The Basics of Raising Ducks at Home


While poultryOne focuses primarily on teaching people how to raise chickens, raising ducks is a very popular component of the poultry hobby. Lately, the popularity of raising ducks has been on the rise. The University of Minnesota says that people raise more than 22 million ducks every year! In this online guide, you’ll learn the basics of raising backyard ducks, from hatching duck eggs and brooding ducklings all the way to feeding ducks!


Why raise ducks?

People raise ducks for many different reasons. Sometimes, they just want a bit of variety in their backyard from the common chicken. Ducks are great conversation starter! Most times, people choose to raise ducks for meat or for eggs.

Choosing a duck breed

One of the most popular duck breeds is called the Pekin. When people think about raising ducks, they often envision this white duck as the stereotype. However, there are other duck breeds that you can choose from. While Pekins make good layers, the Rouen duck breed is also popular. If you want a self sufficient duck breed, the Muscovy duck does well on pasture. Other duck breeds include ornamental breeds like Wood Ducks or Mandarin ducks; the choice is yours! For more information about breeding duck breeds, visit DuckHobby.com!

Many people choose to start raising ducks by incubating and brooding their own duck eggs and ducklings. You can choose to either have a broody chicken hatch your duck eggs, or you can use an incubator. If you choose artificial incubation, we recommend an incubator that turns the duck eggs automatically. If you choose to have a chicken incubate your eggs, hens make great mothers! One good breed of chicken to consider to hatch your ducks is called the Silkie.

Duck eggs take a week longer than chicken eggs to hatch (about 28-30 days). Some duck breeds, such as the Muscovy duck, take longer and begin hatching at about 35 days.

The Government of British Columbia in Canada says the following about incubating duck eggs:

For most breeds of ducks the eggs are incubated for 25 days at a dry bulb temperature of 37.5 C (99.5 F) and a wet bulb temperature of 29.4 – 30.0 C (85 to 86 F) then transferred to the incubator hatcher where the temperature is held at a dry bulb temperature of 36.9 C (98.5 F) and a wet bulb temperature of 34.4 C (94 F) till they hatch on day 28. During incubation the eggs should be turned at least three times daily. Mallard ducks hatch in about 26.5 – 27.5 days while Indian Runner ducks take about 28.5 days. Muscovy ducks take 35 to 37 days to hatch. Duck eggs are placed in the incubator large end up. Eggs are turned through a 90 degree plane as gently as possible and turned a minimum of 3 times daily during incubation.

Brooding your ducklings

It’s very important to know every detail about brooding ducks. Once your ducklings hatch, you’ll need to place them in a brooder (unless, of course, you’re using a chicken to hatch the eggs–she’ll do all the work for you!). The duck brooder should be dry with a soft litter. We recommend corncob litter or wood shavings. To keep your ducklings warm, the brooder should have a 250-watt heat lamp. The lamp should keep the temperature in the brooder at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature should be decreased by 5 degrees every week.

You can feed your newly-hatched ducklings chick feed. Chick feed is high in protein which will help your baby ducks grow. As your ducklings get older, you can switch the duck feed to grower chicken feed. As for water, you can use a regular poultry waterer as long as the ducklings can submerge their entire beak and head into it. Remember, ducks are waterfowl and need lots of fresh, clean water to be healthy.

It is not necessary to give your ducklings a pond or pool to swim in, but they do need deep waterers so they can get their heads wet. This holds true as they become adult ducks.

Housing your ducks

When raising chickens in a chicken coop, you need to make sure they have adequate space. Ducks need a lot of space, too. Ducklings need half of a square foot while they’re brooding. By the time they’re a month old, your ducks will need one whole square foot. This requirement will rise as they get older. Here is a chart that compares the space requirements of ducks with other poultry breeds:

Minimum Space Requirements for Poultry
Type of Poultry Bird Sq Ft / Inside Coop Sq Ft / Outside in a Run
Bantam Chickens
Layer Hens
Large Chickens
Quail
Pheasants
Ducks
Geese
1
1.5-2
2
1
5
3
6
4
8
10
4
25
15
18

Feeding ducks

As your ducklings become mature, adult ducks, you’ll move them off of chick starter feed and and start feeding your ducks grower chicken feed—you probably won’t be able to find duck feed. You can supplement this with grains as well as letting your ducks forage. Ducks are very good foragers and enjoy eating grass and any bugs they might find while wandering your backyard.

The University of Minnesota says the following about feeding ducks:

        In some areas commercial suppliers have feeds formulated for duck feeding. If duck feeds aren’t available, start ducklings on chick starter for the first 2 to 3 weeks. After 2 to 3 weeks ducklings can be fed a pelleted chicken grower ration plus cracked corn, or other grain. Keep feed before the birds at all times and provide grower-size insoluble grit. Less feed wastage and better feed efficiency result from using crumbled or pelleted feeds. Ducks are easy to raise because they are hardy and not susceptible to many of the common poultry diseases. The use of medicated feeds isn’t usually necessary. Small flocks of ducklings raised in the late spring with access to green feed outdoors generally have few nutritional problems. While ducks are not as good foragers as geese, they do eat some green feed and farm flocks are usually allowed to run at large. Cut green feed can be supplied to the birds when they must be kept inside in bad weather.

 

You can also feed your ducks healthy kitchen scraps. Some suggestions include vegetable peelings, fruit, and pruned leaves and branches from your vegetable garden. You will want to avoid certain scraps like meats, spoiled food, human food and onions and garlic (strong-smelling food will make your duck eggs smell funny).

Got a question about raising ducks? Ask other poultry hobbyists who raise ducks on our free message boards and visit DuckHobby.com for free duck articles on raising ducks.


Additional offline book resources:

1. Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition for Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Gamebirds, and Pigeons
2. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
3. University of California: Feeding Chickens