Duck Tales – Nutrition Know-How

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.

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.

Caring for a Multi-Species Flock

Flock expansion can be an exciting endeavor, especially when you are looking to add a new species or two. It can be a fun and challenging task to meet the needs of varying poultry species. Here are a few tips and recommendations to consider if you plan to take your flock to the next level.

There are three main areas of focus before caring for a multi-species flock:

  • Coop Cleanliness
  • Living Space
  • Management Techniques

Coop cleanliness

Providing your multi-species flock with a clean home is of the utmost importance in preventing sickness. Keep the coop clean and dry, and keep waterers out of the coop area to prevent splashing and playing by waterfowl. Remember, anytime you bring new poultry in, you must quarantine them before mixing with the rest of the flock. Not only will the aid in preventing any pre-existing disease they may bring in, but also is safer for the birds until they are acclimated.

Living Space

Larger poultry need more space, so plan accordingly. Factor in a minimum of 4-square-feet per chicken and even more for larger birds. Failing to provide adequate space can lead to boredom and birds will likely begin to peck at one another. If space is an issue, or the birds are more confined during the winter months, make sure there are plenty of food/toys/distractions to relieve boredom.

Management Techniques

A successful multi-species flock is an environment where there is little stress on the birds. Having a good ratio of male to female poultry will help keep a balance in the coop. A good rule of thumb for chickens is approximately 7 hens to 1 rooster. For ducks or other waterfowl, a good balance would include 5-6 females to 1 drake.

Remember that waterfowl are different from chickens and other birds in that they like wet conditions. So their bedding should have more absorbency like straw, pine shavings or grass from lawn mowing. Additionally, ducks don’t like to roost like chickens, so don’t expect to see them on the perches of your coop! They also prefer cooler weather, are more active at night and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to take a dip in a pool or other body of water.

Another multi-species management recommendation would be to keep chickens and turkeys separate. This is to preventing Blackhead disease carried from chickens to turkeys. Although not extremely common in a small flock setting, it can be fatal to turkeys if contracted.

These considerations and many more should be made before you dive head first into managing a multi-species flock. If you are up for the challenge, undoubtedly much enjoyment of watching them grow and flourish is in your future!

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.