PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
May 20, 2016

Ducks are a fun addition to the farmyard, providing the farmer with entertainment, as well as eggs. If you’re considering this practical, easy-to-raise poultry for your menagerie, here are some things to consider first.

Reasons To Keep Ducks

Ducks offer a multitude of advantages to the small-scale farmer, and many keep ducks for various reasons.

Breeding

Ducks can be hatched and reared at home if you have fertilized eggs. The advantage of home-raising is your ability to breed for certain traits, such as heavier meat birds or good laying genes.

Eggs

Duck eggs are a delicious alternative to chicken eggs. They’re larger with bigger yolks and contain more proteins and nutrients. Plus, unlike chickens, ducks will lay year round.

Meat

Fast-growing and plump, breeds such as Pekins will be ready to butcher within seven weeks. Unlike meat chickens, heavy breeds of ducks can continue to live long and healthy lives after reaching maturity and don’t need to be culled immediately.

Choosing A Breed

If you’re flipping through a hatchery catalog trying to select the best ducks for your home, the choices may seem a bit daunting. There’s a wide variety of duck breeds, each with their own needs, appearances, and personalities.

When deciding what duck breeds will suit your farm, think about how you’ll be using them. If entertainment and companionship are high on your list, a lightweight, moderate egg layer might be a good option. Middleweight, decent layers are good for farms hoping to increase egg production, and breeds such as Runners are perfect for pest control.

  • Runner ducks are long, skinny breeds with upright bodies. Lightweight and active, they’re good egg layers and make great show birds because of their distinct looks. Their high energy and appetites makes them a popular option to keep gardens and crops free of pests.
  • Call ducks are the bantams of the duck world, with miniature features and small, round bodies. Bred primarily as pets, they’re very popular at poultry shows and lay only a few, small eggs.
  • Pekins are the primary duck breed for meat production, though other breeds are also good for the table.
  • Muscovies are of moderate weight and egg production and are raised partly for their unique appearances.
  • Mallards, Khaki Campbells and Welsh Harlequins are capable of some flight. They aren’t ideal meat birds because of their smaller frames but are good egg layers and energetic pets.

Buying Eggs Vs. Ducklings Vs. Adult Ducks

duck
iStock/Thinkstock

Ducklings are available from a number of hatcheries across the country and from local breeders. Getting your ducks as ducklings and hand-raising them makes it likely to imprint on you, and young ducks are easier to raise than chicks because they’re more hardy.

If you want duck eggs right away, you can find a farm that is selling their adult ducks. An adult duck will take little time to adjust to a new home, and requires less special care than a baby duckling.

In addition to getting ducklings, you can also hatch duck eggs yourself. Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, and raising them requires specific temperatures between 98 and 99 degrees F and a humidity of 86 to 94 percent. Eggs also need regular turning to remain viable.

Using A Broody Hen To Hatch Duck Eggs

If you don’t have a broody female duck, you can hatch duck eggs under a chicken. Hens will sit dutifully on the large eggs until they start to crack at 28 days, and then raise the web-footed young as they were their own.

Feeding & Watering Ducks

Ducks are eager eaters, consuming lettuce, veggies, bread and more, but they do need crumble with the right kinds of proteins and nutrients. Duck crumble can be purchased at most feed stores and should give your ducks all the vitamins they need. Like all birds, ducks require grit in their diet. If they aren’t able to range and nibble on small pebbles and sand, be sure to provide them a dish of cracked oyster shells or something similar.

Ducks need plenty of water, too. While they can be happy without a pond, they require clean water to softening their food and bathing. A small wading pool should provide them with enough to keep their feathers healthy, as long as feeding water is provided separately.

Duck Housing & Lighting

As livestock, ducks need shelter for protection from predators and the weather. A simple enclosure with about 5 square feet per bird should suffice for nesting, sleeping and seeking refuge from bad weather. They don’t need roosting space, but their bedding will need cleaned regularly.

Ducks are often kept in an enclosed pasture space for predator protection or control in a small yard. A duck yard should allow at least 15 square feet per bird and should include food and water troughs.

Baby ducklings require only a small brooder until they begin to feather out, as well as plenty of clean water and food. They don’t need swimming water until they are older, but they do need heat in the form of a heating lamp or regular light bulb. Ducklings need their brooder to be kept around 90 degrees F for the first week, decreasing by 10 degrees each week until the brooder is the same as the outside temperature.

Duck Flock Management

A flock of ducks are a delight on the farm, waddling and quacking and providing the farmer with eggs and entertainment. However, they do have in-flock bickering, so keeping the peace is an important part of managing your flock.

Male ducks have a very high libido, and a single male can keep a flock of up to 25 females. While some duck owners keep multiple pairs, having several males on your farm requires space for you to separate them should they begin fighting or abusing the females with sexual aggression.

Benefits Of Keeping Ducks

Runner ducks
Selbe Lynn/Flickr

Egg Flavor

Duck’s large eggs, laid year-round, are ideal for baking. Because they have a higher yolk-to-white ratio, they will make a cookie or brownie recipe extra moist and fluffy.

Low Maintenance

Ducks are hardy birds that can withstand cold and hot temperatures. This makes them a great family farm bird, as they won’t require a large time investment and will still reward you with fresh eggs.

Garden Helper

Desirable pets for gardeners, ducks love eating slugs. They can keep your plants safe from the sliding nuisances, as well as other bad bugs, like potatoes beetles and grasshoppers.

Entertainment

While ducks serve plenty of practical purposes on the farm, their value as entertainment should not be understated. A duck’s waddle is a delight to watch, and their personalities are friendly and curious. The antics of a flock of ducks will keep the hobby farmer watching and laughing all day.

Disadvantages To Keeping Ducks

There are a few things to consider before you get ducks. They are messy birds, and need plenty of space for bathing and eating. Your duck house bedding will need to be changed regularly and their feeding area will be damp from their splashing. Ducks can also be noisy, and aren’t ideal for an urban setting.

With appropriate space and some water to play in, ducks will be delighted to be part of your barnyard and you should find them a fun and rewarding animal.


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