Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I'm going to load all of them first and then come back and add the narrative.  Most of you will be able to figure out what I did from the pictures anyway.  Uploading pictures takes a LONG time with a dial-up connection, so please bear with me.  Also, you may have to "refresh" several times to load all the pictures.

Well, you’re probably here because you feel bad that you either have ducks or geese (or want to have ducks or geese) but you don’t have a pond or lake for them.  Fear not! You don’t have to have a pond to keep ducks or geese. In fact, not having a pond or other natural water source can be an advantage since the likelihood of infection from wild waterfowl will be greatly reduced. I have had ducks and geese for almost 12 years as of this writing (2011) and have yet to see any wild birds in with my flock. While I would like to watch my birds frolicking out on a big pond, I am pleased that I have one less potential source of illness to worry about. So in order to give my birds the swimming water they need to help keep their feathers clean, and also to play in, I have provided them with various pools over the years.

My first purpose-built duck night pen included a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tote with a drain (a small plumbing cleanout) set in the side at the bottom. It had wooden cleats on the sides to attach it to the platform that surrounded it. The ducks used the wood to get a toe grip on to climb out. That led immediately to a steep ramp and the rest of the tiny pen. They loved it and it was deep enough that even a small goose could dive out of sight for a moment. But the side-mounted cleanout meant that I needed a wrench to drain it and I could never truly get all of the “duck yuck” out. Also, the steep ramp was just too steep. And I eventually built my current, much larger, night pen over and around that location. So the swimming water had to move out of the nighttime arrangements.

I started with the classic “kiddie pool” set on the ground. The birds had to climb in and out. For some, this was a struggle. A brick here and there helped. But it also meant I had to dump the pool every day. That hurt my back and always soaked my feet as well as the ground immediately around the pool. So I started looking for ways to put pools in-ground. I experimented on my kiddie pools (2 of them nested together for strength) first to see if my plan would work. And it did. So I set out to do a serious job of installation with a pool that would be more permanent. Kiddie pools have always gotten brittle in about a year here. And I had one that had pictures on the bottom that peeled off. If the pool had been in use by my birds (it was for my dogs) that could have been lethal. They will pick at anything that looks out of place. Had they picked at and swallowed a piece of that plastic, they could have wound up dead. So keep an eye on the materials you use around your birds. I have also used a mortar mixing tray. That only holds about 10 gallons, but even very young ducks can get out if they try the vertical sides.

Now all my plans are based on Tuff Stuff brand livestock troughs. They are thick black plastic that are smooth on the bottom and the sides and are easy to cut down or drill. While they may not hold up well against large livestock, they are wonderful for ducks and geese. I have one pool that started out as a 35 gallon tank but now holds about 15. And I have two, including the one featured in this series of pictures, that started out as 110 gallon tanks but now hold only about 40. I should point out that these are NOT cheap. The tank alone was $75. ( I just bought one this year, 2011, at Tractor Supply on sale for only $49.99! - regularly $59.99)  And the drain assembly could cost about $20 as you usually have to buy the complete kit just to get the few parts I used. (I will be eternally grateful to a local plumbing shop employee who gave me not 1, but 2! of the tail pieces that were just laying around collecting dust under the counter.) The tank is expensive, but you can reuse the top of the tank as a raised bed planter. I have heavy clay soil that isn’t good for roses, but they do just fine now in my leftover tank tops.

