fenced in duck pen with a butterfly bush and small pool with three ducks in the water

How To Build a Mess-Free Duck Pen

Hopefully you are here reading this before you have ducks. Trying to fix a muddy duck pen situation can be difficult if you already have everything built with ducks in it. If you already have ducks and need to figure out a solution then hopefully some of these ideas will help you figure out how to build a mess-free duck pen.

*Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on the link, I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.*

 How Do You Keep Ducks From Making a Mess?

My best advice would be prevention. Plan your duck pen and pool/ pond around how much mess they make. I’ve had ducks for a year now, I started with 5 and now I’m down to the two females. I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of people who have ducks and I planned ahead.

And the best advice of all is to create it bigger than what is needed. The more space they have the longer it takes for them to destroy it. If you double the size it needs to be then you can block off different parts of it at a time. This will let grass and plants grow back and then switch and block off the other area.

How to Stop the Duck Pool Water from Getting Splashed Out and Creating Mud

Create a splash zone that goes under and around the duck pool. A splash zone is simply an area around the pool or pond that is filled with drainage rocks. This prevents their splashing from turning your pen into mud.

How to Make a Splash Zone for Duck Pond

Start by marking out at least 1-2 feet around the pool in all directions. Dig down a couple inches. Then using lengths of wood (we used 2X6’s) create a box and fill it with small rocks.

Place your duck pool on top in the middle. This will allow water that gets splashed out to go down into the rocks and not onto the grass or dirt that would have surrounded the pool.

duck pool with splash pad

We have not had any mud or water issues at all since building our duck pen. Even with five ducks splashing around, still no messy mud. I also try to not fill the pool up all the way.  This way less water will spill out when the ducks are splashing around. And when we get days and days of rain it wont over flow.

How to Empty The Pool While Keeping a Mess-Free Duck Pen

We used to have a plastic kiddy pool as their pond, but after 3 full years it cracked and we now have this dog pool it has been great so far. We don’t just tip the water out as this will create a muddy mess. I also find it to be a waste of water. In the winter I open the valve and let the pool drain into the splash pad as we purposely sloped the ground beneath the rocks to go towards the trees and ditch on the other side of the fence. In the summer and we need to conserve water use I use the pond to water the gardens and grass.

We use a hose to empty the pool. But there are other methods you can use as well.

First Method – Hose

 To create a continuous flow of water until the pool is empty, follow these steps using just two hoses (I haven’t tried with just one):

Step 1 – Put one end of the hose into the pool. Connect the other end to the hose that is connected to the tap

Step 2 – Using something that is tall, we use the fence that goes around the duck pen but a lawn chair or something that size will do just fine. Place the hose so it rests on the fence (or chair etc) and then into the water. This will create enough gravity/ suction that when the water starts draining it will continue to flow.

Step 3 – Charge the line. Turn the hose on and let the hose completely fill up. Only takes a couple seconds.

Step 4 – Turn off the water and unscrew the opposite end of the hose that is in the pool. The water will start draining out immediately. Make sure you do not lift the hose too high. If an air bubble gets into the hose it will stop the continuous flow of water and you will need to recharge the hose again.

Step 5 – Place the end of the hose where you want it to drain. In the summer I usually place it into a garden bed and then I move it over to another garden bed before it’s finished. I have also used the hose to fill watering cans to water places that the hose cannot reach.


  • If you let the water drain into grass the ducks will love you for it but they will create mud and dig holes into the ground. I purposely do these in some areas where there are lots of weeds and not much grass. Once everything has dried up I grab a handful of dirt from the garden to fill the holes and sprinkle some grass seed on top.

Second Method

I have heard of people using a spigot and then hooking a hose up to it. Yes, this would work great IF your duck pool is higher than the garden, or place that you want it to drain into. There needs to be enough gravitational force for the water to keep draining.

Third Method

Buy an Electrical Submersible Pump and hook a hose up to that. Place the pump in the water and turn it on. You can use it to water wherever the hose reaches. This will drain your pool the quickest way but is the most expensive.

How Do You Make a No-Mess Duck Waterer?

