By Heather Harris of The Homesteading Hippy
Raising ducks can be so simple and rewarding. Ducks are easy to raise, require little effort beyond clean water and food, and are winter-hardy animals. Their large eggs are great in wonderfully flavorful baked goods, aioli, and more. Getting started with ducks on the homestead is easy, really. Here, what to feed ducks and ducklings, along with some other pertinent information.
A female is called a duck. A male is called a drake. To tell the difference, look at their tail feathers. Drakes have a tail feather that curls up into a “C.” A duck’s tail feathers are all straight and smooth.
Ducks quack and can be very noisy. Drakes make more of a “hissing” sound and are not loud at all. Definitely a nice break from crowing roosters!
You can either buy ducklings at your local farm store, mail order from a supply company, or hatch out some fertilized eggs. Starting with ducklings offers instant gratification, and may be best for first-timers. Once you are well-acquainted with raising ducks, hatching them can be a fun process for you.
Ducklings needs pretty much mimic baby chicks when it comes to brooding. They need a form of heat (usually in a heat lamp) to keep the brooder at 95-100 the first week. Lower the temperature five degrees per week until they no longer need the extra heat. That is usually at about 4-5 weeks, when they start getting feathers.
Keep plenty of water in your brooder, but NOT in the form of a pool. In the wild, the mother duck will add an oil to her ducklings to keep them afloat in the water. When you purchase them at the store, they do not have that protection and can actually drown if they get water logged. A simple chick waterer will do for the short time they need it.
We feed our ducklings the same food as our chicks, since they often brood together. Some people opt to use a special duck feed. We found it cheaper and easier to purchase one type of animal feed rather than two.
To keep your older ducks happy and healthy, you will need some supplies.
Ducks need water. Lots and lots of water. They are waterfowl and are happiest when they can dunk their head under water.
Supply a pond or a small plastic kiddie pool. If you don’t have room for a pool or pond, a bucket or a dish tub can work. Know this: They will get fresh water muddy within minutes. Clean and change the water at least daily. (During the summer, we do it more often as they dunk their heads more to cool off.)
Ducks also need water near their food to help them eat. Provide a small bucket near their food. They will make a mess out of whatever water you give them, so smaller quantities near the food is a good idea. A chicken waterer is a good option — they can’t dunk their heads and spill the water everywhere.
What to Feed Ducks
I feed my ducks an all purpose layer feed, the same as our chickens. Lay pellets can also work. Aim for larger pellets if you can, as ducks tend to waste a lot of crumble style feed. (Note from Kris: I use an all-purpose, molasses coated mix for my drakes. It’s less expensive than the organic lay pellets I use for my hens.)
Ducks need a place to forage. They are excellent foragers and chase down mosquitoes, slugs, and other insects with great ease. They love to roam in the garden for short periods to search for insects, and they do so without damaging the plants themselves. Ducks WILL, however, dig their bills into the dirt and can leave small holes everywhere. Limit their time in one single area.
Ducks need a place to lay their eggs. Ours sleep in the barn at night, but lay eggs in the compost bin, near their pool, by the fence, and all the way at the back of their yard. It’s a daily egg hunt since they don’t nest like chickens do. We keep track of how many duck eggs we collect in the morning to know if we need to keep looking or not. Generally, a duck will lay 5-6 eggs a week and we use that guideline to know if the hunt is on or not.
If you happen to come across a surprise clutch of eggs, simply float the eggs in cold water. Those that sink to the bottom are still fresh. Those that “bob” or float are no longer good to eat. Those need to go into the compost pile.
Finally, ducks need space. A minimum of ten feet per bird is a good place to start. Our ducks live with the chickens in the same barn and run. (The ducks stick together and ignore the chickens.) Everyone goes about their business, foraging for bugs and grass and laying their eggs.
As you can see, owning ducks and raising them for meat or eggs can be a fun and simple part of your homestead and path to self-sufficiency.
Are you considering ducks for your homestead?
Heather and her family live in Northern Indiana where they work hard at raising 80% of their own food each year, including chickens, turkeys, ducks, quail, rabbits and a large garden. Join their (mis)adventures at The Homesteading Hippy or laugh with them on their new YouTube series.