Duck Tales – Newbie Confessions

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.  

Recently, my wife and I were at the Local Tractor Supply Co. and we heard chirping. Wait, scratch that, quaking. As we followed the sound, we discovered 2 lonely ducklings left in the brooder. First, let me give you a little background. I have been presenting poultry seminars for roughly 6 years, about 50-60 per year. When asked how I feel about ducks, I would usually give a colorful answer. I am NOT a duck guy. Messy does not begin to describe them. They are tougher than nails but carry all sorts of diseases that will kill my precious chickens, or so I thought. So, when my wife says, “Oh honey, we need to take them home!” My answer was an immediate “NO! Never!” So as it goes in marriage, we compromised, and I found myself driving home these little ducklings. To my wife’s credit, she researched brooding ducks extensively. The first step was to put a doggie pad down under a thin layer of shavings. This helped a lot. In her research, we also discovered ducks need for their mucous membranes to be wet for them to eat. Although it still just looks like they are playing in the water.

My wife bestowed them the names Steve and Bob, as I knew we had 2 drakes (males). They go through feed like crazy, so be prepared. Also, as a side note, do not use medicated chick feed on waterfowl. Additionally, we discovered that they need more Niacin then baby chickens, so we gave them vitamins and electrolytes that contained Niacin. Eventually, my wife bought some specialized Brewers Yeast online to mix in their feed for little expense. She cleaned the brooder every day, and while it was being cleaned, Bob and Steve went for a swim in the sink. Initially we had the water shallow enough they could stand up. After the swim, we bleached the sink out for biosecurity purposes. I have to say, they are tons of fun and they are starting to grow on me, though I wouldn’t admit it. They have grown like crazy, and at 4 weeks we moved them outside.

Check back next month for more duck tales adventures as we dive deeper into the nutritional needs of ducks.

Getting My Ducks in a Row

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!

Feeding and Housing Ducks

Domestic ducks can co-exist very happily with backyard chickens. Their basic feed and shelter requirements very similar to those of chickens – with only a few minor differences.

Housing
Ducks are semi-nocturnal and very active at night unlike chickens. They emit lots of moisture when they breathe so if you keep them in your chicken coop at night, be sure that the coop is adequately ventilated to prevent a buildup of moisture which can cause respiratory issues in the hens. Ducks don’t roost and will be perfectly happy sleeping on soft straw or shavings on the coop floor.  They don’t necessarily even need nesting boxes, but rather seem to prefer making themselves a nest in one corner of the coop. They also are more cold-hardy and enjoy cooler temperatures, summer and winter.  Regardless of whether you keep ducks with, or separate from, your chickens, they do need to be locked up at night in a secure shelter with hardware cloth on all the windows.

Pen

Domestic ducks can’t fly (except for mallards and muscovies) and therefore are very susceptible to predators. An enclosed run or pen is a must for them for daytime. The pen should be covered and the fencing should be sunk into the ground to prevent digging predators.  They will need shaded areas, bushes or shrubs to nap underneath in the middle of the day.

Feed

Waterfowl feed specially formulated for ducks is available, but if you keep your ducks in with your chickens they can eat regular chicken layer feed without a problem, however they will benefit if you add raw oats and brewer’s yeast to the feed. The oats help slow their growth, which is especially important for the heavier breeds, and the brewer’s yeast contains niacin which is necessary for bone growth and overall healthy ducks. Both supplements are also beneficial to chickens.

Water

Ducks don’t need a pond to be happy, but they definitely enjoy splashing and paddling around in a kiddie pool. In addition to having a place to bathe, ducks need a deep enough water source to keep their mucous membranes moist.  Typical chicken waterers need to be supplemented with a tub at least several inches deep for the ducks to drink from.

If you decide to raise ducks alongside your chickens, making a few allowances for them will lead to happier and healthier ducks and chickens.