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

  • duck-swimming
    Ducks need easy access in and out of the water.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • duck
    Space to roam means exercise, and that means good meat.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • ducks
    A mama duck and her ducklings.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • egg-poultry-book
    “Eggs and Poultry Made at Home” is filled with tips and tricks for raising and cooking poultry.
    Photo by Nick Pope

  • duck-swimming
  • duck
  • ducks
  • egg-poultry-book

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! 

Planning a Pond

Ponds need water, and in that little statement lies the majority of the problems associated with making your own pond. Water is heavy and moving it takes a lot of energy, so when considering where to site your pond it makes sense for it to be positioned downhill from a water source so that gravity can do as much of the work as possible. You will find that the water you put into your pond will steadily be absorbed into the earth, unless you have clay soil, line your pond or add more water than gets absorbed. We’ve solved this problem by having our stream feed through our pond.

Creating a Pond

Mark out the size and shape of your pond using a hose or by drawing a line with a bucketful of sand.  Then, using this as your guide, dig out the pond. A spade is all you need to dig your pond, but if you are making a very large one you might want to consider hiring a mini digger for the job.

Your duck pond doesn’t have to be deep, and you should try not to think of it as a wildlife pond. There is unfortunately very little chance that frogs and water insects will survive the ducks’ voracious appetite. Therefore your pond can afford to be relatively shallow; 30–60 cm (1–2 feet) is sufficient. Make sure the sides of the pond are shallow so that it is easy for your ducks to get on and out of the water.

Remove any sharp rocks from the base of your dug-out pond. Line it with a thick pond liner and fill with fresh water. Don’t use a thin plastic liner, as it will quickly disintegrate and can become a hazard to your ducks and other wildlife.  If you have an area of clay ground, you can create a natural pond without a liner.

The edges of your pond will very quickly start to be eroded by the ducks. They love to undercut banks when they are feeding, and the flow of water will also alter the shape of your pond. To keep the shape for longer, plant water-loving plants like bamboo and willow – they will thrive in the rich, damp area and help to hold the banks of the pond together. Other aquatic plants may also thrive, but they will only survive if they are not to your ducks’ taste. Try a few sacrificial experiments before spending lots of money on expensive edible decorations.

Position large rocks and stones around the edges to preserve the pond liner and the integrity of the pond. However, always try to make sure that in at least a few places the edges of your pond are shallow. Ducks will struggle to get in and out if the sides are
too steep.

Life Around the Pond

If you have the space, try to provide outside cover for your ducks so they can hide from harsh weather: they need both shade for very hot days and shelter from heavy rain or snow. We also like to give ducks some fallen tree branches or old logs to perch on, and we plant a mixture of shrubs and trees – using tree protectors when they are young. You will also need to fence around your  duck pond if you want to protect your ducks from predators.

Adding Fish to Your Pond

If you want to really optimize your duck pond, you can use it for fish and ducks. There is a delicate balance that can be struck here, which works to your advantage. The duck poo will provide rich nutrients for the plant life, and fish such as carp or roach will feed on the smaller animals and organic material. The danger is too many ducks and not enough oxygen in the water. Worth considering if you like a symbiotic challenge.



Pests & Problems

Ducks will be fairly resistant to smaller insect pests if you keep their house clean and give them plenty of fresh water. The key thing is to provide them with good living conditions and adequate fencing. We tend to feed our ducks by scattering food around their enclosed area, so you might think that rats would be a major problem. However, because we keep Muscovy ducks this rarely happens – they are the vacuum cleaners of the wildfowl world.

Predators

Ducks are at risk from predators. Proper fencing is the best way to protect your birds. When ducks are small, protect them from above with cheap netting – large birds of prey will take your ducklings. 

Rats

Rats are a constant issue with poultry keepers and dealing with them is necessary to ensure the well-being of your ducks. Rats are all around us, and even in urban areas they are still never that far away.  The normal balance of cat and dog control seems to work for us – they are the best deterrents. But sometimes we use other forms of pest control to significantly reduce the risk to our ducks.

For us, dealing with rats involves setting a series of live traps and sometimes putting poison in places where we know they hide. We see poison as the last resort because it can sometimes get into the food chain and cause problems in other eco-systems. However, there are products on the market that reduce this risk, allowing the poison to be taken back to the rats’ nest, where it can kill more than one rat at once. It also happens to be the most effective method of control that we know. We generally only use poison when we have ducklings or chicks that are vulnerable. Keeping larger breeds like the Muscovy reduces the risk of rat attacks.

Mites

Ducks are susceptible to mites. Excessive scratching could mean a mite infestation, so watch your birds each day for signs of illness and, if necessary, treat them with insecticide.

Botulism

This is a more serious problem and is caused by bacteria in rotting animal and vegetable waste. The toxins can leave a duck in great distress and with a serious loss of muscular control. Avoid this by keeping ducks out of muddy, stagnant water – especially in hot weather. Ensure that there is a good supply of fresh drinking water for sick ducks. A traditional way of dealing with the problem is to add Epsom salts to their water (5 ml/1 teaspoon to 600ml/2½ cups).

Lameness

Ducks use their webbed feet to great effect when in the water, but on land they are not too sure-footed. Their legs are also quite fragile and susceptible to injury and long-term problems. A duck can develop lameness as a result of a bacterial infection from a cut or because of a strain from falling. Ways to avoid lameness are never to pick up a duckby its feet, to provide ramps for the duck house and to clean any cuts with disinfectant and then place the duck on clean straw for a day or two. Occasionally ducks can develop a limp because they are not getting enough vitamin B3 – you can remedy this by trying to feed them yeast extract on a slice of bread!

Slipped Wing

The symptoms of this condition are that the large primary feathers on the wings of your ducks turn outward. They look very odd – almost as though the wing has been bent the wrong way and broken. It occurs when ducks are fed a high-protein diet and grow too fast. The solution is to consider bringing in a different breeding stock or to avoid giving growing ducks too much protein in their feed while they’re developing feathers.

Flying Away

You may have to trim your ducks’ wings so they don’t end up escaping to the local duck pond. At this point it’s worth mentioning that domestic ducks that are “released” to wild duck ponds rarely survive, so think twice before you emancipate any.

More from Eggs and Poultry Made at Home:


Reprinted with Permission from Eggs and Poultry Made at Home and Published by Firefly Books.

 






mother-audience

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

February 15-16, 2020
Belton, Texas

Join us in the Lone Star state to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.

LEARN MORE








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me