Some people find that using a five gallon bucket works well. They cut holes that are big enough in the sides for the ducks to dunk their heads. This type of waterer would also be useful if you have trees above as you can put a lid on the bucket and stop anything from falling into the water.

Some ducks try to climb into large open buckets. This causes the water to get filled with duck poo and get splashed and spilled everywhere making a muddy mess. Having only holes in the side takes away the opportunity for climbing into the drinking water.

I haven’t personally used one for my ducks, as I haven’t experienced those issues with using a bucket. However, I have spoken to many people who have.

Can Ducks Drink from a Chicken Waterer?

No, ducks cannot drink from chicken waterers. Chickens just need to dip their beak into a little bit of water to get a drink. Ducks need to be able to dunk their whole head into their water to keep their nostrils and eyes clean.

What Should I Put on the Floor of a Duck Run?

I planted grass and let the weeds grow before putting my ducks outside. They have free range of my backyard so they don’t spend their whole day in the pen. They willingly go in and out through-out the day as that is where the pool and food are. Throughout the spring and fall I add more grass seed and I use the water from their pool to water it in the summer.

butterfly bush in a duck run

When the dandelions go to seed I take the puff ball and spread those seeds around their pen as well. They are nutritious for them to eat and they grow easily. The more stuff you have growing the less dirt is accessible and the more water they absorb from the ground which equals less mud.

I have lots of rocks around the area that I place the water bucket in their pen. This helps keep a mess-free duck pen. I’m planning to make something a little more manageable as I know once I get more ducks it will cause a bit more of an issue.

You can plant many types of plants or seeds that are safe for the ducks but grow fast and can be trampled and eaten. My only suggestion is if you are putting in a plant then make sure you put a little cage around it or the ducks could pull it right out of the ground.

Chia seeds are a super-fast growing seed and the sprouts are healthy for them. Scatter some amongst the dirt and grass once a week or so and let them sprout. Your ducks will thank you for it.

Can You Use Sand in the Duck Pen?

I have heard of some people using sand as the floor but you don’t want to cover the entire pen with it. It’s great for drainage, so using it around high traffic areas like the food, water, and pool is fine. However, ducks like to forage in the dirt and grass for bugs, and if the whole pen is sand there will be less opportunity for foraging.

I have heard many people who had sand in their duck pen had issues with flies. So, you will need to go out constantly to scoop out the poo as it won’t just dissolve into the ground. Think of it like a large litter box for ducks.

I had someone tell me they use several inches of sand on the bottom and then a couple more inches of pea gravel on top. This stops all of their issues with rain and puddles. However they have to go out and either scoop out all the poos or use the hose and spray down each spot with the hose. They planned it in advance so they have proper drainage built in the ground before adding the sand and pea gravel.

Can You Use Artificial Grass in the Duck Pen?

Some people have used artificial grass but I would not recommend it. And here is why. The grass gets really hot in the sun, too hot for our bare feet, thus too hot for their webbed feet. The poo cannot dissolve or compost down, so you have to constantly clean it off. And the ducks are not able to forage through it.

Yes it may be seem practical and look nice for humans but it is not practical for the ducks that have to live on it. It also needs to be cleaned off much more often as it all just sits on top.

Can You Use Deep Litter Method in the Duck Pen?

Yes, I have heard of people using the deep littler method for their duck runs. You lay horse bedding pellets down first and then put hay or straw on top and keep adding to the hay/ straw.

You could also use large pine shavings. Start with a thick layer of large sized pine shavings and keep mixing it up and adding more on top. You can learn about all the details of the deep litter method from How to Use the Deep Litter Method for Ducks.

The only problem with ducks is they just flatten everything down and then poop on top. So you would need to go out every day to stir it around otherwise they are just walking in their poop and not having a dry floor. This works better for chickens as they scratch the ground looking for bugs and stuff to eat. As they scratch they mix up all the bedding allowing the poop to get mixed with the bottom layer that is drier while adding air flow for better decomposition.

If you are doing the deep litter method for your whole duck pen you want it to be fully sheltered. Having a deep litter method that is not covered will just absorb all the rain and turn everything to muck. This will cause the ducks to constantly be walking on soggy wet bedding thus making them susceptible to bumblefoot and other health issues.

