If you live in the country or in one of the bedroom communities where it is allowed, learning how to raise ducks in your backyard is a rewarding activity for you and your children. And it’s easier than you think.
Let’s get started!
Making Sure You Can
The first thing you need to do when considering whether to raise ducks is making sure that they are all in a row by making sure your municipality allows it. Find out if you need a permit and if there are any regulations covering how you manage them and the number you can have.
Use common sense, too. Ducks make their presence known, so check with your neighbors to be certain it’s okay with them. It’s a smart idea if they let their pets outdoors to prevent any problems with missing fowl.
People use dogs to hunt waterfowl, and it doesn’t matter if they happen to live in your backyard. And cats are notorious for following their predator instinct no matter where it takes them, even it if leads to your duck coop.
Decide What You Want
Next, you and your family must decide what you want from your ducks. Are you looking for layers to supply you with eggs? Duck eggs are an excellent source of nutrients, including Iron, magnesium, and vitamin B12 compared to chicken eggs.
You can also raise them for meat and get the same nutritional boost over chicken. Or, you keep them as pets and teach your children some valuable lessons about taking care of animals responsibly.
The next question is what breed of a duck should you get?
The answer depends on whether you want them for eggs or meat. Then, you should go for the one that works best for the job. Otherwise, it’s not a big deal for pets, save for temperament of the breed.
The American Poultry Association recognizes 17 breeds in the United States. They include familiar ones like mallards and the Pekin or the so-called “Aflac” duck or Donald Duck to our thoughts. The two are actually related.
There are only two domesticated breeds, the Muscovy duck and the mallard. All the others are descendants of the two with numerous varieties and lots of mixes. Many have white feathers, which is a telltale sign of a farm-raised bird. In the wild, white is often a death sentence because it makes these animals vulnerable. Animals of this color are easier for predators to spot with the loss of the camouflage advantage. Prey species like ducks depend on their ability to blend in with their surroundings to avoid detection.
The Pekin duck is an excellent choice all-around because it’s a friendly fowl. It can weigh up to a hefty 12 pounds and live up to 12 years. And it is so darn cute, too! It’s a hardy bird that can handle the elements well. The duck doesn’t fly, which will make it easier for you to round up at the end of the day.
You’ll see ducks classified as light, medium, and heavy. Bantam waterfowl are simply a miniature of the species.
Other possible choices you can consider include:
- Muscovy Duck
All of these breeds have a calm and friendly demeanor, making them excellent choices for families with small children.
You can base your choice on what problems you may anticipate with getting ducks. For example, you can choose to get birds that aren’t quite as vocal such as a Magpie or a Muscovy duck.
While a lot of people love Pekin ducks, their large size will tap into the food budget, big time. You can opt for a smaller one like a Welsh Harlequin. And if it’s a layer that you want, look no further than a Campbell duck with its five to six eggs per week.
Ducks aren’t loners by any means. They are social birds that love the company of other waterfowl. Plan on getting at least three birds or even up to five if you have space and the budget to keep that many in your backyard.
Ducks and Other Fowl
The next question you may have is what else can you have with your ducks? Chickens are the obvious first thought. However, it’s not that simple.
It’s not that won’t get along. Instead, it’s that they may get along too well if you get our drift. A drake trying to mate with a hen will probably hurt her because of the anatomical differences between ducks and chickens.
A guinea fowl, on the other hand, is a decent choice for several reasons. They are even more independent than ducks. They are definitely low-maintenance. They will also take on guard duty against predators. They’re like the llama of the bird world. However, these fowl are more mobile than ducks.
You also must teach them that your yard is home by keeping them confined for a few weeks until they figure out which is the hand that feeds them.
Coop, Sweet Coop
Now that you’ve selected your ducks, it’s time to consider how you’re going to house them. Technically, you don’t have to do much other than provide the necessities. We strongly urge you to set up a pen or coop.
While ducks aren’t fussy about rain, it makes good sense to provide them with shelter when the weather gets ugly to keep them healthy and disease-free. It’s also security and protection against predators and other threats such as stray cats or the neighbor’s dog.
They don’t need anything fancy. After all, it’s just a place for them to nest and sleep. Ducks are happy to roam around in your backyard, scrounging for food and bugs.
Building a coop is an easy, DIY project. Depending on the breed and how many you get, a run that is 10 foot long by 8 foot high by 4 foot deep is more than adequate. Figure on 4 square feet per bird.
