How to Make a No-Mess Duck Brooder

When ducklings come out of the incubator or when you bring your ducklings home they need to go into a brooder.

A brooder is an enclosed space with bedding, food, water and a heat lamp. A brooder can look very different depending on what you have on hand.

I made two brooders, one from a very large glass aquarium and one from a very large plastic tote. They both worked the same. I have also seen some made with large dog kennels or kiddy pools. I have seen people use cardboard boxes; however I would not recommend them for ducks as their poo is quite watery and could cause the box to get wet and go moldy. It doesn’t seem to be the same issue with chickens as they are much drier.

Supplies

When constructing your brooder you will need:

  • Enclosed area – it will differ depending on how many ducks you are putting in it. The bigger the area (per duck) the less often you will need to change the bedding.
  • Heat lamp – red light only. Regular bright heat lamps (that you would use for reptiles) is too bright and can end up blinding your ducks
  • Bedding –
    • saw dust – try to go for a soft wood. Some people say cedar is okay to use for ducks but with it discouraged for so many animals I prefer to stay away. Our local farm store sells big bags of cleaned, dust free shavings safe for all animals for fairly cheap.
    • Pelletized horse bedding
  • Food dish – I found it best to use something that the ducks put their head/ beak into rather than using a dish. I find they tend to climb over and spill the food as well as poop in the food dish.
  • Water dish – When the ducklings were very small I used a chicken feeder filled with water. Again it allowed them to put their beaks in and drink the water and it was deep enough for them to dip their entire beak to clean their nostrils
    • When they got bigger I moved to a 4L milk jug with two large holes cut for them to be able to dunk their heads.
  • A tray to catch the water they spill
    • More notes on this below

Space

Ducklings need approx. ½ square foot per duckling for the first week. Every week increase the size by ½ square foot per duck. Ducks grow very quickly (much faster than chickens) and they need the space to move around. To make it easier I just started with a very large enclosure. As they got bigger and the weather stayed nice they spent more and more time outside, leaving less mess in the brooder.

If you are bringing them outside be sure to put them in an enclosed area safe from predators. They still need unlimited access to water, food, and shade.

Heat

Day old ducklings need to start off with a temperature of 90-92 degrees F (32C-33C) for the first 3 days. Temperature should be measured directly under the lamp. There should be a cooler area that the ducklings can get away from heat when needed. After 3 days drop the temperature by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue dropping 5 degrees per week until they are fully feathered or until it matches the outside air, whatever comes first. We took our lamp out when the thermometer read 70 degrees and our nights did not drop below 68 (20C) inside.

If they are panting and drooping their wings they are too hot and you need to lower the temperature. If they are huddling together most of the time you may want to increase the temperature slightly.

For those who live in a colder climate, you may want to put a heat lamp into their coop for the first couple nights to help them adjust.

Bedding

We used saw dust for our brooder but next batch of ducklings I will try using pelletized horse bedding. This is what we currently use in our coop and I much prefer it to saw dust. To prepare it just spray it down with some water, let it absorb the water and then mix it up. The pellets will crumble and become like saw dust. You don’t want any pellets left or the ducklings may try to eat it and choke. Once its ready let it dry and pop it in the brooder. You can use a kitty litter scoop to scoop out the poos daily.

Bedding needs to be kept clean and dry to keep the ducklings from getting too wet and cold. Their feathers are not waterproof until their “real” feathers come in, i.e. no longer fuzzy. In the first 2 weeks or so with only 5 ducklings I completely switched out their bedding once a week.

But each day when they were allowed to run around the kitchen or in the yard I would scoop off the top layer of soiled sawdust and any bedding that was visibly wet. Mix up/ stir the remaining bedding and add a new layer of sawdust on top. As they got older and were pooping more the bedding was completely changed out more often. Sometimes Daily on colder days when they weren’t outside for as long.

I do not recommend the use of newspaper. It gets soggy quickly and is slick which can cause the ducks to slip and have foot and leg issues.