How to Deal with Flooding and Puddles When it Rains

Create better drainage. If your duck pen is pooling when it rains then you need to create better drainage. Instead of trying to put a Band-Aid on the issue you need to actually fix the problem. I’ve heard about lots of people that complain of all the mess in their duck pen and they try adding a whole bunch of sawdust or wood chips to absorb the water, but this is only a temporary fix.

They will compost down and turn back into mud. You are not solving the problem, you’re just delaying it. You are also creating a lot more work for yourself in the long run. Fix the source of the problem and reap the benefits. Band-Aids are only good to temporarily fix the problem until you are able to come up with a permanent solution.

It sounds like it can be a lot of work but it’s a part of having ducks. If you can’t provide them with clean and healthy environment then possibly rethink having ducks. You can check out Budget Dumpster for some simple cost effective solutions to pooling water.

Drainage Pipes

The best method in the long run is to dig up the ground and lay down some drainage pipes. They are large pipes that have holes in the sides. Before you fill in the dirt you need to cover the pipes with rocks and then dirt over top.

There are sleeves that goes over the pipe to stop dirt and rocks from filling the pipe while still allowing water to go through. This allows the water to seep into the ground, then into the pipe and away from the duck pen.

If you have not built your duck pen yet I would advise you to watch which part of your yard pools in the rainy weather and avoid building it anywhere near there.

Ground Cover

Plants and ground covers are your best friend for dealing with the rain. The more things you have growing the more they will absorb the water. Planting clover would be a great place to start as they grow fast and the roots run deep, which will allow them to continue to grow once the ducks start eating them.

Adding Plants to the Duck Pen

You can add in potted plants or a small garden bed. Put up some small chicken wire around the edges of the garden beds, just high enough that the ducks could reach plants that grow above it. This will prevent the ducks from being able to get to the stem and roots of the plants.

Once the plant grows big enough, the ducks will be able to reach the leaves and have a snack but not destroy the whole plant. The plants will be able to continue to grow and provide continuous food for the ducks while helping with drainage. You can plant things like lettuce, chicory, kale or collard greens.

If you have a slope in your duck pen I would place the garden bed at the bottom of the slope so that any water running down will be absorbed by the plants in the garden bed.

You can also plant things around the outside of the duck pen and let it trail along their fence or through the caging. This will help absorb some of the ground water and also provide stuff for the ducks to eat.

HGTV recommends planting trailing vines along the outside of the duck pen. Things like raspberries, roses, squash, peas, melon, cucumbers, or nasturtiums. Check out What to Feed Your Ducks for a list of plants that you should avoid and foods that are okay for them to munch on.

Growing plants around your duck pen not only helps absorb some of the water, they can also provide some shelter from the wind, rain, and sun for the ducks. If you’ve got close neighbours then it can also help with muffling some of the noise.

If you already have your duck pen set up with ducks in it then you will need to get creative as to how you will plant stuff and allow it to grow before your ducks start munching on it. You can also consider transplanting already mature plants into the duck pen. I recently transplanted a mature butterfly bush into their pen. It provides them with shade and is tall enough they cannot eat all the leaves and flowers off of it. Having a large bush large plants help to stop water from pooling and provide a mess-free duck pen.

How to Allow Grass or Cover Crops to Grow in a Duck Pen

I came up with this method before I had ducks. Anytime I would sprinkle some grass seed in a bare spot the wild birds would come and eat all the seeds. It’s super easy to make.

  1. Take 4 pieces of wood and create a frame. They don’t need to be wide boards. A simple 2X2 would work just fine. You can make the frame whatever size you want.
  2. When the box is secure attach small squared hardware cloth (about  ½ inch) or chicken wire to one side. You want the squares to be small enough that a duck’s beak could not fit through and also be firm enough to support the ducks feet as they will walk on it.
  3. Place the frame on the ground where you want the grass or small plants to grow.
  4. When the grass has grown tall enough take off the frame and move to another spot.

*Be sure there are no sharp edges exposed to where the ducks may walk.

Using this method will allow any new seeds to get established before the ducks start nibbling on them and it allows plants that they have eaten to the ground to get big again.

