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 permaculture circles when someone is experiencing a garden challenge that involves slugs and snail, Bill Mollison is often quoted as saying,
You don’t have a slug problem; you have a duck deficit.
Ducks are slug and snail vacuums! Not to mention that they forage well for their own food by consuming myriad other naturally growing plants and insects on the homestead.
For these and many other reasons, if you’ve never considered keeping ducks on the homestead, maybe it’s time to think about it!
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 my post “Why Ducks Might Not Be Right for You“.
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.
As with anything else, ducks 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.
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. A heating pad without an automatic cutoff, wrapped it in an old hand towel and duct 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. Then, 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; you could bend the sides to the size you need, as long as you tape over the sharp cut ends.
Here’s how to build a simple box brooder from The Cape Coop.
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.
- I go in every day and collect the eggs.
- Then, I use a small kiddie garden rake to fluff up the bedding.
- I toss out any chunks of poo onto the compost heap.
- I add some more pine shavings and then spread a thin layer of Sweet PDZ granules over the top.
Ducks do not scratch and dig in their bedding, they just tamp it down. You need to keep the bedding turned and fluffed up.
The Sweet PDZ makes the poo clump so it is easy to dispose of and it keeps the odor way down. This stuff is a life saver!
The Cape Coop can show you how to build your own duck house.
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 cakes!
They’re also bigger, which is a bonus. FYI, small egg cartons won’t fit most duck eggs; you’ll need the jumbo chicken egg cartons.
More Homestead Duck Resources
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!
Cover graphic gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user.