When There is Only One Duckling

Sometimes when they are hatching one duckling will be by itself for a day or so waiting for the others to hatch. To keep the duckling comfortable and safe you can put a small teddy, feather duster, and or a mirror. My son was nice enough to lend them one of his little teddies. Even when there were two ducklings they both would always curl up and snuggle with it. I left it in there until they got bigger and were no longer cuddling with it.

Food & Water Dishes

chick food feeder

I used this type of feeder for food. I found they were not able to poop in it (until they got older and it went everywhere). There was also minimal food spillage compared to when I would offer them an open bowl of food while they were out running around the kitchen. These are very easy to get online or at any farm store.

small waterer for ducks

I used this as a waterer while they were quite little. When they were a couple weeks old I switched to a milk jug with holes cut it in. As they got bigger I would switch it out with another milk jug but with holes higher up. With both of these methods there was no way for them to climb through the water.

Except one time the smallest duckling figured out how to get into the milk jug to have a bath. Another milk jug was cut but with longer skinny holes so they could no longer fit. Although it was cute, I’m thankful I caught it and she was able to get out on her own. It could have been fatal if the duckling got stuck in there as they absorb the water when they don’t have their feather and will drown.

Some people say a small heavy dish works well. I find they tend to play in their water and cause the rest of the brooder to become wet very quickly. I offer them a large dish of water when they run about in the kitchen with towels underneath and by the end majority of the water from the bowl is on the towel.

Tray for Catching Water

supplies to make a splash pad for the duck brooder
Gather your supplies
attach the wire rack to the tray
Bend wire rack to size and tape edge
completed splash pad for duck brooder
Cover wire and tape down rubber mesh

I made this to go underneath the water dish.

They are easy to make and can be made of multiple different things, depending on what you have around the house.

I used a plastic paint tray, wire cooling rack, and a rubber shelf mat. I got it all from the dollar store.

I’ve seen some that are made with a wood frame and hardware cloth. I didn’t have any small enough on hand or I would have gone that route. Now after completing the duck coop I have some left over, so I will make a new one for next spring.

I recommend using the rubber shelf liner over the wire rack so there is less chance of the ducklings feet slipping or getting caught between the wires.

Mine got emptied once a day and sprayed down with the hose to get off any poop or sawdust stuck to it.

<https://permies.com/t/43402/Keeping-Duck-Brooder-Clean-Dry> Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast has a great video on how to make one using the hardware cloth and some wood.

Alternatives to Using a Brooder

When you have a lot of ducklings at once it is best to either split them up into multiple brooders or to build something outdoors, or in a barn, for them. In cases where there are too many ducklings, and the food and water dishes are not big enough for all of them to get to it at the same time, some of the ducklings can get trampled and hurt, possibly leading to death.

In warmer weather about 20C (68F) give or take a couple degrees the ducklings will be fine to be outdoors with a secondary heat source. I have seen people use tractors (moveable duck/ chicken coops) and add a heat lamp. As long as they have access to shelter from the rain, wind, sun along with their food and water they are fine to be outside.

Another way to avoid a brooder is to allow a mama duck to hatch the ducklings, she will protect them and keep them warm.

Bathing

Ducks love to bathe and swim, however they are not waterproof yet. I find it best to keep the bathing and swimming aspects outside of the brooder. Swimming in the bathtub or sink is a good easy place to fill and empty a bath for them. Be sure to keep their swimming time to 5-10 min a session. If they stay in the water for too long they can become too tired, wet and heavy and end up drowning. Once they get out they need to get dry.

I have seen people use towels to rub them down or a hair drier on the lowest setting. I found that if I just made sure that my ducklings didn’t get too wet while swimming, they dried really quickly once they were put back into the brooder and I didn’t have to do anything. By the time they were done preening their feathers they were all dry.

I’ve also given them a large casserole dish full of warm water while they run around the kitchen. They have the choice to be in the water or to be out. They can play in it for a bit longer as they are continuously getting out, running around, and preening in between splashing in the dish.

Ducks also love to eat while they swim. Be your ducks best friend and toss them some chopped (or ripped) up greens (lettuce, kale, dandelions etc.). They can have unlimited amounts of greens.


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