Raising and caring for ducklings

Discussion in 'Ducks' started by jdywntr, Mar 5, 2013.

  1. jdywntr

    jdywntr Songster

    Oct 31, 2009
    Somerville, AL
    Okay, here goes.

    These are some basics on raising ducklings. This information is based on Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks and information from Metzer Farms. This is not meant to provide emergency care only very basic information.

    Be prepared and have everything set up prior to the arrival of the ducklings.

    Something as simple as a cardboard box may be used as a brooder. Plastic totes, bathtubs, and wooden boxes can also be used.
    You can line the bottom of the brooder with plastic sheeting (if brooding indoors) this will help with cleanup.
    Put down a layer of bedding several inches thick. Pine shavings or straw are good and readily available. You can add pine pellet horse stall bedding to help with wet spots. Avoid slick material like newspaper. Paper towels can be placed over the bedding for the first few days. Watch the ducklings to ensure they are not eating bedding materials. Most will “taste” the bedding but not actually swallow it.
    Wet spots should be removed and bedding replaced every day. If using shavings, avoid adding large amounts while the ducklings are in the brooder as shavings are very dusty. Cedar shavings should be avoided as they can give off fumes due to the heat lamp.

    Ducklings need a brooder that is about 90° for the first week and then the temperature should be lowered by 5° each week afterwards. Once the temperature in the brooder is the same as the environment (inside or outside) the heat source can be removed. A thermometer is a great investment for someone new to brooding. The heat lamp should be placed so that the ducklings can get away from the heat if needed. Overheating is just as dangerous as chilling for ducklings.
    Feeders and waterers should be placed at the perimeter of the heat source. Ducklings may not go to eat and drink if the area is too hot or too cold.
    Ducklings need to have constant access to water whenever feed is available. They need to be able to wash their eyes and nares (nostrils) to remove dust or debris. A chick waterer can be used for the first week or so but they will quickly outgrow it. Adding large marbles to the base of the waterer will help to keep the babies out of the water. A non-spill waterer can be easily and cheaply made. A gallon milk jug or shallow food storage container can be used. Simply cut a hole at the height of the ducklings back that is large enough for them to fit just their entire head in. These will need to be replaced on a weekly basis as the ducklings outgrow them.
    A platform can be fashioned out of a container covered in hardware cloth so the splashing of the waterer is contained there.
    Place the waterer in the brooder in advance so that the water is room temperature. When the ducklings arrive, dip each of their beaks in the water and ensure that they swallow.
    Ducklings should not be allowed to get and stay wet. Extreme care should be taken in allowing them to swim when young. Ducklings easily tire and can drown even in a small amount of water. A thorough drying is needed if they get wet.
    Pic of homemade waterer https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/426909/non-spill-duckling-waterer
    Here is another pic. Size of container, height and hole size will change based on duckling age. This is a 16 oz container and would okay for a few ducklings that are under 2 weeks.


    It is recommended that ducklings have feed available 24/7 for the first 2 weeks under certain conditions (Holderread, Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks). However, many of our members think that 2 weeks is too young to reduce the time that food and water are available, and recommend waiting till 6 to 8 weeks. Ducklings should be fed starter feed with 18-20% protein for the first two weeks. This can be in a crumble form or a mash. Mash should be wet to make it easier to eat. If mash is used, it must be replaced several times a day to prevent spoilage. They can be given chick starter, duck/waterfowl starter, broiler starter, or turkey starter. Care should be taken when feeding a higher protein level feed as physical damage can result.
    For many people, duck specific feed is not available. Many people have good results feeding starter or a feed developed for all ages/species. Layer feed should NEVER be given to growing ducklings as the calcium level is too high and can result in damage or death.
    An ideal protein feeding schedule is given in the table below. Again, this is not always a possibility for many people.


    0-2 weeks

    2-8 weeks

    8-20 weeks

    First egg

    Protein level





    Medicated feed (in the US) can be given depending on the type of medication that is used. Medications such as amprolium and zinc bacitracin are not harmful to ducklings. Ducks have a higher body temperature and are not as prone to many illnesses. Coccidiosis is usually not a problem for ducklings unless sanitation is poor. Therefore, feeding medicated feed is not a necessity.
    Feeders should be shallow for the first few days. Jar lids, egg carton flats or anything that will not tip but is very low will work. Once eating well, they can be switched to troughs.
    Whole grains should not be given until ducklings are several weeks old.

