What about ducklings? When you are a homesteader, the most common animal people add first is chickens. They are easy to take care of, give you fresh eggs, eat lots of bugs, and turn your kitchen scraps into compost. Why go any further and add more animals such as ducks? Aren’t they dirty and noisy?
Well, in a nutshell, yes and no. Ducks have so many wonderful benefits to them on the homestead. They are better foragers than chickens and many times, are stronger layers than chickens, meaning that they will lay consistently throughout the year, no matter the weather or amount of light. Ducks also have a fun personality that makes them entertaining to watch. They are usually friendly creatures that you can let loose in the garden area in the evenings and they won’t destroy it as they are eating bugs, slugs and other pests.
How to Start with Ducklings
So, how to start with ducklings? Well, there are two ways. One- you can purchase hatching eggs and hatch them out yourself. That will take a few weeks, and is always fun. OR, if you don’t like to wait, you can purchase live ducklings at your local farm supply store. They are most often available just before Spring and the Easter holiday. Most of time, you will be required to have at least 2-4 in your purchase and you won’t be able to tell if it’s a male (drake) or female (duck).
I would recommend that you buy 2 more than you want to keep in case you have more drakes or one dies. As far as noise considerations, the drakes are considerably less noisy than the ducks are. A group of ducks will “quack, quack quack” as they are chatting. It CAN get noisy at times, but they don’t do it all day.
When you are ready to add ducks, you will need a few things for them.
You will need a brooder box for them; one that is predator proof and provides plenty of fresh air. You can use the same one you would with chicks. They will also need heat for the first few weeks of life. A heat lamp providing about 98 degree temp for the first week, then taking it down 5 degrees each week as they grow will work great. You can tell if they are getting too hot if they are panting and laying still and if they are too cold, they will be huddled together.
You will need feed for your ducklings. You CAN feed them the chick starter as we have always done, but some will say that they do best on duck starter. If you choose to feed them regular chick starter, be sure to get the non-medicated. Some feeds add medication to prevent coccidiosis and ducklings can overdose on that and die. Ducks do need more niacin in their diets, and what we do to supplement that is to add a couple tablespoons of brewer’s yeast to their food.
When they are still covered with down, they will need water BUT you don’t want to put them into a pool yet. A regular chick waterer will do just fine. Ducklings in the wild have their mothers to add an oil to their down to keep them afloat in the water, but in a domestic situation, they don’t have that. Their down can get soaked and they can actually drown. We put an old pie pan in our tub and let them play in that for an hour or so every couple days to keep them happy. It’s not necessary, but it’s fun.
Once they are feathered out, you will need a pool or other body of water, such as a pond. They are waterfowl, and will be happiest if
they are in the water. However, you CAN just add a bucket of water for them, as long as they can dip their bills. They need the water to help them eat their food. The pool or bucket WILL get nasty and muddy and will need to be rinsed out at least every other day, so you want one that you can handle. Large plastic kiddie pools can be heavy when filled and hard to drain, so you will want to stay with the smaller plastic pools.
Ducks will generally start laying eggs around 7 months of age, and the eggs are very tasty! IF you can find them. They do not go into nesting boxes to lay, but will generally lay where ever they feel safest. If you put them to bed each night in a coop or duck house, they will probably lay there. Ours are “free range” and sleep in their pools at night in the summer, so their eggs are by their pool. It’s a fun egg hunt daily! You will get to know where they lay most often pretty quick, however, and enjoy them. They are often 1 ½-2 times the size of chicken eggs and are perfect for baking and cooking! Their rich taste is amazing!
Are you considering adding ducks to your homestead? Are you ready to start with ducklings? What are some things you look forward to when you add ducks?
Heather and her family live on 1/4 of an acre in Northern Indiana where they raise chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and 75-80% of their own garden produce.
Join her and their crazy adventures at The Homesteading Hippy.