone through the 25 important facts that you should know before getting ducks and have been warned of all the things that most people don’t speak about. I hope you are able to make an educated decision on if ducks really are the right fit for you.
If you have ducks and you think I missed another important fact, feel free to comment below or send me an email and I will be sure to add it to the list.