Raising Ducks

This year we have decided to pick up a couple of ducks along with our first batch of chickens back in March. The duck breed was not marked and we are still not sure whether they will migrate or not. For now, we are just enjoying the time we do have with them. They are messy and stubborn, yet so terribly amusing that we cannot imagine our farm without them.

Ducks live well with chickens, yet they require a few additional needs met and we wanted to share how we handled these to make for some happy ducks.

1. Feeding and watering: Ducks eat by gobbling up food and then mixing it with water, splashing it everywhere and making a terrible wet mess. While still babies, living in a box inside, we raised their water and food off the floor and put multiple levels of consecutively smaller plates under the water to create a makeshift water catching system for their splashing. Adding paper towels to the plates also helps. This worked really well and actually kept the box (and their chicken neighbors) quite dry.Outside they share the food and water with the chickens and except the fact that they mix dirt with the water (which needs to be changed more frequently) and make tiny holes around the waterer (which needs to be moved on occasion) while digging for food, we have not had to make any special concessions for them.

Ducks need more niacin than chickens. Their feet may not develop correctly if they do not get enough. However, we believe supplements are only necessary if there is a sign of deficiency. Since regular chicken food has all the necessary vitamins included and ducks eat more than chickens (and grow faster!) they get more of the vitamins as well. Duck need and like more protein than chickens and foraging outside for bugs and worms is very beneficial for them.

2. Pooping: Ducks poop on average every 15 mins. Very productive little birds. They prefer to poop in the water, which is why their pool needs to be emptied  or filtered regularly.

3. Housing and swimming: Ducks like to nest on the ground, not big on climbing stairs. They also absolutely adore water. So what we did when the babies were ready to sleep outside, is to grab a 55 gallon blue food grade drum, split it in half and use one half for housing and the other half (with little wooden support and stairs) for the ducks pool. $17 for the drum + some wood and bricks = done. To prevent the birds from sleeping in the pool (which was still too cold to do in early April) and also since the chickens had a brilliant idea of trying to sleep with the ducks – in the pool – we put the stairs on a hinge to be able to pick them up at night. Also, the opening of the drum allowed for a simple hose attachment for convenient water drainage.

The best place to get these drums is Craiglist or a local person that resells them (as we did). New ones can be purchased from a wholesaler, such as Costco etc. They are great for water catchment systems, planters, storage and more!

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And when it came time to move in the, now grown, birds with our older flock, the ducks got a whole new kiddie pool (about $20 at Ace Hardware) and their baby house now doubles as stairs and shelter, even though they do prefer to just sleep outside or in the covered area under the chicken coop.

The only inconvenience we currently have is the emptying of the pool, which needs a pump or drainage setup on the bottom and is currently done only via a syphon feed through a hose. And while we are thinking about filtering and pumping, if the ducks stay with us, we will update our new developments of their pool. Even though the pool is emptied every couple of days, the water is not waisted – the water goes directly into the garden or can be also used to compost. Duck poop and the water with additional algae growing in it is great for nitrogen loving plants that are grown mostly for foliage. Of course, concentrations need to be taken into account, but with only two ducks, we have no problems 🙂

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Also, ducks fly. It may seem like an obvious thing, yet seeing your pet birds make rounds in the sky miles away, is a very odd, worrisome, yet proud feeling. Our ducks currently fly at least once or twice a day for various length of time. They always come back, however, aweckwardly landing in their fenced in area, or occassionally missing it and quacking until we let them back in.

They are a great joy with their boundless joy of water and rain, laughper-like quacking, as well as adorable waddling and jealous-inducing freedom to fly and be free at any time they choose.

If they decide to hang around, we are looking forward to finally settling the dispute about their gender. We are convinced they are a couple, yet we will have no proof until one of them sheds their feathers and becomes the recognizable green-headed drake for the breeding season. And if that is the case, we are looking forward to eggs and possibly ducklings next spring!

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