Over the past few months of hatching and selling baby ducks, It seems like with every sale, I get a few questions about how to take care of them. It seems like the people that have had chickens before, think that they need the same things as chickens; While the people who have had nothing or are just starting are almost completely unaware of the differences. I’m not here to pass judgement, just to inform of the right way to take care of baby waterfowl, as they require some different things.
Alright… So, I’ve got my super cute little duckies… now what?
Congrats on your new little fluffy friends. I’m sure at about this point, you almost can’t handle how cute they are. I agree with you – 100%. They are just too darn cute. The way they waddle, the way they quack and nibble your fingers… It makes you wanna go into cuteness overload!
There’s some basics that you’ll need to cover to successfully keep ducks during brooding, in terms of hardware.
- You’ll need a brooder. A brooder doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but, it’ll need to be waterproof and cleanable. Depending on how many waterfowl you have, you’ll need a bin that fits how many ducks you have. For a couple ducks, a simple walmart sterilite 40gal tote will work fine. For more than a few ducks, you’ll need something bigger. I use 150 gallon livestock drinking bins from Tractor Supply, but those are about $1 a gallon. Use what you see fit to prevent overcrowding.
- Bedding. Some people like straw, or newspaper for chickens… but for waterfowl, you need something adsorbent. Regular ‘ol pine shavings will work for this. Don’t use cedar flakes, as they’ve been known to eat them. Same goes for sawdust. As the ducks get bigger, you’ll have to change the shavings out more, but, they serve the purpose well.
- Heat. I recommend a brooder heat panel. You can use a heat lamp, but some people have a bad time with those… as in, they burn down houses if you don’t pay attention to them. The panels are height adjustable, and much safer.
- Feeder/Waterer. For ducklings, you can use the same red bottom feeders and waterers you get from a farm supply store. This one is real easy. When they get much older, though, you’ll need different feeders and waterers.
- Optional. All birds, as they grow, drop their down and feathers, and make feather dust. If you’re brooding in the house, this fine dust is going to get all over everything. I use a floor fan with a air filter laid on the back of it. This becomes a simple room air filter that’ll keep the dust down in the brood area.
Sweet. I’ve got all my hardware, and I’ve put them in the brooder bin. How do I feed them?
There’s some rules you MUST follow when it comes to ducks. If you don’t, both you and the ducks will have a bad time.
Ducks… are NOT chickens. Duh, right?
It seems like people don’t do enough research, then they end up with duck problems due to nutrition related issues.
Hey, I get it though, you end up in cute overload, and ya just shutdown… lol. It happens to the best of us. Happened to me as well, and a few of my ducks got the “bends”.
The “What’s” (feed supplies)
- Unmedicated Chick feed. Yeah. I said it. Chick feed. Ducks require the same _basic_ nutrition the chicks do. It needs to be UNMEDICATED, as the amprolium meant to prevent coccidiosis in chickens can kill waterfowl. You can use waterfowl feed, but, i’d still supplement, even with purpose made feed.
- Nutritional Yeast. This… This is the important part. You cannot get away with excluding this, and expect to have heathy ducklings or other waterfowl. You can pick up nutritional yeast from the vegan section of the supermarket(maybe), or grab some on amazon. Fortified is fine.
- Water. Lots of water. Lots of clean water. You don’t need to boil it, or heat it. Just straight tap water is fine. If you want to use distilled to avoid the chlorine, that’s fine too, but isn’t necessary.
Ducks should be fed free choice, if you can manage it. However, if you’re like me… I work away from my ducks, and I can’t be with them to replenish when they run out… all of the time… So, Feeding once in the morning, and once in the evening is fine, too.
When fed, you need to mix their food. –Do NOT feed dry food. —
-For about every US Cup of feed, you need between 1-2 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Mid-heaping. I use a shallow bowl, which is the bottom of a dry food chick feeder. You know, the red ones I mentioned?
-Once I’ve filled the shallow bowl to 3/16″ below the rim, the yeast needs to be added and the feed needs to be wetted. Make it like runny oatmeal. Remember, ducks like water, and they’re filter feeders. Don’t worry about it being too wet.
The “Why’s” and “Reasons”.
“This seems like a lot of work. meeeehhh” I hear you whine.
Yeah. Ducks can be work. They’re not dogs, or cats. You can’t just crack open a can of food and be done with them. They require care and attention… especially when they’re ducklings. Ducks are hardy, but you need to feed them the right way for them to be hardy.
Ducklings require a few things to be healthy, and happy. They’re EASY things, I promise!
- They need HEAT. When they’re tiny, they’re not able to generate enough heat to keep themselves warm. You’ll need to provide this in supplemental heat. Lamps, Brooder panels, or a momma duck/goose will do the trick. Chickens will not work for this, as they’re not the same species, and will likely abandon the ducklings.
- They need a CLEAN brooder. Ducklings have sensitive feetsies. You need to keep the bedding clean, to keep the feces down. If you don’t, the ammonia in the feces will burn their feet and cause bumble foot. Then you need to cut the bumble foot out… which means blood, or going to a avian vet(good luck).
- The need good FEED. Niacin, Niacin, Niacin. I _cannot_ overstate the importance of this. If you don’t provide enough niacin(in yeast), ducklings will have nervous system issues. They’ll start walking weird, tilting backwards and falling over. They’ll rest on their haunches, and not want to move. They’ll have trouble eating and actually moving their head to the feed bowl. Then you’ll have to watch them die. It’s terrible, but I’m serious about this one. Additionally, do NOT feed dry crumble/feed. Feeding dry food allows them to gorge on feed, then drink water. Once the dry feed in the crop gets wet, it expands and can either suffocate the duck, or cause a crop rupture – both of which will kill them.
- Good, clean WATER. Water. Fowl. Say it with me – Waterfowl. These birds live for the water. They need clean water to help with digestion, and cleanliness. They use water to clean their nares, and to preen. The more water you can provide, the better. The stipulation being -not- swimming water ’til they’re feathered out. They’ll drown themselves without supervision, so just provide a shallow bowl of water for this. A chicken drinker works fine for this purpose.
- They need LOVE. The more you handle them, the more they will listen to you, and come when ready to eat. Ducks, while hardy, need protection. If you train them early, handle them often, and make sure they know who you are… they’ll follow you wherever you may lead… like into a coop for the night.
I know this isn’t a exhaustive list. It’s also not candy coated bullsh*t, either.
I don’t believe in wasting your time, and I hope this article has been informative.
If you choose not to follow these basic guidelines, that’s fine. There’s lot of info on the internet, and lots of people do it different ways based on climate and experience levels. What I’ve laid out above works FOR ME, and I haven’t lost any birds due to malnutrition.
I hope you’ve found this information useful in some way, and as always, if you have questions… please feel free to ask.