Best Books about Duck Care and Husbandry (Reviewed)

 |  14 min read

Finding information about ducks can be difficult. Some of us like wading through the sticky, murky swamp that is Google only to find a dozen contradictions rather than an answer; others of us prefer a good old book.

Here are some good old books to guide you in your duck journey.

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Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks

Dave Holderread

This is sort of considered the duck bible. Its author, Dave Holderread, has over six decades of experience with ducks and is one of the world’s foremost experts on ducks, especially duck breeds, breeding, and genetics. He’s even the creator of the Golden Cascade duck breed.

Fittingly, around half of the book is about breeds and breeding. There’s a separate chapter for bantam breeds, lightweight breeds, mediumweight breeds, and heavyweight breeds. Then there’s a chapter about the importance of preserving rare breeds, a chapter about hybrid ducks, and a chapter about the genetics of duck colors.

Beyond that, there’s a chapter on acquiring ducks, incubation, rearing ducklings, managing adult ducks, understanding feed, butchering, health, and showing, all of which are excellent and complete.

The writing is clear and very concise, packing a tremendous amount of information into a small space.

This book contains all the information a beginner needs to know, as well plenty of information for the experienced duck raiser or those looking to raise ducks on a larger scale for meat or eggs.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with ducks. It’s a must-have, particularly if you have any interest in breeds, breeding, or showing.

Note: I have the 2000 edition. The current edition (2011) may differ.

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock

Harvey Ussery

This is my all-time favorite poultry book. If you’re a homesteader/farmsteader, hobby farmer, or are otherwise interested in food security, self-sustainability, permaculture, and/or holistic, natural poultry care, this book is essential.

This book is about smart, holistic poultry management, how to work with nature rather than against it, and how to use poultry as an integrated part of a farm. None of my thirteen other poultry books are anything like it. In particular, none of them go into nearly so much detail on natural feeding and homegrown feeds. This book has five entire chapters on feeding: Thoughts on Feeding, Purchased Feeds, Making Our Own Feeds, Feeding the Flock From Home Resources, and Cultivating Recomposers for Poultry Feed.

In the housing chapter, rather than giving any specific plans or blueprints, Ussery gives you the principles on which to build (as well as showing the layout of his own barn and why it works for him). The chapter also talks about how you cannot have too much ventilation and the fact that open-air coops are not only usable but are preferable to closed ones, even in cold areas. Then theres a chapter on deep litter in the poultry barn or coop, a chapter on watering, a chapter on pasturing, a chapter on using electronet fencing, and a chapter on mobile shelters.

The book’s guide to butchering poultry is one of the best I’ve seen, complete with over thirty full-color photographs. The book also talks about how to breed for improvement and genetic conservation, how to work with broody hens (rather than using an incubator), using poultry to improve soil fertility and make compost, using poultry in the garden, protecting the flock from predators, helping the flock stay healthy, and managing poultry during the winter.

In the appendices, you’ll find, among other things, instructions for building a mobile A-frame shelter and spreadsheets for formulating feed and tracking costs and profits.

This book is expensive, but totally worth the price.

One disadvantage is that the author primarily talks about his way of doing things and methods he has experience with. So a few areas are lacking. He primarily describes the breeds he has raised and the health problems he has encountered. The only fencing option he talks about is electronet and the only coop bedding option he discusses is deep litter. There is some information on artificial incubation (written by Don Schrider), but not a complete guide.

But this book wasn’t intended to be a complete guide to everything. It’s an honest account of this author’s way of doing things—and his way is a very good way. The information he doesn’t bother with can easily be found elsewhere. The information that is in this book can’t easily be found elsewhere.

Also, this isn’t a “duck book,” but a lot of the information is applicable to ducks and he does talk about ducks here and there. If you want to learn the basics of raising ducks, get another book (in addition to this one).

P.S. Here’s an excellent article written by Harvey Ussery about clan breeding, also called spiral breeding.

The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook

This book (click here to view it on Amazon) is exactly what its title says it is. It’s about pet ducks exclusively, and it’s definitely an ultimate guidebook. It’s huge, probably my biggest poultry book (although The Small-Scale Poultry Flock is similarly-sized).

