FAQs - Ducks
This page was written to provide a few simple tips for those new to poultry keeping.
Which sex to choose?
If you are keeping ducks primarily for eggs you will of course need females. However where possible I would always advocate keeping at least one male as it is not always as easy to find homes for them, compared to their female clutch mates.
Unlike keeping male chickens, male ducks (drakes) won't cause noise through crowing and drakes rarely fight, Having a drake wont increase or reduce the amount of eggs your girls lay and fertilised eggs are fine to eat!
Keeping an all male group or all female group is an option. However in a mixed group you want the females to outnumber the males. Too many drakes per female will result in the females getting too much "attention" during breeding season. I would suggest a ratio of 1 drake to 3 females as a starting point. I generally keep groups in a ratio of 1:5.
How may birds to keep?
Ducks are a flock animal and cannot be kept on their own. They need the social interaction of other ducks to thrive. We generally recommend a minimum of 3, This means if something does happen to one you are not left with one lonely bird. Birds on their own can become depressed, stop eating and even die.
For the above reasons, we only sell young birds in a minimum of 3 and older birds in lower numbers if they are joining a suitable existing flock.
What age to choose?
Day old ducklings do have extra care requirements compared to a grown on birds. Ducklings need a heat source up until around 4 weeks from specialist heating equipment such as heat lamp or heat plate. We then keep the ducklings inside for a further 2 weeks off heat before putting them outside. Generally younger birds are not sexed.
Choosing to purchase a grown on bird tend to be much more established and can be sexed more reliably.
How to sex ducks?
At around 6 - 8 weeks of age female ducks start to quack. Males make more of a raspy sound. Males eventually develop a curled feather.
We can vent sex younger ducklings, which is a good indicator of gender. But this isn't something you should try without prior experience, as it is easy to injure a duckling if done incorrectly.
Which breed to choose?
Every breed has its own unique pros and cons. So its worth spending some time researching the breed you may be interested in, to decide if its right for you.
All the breeds we work with make excellent pets and can live with other breeds. Some are better egg layers, some are more friendly than others, some are traditionally bred as table birds and some breeds are quieter than others. Feel free to discuss this topic with us on your visit if you would like advice on which breed would work for your situation.
What daily care is needed?
Your ducks need to be let out first thing on a morning, and locked up at dusk. If they are left out overnight they likely to be prey to a fox.
The birds will need their food and water changed/.topped up daily. You will no doubt want to collect the eggs during the day and also spot clean the coop as you go.
Having a pond for ducks is definitely a positive, however it isn't a necessity. Ducks need at least a few inches of water daily so they can have a drink, preen their feathers and clear their beaks and eyes of debris. A large plastic tray is usually sufficient, or a small child sized paddling pool or cement mixing tub.
Ducks do tend to make things a muddy! They need a decent amount of space if you want to keep them from being thick with mud. If outside roaming space is limited, I would generally suggest keeping chickens instead.
Caring for ducks certainly isn't difficult once you are familiar with their basic needs.
How to feed ducks?
I advocate raising ducks on a complete/balanced pelleted diet, ideally a mix specifically designed for ducks. Here, they are fed a mix suitable for their age, which breaks down as follows;
0 - 4 weeks Duck Starter
4 - 20 weeks Duck Grower
20+ Duck Layer
You will want to try and make their food and water as vermin proof as possible, restricting access from both rodents and wild birds. This can be achieved through netting, or simply by taking feeders/drinkers in at night.
Poultry grit also needs to be provided periodically, which allows the birds to grind hard food in their crop.
Ducks are quite simple in that they don't need perches or a nest box. A basic well ventilated shed that is dry and predator proof is all they require. This would then open out onto a secure run where they can live during the day. Fencing height varies between breeds, but chest height is usually enough to contain domestic poultry.
Duck house manufacturers should specify how many birds their housing is suitable for. Provided they are let out into a run each morning, I aim for enough floor space that each duck can sit comfortably to sleep. For run size, simply the bigger the better!
Soft bedding is essential for ducks to protect their feet, especially as they grow. Sharp bedding like chopped straw can cause foot issues. Wood flake is a good choice as it is soft and absorbent.
Keeping the duck house clean is important to keep your birds healthy. Ducks need cleaning much more frequently than chickens and it is really a weekly job as a minimum.
You will want to be applying some sort of poultry safe disinfectant when you clean your duck house, such as a disinfectant powder.
Common health complaint for ducks generally involve their legs, being more common in heavier breeds.
Their legs when growing can be delicate, and they can develop a limp or start "wing walking" where the bird will try to use its wings to take the weight off their legs.
Usually this is simply a sprain which can happen during handling or the bird slipping/tripping. Housing the bird in a crate to take it off its feet for a day or two would usually sorts this. Like a sprained ankle, a bit of rest is good recovery!
Less frequently it could be a symptom of bumblefoot. This is where an infection gets into the leg and causes the joints to swell. We have found course/sharp bedding such as chopped straw can be a cause bumblefoot. In this situation it would be a trip to the vet.
Leg growth issues can also be caused by diet deficiencies. Feeding a diet specific for ducks and for the correct age can help this.
Never hold a duck by its legs. And take extra care with larger breeds, for instance walking them slowly when putting them in their house.
Your birds will need worming regularly just like you would a cat or dog. Consult your vet for detailed advice. We worm our birds once every 3 months using products containing flubenvet, which you can purchased either to add to their existing food or as a pre-mixed feed. "Marriages layers pellets with flubenvet" is what we would recommend.
With the ever present risk of bird flu and other diseases, it is important to take steps to prevent disease entering your flock. Below are a few common sense measures to help prevent the spread of disease;
Always quarantine any new birds for at least 2 to 3 weeks in an isolated area to check for signs of disease;
Prevent access from wild birds to areas where your birds have access. Particularly preventing access to their food and water source. This can be achieved through netting, or adding a fixed roof to the birds run;
Control rodent numbers;
Wash hands before and after handling poultry;
Change your clothes and shoes after visiting/handling other people’s poultry. This is also worth doing if you have walked near an area where wild waterfowl may be present, such as a lake or waterway.;
DEFRA's website is a great source of advice for good practice on this subject.