First of all, welcome to the world of ducks!
If you haven’t had your ducks long or are still in the planning stage, you doubtlessly have questions. Here are answers to 20 of the most common questions beginners have about owning and caring for ducks.
- What are ducks good for?
- Are ducks better than chickens?
- What duck breed should I get?
- Where can I buy ducks?
- What should I feed my ducks?
- How much do ducks eat?
- What kind of accommodation do ducks need?
- Can I keep ducks indoors?
- How much space do ducks need?
- Do ducks need a pond?
- Can I keep ducks on a pond?
- How do I take care of ducklings?
- Can a duck I raised survive in the wild?
- How loud are ducks?
- Can I eat duck eggs?
- Do I need a drake to get eggs?
- How many eggs do ducks lay?
- Do ducks make good pets?
- Can I keep one duck?
- Can I keep ducks with chickens?
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1. What are ducks good for?
1. Eggs! Typically, those wanting eggs fresh from their backyard choose chickens by default, but why not ducks? Duck eggs are a perfectly viable alternative to chicken eggs, and a small flock of ducks can easily satisfy a family’s needs. Here’s more on duck eggs.
2. Meat. Hobby farmers or homesteaders who want to raise their own meat, again, often default to chickens, but ducks are a good option as well.
3. Pest control. Ducks are good at eating ticks, slugs, and other pests.
4. Pets/fun. Who needs Netflix when you have Duck TV? Ducks are entertaining and make good pets.
2. Are ducks better than chickens?
For some people, yes; for others, no.
Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Ducks
1. They are more cold-hardy. Ducks don’t mind cold weather or snow.
2. Their housing needs are simpler. Read more about what sort of housing ducks need here.
3. They tend to live longer and be productive for longer.
4. They’re hardier. They don’t have as much trouble with coccidiosis or other common chicken scourges. They basically never get sick.
5. They don’t scratch like chickens do. In that sense, they can be less destructive.
6. They’re a bit quieter than chickens, but only a bit. Roosters are extremely loud; drakes are extremely quiet. Whether female ducks or female chickens are louder is debatable. Quacking isn’t terribly loud, but ducks talk a lot. Chickens are often louder, but make noise less often.
Disadvantages of Ducks
1. They’re ridiculously messy. New duckling owners are often appalled to find that within hours, their sweet, innocent ducklings have put water in the food, food in the water, bedding in the food, food in the bedding, bedding in the water, water in the bedding, poop in the water, poop in the food, and poop on every square inch of the brooder. Adult ducks aren’t much better—everywhere within 12 feet of any source of water will be mud. If you think chicks or chickens are messy, think again.
2. Their water needs are more complicated than those of chickens. They can’t use chicken drinkers, at least not full-time. Ducks need to be able to submerge their heads periodically to keep their eyes and nostrils healthy, and chicken drinker troughs are too shallow. In the coop, you may need to put their over a wire-covered platform so spilled water falls into a basin underneath rather than wetting the bedding. Ducks also should have swimming water, and they will make it ridiculously dirty ridiculously quickly, so it either needs to be large or be changed often.
3. They need more space. They’re fairly active during the night, so they need space to move around even if they’re only locked in their coop for the night.
4. Training them to go to their coop can be more difficult. Chickens instinctively find somewhere to roost, but ducks would rather sleep in the water or in some grass.
5. They make mud and then dabble in the mud and spread the mud. So they’re still destructive. Left too long in too small an area, they will obliterate the vegetation, just as chickens will.
Feeding ducks isn’t much more difficult than feeding chickens. Unfortunately, duck feed can be difficult to find; fortunately, it’s all right for ducks to eat chicken feed. The only caveat is that you need to add niacin to it, especially for ducklings. Ducks need far more niacin than chickens, and if ducklings become niacin deficient, they will quickly become crippled.
Also, ducks can choke on dry mash, so either buy pellets or wet the mash.
A good strain of Khaki Campbell can lay over 300 eggs a year. Few chickens, other than hybrids, can match this. But Khaki Campbells of that caliber are hard to find.
In general, there’s no clear winner here. There are multiple duck breeds and chicken breeds that are extremely productive layers. Ducks are more likely to lay in winter than chickens.
Some people prefer chicken eggs, some prefer duck eggs. Also, some people are allergic to chicken eggs but not duck eggs; some are the opposite.
Nothing can beat the Cornish Cross hybrid chicken. No other duck or chicken can compare. They produce more meat faster and at a lower price than any other bird.
But they have a lot of disadvantages, so some people look for other options.
A good strain of Pekin ducks will beat any other duck breed and pretty much all chicken breeds.
There are various other meat breeds. For chickens, there’s the Orpington, Bresse, Jersey Giant, Naked Neck, and others. There’s also the Freedom Ranger, which is a hybrid, but doesn’t have most of the disadvantages of the Cornish Cross. For ducks, there’s the Muscovy, Aylesbury, Rouen, and Cayuga. And there’s also the hybrid Mulard, a Muscovy/Pekin cross.