Before I forget, the tank I bought in 2011 (just yesterday!) has a brass drain plug in the sidewall which my others did not.  I tried to find the plain version, but no one seems to have them anymore.  So I am doing a couple things before setting out to cut up a brand new tank!!!  First, I was worried that a bird might put their bill in the brass drain fitting and somehow get it wedged and stuck in there - head under water - and drown before they got loose.  (If you see the fitting, you'll know what I mean. - In my rush to take advantage of today's warm weather, I forgot to take pictures before I assembled my drain plug - Sorry!)  Probably an absurd thing to worry about, but Murphy's Law reigns supreme at my house so I always try to avoid tragedy by looking at things I'm building with a "worst case scenario" in mind.  But my husband solved my need for worry by suggesting I replace the stock plug provided with the tank, which is shallower than the fitting it screws into, with something that would fill the depth of the fitting completely.  The plug that came with the tank has a rubber O-ring that makes the seal, but a block-off plug for a Chevy Small Block heater hose port - either intake or water pump - worked beautifully!  At his direction, I wrapped it 12! times with Teflon Tape before screwing it in gently but firmly.  My automotive type plug is steel and took a 3/8 inch ratchet and I did not use the full length of the handle for leverage - held it right at the head so that I only got about 3 inches of handle for leverage.  If you destroy the stock fitting by over tightening it with your own plug, I am sure the store will not warranty it.  Also, before cutting up that lovely new tank, be sure to test it for leaks - again, the store isn't going to replace something that leaks after you've cut it up!  In my case, the brass fitting that houses the drain plug had a small leak where it came through the tub, it took the husband's muscle to tighten it about a 1/4 turn and it seems to be OK now.  (only a hint of a single drop getting through in a half hour - I'm gonna quit tightening while I'm ahead - over tighten and it may leak worse.)  Remember, test everything you can before cutting and again before installing because once this thing is in-ground, you are not going to want to dig it back up.  We’ll begin with the necessary parts and then move on to what I did to install the pool and, finally, a few words about hoses.

I guess I should mention that this pool is NOT for those that can't bear to put their hands in duck yucky water at the end of the day.  The drain will get stopped up from time to time with the residue of the day's playtime.  Or with gravel tossed into the pool by a breeding season goose hopped up on hormones!  Or maybe just from an egg that was deposited in the pool instead of the nest box.  Whatever the case, you may have to reach into the unseen depths to fish out something and get things flowing again.  Also, it would be a good idea to read this over several times before you decide to try to follow in my foot steps.  This design might not be right for your situation after you think about from all angles.  But I hope it will give you some ideas that are useful.


Here is one of those mortar mixing pans beside the 110 gallon Tuff Stuff water tank. In front is the drain system that was formerly in the mortar pan when it was in-ground for the babies.


A close up of the the bath tub tail piece that makes this system work so well with a minimum of height. Remember, the lower your drain is the more fall you need to drain the pool. Or in other words, the higher you will have to set your pool relative to where your drain discharge is.


Another close up, this time with most of the parts laid out in order. We’re looking at the bottom of the mortar pan. The drain basket and one washer go on the inside of the pool, while all the rest of the parts go on the bottom.


Here’s the ball valve. The truly sweet part of this system. IF you get a good one! Try them out in the store no matter how stupid you feel doing it. They will never work better than they do the day you buy them. They don’t “break in” like a pair of shoes. You’re going to live with this part every day for years to come so take the time to test it out before you buy. Again, these aren’t cheap either - at least $12 for the 1- inch one shown here. I have used both 1- and 1- inch pipe. Some manufactures make ball valves in 1- inch that take 1- inch pipe. That would be my preferred size combination. The valve is a little cheaper, and the water will have just a bit more room to flow within the drain pipe with all that “duck yuck” in it.


Here’s my big new tank laid on its side with my masking tape cutting guide laid out at the chosen height. In this case, I went with 8 inches and 10 inches. That will give the pool a nice slope to one end to make it drain quickly as well as giving the birds a slightly deeper end. Since I have ducks and geese, I thought I would do this pool deeper than my other big one that is only 6 to 8 inches deep. (I didn’t want to go too deep for fear that a duck might get trapped on the deep end by a goose with an attitude and have no way to escape.) Also, the deeper the pool - the more water you need to fill it. If you’re on a well, that’s critically important to consider. You will have healthier birds if you go with a smaller pool size and change it everyday rather than trying to cut corners and go with a big pool that you only have the water to clean every couple days. Once you’ve cleaned a duck pool or two, you will know what I mean! They can make a disgusting mess of their water in just a short time! There is no way I would allow them back in that same water the following day. This coming year, we’ll be trying that duck yuck tea on our garden to see if it’s good fertilizer. Hope it’s not too “hot”.  We always try to recycle water any way we can.


