DIY







Introduction to Ducks

Find out the basics for keeping ducks, how to create a duck pond, and the pests and problems that duck owners face with birds.

| August 2018

In Eggs and Poultry Made at Home (Firefly, 2012) by Dick and James Strawbridge is an ideal read for poultry farmers. Learn more about what it takes to raise and keep poultry such as chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. If you have any questions about poultry this the book for you. Find this excerpt in Chapter 4, “Ducks.”

Why keep ducks? We decided to start keeping ducks when we moved to a place with running water on our lot. You can certainly keep them in a yard without a pond, but we felt that the stream provided the perfect opportunity to raise ducks in their natural habitat. Our motivation was primarily for enjoying their eggs – the large yolks have a rich flavor that makes them superb to cook with and excellent for baking – and the other reason we wanted to keep ducks was because we love eating duck meat and wanted to rear our own at home.

Pros

  • Duck eggs are fantastic!
  • They are very amusing birds with real character.
  • Keeping ducks avoids the guilt many feel when eating commercially reared duck meat.
  • Ducks will “imprint” on you if you rear them yourself, and this makes them very easy to put away at night.

Cons

  • In spring, the mating season makes the duck pond a place with a lot of noise, flapping of wings and chasing of females.
  • Ducks are fairly messy, particularly in a small area, and duck poo is slimy – very easy to slip in if you’re not careful!
  • You really need to dig a pond if you want to have happy ducks.

Basics

Ducks are hardy animals that will always find some food for themselves. We will often sit on a bench near our pond and watch as they waggle, quack and paddle around in search of tasty morsels. They do still require feeding, but on the whole they are a very low-maintenance animal to keep. The key to successfully rearing ducks is to give them regular fresh water and protect them from predators. 

Guidelines

  1. Clean out the duck house once a week. It is vital to provide them with a clean bed – especially if that’s where they are laying their eggs, too!
  2. Ensure that your ducks have clean water on a daily basis.
  3. Use your ducks as slug hunters in spring before you plant any seedlings in the vegetable garden. Ducks are extremely useful animals to keep on your land because they are selective eaters – they are less likely to scratch in garden beds than chickens, and can be useful for keeping down the population of pests like slugs.
  4. For the first few weeks, avoid letting ducklings go swimming, as they won’t have developed their natural protection of oily feathers and could easily be eaten by predators.
  5. Keeping ducks in an area where you have lots of wildlife will significantly alter the natural balance. Ducks will eat all plants and small creatures without leaving anything alive, and a stream could quickly have all its small amphibians, insects and wild plants eradicated.
  6. Male ducks will fight and gang up on females when mating. This is disturbing to watch and can be avoided by keeping fewer males in the same area as females over the spring mating season.
  7. Avoid leaving ducks with stagnant water and don’t eat any eggs that have been laid in or close to dirty water.

Essential Equipment

  • Pond or large water container
  • Cracked corn in plastic bins
  • Straw
  • Sawdust
  • Duck house
  • Ramp for access
  • Nest box
  • Fencing

Choosing What to Buy

  1. Indian Runner ducks don’t have much meat on them but are good layers. They have a distinctive upright stance and stroll around like penguins. On average, you can hope for about 180 eggs a year.
  2. Aylesbury are large table ducks that are famous for being good to eat, and they can weigh up to 4.5 kg (10 pounds).
  3. Welsh Harlequins grow into a good all-around bird. They’re decent layers and are big enough to be an impressive table bird.
  4. Khaki Campbells make a great choice for egg production. They’re made up from Mallard, Indian Runner and Rouen. Capable of about 300 eggs a year!
  5. Muscovy is a breed that we love. These ducks are heavy, placid and make excellent mothers. They are very good fliers, so you’ll probably want to clip their wings. Be careful when picking them up, as they have sharp-clawed feet. Muscovys are our favorite ducks for good eating and average laying.

Food

Ducks aren’t grazing birds like geese, but they will supplement their diet if you give them access to some land. They are also partly carnivorous and will happily eat slugs, snails, worms, frogs and other insects. Therefore, in spring, before we commence the next round of crop planting, we allow our ducks access to the vegetable beds to find and eat any hiding pests. Don’t get carried away and give them free range of your beds all year round, though, as they will cause damage to young brassicas and eat peas and lettuce. Keep your ducks in a fenced-off area with a pond to avoid stepping directly in duck poo when you go outside in the morning. Feed your ducks cracked corn, or feed specifically designed for ducks, daily to increase the number of eggs they lay and to fatten them up for the table.



Water

Provide ducks with their natural environment where possible. This involves complete access to clean water. Flowing water or a pond are ideal, but if you don’t have this you should ensure that you provide a deep container of regularly changed water. Ducks need to be able to periodically submerge their entire heads to clean their eyes and nostrils. Quite simply, if you don’t have any natural water on your land we would suggest you don’t keep ducks. Ducks will drink water straight from a pond, so it is important to make sure that it doesn’t ever turn stagnant. If you try to keep too many ducks in the same pond you’ll find that they can make the surrounding area incredibly messy!

Duck Ponds

It is not vital to provide your ducks with their own pond, but it is lovely to watch them paddling around and diving under the surface to forage for things to eat. We believe that if you keep poultry, it is in your interest to provide them with a free-range area that mimics their natural environment. Ducks will remain cooler in warm weather, cleaner and in better all-round condition if they have access to water. The bigger the better with a pond, but make sure you prepare yourself for the inevitable – ducks will make your pond a mess! 






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