You’ve taken the dive and set your mind on raising ducks. Now it’s time to plan your flock! Simply running to the feed store and nabbing some ducklings is a common but dangerous mistake. Planning comes first.
First, decide on a breed. Then decide how many ducks you can handle and care for, and whether or not you want drakes. Then, plan and build your accommodations. Decide what you will feed your flock and how you will manage them. Finally, get your ducks!
There are many available duck breeds, each with different characteristics and traits. Which one you need will depend on how many eggs you want, if you want meat, if you need a quiet duck, if you need a flightless duck, if you want a pet, and so on. Click to Duck Breed Guide for more information.
How many ducks?
First, if you’re raising ducks for eggs, how many eggs do you need? Say you use about two dozen eggs a week, which is 1248 eggs a year. Perhaps you’ve chosen Ancona ducks, which may produce 250 eggs a year. Dividing 1248 by 250, you need about five females, plus one male if you wish for offspring. Total, you need six ducks (and more if you want to sell the eggs). Remember that not all the ducks will be laying all at the same time. During the winter, most breeds don’t lay much, if any.
If you are raising ducks for meat, consider how much space the growing youngsters will take. Remember that some ducks can hatch twenty (and sometimes more) eggs in just one clutch, and until they are large enough to butcher, those youngsters will take a lot of space. Estimate how many youngsters you want per year before planning the size of your structures.
Some people just want their ducks as pets, with eggs as a side benefit. In this case, you probably don’t want very many, maybe only three or four. Still, if you want ducklings, plan accordingly.
Do not get only one bird. Ducks are social animals and live in flocks, so you must have at least two unless you plan to spend lots of time with your duck – hardly feasible unless your duck lives in your house. Often, it’s also not a good idea to get just one male and one female, because some males will overmate their single companion.
Your flock size also depends on the space available. If you live in a city, you may have a limit as to how many fowl you can raise. Definitely do not get more than you can reasonably house or take care of. Crowding leads to trouble and problems!
For example, let’s say you only have a yard that is 20 by 20 feet. That is 400 square feet. Ducks need about 4 square feet inside (if they are only inside for the night) and 15 square feet outside – minimum. Always go with larger if possible! But for this example, let’s use the minimal sizes. So will our six Anconas fit in it? 4 x 6 is 24, so the inside area should be 24 square feet. The outside area (15 x 6) should be 90 square feet. Total, you need about 114 square feet. They’ll fit! Of course, since you have more space, you can make it larger so they’ll be happier and so you have space for ducklings. The more space, the better.
Drakes or not?
It isn’t necessary to have a drake in order to obtain eggs, but it is necessary to have ducklings. Unlike chickens, drakes do not crow. In fact, they don’t make much noise at all, and they are much quieter than quacking females.
You only need one drake for every 7-10 females. If you have too many drakes, they will fight and may beat up or overmate the females, especially in the case of Muscovies.
If you don’t want ducklings, remember that eventually the females will stop laying and you may need to find new stock (unless you are only raising ducks for pets and don’t care about eggs).
Your ducks need some sort of pen and house. You can’t just buy ducks and dump them in the backyard. They would wander into the neighbor’s property, get eaten by predators, lay their eggs where you will never find them, and get into lots of trouble. Neither can you buy ducklings and put them in a cardboard box. This arrangement may work for one or two weeks, but you must have more permanent arrangements ready before buying any ducks. You need a fenced yard with some shade, and you probably need a coop or shelter as well. Click to Housing Basics to read more.
It’s an obvious fact. Your ducks need food, and you have to provide it for them. What to provide isn’t always so easy. Many people resort to the handy commercial feed, which works, but isn’t as healthy. In addition to commercial feed, most duck owners also treat their ducks to vegetables and fruit, and allow them to forage in a yard. Some duck and chicken owners even raise earthworms or mealworms to feed their ducks, and the most independent, DIY-type duck owners sometimes even grow ALL their own ducks food, or buy raw grains and mix their own food. Click to Feeding Basics to learn more and decide what feeding plan to follow for your own flock.
Be prepared! You may want to make a first-aid kit if you are in a rather remote area or don’t know any vets which specialize in avian care. Find a source of bedding for your duck coop – straw, wood chips, sand, or some other option. Make sure it is a reliable source.
Plan what you will do when and if you have ducklings. No one wants to get rid of their babies, and you can keep some if you have the space, but extra males will have to go, whether you have them for dinner or give them to someone else. Note that few people are looking for males except perhaps for meat. It can be hard to give them away, much less sell them. And you definitely can’t just release them into the wild: they’ll die. They are domesticated creatures.
I know many people can’t bear the idea of eating their precious ducks, and I can understand that, but you should at least realize that it may be the best thing to do in a circumstance where you cannot get rid of them. Which would you rather have, home-grown dinner, or drakes injured and killed from fighting? You can’t keep too many females, either…eventually they will get crowded, and feed costs will be over your budget. Make a plan for extra youngsters!
Next up: Starting the Flock