Given a good environment, ducks rarely get sick. Seeing as an ounce of prevention is worth, you know, a pound of cure, or hundreds of dollars of cure, or whatever, here are 25 ways to help prevent duck health issues.
- Keep things clean
- Feed a proper diet
- Maintain a safe environment
- 14. Minimize stress
- 15. Monitor flock dynamics
- 16. Properly provide water
- 17. Remove thingamabobs
- 18. Avoid toxins
- 19. Provide good footing
- 20. Keep other animals away
- 21. Keep ducklings separate from adults
- 22. Keep predators away
- 23. Provide weather protection
- 24. Practice biosecurity
- 25. Should you vaccinate or deworm?
Keep things clean
Disease is, of course, most likely to occur in unhygienic surroundings. E.coli, fowl cholera, streptococcal infections, sinus problems, and many other issues are caused by poor hygiene. Keeping your ducks’ living area clean is one of the best ways to prevent duck health issues.
By the time ammonia levels are high enough to be detectable by a human nose, they’re already high enough to be harming your ducks’ health. Ammonia in the air can cause respiratory issues, eye issues, reduced appetite, and more.
Humans can smell ammonia when its concentration reaches 20 to 30 ppm, and commercial poultry houses are not supposed to have ammonia levels higher than 20-25 ppm.
If commercial poultry factories are required to keep ammonia levels low enough that it cannot be smelled, then you should too. “Smell-free coop” is not an oxymoron.
- If your coop smells, make it bigger, put less ducks in it, clean it more often, or add more ventilation.
- If your run smells, make it bigger, put less ducks in it, add an alternate run, or bed the run so you can clean it just as you would the coop.
Here’s more detail on five ways to keep your ducks’ living area clean and smell-free.
1. Don’t overcrowd
Overcrowding causes stress and makes it extremely difficult to keep things clean.
In a nighttime-only coop, each duck needs at least four square feet of space, preferably more.
In a daytime area, if your ducks have destroyed the grass, they are probably overcrowded. Aim for at least 50-100 square feet of space per duck.
They can get by in smaller spaces, but only if they’re in a mobile pen or a bedded run that you keep clean for them.
Here’s a guide to duck space requirements (along with space calculators): Duck Coop and Run Size Calculator
2. Maximize ventilation
Make sure there’s as much ventilation as possible in your ducks’ coop. As long as there are no drafts in your ducks’ face, there is no such thing as too much ventilation. However, the minimum amount of ventilation a coop should have is one square foot of window/vent space per duck.
3. Change bedding
Change your ducks’ bedding before it starts smelling. Wet bedding is especially liable to cause issues, because it can mold when it gets wet, which can cause aspergillosis in ducks. Bedding should remain as dry as possible.
4. Control hot spots
Be sure there are no areas in your ducks’ yard or coop where poop collects and builds up. If your ducks favor one part of the yard and sit there all day, you might try blocking their access to it temporarily so it can recover.
From time to time, move your ducks’ water sources, as well as shade sources, if possible, so the area around them doesn’t become bare and muddy.
5. Do a deep clean
Sometimes you might do a deep clean of their coop, scrubbing the walls and floor with soapy water, or vinegar and water. Don’t forget to scrub their water sources and feeders as well.
Feed a proper diet
Inappropriate diets are a major cause of duck health problems.
6. Purchase appropriate feed
The array of duck feed options can be confusing, but it’s important to choose an appropriate feed for your ducks. Do your research on the different types of feed and find out what is best for your birds.
Some general guidelines:
- Ducklings should not receive layer feed; it’s too high in calcium.
- Ducklings can be on high protein feed (20% or more) for their first two weeks, but after that, they need to be switched to a lower protein feed (15-18%) to reduce the chance of angel wing.
- Today’s medicated chick feeds seem safe for ducklings, but to stay safe, you may want to avoid them anyway.
- Drakes, ideally, shouldn’t eat layer feed, as it’s high in calcium, but most flock raisers don’t worry about it.
- Adult, laying ducks should receive a diet with 16-18% protein.
7. Limit treats
If you feed your ducks too many treats, you’ll unbalance their diet.
Now, if you were able to feed a large enough variety of treats that the treats formed a balanced diet, everything would be fine, and in fact, you would be able to just stop feeding them regular feed altogether. But that’s hard to do.