If you have a shady area where you keep your waterer you could plant moss and put one of these frames over it with the water bucket on top. All water would drip down and be absorbed by the moss. The ducks wouldn’t be walking directly on the moss or digging their bills into it so as long as it was getting water it would continue to thrive and prevent mud.

Safe Plants to Grow In and Around Your Duck Pen

  • Butterfly Bushes
  • Wild thyme
  • Hawthorn
  • Juniper
  • Moss phlox
  • Clover
  • Roses
  • Hostas

You can also take a handful of bird seed and throw it down, it is usually mixed with different types of plant or grass and it grows fast. There are hundreds of other plants that you could plant in and around the duck pen. It can vary depending on your climate and what you are able to get. If you want to know if the plant is safe or not, check the list of plants to avoid on this post.

There are many factors that go into creating a mess-free duck pen. Depending on your situation some of them will be helpful and some of them will not. The best way to create a mess-free duck pen is by prevention. Try not to wait until the duck pen is a disaster before trying to fix it, in the end it will only require more work from you.

26 thoughts on “How To Build a Mess-Free Duck Pen”

  1. I’d have to disagree on the deep litter method. There are definitely right/wrong ways to do it. We’ve done it with much success, but I’ve been on top of it. We alternate straw and wood chip or pine shavings. No issues and beautiful black gold for the garden. I’d suggest looking into how this is done for ducks more thoroughly it’s done differently than chickens. Great article!

    1. Hi Yes I use either diatomaceous earth orvbarn lime as an absorbent but on top of that I also put horse pellets which is like another type of bedding and then there wood shavings and it is awesome for soaking up all the water plus I put the dirty stuff in my garden after and it thrives from it

    2. Can I ask what part of the deep litter method you disagree with? I use the deep litter method inside the coop with the method you mentioned (layering woodchips and straw). What do you do differently in the pen?

  2. Heather Bisignano

    I planned on letting my ducks free range my fenced in yard and garden and plan on putting pea gravel around our pond to keep the mess down and keep their enclosure from turning into mud. There is lush st augustine in there right now. When I share my ideas most people share concern about birds of prey. Any tips for protecting your free ranging back yard ducks from aerial predators that have worked for you? Thanks in advance.

    1. That is exactly what I do. How big is your yard? And how much open space is there? We have a lot of small shrubs, the deck, a trampoline, my kid’s tree house, table and chairs, etc. So there is no good path for the birds to swoop down and grab a duck and then back out again. Each spring when the eagles are teaching the young ones to fly they fly over our neighborhood and the ducks see them and stay closer to some kind of shelter.

  3. Thank you for all this excellent information!! We got ducks for the first time and I appreciate you taking the time to put all of this down where I can reference it again.
    And the tip with the hose… BRILLIANT! Not just for ducks but any situation where you need to pump water out of an area.
    Thank you!!!

    1. Happy to hear you find it helpful. ❤️When I first got ducks it was hard to find all the information in one place. So I figured I would try and be as thorough as possible. If you find there is information that not on here let me know and I will do my best to get the answers and add it in somewhere.

      Enjoy your ducks!! They are so much fun!

  4. We have free range ducks that go into a secured house at night. They make *a mess!* with their food and water. They forage all day, so I wonder if they need access to food & water at night as well?

    1. Hi Jen, I had read an article about feeding your ducks and chickens and geese at night. They said they don’t have to be fed at night, and if you do have food at night, pick it up because it draws mice and other predators.

  5. Great site! Great information. I had one out of ducks left, A Royal Palm turkey pair, Two Roman Geese and four out of five chickens left. I have pastureland beyond the fence around the yard area. My turkey hen had three chicks and last night one of the chicks was taken. I live in the heart of VA fox hunting area. They have “ seeded “ the area with foxes they caught in other areas. So they have one more advantage to their sport. Plenty of foxes. I have seen foxes take one of my chickens years ago. It’s a hit and run shot with not even a feather left behind. This is what happened to my ducks and one chicken.

    I realize your site is Ducks and I have found a wealth of information here. I was thinking about electric fence. I do not have a pen for them at night. Everyone is free range. I have no one to help me build enclosures. I live alone and did most of that myself and then the dreaded old age set in! Surgeries in the very near future and RA with lack of strength.
    They sleep duck and geese out side my kitchen door and the geese watch me until I go to bed of course duck too. I leave the outside light on all night but it doesn’t deter the opossums or raccoons.
    With all this said, What do you think of electric fence?
    Sorry to be so wordy I usually just have animals to talk to and I do!