    If ducklings are fed chick starter a niacin supplement should be given for the first 10 weeks. Brewer’s yeast can be added to feed (2-3 cups per 10 lbs of feed) or niacin tablets can be added to water (100-150mg per gallon).
    Ducklings do not need grit if they are fed only commercial feed. If grains or greens are fed, they need appropriate size grit.
    Invest in a Book
    Asking questions and getting answers on BYC is great. BYC is a wonderful source of information. But knowledgeable people are not always online to answer emergency questions. Invest $10-20 in a book geared specifically at raising ducks so that you have it to refer to in an emergency. I am partial to “Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks” by Dave Holderread.

    How Many to Get
    Ducklings do best with other ducks. Some people have luck in raising a single duckling but ducks need companionship which is best provided by another duckling. Ducks can live up to 15 years and while "right now" you may have the time to devote to a duckling, it is unlikely that your life won't change in the next 10-15 years. Two ducklings will still bond to their owner but they will have each other to spend time with, play with and act like a duck with.

    Can I Release Them?

    No. Domestic ducklings raised by people do not possess the skills needed to survive on their own. They have not learned skills from a wild mother that they need to survive and are unlikely to possess migratory instincts, if they can even fly.
    Here is some info from the El Paso Zoo on reasons they should not be released

    Domestic ducks can also carry many diseases which wild populations of ducks do not have immunity to and which there is no cure for. New Castle Disease, duck virus enteritis (DVE), fowl cholera, paratyphoid, avian tuberculosis, chlamydiosis, bird flu and West Nile virus are just some of the diseases that domestic ducks can transmit to wild flocks. In 1993, Muscovy ducks, released into the canals in Venice, California, tested positive for duck plague, duck virus enteritis (DVE), a fatal herpes virus spread through feces. Ducks and geese on the canals began to have violent seizures and then died.
    People were feeding the ducks and geese, which can cause them to have more and larger clutches. The canals had become overpopulated. This leads to stress from too many birds in too small a habitat, resulting in fighting, injuries, death and disease. All the ducks and geese in the canals were rounded up by the California Department of Fish and Game and killed out of fear that some birds might fly to other areas and infect wild flocks.
    This issue received international attention, when residents tried to save their favorite birds by taking them to secret locations in an attempt to save them. However, it was the release of domestic ducks, compounded by feeding and the resulting overpopulation that was the real tragedy. (The full story and debate can be found in the Newsletter of the Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society, March 1994.

    Keep in mind that just because someone has raised ducks it does not make them a duck expert. Some things work for some people/situations and not others. There are a few basic necessities for ducks. Quality feed, clean water, secure housing and good sanitation practices are all that is needed to raise healthy happy ducks.

    Link on picking a breed, where to buy and genders https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/756004/info-on-picking-a-breed-where-to-buy-what-genders-to-get
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2014
  2. jdywntr

    jdywntr Songster

    Oct 31, 2009
    Somerville, AL
    Any comments or suggestions are appreciated. I may start working on a Duck Care info sheet.

    I am by no means an expert. But there are so many people on here asking basics I thought I'd do this.
  3. Miss Lydia

    Miss Lydia Ephesians 6:13

    I like it JW, thank you.
  4. 3scorpios

    3scorpios In the Brooder

    Sep 29, 2011
    Central PA
    Thanks for the great information. I've been raising chickens (for eggs/pets) for a year now, and decided to add some meat birds and a couple ducks to the mix. I picked up some (few-days-old) Cornish Rock chicks and two ducklings at TSC, which are currently in a brooder. I plan to get a book on raising ducks ASAP, but in the mean time, could you answer a few questions:

    I think my ducklings are mallards....will they fly away when they are bigger?
    Can they be added to the coop/run with my other chickens? I have a run attached to a coop which is very safe from predators, I close the birds up at night for their protection.
    I live in a colder climate (PA), when can they be safely put outside?
    How often will they lay eggs?
    Do they require a pond or large water source for swimming when they are turned outdoors?
    I have a small pond w/ goldfish, anything I should know about giving my ducks access to this pond?

    I've spent hours on this site trying to find answers, and I know the answers are here somewhere....but there is SO MUCH information that it's difficult to find exactly what you are looking for without getting sidetracked onto other topics. Since you started a thread specifically to raising ducklings, I thought perhaps you could include this information here and it would be handy for others as well. Thanks in advance for your time and wisdom!
    WannaBeHillBilly and Geggs like this.
  5. 3scorpios

    3scorpios In the Brooder

    Sep 29, 2011
    Central PA
    Did I kill this thread?[​IMG]
    WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
  6. jdywntr

    jdywntr Songster

    Oct 31, 2009
    Somerville, AL
    No you didn't kill the thread. Sometimes it just takes time to get an answer. :)

