Looking for a fun, efficient and low cost poultry project for your outdoor space? Look no further than ducks! Ducks are a beneficial and productive addition to any backyard setting with space for water, some greenery and web-footed friends. Underestimated in many ways, ducks are actually excellent egg layers, great for slug and snail control and provide a source of meat. Our short duck keeping guide will give you the basics on raising ducks successfully and adding some quacks and waddles, and those deliciously rich eggs, to your everyday routine.
As a beginner, it’s best to start out with ducklings that are 2 to 3 weeks old. You can often find them at your local farmer’s grange or farm and feed supply store. Local breeders also often post ads in public places or online. For egg laying you’ll need a drake; one drake can handle about 4 to 5 females. The best types of duck breeds for hobby farmers and smaller yards are Muscovy, Peking, Indian Runner, Khaki Campbell and Mallard. The Muscovy and Peking are good meat ducks while Runners, Khaki Campbells and Mallards are excellent egg layers as they can lay more than 300 eggs a year. All ducks are much less vocal than chickens, and many do not even quack. It’s rather entertaining to notice when their voice ‘breaks’ and their peeping gradually turns into quacking.
Ducks need some sort of small body of water to stay healthy and happy, as wading in water is how they wash themselves. Although natural bodies of water such as ponds or streams are perfect for ducks, they aren’t necessary for a successful duck raising operation. A children’s paddling pool at least 4 x 4 feet will do for about 10 ducks, and a smaller one for smaller flocks. Using a paddling pool also makes it easy to clean and scrub out the muck, which should happen every few days. The mucky water also makes great fertilizer for garden plants.
Housing for ducks is simple, as their down feathers keep them warmer than chickens. They only need nesting stalls that are about 12 inches by 18 inches deep, with a roof on top. Lay straw in the nests to make it more comfortable.
Make sure you provide enough greenery for the ducks to forage through. Ducks are amazing slug and snail hunters, so let them roam your flower gardens if your hostas and daylilys seem to be suffering from holes. If you are worried about the ducks eating young vegetable starts or making messes on patios, keep them fenced in with a 3 to 6 foot tall wire fence. You may want to let them out for a few hours a day. However, it is a good idea to put your ducks away in an enclosure overnight if predators such as foxes or raccoons are possible risks in your area.
The more access your ducks have to range or pasture, the more they will be able to forage for food. Therefore, if you have them fenced in, they will require more grain than free-ranging ducks. Feed them a grain mixture of oats, corn, and wheat (large bags available at feed stores) daily or twice a day, dependant on their foraging space. Always make sure to provide water and feed at the same time, as ducks love drinking after every few bites. Feel free to add crushed oyster shell to the feed every once in a while.
Ducklings should be fed a high-protein, low-calcium starter mash, fed alongside. Don’t let them swim until they have feathers, and definitely put them away at night.
Duck Egg Recipes
Ducks can be prolific egg layers if they are happy in their environment, producing eggs that are about 1-½ times the size of a chicken egg. Providing them with clean straw in their nesting boxes will encourage them to lay in them, although they may choose a secluded spot in tall grass as an alternative. Collect your eggs daily and wash and store them in the refrigerator. Duck eggs are amazing in baked goods, as their rich yolks and thick whites make for light and fluffy batters – even gluten free ones! Pastry chefs revere them for custards and cream fillings and they make for firm but creamy breakfast in the frying pan.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes for you to try whether or not you plan on raising your own ducks:
- Duck eggs over easy with Fontina on Grilled Bread
- Black Sticky Gingerbread Cake (Gluten-Free)
- Duck Eggs in Cocotte
- Burmese Duck Egg Curry
- Duck Egg Custard with Sesame Seed Tuiles
Image: Myrtle Glen Farm