The domestic duck has come a long way from what it used to be. And frankly, there’s never been a better time to add some to your homesteading operation. The truth is that raising ducks is actually a little easier than chickens for many reasons, but there are certain things to keep in mind before you race out and invest in a whole bunch of ducklings. Ducks have a certain rucksack of needs that have to be met if they’re going to live healthy, happy lives. Here’s what you’ll need to make that so.
Space Not all domestic ducks are created equal, and some breeds like Muscovy or Pekins can reach sizes closer to a goose. Bearing that in mind, it’s essential to have a suitable space to provide your birds with an environment where they won’t be stressed from being too confined.
This is particularly important because a stressed duck is generally not in a good state to remain healthy. Our ducks spend plenty of time running around, free ranging to the point of exhaustion when I’m home, but also spend plenty of time inside their enclosure when I’m not. So their housing arrangements need to be accommodating for the time they spend inside, but the outdoor area’s access and range must also be considered.
Preferably, I like to give my ducks enough space to house three times as many as I actually have. It provides the flock with room to roam but confines them to being around the duck house where they can take shelter inside from aerial predators.
Companions Whether you like it or not, domestic ducks need some company. This is extremely important to their well-being and shouldn’t be taken lightly when you decide whether or not you should bring ducks home. They’re highly social creatures, and while yes, you could have just one duck, I’d recommend you don’t.
Ducks and geese will bond with just about anything that provides attention to them when they’re in their first few days after hatching. While it’s adorable to see videos of a single duck imprinted with a human, that can be a seven- to 12-year commitment (or sometimes longer) of a bird thinking it’s a person. Realistically, the duck should know that it’s a duck through its own kind.
Time Ducks can live very long, very healthy lives. Generally speaking, a domestic duck that is left to live its life without the threat of being put in the freezer can live, as previously mentioned, seven to 12 years.
There are exceptions, however. Some breeds like the Pekin were created to put on a lot of weight in a relatively short period of time under the assumption that they’d be put to slaughter at a young age. Because of this, Pekins are often susceptible to heart problems when allowed to grow old because they put on so much weight.
In this regard, it’s fairly important to take which breed of duck you will raise into consideration and what purpose those ducks will serve on your homestead. For example, we chose Magpie and Cayuga ducks because of their laidback demeanor and very capable egg-laying abilities. Both breeds are also particularly tolerant to cold temperatures, and because we live in Canada, that is sure to come in handy. It just so happens that both of these breeds are also medium-sized ducks—what you might otherwise call a “dual-purpose” bird, capable of becoming one hell of a dinner if so desired.
With all that being said, generally, domestic ducks will lay eggs for the first six to seven years of their lives before really slowing down, at which point it’s up to you whether you’re going to keep the retirees or cull them, which I realize might be a sad thought, but also a realistic one.
Nutrients Again, it’s important to consider that ducks are not chickens, and they have a different set of requirements when it comes to what they eat. The good news is that this tends to be much more of a loose topic by the time they're adults than when they’re ducklings.
Ducklings especially need a good quality starter feed, and it’s essential to give them a niacin supplement to help their leg development. In nature, they’d just forage with their mother in an environment where plants full of niacin grow, but the domestic duckling in a heated brooder needs supplementation. Brewer’s yeast is a great way to add the required level of niacin to their diet.
Mother nature can provide, too. One of my favorite ways to get good levels of niacin into my ducklings is to give them crushed peas in a dish of water. Peas are loaded with niacin, and ducklings will absolutely devour them. Other good sources include salmon skins and softened sweet potatoes, but I recommend cutting them into bite-sized pieces to avoid your ducklings choking.
Adult ducks are far less picky, so a basic layer feed that touches around the 16% protein mark is ideal. I like to add grounded-up eggshells into my feed as well for an added boost of calcium, which helps develop extra strong eggshells for the eggs that we sell. An extra strong shell with the more durable inner membrane means a longer countertop shelf life—up to a month and a half! You just can’t beat that.
Water Source I’ll be truthful in saying that I saved this one last because it seems to be where folks tend to get hung up on just how much water ducks need. Domestic ducks do need fresh water daily, but only enough so they can fully submerge their beaks. They need this water to wash down food to avoid choking, but also to clean their nostrils as well.
I tend to have a small children’s pool full of water for my ducks with a hose that can reach it, which saves me the hassle of carrying 5-gallon buckets of water back and forth. This provides my ducks with more than enough water that, should I leave all day, I don’t have to worry about them running out. They can bathe and preen, and if one of the drakes decides to get freaky, the hens won’t be harmed. Ducks need to breed in water, but just enough to fit their bodies inside, which makes a kiddie pool perfect. They’re easy to clean and empty, cost next to nothing, and are easily replaceable. But they don’t last forever, especially with sharp duck claws scratching away at them day in and day out.
With these five things in mind and a bit of extracurricular research, it’s surprisingly easy to give your flock of ducks the best life. I do want to point out because I feel it’s important, that if you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, know that raising waterfowl isn’t for everyone. Understanding this is being as realistic and level-headed as anyone can be. It’s not admitting defeat—it’s taking responsibility for the fact that you may not necessarily be in the right place to keep healthy, happy domestic ducks which always should be the ultimate goal, no matter how large or small the scale of any homestead.