How to fatten up ducks for the winter?


8 Years
Sep 28, 2015
Some of my ducks are underweight and I'm experiencing casualties. I feed my flock layer feed right now from the local feed mill and they always have fresh water. With the cold weather and the fact that they STILL are not waterproof after the fires, they are suffering. I tried rehoming them on craigslist but didn't get any response so I'm really trying to do my best for them. I don't have adequate shelter for them in their current condition and have lost 3 of my 8 welsh harliquins due to cold in the night. I could see one of the remaining females was looking like she would be next so I snatched her up and brought her home where she is tucked in warm in my bathroom. When I caught her I was really devastated with how much weight she has lost. I assume it's from burning more calories to try to stay warm.

All this is to say, until I can build them a better structure, rehome them, or regain their water resistance, how can I help fatten them up so they stay warmer??
Sorry to hear that you are in a difficult situation with your ducks. I would say yes your poor little duck was shivering trying to keep warm. :(

I am no expert, IMO, Fattening them up has nothing to do with the current harm they are in right now from possible hypothermia. Since their feathers are not able to keep them warm because of the damage to them, you need to get them all into a warmer environment above 70F ambient temp or you will risk loosing the rest of them.

Unless you can get their core body temperature up to where it needs to be sooner over later, you won't need to worry about building them a better structure, sorry.

Best of luck and please keep us posted.
Are they eating enough food?

My 7 go through about 8 cups of food a day.

What is the % of protein in the food you are giving? Maybe a flock raiser, duck formula or all flock would help as they are formulated for more than just chickens.
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try this (what i used when one of my boys got sick when he was a baby)

2 cups duck pellets
1/4 cup cracked corn
1/4 cup mealworms
1/2 cup veggies
add any powder vitamins they need to this mix and vita-hen (or sav-a-chick) into their water

this safely helps them gain wait but still get all the nutrients they need and also please bring them all in your house if possible
More emphasis needs to be put on improving current feather conditions, satisfying the bird's nutritional, and environmental needs rather than fatting them up. I live in the midwest, and unfamiliar with smoke effects on avian feather quality so contacting a wildlife rehabilitator in your area that is familiar with treating birds affected by wildfires may be better, for a more put-together concise suggestion. I do understand, that in a home setting, smoke caused by cigarettes can cause frayed poor feather quality that's often hard to rid out of the feathers. Considering the feather quality problem originated subsequent to the fires in your area, that's a good enough reason to conclude that's what is causing the poor feather quality here.

Sometimes if poor feather quality is noted early on, correcting environmental problems is enough to achieve repellency, but it's possible with your case the smoke is deposited in their feathers to a point where just water will not take the chemicals off. For oil spills, dawn soap is often used to restore feather quality. That may be something worth considering, however, oftentimes while it may help, feathers may already be in poor enough shape nothing will restore them besides a complete molt.

If you want to try bathing them with soap, that is fine. I'll provide a little excerpt here if you care to read it.

Severe Wet Feather Resolution

If you’re not seeing any progress in your duck’s (or goose's) feathers within the first 5-7 days, it may be time to step things up. The following wet feather corrective procedure should not be attempted until you first give your duck ample opportunity to remedy their situation on their own and consult with a vet—unless their feathers are coated in some kind of substance unnatural to them, in which case this can be done immediately under vet guidance.

  1. Wash: Place your duck into a lukewarm bath and then place a pea-sized amount of Dawn® dishwashing liquid onto the palm of your hand. I prefer Dawn® Ultra Pure Essentials (which is clear and dye-free as well as hypoallergenic) over the fancier fragranced and colored versions (even the one with the duckling on the label!).
Rub your hands together adding a small amount of water until you have a rich lather. Gently work the lather through their feathers, always working in the direction of feather growth, from base to tip, and never against. Avoid the areas around their eyes and bill. If needed you can touch-up these regions later with a facecloth soaked in warm, clean water (no soap).