Measure three times and cut once! The beauty of masking tape as your guide is that you can write on it. Yes, that was my auto body man husband’s idea. Put an arrow pointing to the side of the tape you want to cut on after you’ve double and triple checked it. That way, when you get distracted between measuring and cutting, you might actually cut it where you intended. This is an expensive project, so take your time.


Well, I did it. I cut up that brand new tank! Now I have one duck pool and one raised planter. We’ll be building a frame to support the duck pool in a minute since the top edge lost all it‘s rigidity with the removal of the heavy lip. But first we have to install the drain so we can work our framing around it’s location if need be.


Set the drain basket in the pool where you want it and mark the center. By the way, you might want to shop around for the exact style you want. Note that this one has 6 “legs” in the interior. I never use the hair strainer that comes with them because I’m afraid the ducks will get the center screw that holds it down loose and swallow it. But, also, that would make more obstructions for the duck yuck, feathers, leaves, grass and whatever else your little lovelies put in their pool . My favorite one only has 3 legs, but you may have to settle for 4 or 6. Then again, if you have gravel around your pool, the bigger the gaps in the drain opening, the bigger the size piece of gravel that can go down the drain and potentially stop it up. So you have to size your ball valve, drain pipe and this piece according to your particular situation. I’ve never had a complete stoppage yet, but I do occasionally have to use a plunger to knock things loose and speed up the drain. It is amazing what all they put in their pools. Thankfully, it’s rarely the remains of a frog or toad that didn’t get completely eaten or a partially alive wasp or yellowjacket that might still be able to sting.  Normally, it's leaves, sticks, feathers, grass and poop!


Center marked and pre-drilled with small bit.  I also traced around the treaded part of the fitting so I could double check my location and hole-saw size.


I selected a hole-saw as close in size to my drain piece as possible for the best seal.


The hole drilled in the pool - see how closely it matches the size of the drain.


The drain piece inserted in the hole - very little play will make the best seal.


When I actually assembled this pool, I decided to use silicone caulk between the drain piece and the pool itself instead of the washer I have pictured above and that came with the tub drain assembly.  The washer was about 1/8 inch thick so rinsing the pool would have been a challenge.  With the silicone, the piece can be tightened so that it is essentially only the height of the fitting itself that you must rinse debris over.  It makes a big difference!


The installed tail piece as seen from the bottom.  It is angled because this pool sits at an angle from the slope of the land for drainage fall height.


The installed tail piece as seen from the top with all that sloppy silicone cleaned up.  You don't want to leave any globs where the birds can get to it.  They will pluck at it until they get it loose and might eat it. 


The assemble pool with complete drain and support frame installed.  This pool was overbuilt with 2 x 6's.  I think 2 x 4's would have worked just fine, but the bigger lumber is what I had on hand as leftovers from building our house.  I will be using 2 x 4' on my pool this year, 2011.  Also, I don't see the need for the long legs on the sides.  I did that on that pool to help hold my pavers in place, but have since found that they really don't move around under waterfowl foot traffic and am now using just a frame that is a simple rectangle.  And I am no longer using the wooden cleats inside the pool.  I just use twice as many screws instead.  This change came about when one of my geese hung her foot repeatedly on the cleat on the oldest pool whose wood had deteriorated and exposed a screwhead that I hadn't noticed.  She not only broke her toe, she cut it wide open.  No one else ever had a problem.  But I changed all my pools to be on the safe side.  Now they have no obstructions to bump into while swimming and playing.  And the wood isn't harboring bacteria like I'm sure it must have been since it was wet constantly.  I thought they needed the cleats to climb out, but they do just fine without it.  As it turns out, the sidewalls are about 1/4 inch thick and hold deck screws well.  Any plan has room for improvement! 


The assemble pool from another angle and in place where it is to be installed.


I traced the pool framework and drain pipe and dug out the area as needed.  Then I put sand in the bottom for support.  Sometimes I wind up stepping down into the pool to pull things out of the drain when it's clogged.  It's nice to know that the ground is solid underneath and so I don't have to worry about cracking the tub with my weight. 


