Learning to raise ducklings is easy, and ducks are some of the most entertaining and useful livestock you can add to your homestead.
We started to raise ducklings to our homestead in hopes they would begin to lay eggs once they matured.
As you might know, I’m a big believer in keeping more than one type of poultry on our homestead, and even when the chickens stop laying for the winter, many duck breeds will continue on.
Ducklings also are a nice accompaniment to chicks you might raise in the spring, and can do just as much work in your garden when they mature.
Until they mature and lay eggs, ducklings can forage and help keep the bug population down. I think you’ll find that the ducklings you raise will be very cute, and provide hours of entertainment.
They’re easy, low maintenance animals that will provide meat and eggs when they’re ready.
We’ve been able to raise ducklings in the past with success, so this year we added several to our backyard flock. You can buy ducklings to raise from hatcheries, feed stores, or local breeders.
Decide which breed of ducklings you want to raise
There’s so many different breeds of ducklings to raise, so I won’t cover them all.
In this article, I’ll talk about the breeds I have experience raising, their histories, and why I like them.
Pekin ducks are possibly the most popular breed of ducklings to raise in the United States. They’re the white ducks you see everywhere.
Pekins originated in China, and immigrants brought them over mid-19th century. They quickly gained popularity as a breed of ducklings to raise in the US because of their hardy, useful natures.
They’re a good dual purpose breed, and lay eggs consistently. We’ve chosen Pekin duckling to raise in the past, and they were easy, low-maintenance ducks.
Indian Runners are excellent ducklings to raise, and are highly prized for their wonderful pale green and white eggs. Runners are foragers, and great layers. They can lay around 180-200 eggs per year.
Runners generally are not suitable to raise for meat because the males top out at 5 pounds or so. Their value lies more in their eggs.
Named after their developer, Mrs. Adah Campbell, these are the breed of ducklings to raise if eggs are your priority.
Laying around 300 eggs a year, Khaki Campbells were developed by breeding Mallards, Runners, and Rouen ducks.
They’re good foragers, and only weigh 3-5 pounds fully grown.
Bringing your ducklings home to raise
Step one in learning how to raise ducklings is to choose ducklings at the breeder or feed store (or wherever you happen to source them).
You want healthy-looking ducklings to raise that are active, curious, and free of poop on their bottoms.
If you’re buying your ducklings locally, be sure to keep them warm on the ride home, and provide an appropriate container for transport.
Anything from a cardboard box to a cat carrier will work, as long as it’s solid and has a way to keep them inside. I personally use a cat carrier when transporting ducklings I’m bringing home to raise.
Keep them warm by keeping the heat in your car turned on, if it’s cool outside. Their down will provide them with a certain amount of warmth as well.
Because your ducklings will likely experience some stress by the move, keeping them warm will make sure they arrive home in the best shape possible.
Put something on the bottom of your box or carrier to catch any poop/pee, and to give them traction. In a cat carrier with no lining, they can easily slip.
Your goal is to make the ducklings comfortable so they are less stressed during transporting.
I’ve purchased poultry through the mail successfully, and most hatcheries want their birds to get to you in great shape. But if you’re concerned about travel conditions, you’re best off buying your ducklings close to home.
I purchased my ducklings about an hour away from my house, which ensured their ride home was as short as I could make it, and my ducklings arrived in good shape.
To raise ducklings successfully, there’s some equipment you will need.
If it’s still cool outside, you’ll need a heat lamp and a brooder for your tos successfully ducklings.
In my experience, the number one killer of young ducklings is getting too cold, so giving them a place to warm up is very important.
The type of bulb you need depends on the time of year, and where you will keep your ducklings.
During the winter, I raise my ducklings inside when it’s cold, and use a heat lamp if it’s really cold outside (we have a drafty house) or a 75 watt bulb if it’s spring, and 60 degrees or so outside.
To be honest, I prefer using the 75 watt bulb; the heat lamps get too hot, and if they fall, they can lead to a fire.
It’s not ideal if a 75 watt lamp falls, but the metal lamp surrounding the bulb doesn’t get very hot, so a fire is less likely.
I especially make sure the ducklings have a warm place to go if they’ve been swimming. Maybe they’ll need it, or maybe they won’t, but it’s better than raising cold ducklings.
I put the heat lamp in one corner of the brooder, and let them decide when they want to use it. Happy ducklings wander around and are curious, so let that be your guide to determine if they’re warm enough.
If they start panting, your lamp is too hot.
Your brooder can be as fancy or as basic as you like. I use a big plastic bin because they’re cheap and easy to clean, but you can make a brooder out of wood or metal as well.
It just needs to be sturdy and safe for your ducklings.
Most people use shavings in their brooder. I use shavings, and sometimes I add some hay. Be sure you use larger flakes because ducklings have a tendency to taste the smaller shavings, or the shavings can become mixed with their feed.
You will also need a waterer and something to keep their food in as you raise ducklings. Equipment for chickens is fine, as long as the ducks can eat or drink from it, and keep their nostrils clear.
I use chick starter when I raise ducklings. Whatever you feed, it should have 18%-20% protein. Ducklings can eat 18%-20% protein up until they’re 10 weeks old.
After 10 weeks, feed them a grower feed of 15-16% protein until they’re 18 weeks old, which is when you’ll want to switch them to an 18% layer feed.
When choosing a feed, remember that protein levels higher than 20% can cause organ damage, so steer away anything higher than 20%, and in particular, chicken layer feed.
The calcium in layer feed is too high for ducklings (and chicks), and can also cause organ damage.
I purchase chick starter from a local grain mill, but you can use any reputable product on the market. Be sure to make the feed available all the time up until your ducklings are 6-8 weeks of age.
Consider adding grit to their diet; if they’re fed only feed, ducklings reportedly do not need grit, however, if you feed any greens, they will need grit. I make grit available to mine regardless of their diet.
Providing a pool
One of the most fun things you’ll get to do as you raise ducklings is watching them swim and play in the water.
Although it isn’t strictly necessary to provide a pool, I provide one for my ducklings on a limited basis because I think it’s healthier and natural.
You can provide a small pool, which they will use to play and clean themselves.
Ducks are very messy when they have water to play with; I have seen backyards become muddy piles of muck by ducks in a short time. So, I only provide pools on a limited basis, daily.
Above all, they will need separate drinking water, because they dirty up their pools quickly.
I don’t recommend allowing your ducks to live on a pond. They can’t fly like wild ducks because they’ve been bred to be heavier (and in some cases, their wings have been clipped), and they can’t defend themselves against predators.
If you want to keep your ducks for years, providing them a pool lets them play like nature intended while also keeping them safe.
At some point, you’ll want to move your ducklings outside, and they’ll need a shelter. Be sure to give them a shelter that will protect them from predators and inclement weather and heat, and give them enough room.
I wait until mine have feathers before moving them outside in the spring.
If you’re going to let your ducklings free range, the space requirements are a little different than if they’re cooped in a run.
I don’t recommend free ranging your ducklings unless you want them picked off by predators. I use a tractor so they can get around to different areas without being exposed.
Ducklings kept in a run all the time will need about 10 square feet of space each, so when you plan your duck house, consider those space requirements.
Your shelter can be as fancy or as basic as you want, and you can keep your ducks with chickens if you only want one coop.
I’ve seen duck houses made out of chain link fence and tarps, and I’ve seen children’s playhouses repurposed as coops. As long as they can stay dry and away from predators, any shelter will work.
I’d like to hear from you!
Will you try to raise ducklings on your homestead? Which breeds? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below!