The following series will take you on a journey with Nutrena Poultry Expert, Twain Lockhart and his wife as they navigate the ins and outs of duck ownership.
There’s a wealth of knowledge to gather when thinking about nutrition for your ducks. One surprise for us right out of the gate, was we noticed these little guys REALLY put the groceries away. A feed that has worked great for us is Nutrena Nature Wise 18% Non-Medicated Chick Feed, free choice, meaning as much as they want. We also supplement with vitamins, electrolytes, and brewers yeast for birds. Baby chicken feed does not have quite enough Niacin for ducks as they can have leg issues if not given enough. This was the reason for the additional supplements. It’s important to note, you do NOT want to use medicated chick feed, as the medication Amprolium is not approved for waterfowl.
Our ducklings will stay on this starter for about 6 weeks, then we will switch them over to a 16-18% Layer Feed. Most waterfowl breeders recommend not exceeding 18% protein to avoid a condition called angel wing. Many also like to dilute the feed with some scratch or oats. Additionally, it’s recommended to continue to supplement with brewers yeast.
As with any birds, water access is important. I was reminded how much ducks love/need to keep the mucous membranes in their nostrils wet at all times, hence the continual mess in and around the water bowl. This serves as a great reminder to not try to brood baby chicks with ducklings. Changing out water often and allowing an absorbent surface for the waterers are very helpful tip for new duck owners.
Check back next month for more duck tales adventures as we dive deeper into the winter care for ducks.
I am what you would call a “newbie” to waterfowl. I have raised chickens for many years and thoroughly enjoy them. This past summer, I felt the need to expand onto our feathered family. Cayuga ducks.
Cayugas interested me because I live in New York and the Cayuga originates and take their name from an area of New York west of me, Cayuga Lake. Well, actually the origination of this species is debated, but that is one of the histories. Another is that they came from an English duck breed that was brought to America. If you are at all interested, check out this and other facts and fables about breeds at The Livestock Conservancy site.
Requirements in New York are to purchase six chicks or ducklings at a time, so I ended up with six Cayuga ducklings through my local farm store. I raised them in a stall in my horse barn, which worked really well. Later in the summer, they moved outside to a large grassy, fenced area with a small lean-to shelter with a kiddie pool to drink from and swim in. This fall, we created the duck area, with a homemade duck house, kiddie pool, water and feed tubs. Please remember, from a biosecurity perspective, it’s important to not mix species.
The ducks are doing great and I enjoy them very much. Their feathers are gorgeous; black, oily green and so shiny. They have very different personalities than the chickens and their antics can be very comical. It is winter now, and they seem to enjoy the cold. They are outside when it’s the worst and even sleep outside overnight in the snow sometimes.
There are many great resources out there for raising ducks. Here are a few things I have learned in these past six months:
- Believe the books when they say ducks are messy! They need water near their feed and will bathe, drink, splash, excrete and play in every container of water you give them. This makes for a sodden, messy area. Things that have worked for me: Put the kiddie pool and water tub on top of a well-drained area. I use landscape timbers (4×4 posts) made into a frame on the ground, filled with small stones. This allows the splashed water to drain. Next summer I want to try a more rigid pond and put a drain in it, making it easier to clean.
- Cayuga males and females have the same coloring. If you want to tell their gender before the males develop their curly tail feathers at around 10 weeks, listen to their quack. Once they start quacking, pick them up one at a time and listen to the sound they make. If it quacks, it’s a she. If it make a raspy bark sound, it’s a he.
- I use tough, flexible rubber tubs for their food and water. This makes it easy even in the winter to clean and dump old feed or ice. I give my ducks warm water 1-2 times per day in a 24” round tub that’s about 6” deep and their Feather Fixer pellets in a smaller, shallower tub.
- I handled my ducklings every day, sat in the stall with them, talked to them…Sure, judge me! But my ducks are not what I would say, friendly. They are aware and make better watch dogs than my dogs, quacking at anyone who comes in the driveway. They are curious and fun to watch and when I pick them up they relax, but they don’t run over to hop in my lap. This may just be the Cayuga breed, however I have read other people who say they are easily gentled.
- Be sure to make a wide entrance to your duck house or shelter. We built the cutest duck house with a ramp and door, but had to widen the door in order to get them to go in. To make sure they would choose shelter when needed, we also reused a cracked plastic 100 gallon stock tank from my horses. Flipped over, with an opening cut out with a sawsall, this is their preferred shelter.
This experience of owning ducks has been a fun and educational one, and I encourage those interested to do your research. One thing is for sure, these beautiful creatures have added enjoyment and entertainment to our home!
Our very first batch of chicks from the local feed store several years ago included two ducklings. We hadn’t planned on raising ducklings, but they were just so cute, we couldn’t resist bringing two home along with the baby chicks. While it is possible to successfully brood chicks and ducklings together, and we did that first time, it really is preferable to brood them separately for several reasons:
- Ducklings don’t need as much heat. Unlike chicks that you start off at 95 degrees and then lower the temperature five degrees per week, ducklings you start off at 90 degrees and then lower the temperature by one degree a day, or seven degrees per week.
- Ducklings grow extremely fast. You risk having your baby chicks trampled by the much larger and heavier ducklings, even if they all are the same age.
- Ducklings need a deeper water source. Ducklings need to be able to submerge their entire bill to keep their mucous membranes moist, so mason jar or chick waterers aren’t deep enough for them. Instead a sturdy stoneware dish that won’t tip over, with several stones in it so the ducklings won’t drown, works better.
- Ducklings make a mess in their water. Your brooder will always be soaking wet, which baby chicks don’t enjoy. Much as ducklings love to play in their water, they can get chilled, so you want to keep their brooder as dry as possible. Using a spare bathtub with rubber shelf liner on the bottom and their water at the drain end works wonderfully, as does setting their water up on an upturned plastic seedling tray over paper towels so the spilled water gets absorbed.
- Ducklings need niacin. Ducklings can eat chick starter feed but they need niacin to help them grow strong bones. Adding brewer’s yeast to their feed is extremely beneficial to growing ducklings. Additionally, ducklings should always only be fed UNmedicated starter feed since they rarely contract coccidiosis and eat more by weight than chicks do and there is a risk of them over-medicating themselves.
If you decide to raise some ducklings, consider setting up a separate brooding area for them. It will be far easier, and more enjoyable, for all.
Our contributing author, Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily, gives advice on raising backyard chickens and ducks on Facebook.com/FreshEggsDaily and Facebook.com/DucksToo as well as her blog Fresh-eggs-daily.com.