When housing ducks in winter, there are some simple tactics to keep things hospitable in the duck coop. They don’t mind the cold, really.
Raising ducks on your homestead is fun. They are full of personality, enjoyable to watch, and relaxing to be around. When the weather is warm, they are very low maintenance. Fill their pool with fresh water, add some yummy nourishing food, and collect fresh duck eggs. In warm weather, they don’t even need a duck coop. Keeping ducks in winter weather is a bit different, but not difficult.
The big question is, do ducks get cold in the winter? The biggest concern is their feet, which can become frostbitten at very low temperatures. Ducks have a counter-current heat exchange system which prevents their feet from becoming damaged even in icy conditions. That means that the warm blood flowing in veins from their heart flows very close to the cold blood flowing from their feet. This helps normalize the temperature in their feet. [More on that here.]
Domestic ducks survive winter in gentler conditions than wild ducks, as we take a bit more care in providing a hospitable duck coop. Ducks will survive even when temperatures dip into negative numbers, but on these cold nights, take extra care to make sure you take the following into consideration.
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5 Tips for keeping ducks in winter
Your ducks can be happy egg producers all year round if they have a duck coop to escape the nasty weather. Setting up a duck shelter for winter is easy, though. A winter duck house can be a productive duck house with just takes a few extra steps of care and some planning ahead.
1. Provide extra straw in the duck coop
Since most duck breeds don’t roost like chickens do, they are on the ground all the time. Extra straw helps keep them off the cold ground. We lay a full bale of straw down two to three times throughout the winter.
We collect the old straw for our compost pile, then new straw is scattered through out the coop. The ducks will settle into the straw, and build nests to lay their eggs in. This makes it much easier to find their eggs instead of the daily hunt, too.
Related: 3 Good Duck Breeds for Beginners
2. Keep duck water from freezing
Ducks LOVE water and need it to eat their food. To make sure the duck water does not freeze, I use several heated bowls and buckets around their coop so that I don’t need to worry about chipping away frozen blocks when it’s 30 degrees below. We have to fill those buckets two to three times a day, as they seem to spill their water everywhere. (Ducks are not the neatest animals with water.)
We remove the duck’s water at night, since all they will do is play in it and make a mess.
While ducks do need water to process their food, it’s not necessary to maintain a place for them to swim.
If you house your ducks with chickens, you’ll have the problem of the ducks muddying the chickens’ water. A gravity fed waterer with just a small tray or water nipples can help reduce this problem.
3. Consider the ice
To combat slipping and sliding all over the place, we use straw around the water buckets by basically burying the water buckets in straw two to three inches deep.
The straw helps to minimize the formation of ice. We replace it often with the old straw going into the compost pile. I have also seen people place their water buckets inside old tires to help minimize the spilling and ice forming.
Heather shared a great idea in the comments section:
I got the long flat storage tubs that are for under your bed. I took the lids and cut 4 largish square holes in it, but left the criss cross “grid”. Its deep enough that they can get their whole head in to clean their beaks off, but cant get in to swim. I have almost no ice around their waterer. I have 2, so if ones frozen, I can swap with a fresh one. Works great!
4. Keep them fed.
During mild weather, ducks forage for snails and slugs and bugs. Since ducks will not be able to forage for much food when there’s snow and ice everywhere, you need to make sure that they get enough feed. We usually plan on at least doubling their food rations each winter.
That, along with fodder and added treats such as cracked corn, peanuts, or cabbage shreds will help keep them happy and healthy.
5. Do ducks need heat in winter?
Ducks do NOT need a heat lamp in their coop. They are a terrible fire hazard, especially if the coop is not wired specifically for lighting.
The layers of fat and feathers that ducks are equipped with keep them warm, even when they are wet. Our ducks are five to seven years old, and still continue to lay five eggs a week in the winter without supplemental light.
As you can see, keeping ducks in winter is pretty easy. You can keep a happy, healthy flock all winter long, even in the coldest of areas! Do you keep ducks? What are some tips you have for housing ducks in the winter?
[Information added/updated by Kris October 2020.]