The construction site fenced off with temporary fence panels for the safety of my web-footed helpers!


The completed pool full of water for that final leak test before I start doing the final grading and installing pavers. 


See that little burr on the edge of that paver?  It hurt my hands to move them around without gloves and it occurred to me that the birds don't have cotton gloves on their feet.  So I took an old brick and "sanded" the edges of the pavers to make them smooth for the delicate waterfowl feet that would be using them - often at high speed and with reckless abandon.


I used a combination of gravel, dirt and sand to level each paver.  I didn't want any big gaps opening up that might snag a toenail and rip it off or twist a leg as a panicky bird tried to free itself.  (Yeah, I worry about everything!)


I kept the water in the pool for the weight to help keep the pool exactly where I wanted it while I was placing the pavers.  The home shows will tell you that you need a beautiful bed of properly compacted sand and all sorts of other details before you can lay pavers.  But I have not had any problems with my corner cutting method of just using a bit of sand to level things out here and there.  Maybe it's that heavy Virginia clay or maybe just dumb luck.


Pavers all finished and dirt spread out for final grade.


Web-footed inspectors arrived to check my work.


The inspectors out in the yard at the ball valve.  You can just see one of the rebar U's that my husband made for me to help keep the ball valve in place when I turn it.  One goes on each side of the valve and the legs of the U are about a foot long. 


The first swim!  The inspectors seem satisfied.  Note the pea-gravel/river rock in the triangles around the pool corners.  I won't do that again!!!  Nearly every piece wound up in the pool every day.  They are solid concrete now.  Those are Shetland geese, by the way.


All those little webbed feet are smoothing the dirt down nicely.  But what mud!  When things settled a little more, I put pea-gravel/river rock all around the pavers for about a foot wide.  I used gravel that was the size of the "57's" on my driveway.  It's about 3/4 inch - too big to get past the drain basket "legs".  If I had used the tiny pea-sized stuff, I am sure my drain pipes would have been full of it in short order!  So choose your materials to work in harmony with each other.

Finished pool surrounded by pavers and river pebbles and covered with tarp tent for shade.

If you look closely, you can see that the wooden cleats on the sides of the pool have been eliminated as I described above.  I think this picture was taken about a year and half after the pool was installed.


On cold days when my hoses might freeze up and prevent me from rinsing the pools or the ball valves might freeze before I got to drain the pool at the end of the day, I cover them with a piece of plywood so that no one falls into an empty pool and injures a leg or something.  Also, I've made a few changes to the tarp support framework.  The original design depended solely on the grommets in the 4 corners to hold the tarp and I often had a grommet rip out on a windy day long before the tarp itself was worn enough to need replacing.  They do make plastic adapters that will grip the tarp and replace the grommet, but since I'm such a worrier, I feared the plastic would break on the next windy day and one of the birds might find and eat the pieces.  So I opted for adding more wooden framing and using more rubber bungies.  With this arrangement, I usually get the full one year life span of the tarp fabric before I loose any grommets.  And I have stopped using the reflective silver coated tarp pictured on the original.  They didn't last any longer than the cheaper blue ones and the silver ones also begin shedding that silver coating.  I didn't want anybody eating that either.


This is the building I call my Pool House.  Under that plywood is another one of these cut down stock tank pools.  You can see a few pavers on the left side of the plywood and a couple on the right.  Those on the right are sitting on top of two small gravel sections and an assortment of smaller pavers because things are not sized right for full standard sized pavers.  The rest is poured concrete.  This pool was originally installed surrounded with gravel.  But as I described above, a lot of it ended up in the pool everyday.  If I had originally planned to use pavers, I would have sized everything correctly for them and would not have used concrete except for the corners like the pool above.  As you can see, even though I did use concrete on the long sides, the pool itself could still be removed because it is only pavers and gravel covering the drain pipe area.  If a leak were to develop or the ball valve were damaged, this would be important so that you don't have to destroy everything to make the repair.  This way, I can and have, removed it for repairs when needed. 