This book is not about practicality, but carefulness. It’s about doing everything you possibly can to make sure your ducks are happy, healthy, and most of all, safe. There’s information on finding a vet, making a duck first aid kit, researching and choosing a feed brand, feeding and watering, rodent control, brooding, managing fighting and squabbling, having an all-male flock, where to get ducks, a little about biosecurity and quarantine, tips on safely having adult ducks shipped to you (which isn’t recommended, but just in case), a basic guide to duck breeds, finding a duck sitter, and much more. There’s an extensive guide to making a strong, safe predator-proof duck enclosure and ideas for making a duck pond. And there’s even a chapter on ducky enrichment with fun ideas to make your ducks’ lives more interesting (which, honestly, was shorter than I thought it would have been).

However, this book’s primary selling point (and the primary reason I bought it) is its health section. The author runs a duck rescue, Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary, and many of the ducks come to the rescue ill or injured, so she has more experience with duck health issues and “special needs” ducks than most people get in a lifetime of raising ducks. There are over two hundred pages of health information, some of which you probably won’t find anywhere else. For a pet owner who isn’t breeding and is glad to pay for vet care or do anything to bring their precious ducks back to health, this information could be invaluable.

This health section includes a chart listing exactly 101 medications for ducks along with their purpose, dosage, form, and frequency. There’s a guide to giving a duck a pill, tips on having a surgery done on your duck, and information on duck cradles and wheelchairs. There’s a section for each part of your ducks’ system and problems that could occur there. As an example of how comprehensive it is, the section on bills covers bill freckles (they’re normal), peeling bills and rubber bills, scratched bills, broken bills, punctured bills (which, apparently, can be filled by dental acrylics!), swollen bills (I’d never even heard of this before), bill hematomas and abscesses, prosthetic bills, and deformed bills. There’s an incredible amount of information here.

One issue I have is that the book suggests a vet for nearly every last health problem. Not everyone can access or afford a duck vet. For one thing, unfortunately, the only euthanasia option the book mentions is having a vet do it for you. Another thing I’m not a fan of is that the author uses “precautionary” chemical antibiotics for just about everything. But still, it’s a guide worth having.

If you have pet ducks, this is my #1 book recommendation.

Ducks & Geese in Your Backyard

Rick & Gail Luttman

You can feel the tremendous amount of personal experience behind this book. Rick and Gail Luttman have a real love of waterfowl, and their writing is engaging, fun to read, and humorous, with numerous stories and anecdotes, practical tips, and science and numbers. This book is from 1978 and may not be suited to the short attention spans of today, with its walls of text and lack of photographs, but if you like reading (and why shouldn’t you?), I highly recommend it.

It discusses duck and goose behavior and relationships, practical tips on catching, carrying, and transporting waterfowl, whether fish and ducks can cohabit a pond, how to selectively breed for better egg production, how to make convincing nest boxes, using foster mothers, methods of safely providing water to ducklings in a brooder, the perils of attempting to put down in a bag, and more that most other books skim over or don’t mention.

Said perils of attempting to put down in a bag (from Chapter 12: Raising Ducks and Geese for Meat):

At this point you may wish to get a paper bag and attempt to fill it with down. We say “attempt” for two reasons: first, it takes a great number of birds to fill anything with down; second, down simply does not like paper bags and so is very perverse about going into one. Generally, it will stick to your hand, especially if your hand is the least bit damp, and sometimes even clings partway up your arm or manages to get into your hair. If you try to put your hand deep into the bag and shake the down off, you may pull your hand out to find even more down clinging to it. And when you’ve finally managed to get the down off of your hand and miraculously into the bag, one tiny accidental joggle of the bag will start a blizzard. Or the down may suddenly of its very own accord decide to come floating complacently out of the bag. It is important to note that down is exempt from the Law of Gravity.

Ducks & Geese in Your Backyard

Furthermore, there’s an entire chapter on building a pond. The feeding chapter is very detailed and even contains a long section on how to make your own balanced duck feed, including tables of vitamin and mineral amounts and ratios and a table of nutrition facts for various feedstuffs.

Overall, this book is more comprehensive than many others I own. It’s a beginner’s guide, but it answers a lot more questions than most other beginner’s guides, and even more experienced duck keepers may find new tips or information in this book.

Since it was written over 40 years ago, there are occasional details that are outdated (such as some of the information on incubators), but for the most part, the book remains relevant to the modern duck keeper.

Anyway, Ducks & Geese in Your Backyard seems underrated. I don’t see mention of it often. But it’s one of my favorites.

Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks

Gail Damerow

This is another book I have that isn’t specifically about ducks, but if you want to hatch and brood a lot, get this book.