    If they are mallards they will be able to fly. They are not likely to fly away from a safe place that provides them food. You can clip a wing (cut the flight feathers) when they are older to prevent flight. Mallards will have 1 eye stripe, rouens will have 2.
    Some ducks and chickens can live together, some don't get along. You'll need to make sure they don't pick on each other and that the ducks have an area to sleep that is not under the roosts.
    They should not be put out in cold weather without a heat source until they are fully feathered, 6-8 weeks.
    Mallards aren't great egg layers. They are seasonal layers and most ducks start laying at 4-6 months.
    A kiddie pool will work for a pool.
    The ducks will get into your pond, possibly eat the goldfish and tear up any plants in the water. If you don't want them in it, fence it off.
    WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
  7. Carcajou

    Carcajou Songster

    Jul 3, 2012
    Delhi, New York
    Good idea starting this thread jdywntr, it contains useful information.

    Before I purchased my first ducklings I surfed and surfed and surfed to get all the information I could. I also bought the "Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks" which proved and still proves immensely useful. My prayer is that everyone will do their research before obtaining their first ducks be they ducklings or adults.

    I am, however, eternally grateful for the BYC responses I received when I had my first encounter with a sick duck last summer. There are many very, very caring and helpful people on this forum when we have emergencies.
  8. MimiEggs

    MimiEggs In the Brooder

    Oct 12, 2012
    Rusk, Texas
    I am not an expert on ducks but I will try to answer with my own experiences.

    Mallards -- Based on my experience from years ago the answer to this question is Yes this is a possibility. Solution: house them in a pen with aviary netting across the top. Many years ago we had 2 Mallard Drakes and 3 females (housed with our chickens). One year as the wild ducks were making their pass over our property (headed south), 1 of our drakes and 2 of our hens "flew the coop" as we watched. Needless to say a top was put on that pen that afternoon, LOL.

    Our Mallards and our chickens did very well together, could have been because we didn't have a rooster at the time. Currently my two 6 month old Pekin drakes are just now attempting to "get a lil sumthin" from my hens and a lot of noise gets made. My 2 roosters IMMEDIATELY come running to their rescue. So far the boys have all been cordial to each other when this occurs and no one has been hurt, but I have my suspicions this could change very soon. I am hoping that as soon as my newly aquired female Pekin ducklings are old enough and mature (to incorporate into the flock) that will solve the drakes problem, LOL. So Yes it is possible but something to be watchful over.

    Sorry can't help you on the egg laying as I have the same question myself.

    Ducks sinus passages are the two holes on their bill. These holes frequently get clogged with dirt, feed and who knows what else. If they are unable to clean out these holes they can get a sinus infection. Therefore they need access to clean water they can really get their bill into, deeply. It's really funny to watch too, they put their bill in the water and blow out their sinus passages and sort of jerk their head up. So in answer to that question no they don't "have to have" a pond but they do need access to a large bowl, bucket, pail, tub of water so they can clean out their nose. That said, Ducks are "waterfowl" and they much prefer being in the water, they love, love, love to swim. As adults your ducks will be much happier (my opinion) if they have access to a pond to "be themselves".

    Please note: ducklings only need access to swimming water for 10 to 15 minutes a day and need to be towel dried a little before putting back in the brooder. This is only so that they can clean out their noses and be exposed to water. In the wild mommie duck will take her babies out for a swim and then when they get back to land she will clean and dry them off and rub the oils from "her" oil gland over her babies to protect them from the elements. A duckling will not have a working oil gland until they are fully feather, until that time limit their exposure to swimming water, towel dry and return to warm brooder.

    When you say small pond, how many gallons are you talking about? The ducks will absolutely love your pond and unless you pen them "from it" will probably find it pretty quickly. And unless your goldfish are huge they will probably snack on them as well. I'm picturing a nice koi pond with clear water and fish you can see swimming around and it's nice huh? If you want to keep it that way you will need a really, really good filter system as ducks poop in water. I know there is a thread on here somewhere about duck pond ideas and construction, I would check it out to see what other people have done. I'm hoping to construct my own pond some time this summer.

    Read the above post by jdywntr it is full of great information you will need.

    Good luck with your new babies.
    WannaBeHillBilly and GracieJ like this.
  9. megan80568

    megan80568 In the Brooder

    Feb 11, 2013
    Question regarding grit. If I am feeding a commercial food for chicken/duck starter but also some greens as a treat sparingly do I need to feed grit?
    WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
  10. Miss Lydia

    Miss Lydia Ephesians 6:13

    yes if feeding anything other than the starter they need fine grit. just sprinkle on the floor of their brooder they will eat it as needed. water fowl can''t chew their food without grit.
    Trimurtisan and WannaBeHillBilly like this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: