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Ducks… they are for sure my new favorite homestead animal. Highly underrated in my opinion. Ducklings are adorable and ducks are a great addition to any homestead or small farm.
Ducklings are super easy to care for. Easier than chickens in my opinion. And a lot less likely to die than baby chicks. Which is a win win in my book.
More hardy, less likely to wake up to dead babies, easy to care for, and will grow to provide our family with delicious, nutritious eggs and meat? Yep. Plus, who can ignore this kind of cuteness? I mean C’mon. You need some ducklings on your homestead… pronto.
While ducklings are super easy to care for, they have different requirements than chicks. Before you get started with ducklings, knowing their different needs will help you care for them in the best possible way.
12 Things You Need to Know About Caring for Ducklings
1. Don’t Brood Your Chicks and Ducklings Together
While you technically can, it’s not the best idea. Ducklings love water. They will make a wet mess of everything they come in contact with. Wet + chicks = bad idea. Ducklings also grow incredibly fast. They’ll be itty bitty when you get them and then wham… they’re half grown a week later. Since they grow so fast, they can potentially trample and kill the chicks. For these two reasons I do not recommend you brood them together.
2. Make Sure Their Feed is Unmedicated
Finding duck starter/grower is next to impossible in most places. Feeding your ducklings regular chick starter is perfectly fine. Just make sure the feed is non-medicated. Medicated chick feed (which I don’t recommend anyway) can kill your ducklings. They eat a lot more than chicks and can easily overdose on the medication. So, steer clear of the medicated feed bags and you’ll be good. The medication is for coccidiosis, which ducks are pretty resistant to, by the way.
3. Add Brewer’s Yeast to Their Feed
Unless you can find duck starter/grower, chick feed is going to be the answer to your needs. Ducklings have a higher need for niacin for health than baby chicks do. A great, readily available and fairy cheap, solution for niacin is brewer’s yeast. Just add a tablespoon and a half to each cup of chick starter and you’ll be good.
4. Keep Their Protein In Check
Little ducklings have fickle needs when it comes to protein. The first couple weeks 20% – 22% protein is a great start for their feed. After the first couple of weeks, you’ll want to reduce that down to between 16% – 18%. Finding starter/grower that is that low in protein is difficult, around here any way. So, to decrease that 20% chick feed I have sitting in the bin I just add some uncooked oatmeal to the mix and slowly increase it to decrease the protein percentage in the feed I have available.
Keeping the protein low enough helps avoid an ailment called angel wing that ducks who have too high of a protein diet during growth can succumb to. More on that another day, just know that it’s easiest to avoid, but can be cured if caught.
5. Don’t Put Them in the Pool (Yet)
Domestic ducks aren’t quite the same as their wild counterparts. In the wild a ducklings mother adds oil to their down to make them waterproof. Not happening in a domestic duck that was hatched from an incubator. Domestic ducklings can become waterlogged and die from being too cold or even drown.
This doesn’t mean you can’t let them play in the water. They love water and will play in it whether you want them to or not. We put a shallow pan in the bathtub a few times a week so they can play and splash around in the water while we clean out their brooder. Just make sure it’s something they can get out of and don’t force them to swim. Once they’re fully feathered, give them a pool or a pond. They’ll love you for it!
6. Speaking of Water…
Ducks need water. Obviously, right? But, they need lots of water. They drink an incredible amount of water. Adult ducks can drink up to a half gallon a DAY. Wow. They need to be able to dip their entire bill into water in order to keep their nostrils clear of any debris. For this reason, do not use a nipple waterer (like our local farm store does 😒). Some people suggest regular chick founts for ducklings. I don’t. The reason is my ducklings dumped their huge 3 gallon fount approximate 3,000,000,000,000 times in a day completely drenching their entire brooder (see, ducklings and chicks just don’t mix). So, we just use small bowls. They get in them and splash around, of course, but they don’t spill them and they can dunk their heads to keep their nostrils clean.
7. Give Them Some Snacks (in moderation) And Lots of Greens
Things like chopped kale, Swiss chard, Romain lettuce, etc are favorite treats of your feathered, webbed feet friends. Chop some up and throw them in their water dish for a fun show. Throw some in at supper time and you’ll have plenty of duck TV to watch for a while. They can have greens as much as you care to share them with them. They’re a great supplement to their diet.
They’ll also enjoy meal worms (I love giving our birds meal worms, it’s hilarious to watch). Fresh watermelon, a bit of cooked pumpkin, scrambled egg and just about any other treat you give to your chickens is fine to give to your ducklings in moderation. Do not give your ducks slices of bread. Just don’t. Do, however, provide them with some chick grit if they’re not able to get outdoors.
8. They Love to Forage
If it’s warm enough where you are, take your ducklings outside to get some exercise and forage around! They love looking for bugs and any other interesting things they can find. Exercise is important to these little waddlers, especially since they grow so quickly. So take them out, weather permitting, for a short time each day and let them explore their world. Then, you can put them back inside and let them warm up in their brooder.
9. You Can Decrease Their Brooder Temp More Rapidly
Yet another reason not to brood chicks and ducklings together. Ducklings brooder temperature can go down by roughly 10 degrees (from 95) a week instead of the typical 5. They’ll let you know if they’re cold (just like chicks they will huddle together), and they’ll let you know if they’re hot (they will try to get away from the heat source and/or start panting). Ducklings are typically ready for the outdoor world by 6 weeks of age (which seems so young in comparison to chicks!). As long as the temperature isn’t dipping below 50 at night, they’ll be fine.
10. They Need Lots of (Dry) Bedding
In short, ducklings (and ducks) are messy. I’m not going to lie and say they’re the cleanest, driest animals around, that’s a far cry from the truth. Any time they find even a little bit of water, they will be in it. They eat by taking food in their mouth and then getting a drink of water (so make sure they have water available any time they have food available). This makes for a wet, mucky mess. I don’t tell you this to discourage you from raising ducks (I still think they’re an amazing addition to anyones homestead), but to let you know you’re going to need to dry bedding in their brooder at least 2-3 times a day. I’ve heard pellet bedding is a great material to use in duckling brooders. I haven’t personally used it because we have an enormous amount of pine shavings. But if you’re in the market… you could definitely try it.
11. Use a Plastic Brooder (or line one with plastic)
And make sure it’s big enough for these quickly growing giants. We have a homemade, wooden, brooder for our chicks (stay tuned for a tutorial!), but it doesn’t work out very well for ducklings. I strongly encourage you to find something plastic and make sure it is large. A kiddie pool, a big tank, a spare bathtub, anything plastic and large. If you don’t have anything plastic or don’t feel like keeping waterfowl in your bathtub (c’mon it’s not really that bad), then you need to line whatever you have in plastic. They will surely make a mess with water and you are going to want something that will keep that water contained so you don’t wind up with a dripping, sopping wet mess underneath their brooder.
12. Enjoy Them
Ducks are by far the most entertaining little fowl I’ve ever raised. They’re playful and more personable than chicks. Chickens, of course, have a special place in my heart but these guys and gals are amazing and oh so adorable. They grow super fast so enjoy them while they’re little fuzzballs of energy splashing around in their water bowl. Then, you can enjoy their antics in the barnyard and some huge, regularly laid, fresh eggs (or some delicious, healthy meat).
Ducklings and ducks absolutely have their challenges. I’ve heard many say they’re too messy. I tend to disagree (my chickens are messy little critters too). I think they’re well worth their challenges and will provide our homestead with lots of comedy, friendship, delicious eggs, and meat for a long time. I don’t see us giving up on ducks any time in the near future and I’m glad we’ve decided to add them to our homestead.
Do you have ducks or other waterfowl on your homestead?