Thus, in most cases, you should try to make sure treats don’t comprise more than 10% of your duck’s diet. A little extra carbohydrates or whatever won’t hurt them, but a lot extra will. Diluting your ducks’ diet with raw grain or excess treats can cause trouble producing eggs, poor feather quality, or other issues.
8. Avoid unhealthy treats
Feeding your ducks unhealthy treats is probably worse than feeding too many.
Here are some foods you should not feed or should only feed in moderation:
- Raw white potato or potato peels (sweet potatoes are fine)
- Dry or undercooked beans
- Castor beans
- Apple seeds
- Citrus should not be fed in large quantities
- Lettuce, especially iceberg lettuce, is also very low in nutrition, so it shouldn’t be fed in large quantities
- Spinach, kale, Swiss chard and other foods high in oxalic acid, which binds with calcium and hinders its absorption
- Onions and garlic should not be fed in large quantities
- Dairy is difficult for poultry to digest, so should only be fed in moderation
- Bread, especially white bread, has no nutritional value and is only extra calories. It’s junk food. Either don’t feed bread to your ducks at all or feed it in very small quantities
- Corn and scratch, too, are primarily empty calories, so its usage should be limited
- Any other kind of junk food—french fries, chips, cereal, etc.
- Highly processed or fried foods
- Very fatty foods
- Salty foods
- Sugary foods
- Rotten, moldy, or rancid foods
Click here to read about healthy, nutritious treats for ducks and chickens.
9. Provide sufficient calcium
If your female ducks aren’t getting enough calcium in their diet, they could suffer from laying problems such as egg binding and eggs breaking inside of them.
Calcium is essential for healthy, strong eggshells.
Layer feed has added calcium, but not necessarily enough. If you feed your ducks all-flock feed, supplementary calcium is especially important.
Therefore, you need to offer your female ducks free-choice supplemental calcium in the form of crushed limestone, oyster shell, or crushed eggshells.
10. Provide sufficient niacin
Ducks need more niacin than chickens, so if your ducks have been eating chicken feed without added niacin, they may be at risk of niacin deficiency.
Ducklings are especially vulnerable, as niacin deficiency will rapidly cripple them.
Therefore, be sure your ducklings receive adequate niacin. Adding niacin to your adult ducks’ diets is a good idea, but not a necessity.
11. Avoid feeding contaminated feed
Moldy food should never be given to ducks.
One particularly dangerous type of mold is aspergillus fumigatus, which causes aspergillosis in ducks. This mold also produces aflatoxins, which are fatal for ducks.
Mycotoxins are another common and deadly feed contaminant.
Any food that has gotten wet should be fed to the ducks immediately, before it molds. (If you’re intentionally fermenting it, that’s an exception. But be sure to learn how long to ferment it and how to identify mold on fermented feed, which is different from the natural white stuff fermentation causes.)
Keeping an eye on feed recalls is also a good idea.
12. Provide supplements
An optional way to boost your ducks’ health, keep their immune systems strong, and reduce their chance of disease is adding supplements to their feed or water.
- Apple cider vinegar can aid digestion, boost the immune system, and help to control worms.
- Electrolytes can be added to water in times of stress or heat.
- Probiotics can strengthen the immune system and aid digestion.
- Garlic kills worms and is a natural antibiotic (but should not be fed to poultry in high quantities).
- Oregano is a natural antibiotic.
- Kelp is packed with nutritious minerals and vitamins.
- Diatomaceous earth (DE) may be able to kill external parasites.
- Molasses is high in minerals.
13. Let your ducks forage
Foraging ducks are happy ducks, and happy ducks are healthy ducks.
Letting your ducks find some of their own greens can also ensure that they don’t develop vitamin E or vitamin A deficiencies.
Sunshine is also important to your ducks’ health. Everyone needs vitamin D.
Maintain a safe environment
Keeping things clean and providing a proper diet will go a long way, but there are other problems your ducks’ environment could cause.
14. Minimize stress
Stress lowers the immune system, predisposing ducks to disease. Stressful events themselves can result in injuries or other problems.
Things that can be stressful include:
- Dirty/smelly environments
- No swimming water
- Not enough food
- Being chased or harassed by dogs, humans, or other creatures
- Rough or excessive handling
- Being bullied by other ducks or poultry
- Being overmated
15. Monitor flock dynamics
Ducks fighting with each other and drakes overmating females are a common source of stress and injury. Keep an eye on how your birds interact with each other so you can spot bullying, excessive fighting, and overmating.
