Every homestead should have some poultry. Whether you are living out your dream on a homestead of twenty acres or on an urban homestead, you need to consider poultry as a great option for you. Chickens have been a favorite for many farmers and homesteaders over the years for the source of homegrown meat and fresh eggs, but in recent years the world has caught duck envy.
Have you considered adding ducks to your homestead? If not, you should!
Raising ducks can be so simple and rewarding. Ducks are easy! They require little effort outside clean water, food, and are winter-hardy animals. Their eggs are much larger than chickens and go great in omelets, baked goods, aioli, and more. Getting started with ducks on your homestead is easy.
Backyard Duck Basics
What do we call them? Rooster, hen or what? Well, it is actually simple. A female is called a duck. A male is called a drake. How do I tell them apart? The easiest way to tell the difference is by looking at their tail feathers. Drakes have a tail feather that curls up whereas a female duck’s tail feathers are all straight and smooth.
You can also tell ducks and drakes apart by the type of noise they make. Ducks quack and can be very noisy depending on breed. Drakes make a hissing sound and are not loud at all. Check out my guide to breeds to see which make the least noise.
You can either buy ducklings at your local farm store, mail order from a supply company, or hatch out some fertilized eggs that you source locally. Even though you may be tempted to start with hatching your own eggs, starting with ducklings offers instant gratification, and may be best for first-timers. Once you are a little more experienced with raising ducks, hatching them can be a fun process for you.
Ducklings needs pretty much mimic baby chicks when it comes to brooding. They do need a form of heat (usually in a heat lamp) to keep the brooder at 95-100 the first week. Lower the temperature five degrees per week until they no longer need the extra heat. That is usually at about 4-5 weeks, when they start getting feathers.
Keep plenty of water in your brooder, but NOT in the form of a pool. In the wild, the mother duck will add an oil to her ducklings to keep them afloat in the water. Store bought ducklings do not have the luxury of a mother to aid them in swimming. To make things easy, use a simple chick waterer to keep them happy and healthy.
We feed our ducklings the same food as chicks. We found it cheaper and easier to purchase one type of animal feed rather than two. They make a specially formulated feed for each growth stage that provides the nutrients they need. There is starter, grower and laying scratch for the different stages.
Once your ducks have all grown up, they will need the same overall care that you would give to any other pet.
Water. Ducks need water. Lots and lots of water. They are waterfowl and are happiest when they can dunk their head under water. The common misconception is that ducks need a large natural pond to be happy.
Supply a pond or a small plastic kiddie pool. If you don’t have room for a pool or pond, a bucket or a dish tub can work. Know this: They will get fresh water muddy within minutes. Clean and change the water at least daily. We often change the ducks water multiple times each day during the hot summer.
Ducks also need water near their food to help them eat. Provide a small bucket near their food. They will make a mess out of whatever water you give them, so smaller quantities near the food is a good idea. A chicken waterer bought from your local farm store is a good option — they can’t dunk their heads and spill the water everywhere.
What to Feed Ducks
I feed my ducks an all purpose layer feed, the same as people would feed their chickens. Lay pellets can also work. Aim for larger pellets if you can, as ducks tend to waste a lot of crumble style feed.
They are excellent foragers and chase down mosquitoes, slugs, and other insects with great ease. They love to roam in the garden for short periods to search for insects, and they usually do without damaging the plants themselves. Ducks WILL, however, dig their bills into the dirt and can leave small holes everywhere. Limit their time in one single area.
Ducks need a place to lay their eggs. Ours sleep in the barn at night, but lay eggs in the compost bin, near their pool, by the fence, and all the way at the back of their yard. It’s a daily egg hunt since they don’t nest like chickens do. We keep track of how many duck eggs we collect in the morning to know if we need to keep looking or not. Ducks often times, cover their eggs up with grass, leaves or dirt to protect them. Generally, a duck will lay 5-6 eggs a week and based on that you can learn whether or not you should keep looking around for eggs.
Tip: If you happen to come across a surprise clutch of eggs, simply float the eggs in cold water. Those that sink to the bottom are still fresh. Those that float are no longer good to eat.
Finally, ducks need space. A minimum of eight feet per bird is a good place to start. We keep our ducks in a homemade duck yard. In the duck yard, the ducks always have access to fresh food and water, shelter and areas to bed down for the night. We also give our ducks “yard time” in our garden to forage for insects and other delicacies.
As you can see, owning ducks and raising them for meat or eggs can be a fun and simple part of your homestead and path to self-sufficiency.