How to Care for Ducks as Pets

How to care for ducks as pets

Ducks can be a great addition to your farm, homestead, or backyard. Ducks can provide you with a mostly continuous supply of eggs as well as meat. But it’s also great to have ducks as pets. They have such personality and they provide many benefits to your yard. They are extremely social creatures and thus should be kept in multiples. Do not keep a single duck! If you are considering ducks check out 25 Facts You Should Know Before Getting Ducks

How Long do Ducks Live?

Ducks typically live 8-10 years, however some ducks (like the Muscovy) live up to 20 years. Because ducks have a similar life span to a dog you need to be committed to their care for their whole life. Too many domestic ducks are left at community ponds or lakes and end up being a meal for a predator as they are defenseless and cannot fly away, or they end up being hit by a car.

Are Pet Ducks Easy to Care For?

It depends on what you classify as easy. They can be easy to care for, but they can also be a lot of work. Ducks are great, hardy animals, with some great personalities. But they love to make mud from any bit of water and dirt and they poop a lot. If ducks are not cared for properly they can end up with health problems. Ducks also have different dietary needs than chickens and require a water source for bathing and to dunk their heads.

Can I Keep Ducks in My Backyard?

Yes, but you need to check with your local bylaws to ensure there are no conditions. I know in some states they cannot have specific breed of ducks as pets. And I know in the city of Vancouver, BC you can have a couple hens but cannot have a rooster, turkeys, ducks, or other foul.

But if your local bylaws allow you to keep them they can be a great addition to your backyard. You should also consider your neighbours. Female ducks can be quite loud, though quieter than hens (except call ducks), and if your neighbours are very close by they may have a problem with it. Maybe bring them a dozen eggs to try and keep the peace.

What are the Benefits to Keeping Ducks as Pets?

Ducks are fantastic foragers and will eat all the bugs and slugs from around your yard. Some breeds like the runner duck, are such good foragers that farmers use them as an organic pest control in their vineyards or rice patties. They also add fertilizer as they forage, so it’s a win-win.

Unlike chickens, ducks do not scratch the ground and rip up the grass or plants. They do eat grass so depending on how many ducks you have and the amount of grass you may not need to mow your grass as often.

Many duck breeds can lay close to 300 eggs a year which means you get an egg almost every day for about 9-10 months. In addition to all the eggs some ducks are quite large and provide a decent amount of meat. We currently only have two ducks, we had five last summer but three were males and having three males to only two females is not a good ratio. So we processed the males and had one them for thanksgiving dinner. Eating your pets is not for everyone and that is perfectly fine, many farms will accept extra males if you end up with too many.

Correct Ratio of Female to Male Ducks

If you choose to keep male and female ducks together you want to keep a ratio of at least 4-5 females per one male. This is because during the breeding season the males can become too frisky and end up hurting the female if she is the only one. You do not need male ducks in order to get eggs. Females will continue to lay eggs, they just won’t be fertile.

How to Care for Ducks

Feeding Ducks

ducks and chickens

Ducks can eat most of the same foods as chickens however they have some additional requirements. They can eat chicken or poultry feeds, although they typically need additional nutrients. You can get feed that is specifically for ducks with all the additional nutrients they need but I find it harder to find. Ducks can also eat a variety of food scraps. What to Feed your Ducks is a detailed post on what ducks can and cannot eat, with many suggestions for treats.

Feeding Requirements from Duckling to Duck

It is recommended that ducklings be fed a duck starter or chick starter as long as it is un-medicated. Some say that the medicated feeds are toxic.

Tasha Greer from Morning chores did a whole bunch of research to try and figure out if this is actually true. She had fed her ducks medicated chick feed for a long time before finding out that it’s not good for them.

Un-medicated chick feed is the ideal food if you can’t get feed specifically for ducks. Greer states that if un-medicated is not available she looks at the label and finds a feed that has amprolium as the medication.

If you choose to feed a chick starter you will need to supplement with additional niacin (vitamin B3). There are several different ways of adding additional niacin into their diet. I personally choose brewer’s yeast. You can just pour it on top of their feed each time you top up their feed. I bought it from a local farm store but you can buy it online as well.

Some people choose to add a niacin supplement to the duck’s water. I do not choose this method because they spill so much water as they drink that a good portion of the niacin will be wasted. Duck’s water also needs to be changed out when it gets too dirty so you’re technically dumping your money down the drain when you need to change their water.

The ratios for adding brewer’s yeast to their feed is 1 tablespoon of brewer’s yeast to 1 cup of chick feed.