Foster Joseph bathing in the tub

  1. Rinse: After bathing, drain the tub and commence with a thorough rinsing. Ideally you’ll need a flexible shower head that you can bring down to your duck’s level and adjust to a gentle setting in order to accomplish this. If your bathtub isn’t equipped with one of these, then a plastic cup will have to do (just be sure to use clean water from the tap to rinse your duck rather than scooping up dirty/soapy tub water). Continue rinsing your duck with lukewarm water until you remove all of the soap from their feathers.
  1. Dry: Lay down a couple fluffy towels and set your duck down on top of them. If your duck is standing, use another towel to gently pat their underside and soak up some of the excess, dripping water. If they’re sitting, the towel beneath them will do the work for you. As the towels get wet, stack more dry towels on top or replace them entirely. Once the bulk of the water has been absorbed, it’s time to take out your hair dryer for the somewhat tedious step of blow drying your duck. Keep in mind this is going to take some time, so make sure you and your duck are set up comfortably for the next hour of feather fluffing (which is a vital portion of the procedure). The good news is once your duck gets used to this pampering, they’ll most likely actively help you out with some preening.
Duck blow drying safety tips:

  1. Never use your blow dryer in or around a bathtub of water.
  2. Plug your blow dryer into a GFCI outlet for added safety.
  3. Pay attention to your blow dryer’s setting. Medium or Low heat settings are much safer than High heat settings, which can burn your duck's skin (including their bill and feet).
  4. Keep your blow dryer far enough away from your duck’s skin to prevent any burning.
  5. Don’t hover over one feathery spot for too long to prevent any burning (keep your dryer moving).
  6. If your duck begins to pant, lower the heat setting and/or open a window or door to allow better airflow into the room.
You’ve now effectively removed all of the dirt and oil from your duck's feathers and successfully restored some of their fluff. Keep in mind, while your duck is now spotless, they can no longer successfully repel water. In essence, what you’ve done is given them a nice, clean palette to start with. They no longer need to struggle to get on top of filth removal; you’ve just done this for them. Instead, they can focus all of their energy on re-oiling their feathers, which is a slow but steady process.

  1. Wait: Keep your duck in a very clean and dry place (preferably bedded with clean pine shavings) for a total of three days. Give them a small bucket of water—just large enough for splash-preening, but not so large that they can swim or immerse themselves in it.
  1. Swim: On the fourth day place your duck back into a lukewarm tub of water (no soap) and let them splash and play and swim as much as they want to for about 10-15 minutes and then take them out and set them on towels to dry. If their feathers aren’t fully repelling water yet (which they probably won’t be), you’ll need to blow dry them again.
Continue bathing and blow drying your duck in this manner every 1-3 days until you see maximum improvement in the waterproof effectiveness of their feathers (usually 1-2 weeks). If full waterproofing hasn’t been restored by this time, you’ve likely improved their condition as much as you possibly can; in which case, you’ll need to wait for them to go through a complete feather molt before their situation will be remedied entirely.


Close up of Cayuga Bonnie Bonster’s sprouting feathers

  1. Patience: It’s important to remember that you’re not likely to see an immediate improvement in your duck’s ability to repel water. It can take a week or two before their re-oiling efforts add up enough to become significant. Progress may only be very slight at first, if noticeable at all, but it’ll usually improve slowly over the course of the next week or so.
Do not repeat this procedure (except under vet advisement, when something foreign is on your duck’s feathers). If their wet feather is going to improve, it’ll work the first time. This procedure requires time, cleanliness, patience and attention to detail in order to have any chance of effectiveness. Repeating the procedure only sets your duck back to square one again in their re-oiling efforts.

Remember, this procedure doesn’t actually restore structural damage to your duck’s feathers; it merely helps remove dirt and oil, affording them a clean start. Additionally, it doesn’t work in every case. If your duck’s feathers are messed-up beyond repair, no amount of re-oiling will help make them waterproof or insulate them properly again. Only a complete molt can accomplish this.

If you do wish to "restart" their feathers with dawn soap, it's imperative after bathing they be dried thoroughly and moved into an area that is protected from the elements. It's also important they do not have access to body deep water for a few days, as it's likely there feather quality will remain poor, until oil is properly distributed around the area, and as I mentioned earlier, it's still unlikely the will look normal, however, you did basically restart their feathers so they in hopes get in back into better shape.

Birds that appear to be an underweight need to be monitored closely via weighing to ensure they are not losing weight. If a %5 decrease in weight is seen, some sort of supplemental tube feeding should be initiated.

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