Ducklings may be some of the cutest things out there, but that’s not a good reason to start keeping ducks. A better reason might be for duck eggs or for meat, Duck à l’Orange anyone? Ducks also are a great form of pest control when it comes to slugs and flies, among other bugs.
As ducklings, they may be fed unmedicated chick feed or a special waterfowl feed. On occasion ducklings may need to be supplemented with niacin (vitamin B3) to prevent or correct developmental issues. With a balanced diet, water to to drink and play, and a safe home to sleep at night, you are on your way to having happy ducks.
When it comes to housing, they do not require anything fancy. I have successfully kept my ducks and chickens together for a few years now and they all share the same coop. While they don’t go to bed as early as the chickens, they will put themselves to bed at night. When it comes to laying eggs (more details on what makes duck eggs special later on) they don’t need a nesting box, they seem to prefer making their own nest in the bedding each morning to lay their eggs. They do love water for both drinking and play, so if you do not want your coop to be a muddy mess or for them to waste too much food, it is best to keep food and water separate. We keep food inside the coop, which also cuts down on the lure to predators, and the water outside in their pasture. The coop stays dry, the food stays dry and there is less mess for everyone.
Ducks are hearty animals and love to explore the mud, puddles, ponds, kiddie pools or any other water feature they can find. A rainstorm does not stop their water play, that may be when they are happiest! Providing them with some form of water area will allow them to express their natural behaviors.
Ducks are messy! This is important to know so that you are not caught off guard. Sure chickens are messy too, but ducks are next level. Poop, water, food- it’s just their nature. Ours are out on pasture so it doesn’t bother me too much, but just know you’ve been warned if you intend to keep them in a small area.
Some breeds such as Peking are too heavy to fly, and some may need their wings clipped if they are smaller and not in a fully enclosed area. Your goals, either meat or eggs (or maybe both) will point you in the direction of breeds you may want to raise. If you are looking for meat ducks, maybe consider Peking or Muscovy. If you are looking for duck eggs, maybe consider Indian Runner or Khaki Campbell. Many breeds can be dual purpose, both laying eggs and providing delicious meat.
You don’t need to keep a drake (male) for the hens (females) to lay eggs. Just like with chickens, you only need a male if you want fertile eggs. We choose to process our males as I do not need fertile eggs and I also do not like how rough their mating appears to be. If you keep males, make sure your male:female ratio is not male heavy or your females may suffer. A good ratio may be at least five hens to one drake.
Duck eggs have some unique qualities that set them apart from the more common chicken egg:
1. Duck eggs are larger, generally about 1.5-2 times larger than a chicken egg. They contain more albumen, or white, which makes them superior for baking. Who doesn’t love extra fluffy baked goods?
2. They are an alkaline food, where chicken eggs are an acidic food. Depending on ones diet, alkaline may be preferred.
3. They have much thicker shells which allows them to stay fresher for longer periods of time.
4. They tend to be tolerated by people who have a chicken egg allergy. My husband didn’t realize chicken eggs were upsetting his stomach until he started eating duck eggs.
5. They may taste the same as a chicken egg, but the texture is much more rich.
6. Anything you can do with a chicken egg, you can do with a duck egg. Scrambled, fried, poached, boiled.
As we come up on spring here in a couple of months and the feed stores will be bringing in the cute little chicks and ducklings, please only buy them if you intend to give them a good life. They are not Easter props or accessories to be dumped in your local pond, lake or river when they stop being cute. If your intentions are good, you will be richly rewarded. Both in eggs, meat or hilarious duck antics. Ducks are pure entertainment, with their funny waddles and group dynamics. How about one more cute ‘duck in a tub’ picture for the road?
Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.
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