Age of DuckProtein % Additional Niacin
0-3 weeks20% Starter1tbsp/ 1cup
3-20 weeks18% Growers1tbsp/ 1cup
20+ weeks – laying ducks16% Layer or BreederN/A
20+ weeks – drakes and non-laying females14% Maintenance dietN/A
Feed and Brewer’s Yeast Supplement

As ducks get older you need to reduce their protein intake. It is all laid out in the table above. If your ducks are not free ranging at all and you are only feeding them a chicken or poultry diet, that is not specifically for ducks, then it is recommended that you keep providing the additional niacin.

Free ranging ducks get the extra nutrients from eating grass, weeds, and bugs.

There have been some debates on feeding your whole flock a layers diet. Some people have had problems with the non-laying birds getting too much calcium and causing health issues. Where as other people start feeding their chicks or ducklings a layers diet as soon as they turn 20 weeks and have never had an issue.

Another solution for mixed flocks is to feed a maintenance diet and offer oyster shells (or crushed eggs shells) for the laying females to eat as necessary. I personally feel that if the birds are free ranging most the time you can be a little more flexible in the feed they get as they will make sure they get the right nutrients.

On top of the additional nutrients ducks need, they also need grit.

What is Grit?

Grit is small rocks/ sand that ducks ingest to help break down the food in their gizzard before it goes to their stomach. Ducks require grit as soon as you offer them something that is not their regular feed. If you allow them some time outside, or you offer your ducklings some peas or lettuce they need grit. There is commercial grit that you can buy however I just grabbed a handful of sand from the creek and placed it into a small dish available to them at all times in the brooder.

When ducks are able to free range every day you do not need to offer them grit. They consume all needed grit from the dirt and sand around your yard.

How Much Water do Ducks Need?

Ducks need a lot more water than chickens do and offered in a different way. Ducks drink about 1L of water every day. They also require enough water to dunk their heads to keep their nostrils and eyes clean. A chicken waterer will not do. They need deep water. I use buckets for my ducks. Some people create a duck waterer from a 5 gallon bucket and cut holes in the sides. This provides them with the deep enough water but also stops the ducks from being able to climb into the drinking water.

Some say that ducks do not need water to bathe in. I disagree with this because ducks are messy birds. If they aren’t able to bathe themselves at least every couple days, they can end up with health problems. And ducks are much happier when they have somewhere to splash and bathe in.

If you do not have a pond you can use a kiddy pool or water trough designed for large animals. Muscovy’s are a kind of duck that needs the least amount of access to water for bathing. Although they prefer to be on land most the time, they still need to have access to bathe in every couple days. I’ve seen people just bring out a large, but short, tote and fill it with water every other day for bathing.

When Can Ducklings go for Their First Swim?

It is recommended that you wait until about one week of age before allowing the ducklings to go for a swim. Newly hatched ducklings will get too cold going for a swim. The older the ducklings get, the better they are at regulating their own heat.

duckling swimming

Ducks are not born waterproof. When they are hatched by a mother duck, she rubs her oil all over them to make them waterproof. A ducks oil gland is not fully developed until about 4 weeks old. However ducks are not fully feathered until closer to 6-9 weeks old. Allowing them to go for short swims actually helps develop the oil gland so it is beneficial for them to swim, just not for long periods of time, and always supervised.

Because incubated ducklings are not coated in the oil they will drown if they become too wet. It is best to offer them short periods of supervised swim time in warm water and then dry them off and place them under the heat lamp immediately after.

Start with 5-10 minutes of swimming when they are young. As you are watching them, if any of them seem tired you need to remove them and place them back under the heat lamp. Ducklings get tired very easily and will drown.

Housing for Ducks

Ducks don’t need anything fancy. But it does need to be a sturdy structure that will protect them from all predators at night. A simple sturdy shack with four walls and a roof will do. Check out How To Build a Duck House for a detailed guide.

Some people have used dog houses and successfully turned them into a small duck house. When you are building a duck house you want to keep it close to the ground. Ducks do not like steep ramps. The lower to the ground the easier it is for the ducks.

duck house

How Big Should the Duck House Be?

Ducks require 4 square feet of floor space per duck and the duck house should be a minimum of 3ft tall with adequate ventilation. A duck’s breath is very humid so if there is not enough ventilation you may notice mold and mildew starting to grow inside the walls of the coop. Including vents into the top of the duck house will be sufficient to allow the wind to blow through and the humidity to escape.

Do Ducks Need a Perch?

Unlike chickens, ducks do not need a perch. They sleep on the ground on soft hay/straw or wood shavings. Some people provide nesting boxes for the ducks but they don’t always use them. Ducks prefer to create their own little nest in a corner of the coop. I’ve heard that Muscovy Ducks tend to like nesting boxes, but I haven’t heard of any other ducks using them regularly.

What is the Best Bedding for Ducks?

Pine or aspen wood shavings are the most popular. I have found great success in using pelletized horse bedding and hay. You have to look at what is available in your area and most affordable. The easiest method I have read about, and personally use, is the deep litter method. If done properly you only need to change out the bedding two times a year, spring and fall. For more information check out How to Use the Deep Littler Method for Ducks. You can also use the deep litter method in the duckling brooder.