The five chapters about brooding—Acquiring Your First Chicks; Setting Up Your Brooder; Managing Feed, Water, and Bedding; What to Expect as they Grow; Hatchling Health Issues—come before the hatching section. I’d have put it the other way around, but anyway, it offers, as one would hope, a more complete guide to brooding than you’ll find in most other books.

Then of course there’s everything you need to know about hatching eggs, in six chapters: The Broody Hen, Selecting an Incubator, Eggs for Hatching, Operating an Incubator, What Went Wrong?, and Hatchling Identification. You’ll find valuable tips on moving broodies, dealing with incubator temperature fluctuation, storing eggs, weighing eggs to monitor weight loss, spraying and cooling waterfowl eggs, digital egg heart rate monitors, cleaning an incubator, record keeping, breakout analysis, troubleshooting, dealing with deformities and other hatchling issues, hatchling identification, and much more.

Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry

Glenn Drowns

This isn’t exactly a duck book, and I haven’t read all of it, but I’ll mention it anyway. If you’re a beginner and don’t know which type of poultry you want, or if you want multiple types of poultry, this is a fantastic place to start learning.

The author is passionate about rare poultry breeds, and the breed guide in this book is quite comprehensive. There are five chapters about chicken breeds: laying chickens, meat chickens, dual-purpose chickens, bantams, and ornamental chickens. Then turkeys, waterfowl, guineas, coturnix quail, and game birds each get their own chapter. And then there’s a chapter about more rarely-kept poultry, such as pigeons, emus, peafowl, and swans.

The book contains helpful information on how compatible the species are with each other and how to raise them together. There are chapters on housing, brooding, hatching, producing meat and eggs, marketing and sales, poultry as pets, health, predators, and more. As I said, I haven’t read this book in its entirety yet, but they look comprehensive and interesting.

Another perk of this book is the section on growing your own feed, which you normally don’t find much about in Storey’s Guide books. There are four sample ration recipes, a list of foods you can grow for your poultry, and tips on growing and harvesting them (especially the grains).


Cherie Langlois

Written in a conversational style by a hobby farmer, this is an approachable, easy read. It’s not ideal if you’re looking to raise ducks on a large scale (the tagline is “Tending a Small-Scale Flock for Pleasure and Profit), but for the average hobby farmer or duck owner, it’s a nice beginner’s guide that will teach you everything you need to know to get started with ducks.

Of all the duck books I have, this is also the best one for kids to read, so if you have kids that are interested in learning about ducks, I recommend this book.

On another note, the book is not particularly durable. I have three Hobby Farms books and all show considerable wear and tear, despite receiving very little use.

Keeping Ducks and Geese

Chris & Mike Ashton

Keeping Ducks and Geese is full of beautiful full-color pictures and has a wonderful breed guide for both ducks and geese.

The book’s information on duck behavior, getting started, housing, feeding, breeding, rearing ducklings, health, and general care are also good. Overall, this is a good beginner’s guide, albeit a bit short—sometimes it reads more like a summary than a comprehensive guide.

Of course, it’s best for people who are interested in both ducks and geese, as it discusses both side-by-side. However, Chris Ashton also has a book titled Keeping Geese, which is larger and more comprehensive than this book. If you want ducks and geese, I’d recommend buying Keeping Geese in addition to a duck book, rather than buying this one.

They also have a ducks-only book, but I haven’t read it:

The Duck Handbook

Heinz-Sigurd Raethel and Julie R. Mancini

This is the only duck book I have that talks about ornamental breeds. In fact, it focuses on them nearly as much as commercial/utility breeds. If you want to raise ornamental ducks, I recommend this book.

One of the authors was a scientific advisor for the Zoological Garden of Berlin and the other author was a freelance writer who doesn’t have ducks. Thus, this book is written more from a zoological or scientific perspective than a duck owner’s perspective. For example, the section on ducks for eggs talks about the formation of an egg and the properties of an egg (weight, color, nutrition), but there is no information whatsoever about actually raising ducks for eggs.

It has a nice section on making a pond. I also liked the section on creating your own duck diet, although you will need to research beyond the information it provides if you want to create a duck diet successfully.

In general, if you’re new to ducks, you will probably need to research more beyond this book. It covers the basics (housing, diet, care, health, behavior, and breeds), but it’s quite short. It’s also very beginner-oriented, so you may not find it useful if you already have experience with ducks.

So unless you want ornamental ducks, I’d pass on this one.

Other Books

I haven’t read the following books, but here a few more options:


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