Off hand, the biggest reason I can think of that you might need to dig up your pool's plumbing is if something happened to your ball valve.  This one has been hit by the lawn mower too many times and I broke off both ears.  It is possible to work with your hand, but I use a pint-sized pair of channel locks.  I do not intend to replace this one until it truly won't work anymore - it is a very smooth operating one which can be hard to find.  That's why I recommend that you try them out in the store.  You also don't want to accidentally step on the ears or kick them in cold weather - that breaks them off too!   My pool house pool only has one ear left because I accidentally stepped on it while clearing 2 feet of heavy snow off the roof last year. 

One last note on plumbing.  I only permanently glue and test for leaks any plumbing between the pool and the upstream side of the ball valve.  There really is no need to glue any pipe you use on the downstream side of the ball valve.  It won't be under any pressure and it is not likely to come loose under normal use.  If you damage the ball valve, any pipes that weren't glued can be easily reused. 


This is my homemade hose manifold.  I used Q-PEX plumbing parts to make it.  One hose is the feed from the house.  One goes to the sprayer hanging on the fence for rinsing and filling night buckets and boots.  One goes out to the pools.  And the one that doesn't have anything hooked up is for the garden if we need it.  I have gone to metal quick-connects because they hold up longer and I was having trouble finding the same brand in plastic.  Now Gilmore has switched their brass ones to aluminum and they don't work very well either - they leak! and often don't want to mate up with the brass ones that are supposed to be identical.  Sorry for the rant - it's just so frustrating not to be able to buy a quality product anymore.  Anyway, I use the quick connects because it makes life so much easier, especially in the winter when the metal ones really shine.  If they freeze and don't want to release, I little hot water gets them going in an instant.  And in the winter, I drain my hoses twice a day.  That's a job made soooo much easier if you can split the hose at critical locations.  It takes over 200 feet of hose to reach my furthest pool.  I used to use the contraption pictured below to blow out my hoses because I had some sections buried under fences and walkway crossings, but I had one too many freeze-ups and now just lay them all on the surface and walk around them.  Lifting a hose over your head to drain it is the most effective method anyway.  It is frustrating and time consuming to turn on a hose on a cold day and go out to fill a pool and there's nothing but a tiny dribble.  At that point, you're committed since you have now filled the hose with water.  You either ride it out and thaw out the hose so you can use it and then drain it for the next time, or you have a solidly frozen hose for next time.  So I take my time and drain them completely.  It means I can get away with giving my birds swimming water on that many more days in the winter. 
I might also mention, that in the summertime, I NEVER use the water that has been sitting all day in the hose to fill a pool or bucket.  I will rinse the pool with it, but always run the hose to flush out any "old" water before filling a pool or bucket and calling it "fresh".   Maybe there isn't anything bad growing in that hose in the hot sun, but I'd rather flush it out first.



A closer view of the parts that matter on the air pump.  On the far left is two female quick-connectors screwed end to end so that I can put it on the end of a hose that has the male side on it.  Then a male side connector screwed to a custom made adapter.  It is a solid end cap (like for a soaker hose) that has been drilled out to accept a tire valve stem.  That, in turn, will connect to the pump.  So I either use the whole assembly or just half of it depending on which way I need to blow out a hose.

covered pool on left, willow to its right and cut-off top of pool as planter to the far right

pool at left, willow in distance behind grazing gander's back and rose planter to far right

With all that water, the ground below the drain pipe can get mighty soft and muddy.  Your birds will wallow in it and if you have heavy clay it may stay around for days and pose a health problem as the water goes stagnant.  You either need to fence off that area to keep the birds out of the soft ground or, if you have the space, you can plant something like this, a corkscrew willow tree.  They are much smaller than weeping willows, but suck up plenty of water!  Just remember that if you have to stop using the pool in the heat of summer due to a drought, you may loose that tree if it gets stressed too much by not getting its regular daily drink that it will have come to depend on.  My birds still dig in the drainage area beside this tree as the pool is draining, but the water is gone almost immediately so it has not been a health concern.

This page last updated January 30, 2011.

  Each page on this site will be dated individually as they are updated.
Unless otherwise noted,
all pictures are the property of unorthoducks (TM).
Please do not copy without prior written permission.