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If you are new to keeping ducks, do them and yourself a favour and go to Tractor Supply or directly to Holderread Waterfowl Farm and get a copy of Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks, by Dave Holderread.

 

The following are some suggestions for keeping ducks based on my personal experience and advice from the experts.  This is by no means a complete guide.  Hopefully, it will help someone avoid learning these things the hard way (ie. loosing a duck to poor management/ or procrastination).

I cannot stress this enough:

If you are looking at your birds and have the thought that you should address a particular issue, do not put it off!

I really learned this the hard way in 2004.  I was watching my "mother goose" getting a drink from her deep, steep-sided bucket.  One of her two-week old babies was curiously watching her.  I had the thought I should make new water arrangements for the goose - tomorrow (I was tired). 

Tomorrow was too late.  One of her babies drowned that night!

 

Please, please, please lock your ducks in a secure covered pen every night.  The night you forget or "just don't feel like it" will be the night the local predators discover your ducks.

My birds are ALWYS in a fenced yard.  And that yard has an outer perimeter fence that is 4 feet high, as tight to the ground as possible and also has 4 strands of very hot electric wire on the outside to ward off predators.  There's a reason the term "sitting duck" means a helpless victim!

Ducks need access to shade even in cold weather. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A folding chair will cast a shadow big enough for 2 ducks.

I change all water on a daily basis. 

They need access to water deep enough to rinse their nose and eyes, but shallow enough to climb out of. (Remember, I have had one drown who climbed into my gooses’ bucket, but could not climb back out the steep sides.)

If food is available, they MUST have access to water to prevent choking.

All feed for ducks should be WITHOUT medication.

Inspect all feed for mold and/or bug infestation.  Just because it's a new bag, doesn't mean it's clean.  DO NOT use moldy or bug infested feed.  It can sicken or kill! 

Don’t make their housing too airtight. A windbreak and a dry spot to rest should be sufficient to keep them warm in our usually mild winters. I have been told that too warm a house will cause illness.

I provide my ducks with swimming water year round.  Winter in central Virginia isn't usually too bad.  At worst this means hauling water in buckets in the morning and hoping the hose will work in the afternoon to rinse and drain the pool.  I've only had a couple days they had to go without their bath.  My minimum goal is to get them bath water at least once a week.  A dirty duck is a poorly insulated duck who doesn't shed water in bad weather.

Indian Runner ducks are excellent foragers and are almost always on the move.  They will find much of their own food if they have access to plenty of grass and other places to search for bugs and little critters.

They seem a bit timid and easily frightened but they herd well and will trust you if you are quiet and slow when working around them.  This includes anytime you need to catch them.  One wild chase around the yard will quickly destroy a good trusting relationship.  If they need to be caught, calmly walk them into a small pen and slowly corner them.  Quiet and slow are the keys to maintaining a trusting duck.

A nest box 18”x18”x18” should be available by early February so they can get used to it before they begin to lay in late Feb. or March. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just provide a dark corner where they feel safe and you can easily gather the eggs and change the nesting material. If they are not let out in the morning until 8:00AM, most of the eggs should already be laid.  Or you can do what I have decided to do - just make the entire floor of their night stall out of wood!  My girls over the years always used the nestboxes for just a little while and then would lay anywhere around the pen they happened to be.  This meant they dug down into the gravel beneath their bedding and churned it all up into a big mess.  I compost my used bedding and put it on the garden so we wound up with gravel in out compost - not cool.  Now, I have just a few ducks left and only one stall that is 8 x 8 and it doesn't matter where they lay because they hit plywood rather than gravel or dirt.  Their water bucket is on a wiremesh platform, so the plywood, which is on a thick layer of gravel, has stayed dry and clean.  Hurray!

The following probably applies more to young ducks than to adults: If they have been without water for some time, they should be given lukewarm water first before being allowed to play in large quantities of cold water. They seem to be able to chill themselves from the inside and will be found looking “drunk” or even lying flat out on the ground if this has happened. They need to be put in a quiet place with a heat source and the room to move to cooler spot if they get too hot. (You want to slowly WARM them, not cook them.) If they are saved, they should look good as new in a few hours.

I used to feed my ducks free-choice and always kept the feeders full.  But now I give only measured amounts twice daily.  So they still nearly always have constant access to their food.  Some sources recommend feeding only what can be consumed in 5 minutes, but I have found my ducks gulp down pellets so quickly that they spend the next 10 minutes trying to swallow.  This doesn't seem like a wise method to me.  Since my ducks have access to a large grassy yard all day, they pop into the night pen periodically throughout the day for a quick bite and then run off to forage again.  So they get plenty of exercise and don't get overly fat, although I'm sure they are heavier than they should be if I wanted to show.  But seem to be the perfect weight for breeding and general good health.

I made the change from total free choice feeding in 2011 when one of my young hens prolapsed in late September.  She was NOT trying to lay an overly large egg.  She was actually trying to lay two eggs in one sitting!  She was NOT on a high protein diet, nor was I using artificial light.  I was actually feeding a rather low protein level and a low corn content in order to try to keep them from getting fat as they always had in the past on the Duck Grower I had used for years.  But she was slightly slower to mature than some of my other hens, one of which began laying the day they all turned 18 weeks old.  When I got that first egg, I  unthinkingly increased their feed to full out free choice essentially overnight.  The sudden increase in their access to feed apparently caused the prolapsed hen to start laying all sorts of strange eggs.  She did lay several unusually large double-yolked eggs, but she has, more alarmingly, laid 7 sets of two eggs in one sitting!  This is called Erratic Ovipostion and Defective Egg Syndrome.  ( http://www.avian.uga.edu/documents/pip/2002/0302.pdf )  One egg has a very thick, rough, chalky shell and the second one as virtually no shell at all.  Luckily, the other hens were more mature than her and are doing just fine.  She is too, so far, but she is still prolapsed and is not co-operating in quitting laying yet.  Which she must do in order to have any hope of recovering from the prolapse.  She and the hens keeping her company in sickbay are eating essentially just oats until they finally stop laying!

My normal adult ducks have been eating the following available in limited quantities twice daily:

  • either PURINA Game Bird Flight Conditioner or PURINA Game Bird Maintenance Chow or PURINA Game Bird Breeder Layena  - all with up to 25% oats or oatmeal in order to control the protein level depending on their needs and body functions at that time of year.
  • Crushed Oyster Shells - free choice
  • Granite grit - free choice
  • Pasture forage for grass and bugs (during daylight hours) 
  • A small bit of cracked corn or scratch (VERY cold weather only)

 

 

This page last updated December 5, 2011.

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