My husband and I own a small hobby farm in Virginia and have been raising ducks for the last couple of years. Our very first foray into raising a backyard flock began innocently enough with a trip to the local feed store for hay and feed for our two horses. With our truck loaded with as many bales of hay as it could carry, we headed back home with the feed — plus a cardboard box in which six chicks and two ducklings peeped.
The chicks were a planned purchase. The ducklings, however, were a complete impulse purchase after seeing how adorable they were and being assured by the feed store owner that they could live side by side with our new flock of chickens. Well, he was right. We have been raising both ducks and chickens for several years now, quite successfully, in the same run.
However, food and housing requirements for ducks are a bit different than for chickens. But all co-exist in the same run by day with separate sleeping quarters at night. Here’s how to ensure your ducks are comfortable, healthy and well-fed.
Most domestic ducks can’t fly. They were intentionally bred to be heavier than their wild counterparts mainly so they wouldn’t be able to fly away from the farms where they were being raised and also so they would dress out better as table birds. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to predators such as foxes, raccoons and dogs. Ungainly and cumbersome on dry land, ducks aren’t able to escape these predators, so as backyard duck keepers it is our responsibility to provide them with a safe, secure place to live.
Duck housing needs to be secure from predators, but other than that, ducks are extremely cold-hardy so any structure you provide for them doesn’t need to be completely enclosed (as long as it is inside a secure run/pen) and won’t need any type of heat in the winter. Four square feet of floor space per duck should be adequate inside the house as long as they are not confined to it for extended periods of time. Since ducks love both rain and snow, they don’t spend many waking hours indoors.
We converted an old wooden doghouse into a house for our first ducks by cutting a door out of a piece of plywood and attaching hinges and a predator-proof lock. We built a ramp, cut plenty of air vents, covered them with ½” hardware cloth, and built a nesting box on one side. Ducks emit a lot of moisture when they breathe, so adequate ventilation and air flow is very important when you are constructing your house. Any house should be at least three feet tall to provide adequate head room and air flow.
A layer of straw will suffice for bedding and nesting material. Ducks don’t perch like chickens and will nestle down in the straw instead to sleep. The straw should be changed out regularly, but always removed immediately if it is wet or if there is any whiff of an ammonia smell.
A duck nesting box should be approximately 16” square, although in my experience ducks won’t necessarily use it. In fact, our ducks prefer large wooden boxes filled with straw, but they aren’t very concerned about privacy or a dedicated nesting area and seem just as happy making a nest in a corner of their house in the straw.
Pen or yard fencing should be 1” or smaller welded wire fencing and sunk into the ground at least 8” to prevent predators from digging underneath. The top should also be covered. Although ducks aren’t at too much risk from attacks by hawks or other aerial predators, foxes and raccoons can easily scale a fence.
While a pond isn’t necessary for raising happy, healthy ducks, they do need a kiddie pool or other tub in which they can submerge their bodies. Ducks have an oil gland at the base of their tail that is activated as they splash water over their backs. This gland helps distribute waterproofing oils over their feathers as they preen their feathers, so providing them a place to bathe is critical.