Beyond that, it’s just a matter of which you prefer eating. If you don’t like duck meat, you’d probably better raise chickens.
3. What duck breed should I get?
There are over two dozen duck breeds. Visit my duck breed guide to see a breed comparison chart and read about each duck breed.
4. Where can I buy ducks?
1. Feed stores
These feed stores get their ducklings from hatcheries. Many prospective duck owners get their duckling straight from hatcheries. Some popular hatcheries include Metzer Farms, Murray McMurray Hatchery, Hoover’s Hatchery, Cackle Hatchery, and Meyer Hatchery.
Then there are breeders. Some breed for show, some breed for production, and others are just casual breeders. If you want high-quality ducks, finding a good breeder with a good breeding plan is the best option. Some examples include Apricot Valley Waterfowl and Duck Creek Farm.
It’s also often easy to find individuals selling ducks they can’t or don’t want to keep. Craigslist, for example, often has ducks for sale.
5. What should I feed my ducks?
Feed your ducks a premixed commercial feed from a feed store. This should comprise the majority of their diet.
Waterfowl feed is ideal, but it’s often difficult to find. Chicken feed is fine for ducks. The primary difference between duck and chicken diets is that ducks need far more niacin, especially when they’re ducklings.
Forage is also an excellent source of feed. If you can give your ducks access to grass, they will be able to find some of their own feed.
Be careful with treats. It’s fine to feed ducks treats, but to avoid causing a dietary imbalance, try to keep treats under 10% of their general diet. The more variety of treats you feed, the safer it is to feed larger quantities.
Good treats include mealworms, earthworms, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, and strawberries. Most veggies and fruits are fine for ducks, in moderation.
Don’t feed ducks bread. It’s just empty calories.
6. How much do ducks eat?
Most ducks eat approximately 4-8 ounces a day.
If you feed your ducks twice a day, give them as much feed as they can eat within approximately 15 minutes.
You can also feed your ducks free-choice. Most ducks will not overeat. The main exception is Pekins, which are extremely fast-growing and need to be kept on a diet. They can become crippled easily if they grow too fast. They can also become overweight.
Ducklings must be fed free-choice. Don’t limit their feed.
7. What kind of accommodation do ducks need?
Predator protection is the primary consideration. Ducks are a juicy snack for a large array of predators. Research what predators are present in your area and build your ducks an enclosure that will protect them.
Most people keep their ducks in a secure coop for the night and let them into a more open run for the day. Other people make the run very secure and then don’t have a coop at all, only a small open shelter inside the run to protect from the elements. Ducks prefer sleeping in the open, if possible.
Some people let their ducks free-range for the day, but this is only an option if daytime predators are unlikely to be an issue.
Ducks don’t like being cooped up, so minimal housing is a good idea. They don’t need roosts, dustbaths, or raised nests. Many ducks won’t use nests at all.
But they do need sun protection. Be sure ample shade is available.
They don’t mind rain, but they should still have somewhere dry to sleep.
Ducks don’t mind snow either, but they should have somewhere snow- and draft-free to bed down, preferably with deep bedding to keep them warmer. They should always have fresh air and ventilation. Don’t shut them up in a closed coop no matter how cold it is. They do not need heating.
Ducks absolutely love having grass and vegetation to explore and forage in, so try to give them as much space as possible to forage. Some people use mobile pens so their ducks can get fresh grass on a regular basis.
8. Can I keep ducks indoors?
Yes, part-time. They’re happier outside, since their favorite activities are swimming, getting muddy, and foraging in vegetation. They need sunshine and outdoor time. Ducks hate being cooped up.
But some people do keep their pet ducks inside part of the time. They will have to be accustomed to this early on, because if a duck is already used to living outdoors, they won’t want to be in a house.
You cannot housebreak a duck, so if your ducks are indoors part-time, you will either have to clean up after them or have them wear diapers — which cannot be worn full-time anyway as they’re quite bulky and obstruct a duck’s preening.
9. How much space do ducks need?
For a nighttime-only coop, each duck needs at least four square feet of space, preferably five, especially for large breeds. Bantams can get by with three square feet of space, but more is better.
For the daytime, ten square feet per duck is the absolute minimum, but even that is really only satisfactory if they’re in a mobile shelter that is moved to fresh ground frequently.
For a fixed run, allow at least 50 square feet per duck, preferably more. I’d actually recommend at least 100 square feet per duck.
Read more here: Duck Coop and Run Size Calculator
10. Do ducks need a pond?
No, ducks don’t need a pond.
It’s possible to keep ducks without any swimming water. They need to be able to dunk their head in water to keep their eyes and nares (nostrils) healthy, but they don’t require swimming water to live.
However, they’re far happier and better off if they have a source of swimming water, which can be as simple as a small kiddie pool.
11. Can I keep ducks on a pond?
If you have a pond on your property, you may wonder if you can put a few ducks on it.
Maybe, if there are no snapping turtles or other dangers in the pond.
You should still lock the ducks up at night for their safety. You’ll have to figure out how to get them off the pond (they may not want to leave) in the evening. The pond offers some degree of protection from predators; maybe enough, maybe not.