    Any more suggestions to keep out the other critters? I am trying desperately to build a pen. And I am glad I found you. I also taught for 35 years. I loved each and every child I taught an several keep in touch. I have been to their weddings, and baby showers etc. I loved teaching the children Admin not so much. They had a whole other agenda which often clashed with teaching. I’ll shut up now thanks.

    1. Yes you can 100% use electric fencing. They have electric mesh fencing which is what would be best. Those single strand fencing (typically used for horses etc) will not be enough. You could also look for some old dog houses that people are getting rid of. I’ve seen people add a door and use those for a couple ducks. Maybe if you had a couple it would provide a little extra protection??

      You said you are going for surgery and old age is setting in, but are you be able to lift a single wooden pallet?? I’ve seen lots of duck houses made from free pallets. Also, by the sounds of it your predators are mostly night time creatures?? If so you would only need to provide them with some sort of coop. Electric fencing is great but foxes could dig underneath it and still get your birds if they aren’t in a coop.

      Also, if you don’t have family or friends close by to help and you aren’t able to build your own coop and ask for a helper on your local community Facebook group (if your on there)?

      But in the end electric fencing is better than nothing. And if you dug a perimeter trench, right under where the fence will go, that goes down a foot and then you placed in chicken wire it will prevent anything from digging under. Just make sure you are away from any trees or something that would allow an animal to climb and jump into the enclosure.

    2. If you have a secure garage, at night, birds can be put inside a large cardboard box, or a dog kennel (if there are no rats in garage) with cardboard beneath it. Change box once a week, or line it with pine shavings that can be replaced each week. Lure birds in garage with a tiny bit of grain (no water). Hope that helps.

  6. How often do you have to clean the poop with this low mess setup? What method do you use and how long does it take?

    1. I rarely clean the duck poop from their duck pen. When I empty their pool i spray down all the poop that is on the rocks (splash zone). In the summer when there are lots of flies I lock the ducks out of the duck pen and use the hose to spray away as much of the duck poop as possible. If I allow the ducks to come in when I am spraying they will turn it all into mud. The water needs to be absorbed into the ground. I do this every couple days to a week when I have time. Because my ducks free range in the yard during the day there isn’t too much poop that builds up, as long as I spray it all down every so often. Spraying it all down also helps to keep the grass growing. Each time I spray it all down it can take anywhere from 5 min to 15 min depending on when the last time I did it was.

  7. Great post and ideas! We have three ducks and want to use plants to filter the pond water but don’t have a clue where to begin. Do you have any suggestions for an easy aquaponics system with ducks?

    1. I don’t have any experience with pond plants. But I did come across a YouTube video where someone used plants to filter their pond and it worked really good. I’ll see if I can find it and post it here for you.

  8. I am wanting ducks and would be putting them in an established yard. How hard are they on grass? I know chickens will tear the hell out of the grass. I so want ducks but need help on doing things inexpensive.

    1. I have 4 ducks that free range my backyard. My grass is fine. The only thing you might not like is the little holes they dig. I use it as aeration and just put some dirt and grass seed on top of the holes every spring/ fall. It doesn’t bother me at all. If you have any areas that get soggy when it rains a lot, they will turn it into a mud pit. I wrote a post called 25 impprtant facts you should know before getting ducks. https://ecetohomesteading.com/25-important-facts-you-should-know-before-getting-ducks/

      It has a picture of what the little holes look like. They look big in the photo but they are only the width of a duck beak.

  9. For the First Method, If step one is putting the open end of THE hose into the pool, then in step 4 what am I unscrewing? In step 2, is this a different hose? my first hose is connected to the spigot, and its other end is in the pool, right? How many pieces of hose am I using screwed together?

    1. Ohh good point. I will update it and be a bit more descriptive. I use two hoses screwed together. So I unscrew the two hoses in step 4 – so there’s one hose still hooked up to the tap and one hose with one end in the duck pond + other end draining out the water.

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