16. Properly provide water
Some problems water can present:
- If ducks don’t have access to water deep enough for them to submerge their entire heads, they can develop eye and respiratory problems. They need to be able to wash their eyes and nostrils.
- No access to swimming water can cause oil gland issues and general ill health.
- If ducklings have unsupervised baths, they can get soaked and cold, and if they struggle to get out of their pool, they can drown.
- Too dirty water can cause wet feather and might contribute to salmonellosis.
- Standing, stagnant water can cause botulism.
- In a coop, spillage can get bedding wet, so be sure to design a minimum-spillage waterer or make sure spillage doesn’t fall into the bedding.
17. Remove thingamabobs
Keep your ducks’ living quarters free of any small objects they might swallow. Ducks will often eat small shiny things, which can cause “hardware disease.” If you do any building, be especially careful to clean up all dropped screws, nails, bolts, wire, staples, or other small metal objects. In addition, scanning your ducks’ yard with a metal detector may be a good idea.
Strings, plastic pieces, and other similar objects should also be removed, even though they are less likely to be eaten.
Anything they could scratch or scrape themselves on should also be removed if possible.
Decaying organic matter, especially animal carcasses, can also cause botulism.
18. Avoid toxins
Some possible toxins that could harm your ducks:
- Poisonous plants
- Baits or sprays
- Leaded paint
- Fungal spores in straw
- Insectidices/rodenticides (warfarin, parathion, and diazinon are particularly dangerous to ducks)
- Pressure treated wood
19. Provide good footing
Frequently having to walk on hard floors or rough surfaces can predispose a duck to bumblefoot. Try to make sure there’s nothing in your ducks’ yard they could cut their feet on.
If there’s a ramp leading up to their coop, make sure it’s wide enough and has a gentle enough slope that ducks aren’t tempted to jump off the side. Jumping off a ramp is also hard on ducks’ feet.
20. Keep other animals away
Rats can carry various diseases that are transmissible to ducks, such as duck virus hepatitis, duck plague, salmonellosis, and more.
Wild birds can also carry many diseases, such as duck virus hepatitis, duck virus enteritis (duck plague), avian influenza, mites, salmonellosis, and more. Thereforry not to let your ducks have any contact with wild waterfowl or any other birds. They are one of the main sources of disease, even if they are immune themselves.
21. Keep ducklings separate from adults
Duck virus hepatitis only occurs in ducklings, but it can be spread to ducklings from adults.
22. Keep predators away
Predators are one of the most common causes of duck injuries, not to mention deaths. Find out what predators are around in your area and build your ducks’ home to keep those predators out.
23. Provide weather protection
Make sure your ducks have relief from weather extremes.
In hot weather, be sure your ducks have shade and cool water. Ducks are more sensitive to heat than cold, and they can easily die of heat stress.
In cold weather, be sure your ducks can access somewhere draft-free with dry, thick bedding. Ducks cope well with cold, but they shouldn’t be in the wind and snow all the time.
In wet weather, be sure your ducks can access somewhere dry. They don’t mind some rain, but they prefer sleeping somewhere dry, and they shouldn’t be forced to sit out in a heavy storm.
24. Practice biosecurity
Deadly, flock-decimating diseases always seem like something that would happen to somebody else’s flock, or some commercial farmer, not you.
But they can sneak their way into small, backyard flocks, too—usually via the importation of new birds. Any new birds in a flock present a major disease risk. Even if they seem healthy, they could carry avian influenza or some similar terror, as well as lesser dangers like parasites.
You have two options: keep a closed flock, never bringing in any new birds, or properly quarantine new birds.
25. Should you vaccinate or deworm?
Vaccination and regular deworming are a staple of animal healthcare, in many species. However, for ducks, they are rarely necessary.
There are vaccinations for some diseases, such as duck virus hepatitis, duck virus enteritis (DVE), and fowl cholera. In most cases, vaccinations are unlikely to be worth it for you. Ducks are not normally vaccinated.
Healthy ducks don’t normally suffer from heavy worm loads. Some people opt to deworm “to be on the safe side.” Unfortunately, chemical dewormers are becoming obsolete. Parasites are developing resistance to dewormers faster than new ones can be invented.
I don’t recommend using them unless you discover that your ducks have a heavy worm load and need immediate treatment. You don’t want to contribute to the resistance problem, and if you keep your ducks in a healthy environment, they are unlikely to have worm problems anyway.
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