12. How do I take care of ducklings?
Ducklings need a safe brooder, a source of warmth, food, and water.
You can use unused bathtubs, plastic totes, stock tanks, and other similar things for a brooder. It just needs to contain them and their bedding, and it also needs to have sufficient ventilation. Each duckling needs at least 1 square foot of space, and more as they get older. Read more about how much space ducklings need here.
Ducklings also can’t stay warm on their own. When they have a mother duck, they can snuggle under her to stay warm. If you’re brooding ducklings, you will need to offer them a source of heat. Heat lamps are a common option, but they’re a fire hazard. Heating plates are safer and mimic a mother duck better.
Brooder temperature should be 95 degrees for the ducklings’ first week, and should be decreased by five degrees every week.
The ideal feed for ducklings is duckling starter/grower.
Chick feed also works, but you need to add niacin. Preferably, it should also be unmedicated.
All-flock feed can also be fed to ducklings.
Ducklings shouldn’t be able to swim in their water. They won’t know when they should get out, so they’ll get soaked and cold. And if they can’t get out easily, they can drown. But they should still be able to submerge their face.
You can let your ducklings have baths, but only under supervision.
13. Can a duck I raised survive in the wild?
Domestic ducks cannot survive in the wild or on your local pond. If you’ve bought or hatched ducks and now want to dump them at a lake, please don’t! They will die of starvation or be eaten by predators.
Even if you hatched the eggs of a feral duck who was able to survive in the wild, your ducks will not be able to. They have to learn how to feed themselves as very young ducklings, or they will never learn how to. A skillful rehabilitator may be able to methodically teach a duck how to find its own food, but it’s a difficult and gradual process.
14. How loud are ducks?
Ducks are quite noisy. Some people find them annoying, others don’t mind them at all.
Their quack isn’t terribly loud, but it can be heard a few hundred feet away. If you live close to your duck pen or have close neighbors, it’s possible the quacking will be annoying.
And many ducks quack a lot. Some ducks quack almost endlessly, even at night. Other ducks only quack if they’re disturbed or excited.
Fortunately, drakes are very quiet. They don’t have a loud quack like the females do. Their voice is more of a hoarse croak. They’re unlikely to annoy anyone. If you live in an urban area and just want pets, get a few drakes.
Muscovy ducks, both males and females, are also extremely quiet. They don’t quack. Instead, males have a hoarse hiss and females make a soft cooing or trilling sound. They won’t annoy anyone.
15. Can I eat duck eggs?
Of course! Duck eggs can be used just like chicken eggs. They are very similar and just as good. Duck eggs have harder shells, larger and richer yolks, and are better for baking than chicken eggs because they make lighter, fluffier goods.
Duck eggs usually have white shells, but some ducks lay blue, green, pink, gray, or black eggs. Shell color has no effect whatsoever on egg content, color, or nutrition.
16. Do I need a drake to get eggs?
No. Ducks will lay exactly the same amount of eggs regardless of whether a drake is present or not. Having a drake around will just mean that some of the eggs will be fertilized and hatchable.
Fertilized eggs are just as good to eat as unfertilized eggs and don’t look or taste any different.
Related: Do ducks need a mate?
17. How many eggs do ducks lay?
Ducks lay anywhere from 25 to 340+ eggs a year, depending on the breed.
For example, Call ducks lay 25-75 eggs a year. Blue Swedish ducks lay 100-150 eggs a year. Buff Orpington ducks lay 150-220 eggs a year. Silver Appleyard ducks lay 200-270 eggs a year. And Khaki Campbell ducks lay 250-340 eggs a year.
Related: 10 Best Duck Breeds For Eggs
Related: When do ducks start laying eggs?
18. Do ducks make good pets?
Yes, for some people.
However, they are not “loving” like a dog. If they’re handled a lot, they won’t mind being petted, but they will never like and enjoy petting the way a dog would.
They are trainable, like any animal, but they’re not nearly as smart as dogs or cats.
19. Can I keep one duck?
Ducks are social animals and need constant company, preferably company of their own species.
A single duck will be lonely. It will need constant human companionship, but even that is not as good as a ducky companion.
20. Can I keep ducks with chickens?
Yes, with a few caveats. It’s not ideal.
One, ducks are ridiculously messy and will spread water everywhere. Chickens won’t appreciate their habits. You’ll have to give them plenty of space and keep the coop as dry as possible.
Two, ducks don’t like ramps, so many chicken coops aren’t a good fit for ducks. Ducks don’t use raised nests or roosts either. Be sure there’s ground-level sleeping space in your coop.
Three, drakes and roosters have completely different “equipment,” so if a drake tries to mate a chicken hen, he could kill her. It’s best not to keep a drake with hens. If you do, be sure the drake has plenty of female ducks to keep him happy, and separate him if he starts trying to mate hens.
If you want to add ducks to a chicken flock, read our guide to keeping ducks with chickens.
This list is far from complete. I intend to add to it as time goes on. Are you a beginner with a question? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll consider adding your question to this list!