It involves building a frame using two-by-fours and attaching a 0.5-inch gauge chicken wire to it. We’d suggest having a solid wall on at least one side to give them protection against the elements.
Make sure the roof is sloped to prevent water from pooling on the top when it rains or snows. Remember that this building doesn’t have as much support as a garage or shed to hold up to a lot.
Ventilation is an essential thing. It’ll make for a healthier environment by preventing mold from developing. Hay or straw is an excellent choice for bedding since it’s cheap and easy to replace periodically.
Usually, ducks nest on the ground and don’t roost. However, you can make a platform using pallets that will help with circulation and add some welcome warmth while keeping them dry.
Alternatively, you can wall three sides of the coop, leaving one with wire. Putting a foot or so of wire along the top will ensure proper airflow while providing the necessary protection. A door with an animal-proof latch is imperative to keep raccoons out of it.
We like to use something simple like a hook and eye assembly, carabiner, or snap clip as you’d see on a dog leash. It gets the job done without resorting to a lock.
Setting Up the Ducks’ Stomping Grounds
You’ll likely find that the ducks won’t spend a lot of time in their coop — unless you put them in it at night. Instead, they will spend their days foraging and walking around their space.
Make sure to set boundaries for them to keep them out of your vegetable garden or away from the road. Fences make good neighbors and happy ducks.
If their area isn’t large, you might also consider hanging netting over the top. Cooper’s hawks and owls can swoop down and grab a duck or duckling in a blink of an eye.
The other thing you must provide is water and not just to drink. Ducks like to splash around and dabble. They need a source that is big enough in which to put their heads.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have a pond on your property, you can get by with a kiddie pool. Make sure to clean it periodically and fill it with fresh water. We recommend making it a daily thing. Also, look for one that is pet-proof to handle the heavy use it will get.
A Day in the Life of a Duck
A duck doesn’t have a bad life. You feed it, make sure water is available, and provide them with a warm place to sleep at night.
Not too shabby…
Feeding the Fowl
What you feed your ducks depends on the sex and life stage of your birds. Ducklings, for example, will have different dietary needs than adults. Likewise, laying ducks have other requirements than non-laying females and drakes (or male ducks).
One of the key factors is protein. All birds must have it for good health. However, the amount varies with laying females needing about 17 percent and drakes, about 14 percent.
We suggest using a pellet-type of food that is made for ducks without any antibiotic or other additives. Make sure not to feed them anything that doesn’t say “Duck” on the label.
You have two choices about how you feed them. The tipping point rests with their access to grass and other parts of your yard.
You can keep food out all the time to let them kibble as they choose. That’s a wise option if that’s their only source of nourishment. On the downside, it’s an invitation for rodents to feed on the leftovers.
Alternatively, you can portion it out according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and pick it up — after giving the ducks time to eat. This way takes away that lure for rodents while allowing you to monitor the ducks’ health more closely, judging by their appetite.
It’s also a good way to make rounding them up for putting them back in the coop easier. Pavlov’s dog had his bell; your birds have the sound of the pellets going into the bowl.
The other thing your ducks need is a source of grit. The reason is that these birds, like many others, use coarse materials to help them break down their food.
If your birds have access to your yard, they’ll find what they need on their own. If not, you must add some ground oyster shell to serve the same purpose — but only for laying ducks. It also provides some other nutrients, like calcium.
Pass on any duck food that doesn’t look fresh and mold-free. Ducks are pretty hardy but don’t push it with anything that isn’t up to snuff. We’d also strongly urge you not to feed your ducks anything with fish in it. It’s the same reason that venison from northern states and waterfowl that eat protein sources like shiners taste so foul. It’s all about their diet.
The cedar that deer munch on and the invertebrates and fish that common mergansers gobble up end up affecting the taste of the meat. The same thing applies to ducks eating similar foods even in commercial diets.
You might notice the different taste in the meat if you’re butchering them or even in the eggs of your layers, which are otherwise quite tasty when fed a neutral-flavored diet.
Ducks typically lay eggs in the morning. That’s another reason that we suggest penning them at night — so it’s easier to find the eggs! Check their nests every day to keep them from getting broken.
The trigger for ducks to lay is the amount of daylight or photoperiod. The magic number for them is about 14 hours. Which, makes sense if you think about it. It’s usually the warmer time of the year when food is abundant for foraging so that the mating pairs can go into rearing young with the best possible nutritional sources available to them and their ducklings.
