Do you remember our popular, if controversial article, “Why Ducks Might Not Be Right For You”? Well, here is its sister post, “Why Ducks Might Be Right For You”! Come learn all about the useful and remarkable duck and decide if some just might be right for your homestead.
In Defense of Ducks
This post comes to us courtesy of an intrepid reader, the lovely Donna Todd of Lightning T Farm in Texas. Many thanks to her for sharing her thoughts on ducks and all the great things they can do on the homestead. Donna wrote in to politely and pleasantly defend homestead ducks on the aforementioned “Why Ducks Might Not Be Right for You” post. Actually, if you go back and read the article on why you may not want ducks, you’ll find that I’m a big duck lover. They’re fabulous birds and a great addition to any backyard farming venture. Just like anything else, they have their drawbacks and cautions, but that’s no reason to discount them altogether.
Read on for Donna’s experience and advice with a few recommended resources for further reading by me.
Getting Started with Ducks
I have been raising ducks for the past three years and I LOVE them!
I started with Welsh Harlequins that I ordered from the Holderread Waterfowl Farm & Preservation Center, which I think is the best source of purebred ducks anywhere. We later added Saxonies.
Dave Holderread has raised waterfowl for over 50 years, and he wrote the book Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks. I would advise anyone thinking of raising ducks to get this book, because of all the great information in there. My copy is dog-eared from much reading.
Getting Started with Ducklings
Ducks are the easiest domestic birds to raise, according to Holderread, and are incredibly resistant to disease. However, ducks are not just chickens that like to swim.
They do have different needs as far as nutrition. Ducklings need niacin in their drinking water for the first eight weeks if they are brooded indoors, and cannot be fed medicated feed.
There is a saying that ducklings can take a teaspoonful of water and make a mess. Being waterfowl, they need to drink water in higher quantities than chickens, and they also need to clean their bills with it. You will need to work at keeping their bedding dry. However, ducks are also the fastest growing of all domestic fowl, so this stage is over relatively quickly.
If your ducklings get stressed, here are some homemade electrolyte recipes from The 104 Homestead.
If you have other poultry on site, you may need these articles:
Can I Keep Chicks and Ducklings Together? by The Frugal Chicken
Safe Multi-Flock Housing by The 104 Homestead
How to Feed a Mixed Flock by Timber Creek Farm
Brooder Ideas for Ducklings
If you have the space in your house, garage or barn, a large kiddie pool makes an excellent brooder since it is waterproof. Otherwise, I have also used a large plastic tub, and in a pinch even a cardboard box lined with plastic (because it’s gonna get wet!).
Instead of a heat lamp, which can be a fire danger, I made a brooder heater out of a heating pad. I found one without an automatic cutoff, wrapped it in an old hand towel and duck (!) taped it securely at all seams. I cut some cardboard the size of the heating pad and bent the ends to make sides large enough so the ducklings could get underneath it. I also cut some strips out of the top portion so the heat could radiate down.
They did like to get under it for the first couple of days, but after that they just hung out on top. I eventually took the cardboard piece out and just put the pad on the floor of the box covered with lots of bedding. It would be easy to make a platform for the heating pad out of fencing wire, as you could bend the sides to the size you need, as long as you tape over the sharp cut ends.
Juvenile and Adult Duck Care
Once they are past the really messy duckling stage, ducks are easy to keep. I have had as many as 20 ducks in my large back yard. It is easy to dissolve duck poo in the yard by just hitting it with a spray of water. After a rain there is none to be seen in the yard, but boy my grass is luxurious!
It takes me less than 30 minutes a day to dump and refill two small kiddie pools and three water bowls, and to clean out the duck house. I use the deep litter method in their duck house, so I go in every day and collect the eggs, then use a small kiddie garden rake to fluff up the bedding and toss out any chunks of poo onto the compost heap.
Ducks do not scratch and dig in their bedding, they just tamp it down, so you need to keep it turned and fluffed up. I add some more pine shavings and then spread a thin layer of Sweet PDZ granules over the top, which makes the poo clump so it is easy to dispose of and it keeps the odor way down. This stuff is a life saver!
As for the eggs, duck eggs taste richer than chicken eggs but not significantly different. Duck eggs have more vitamins and minerals, and more Omega 3 fatty acids, than chicken eggs. In fact, the only thing chicken eggs have more of than duck eggs is water! Duck eggs are prized by bakers.
Homestead Lady Adds:
Holy cow – yes! Duck eggs produce fluffy waffles, rich pasta and amazing cakes. Get ducks just so you can use their eggs to make the cakes in my new favorite cookbook, Cake Stand. (Just click on the picture below to get your own copy – you can’t have mine. You wouldn’t want it at this point anyway since it’s completely covered in frosting glop and the pages are all written on.)
For more raptures over the wonderful duck egg, visit this post from Attainable Sustainable.
Should you be interested in raising ducks for meat, here’s an article from Make It, Grow It on that very topic.
Oh, and by the way, no one had a pillow fight in your yard; your ducks are just molting and The 104 Homestead can explain all about that with this article.
So, to anybody thinking of getting ducks, I say go for it! Ducks are the most unappreciated of all domestic poultry, and a number of duck breeds are currently listed by the Livestock Conservancy as critical. Go to their website to check out the list and do your part to save these breeds by raising one or more of them. You won’t regret it!
Homestead Lady Adds:
I completely agree! Except when you do regret it because they’re noisy or messy or they get sick. That’s just life with homestead animals, folks. Some days you love it and some days you’d rather eat your own head than deal with one more prolapsed vent or punctured webbed foot. Life is give and take.
And, in my defense, lest you think I’m the only one who has ever grumbled about the delightful duck, here’s this article from Rabbit Ridge Farm – The Trouble With Ducks.
A big thank you to Donna for her insights and love of ducks! Thank you, too, for the duckling photo for this post!