What is a Brooder?

A brooder is an enclosed area with bedding, food, water and a heat source. It is designed to keep ducklings, or chicks, safe and warm after they hatch until they are old enough to stay outside.

For a full how-to on building a mess-free duck brooder check out How to Build a No-Mess Duck Brooder.

Ducklings need 1/2 sq. ft. of floor space per duckling for the first week, then increased by 1/2 square foot every week or so due to ducklings growing so fast.

The brooder needs to have a heat source on one side of the enclosure allowing the ducks to move out of the heat and back in as necessary. Under the heat lamp the temperature should be at 95F (35C) for the first week. Every week after, the temperature should be reduced by 5F (about 3C) until the bulb is no longer needed.

You can keep a thermometer under the heat lamp to keep an eye on the temperature. You can also see if it is too hot or cold by watching the ducklings. If they are all huddled together in the corner under the lamp, they are too cold. If they are staying as far away from the lamp as they can then the brooder is too hot.

When can Ducklings Stay Outside Overnight?

Ducklings need a source of heat until they are fully feathered, which happens at about 6-9 weeks old. Until then they need temperatures to stay about 70F (21C) during the day and night. If you put them outside when the nights are still cold, they will need a heat source. Be extremely cautious with that as many coops have burned down due to heat lamps.

Do Ducks Need an Enclosed Pen?

Yes, they should have an enclosed pen even if you let them free range. There may be times when they need to be contained in one area. The pen should provide at least 15 square feet of floor space per duck, but 20 square feet would be much better. The bigger the area per duck, the less mess it will be.

enclosed duck pen

There are several preventative measures that you can put in place to prevent the duck pen from being turned into a mud pit. Some of them include adding mature plants to the duck pen, providing adequate drainage for when it rains, and creating a splash pad around the pond. For more ideas and details on keeping your duck pen mostly mess- free check out How to Build a Mess-Free Duck Pen.

You also need to think about what kind of predators you have around your house to determine how much security the duck pen needs. We only really have predators at night so their pen has a 4 foot fence around it and completely open at the top. There are many predators that can come from the sky and ground so you may need to enclose the pen on all sides, top and possibly bottom.

Can I Let my Ducks Roam Free?

Yes, depending on what type of space you are letting them roam in they can be let free. You also need to consider the risk of them getting taken by a predator.

If you have a large property or a fully fenced in yard then let your ducks roam. My ducks get free range of my backyard every day. We closed off any holes or gaps that were big enough for a duck to fit through and thankfully from the trees around my yard the predators from the sky haven’t bothered trying.

Do Ducks Ruin the Lawn and Garden?

They can but nowhere near the destruction of chickens. Ducks will give the odd nibble to plants but will not eat them to the ground. Chickens scratch the ground which can destroy your lawn and garden, ducks have webbed feet and will only trample and squish small plants they step on. The only plants you need to be concerned about are small growing plants. You can put a small fence around them to prevent the ducks from eating them until they are big enough to withstand a couple nibbles.

From my experience ducks have not ruined any part of my lawn unless there is water. If I let a hose run and it creates a small puddle, the ducks will be over there in seconds digging their bills into the ground and stomping their feet. They can leave small holes in the ground from where they have searched for bugs, but only in areas with water.

Ducks eat grass so that helps with having to mow it less frequently. And as a benefit to your lawn their duck poo is full of nitrogen which is a great fertilizer for lawns. In the summer when it doesn’t rain much you can take your hose and just spray the spots where there is poo and it will dissolve into the ground. Spraying the duck poo will help keep down on the flies as well. My lawn looks better now that I have ducks then it did before them.

Health Care for Ducks

When ducks are not kept in clean environments they can end up with many different health problems. Ducks typically don’t deal with worms or mites when they are able to swim in clean water on a regular basis.

Ducks can be known for being clumsy. They trip over things while walking around and ducks that are kept on a hard or rough surface can develop sores on their feet. This is why keeping them on concrete floors is not recommended, even though it’s easier to wash.

If a duck ends up with sores on its feet, has swelling, or is limping you should get them checked out by a veterinarian.

Never feed any soiled or moldy food to ducks. They are sensitive to mold spores and can end up with respiratory issues or toxic reactions. This goes for their bedding as well. You should not use any bedding that is moldy. Many times hay can be a bit moldy and easily get missed. The dusty mold causes serious issues.

For optimal health ducks need access to fresh water daily. Don’t worry that they turn the water dirty within five minutes. As long as you are dumping it and refilling with clean fresh water each day they will be happy.

Additional Resources

There are two great books that are constantly being recommended for the first time duck owner.

Book recommendations:

The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook by Kimberly Link

Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks by Dave Holderread


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