Sunlight is good, but you can also provide it artificially with lights in the coop or lights in the yard set on a timer to make sure it’s enough. It’s also an excellent way to keep them warm on chilly nights. Some scientific research suggests that splitting up the blocks of time at different intervals produces the best yields. It’s an excellent compromise if your neighbors aren’t keen on a light on at all hours of the night. It’s also an effective way to extend the laying time for ducks, which is often seasonal.
However, we suggest that you do the math. On the low end, one female will produce about three eggs per week. A more productive one can push it to six. That’s anywhere from 156 to upward of 312 per bird per year. For a long time, the healthcare community maligned eggs as a potential cause of heart disease and stroke. Today, we know that it’s okay to enjoy your scramble for breakfast, according to the Harvard Medical School.
Keeping the Coop Clean
Maintenance is a daily thing with these birds. Ducks wrote the book on messy. It’s also a smart way to prevent, well, preventable diseases like staphylococcosis, more commonly known as bumblefoot. Besides, it’ll also keep your neighbors happy to keep the coop clean.
You can use straw for bedding as we recommended earlier. Wood shavings are another option that may help with moisture control.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the ins and outs of keeping your ducks safe from predators. Inevitably, you may lose one or two. Nature happens. However, there are several things you do to prevent any losses.
First and foremost is the coop. Check the integrity of the construction periodically and fix any holes or damage promptly. And believe us when we say it doesn’t take much for a hungry predator to work its way inside the coop.
Common bad actors include:
Often, they are as clever as they are tenacious when they’ve discovered a potential food source. It’s hard to get too upset that predators are an issue. After all, they’re just trying to make a living, too. We just prefer that they do it someplace else.
Some predators like possums are just after the eggs. Broken ones are a typical sign of a problem. Other times, the birds disappear without a trace, indicating a larger animal like a coyote or hawk.
As with any pest, prevention is the best cure. For raising ducks, that means getting rid of anything that may attract interlopers before they discover your birds.
Keep food odors to a minimum by keeping the coop clean. Also, make sure to keep the trash inside of a garage or shed in locking lids that are animal-proof.
If the ducks aren’t using the pond, empty it so that it doesn’t become a water source for another animal. Likewise, don’t inadvertently provide shelter for predators with a woodpile in the yard or dense vegetation where they could hide, especially anywhere near the coop or stomping grounds. We’d also suggest scanning your yard once in a while for the telltale signs of an intruder. Look for scat, tracks, or damage to the coop from an animal trying to get inside of it.
You can also set up a tracking device with a motion sensor as a trigger to see if any late-night visitors are paying a call. Knowing what you’re up against will give you an edge about what you need to do to discourage their nocturnal visits.
An electric light is an excellent way to ward off an animal by surprising them as long as it doesn’t disturb anyone at home, the ducks, or your neighbors.
You can also use a deterrent like coyote urine for other prey species like possums. These animals will avoid places that they perceive are the haunts of their predators.
You can also try faking out hawks with a plastic owl replica or another decoy of a top predator. Bear in mind that their effectiveness is limited. Wildlife is quick to spot a fake and non-threat.
They’re Here. Now What?
It’s an odd twist of fate that taking the issue into your own hands isn’t always an option. The reason is that most of the terrestrial predators are protected, themselves, as game animals.
That means you may need a permit or license to take them by any means. If you live-trap them, you can’t just turn them loose anywhere either. Both offenses carry fines.
Hawks, falcons, and owls are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The fines for harming these birds are staggering with jail time as a possibility, too.
The best way to deal with a predator is to call in the big guns. Get a professional nuisance pest control to your property STAT. After all, a hungry animal is a desperate one. Don’t delay if you have any reason to believe that something dangerous is lurking nearby.
They will have the necessary permits and expertise for dealing with whatever animal is raiding your duck coop. They can also give you advice about preventing a recurrence.
Benefits of Raising Ducks
All other purposes aside, ducks have a lot to offer as residents of your backyard. They can make delightful pets that will provide hours of entertainment for you and your family. Other perks include:
- Knowing exactly where your food comes from and having a role in its nutritional value
- Getting back to basics and closer to nature
- Having a live-in exterminator to take care of the bugs
- Having a ready source of eggs
Raising ducks isn’t difficult with some research about your options and a safe living space for them to roam. Their needs aren’t too different from having any other pet. Feed them, giving them water, and providing a place to nest cover the main bases.
We’re sure that you’ll find learning how to raise ducks in your backyard an enjoyable experience while providing an excellent source of quality nutrition for you and your family. With proper care and handling, your fowl friends will make great pets.