We recently incorporated raising ducklings on our homestead. We are quickly running out of space here, but are so excited to finally have our ducks. Who knew we would have chickens, goats, a livestock guardian dog, and now ducks in our mini backyard farm?
We chose to raise ducks that are heritage breeds. What exactly are heritage breeds you may wonder? They are critically endangered or threatened animals and The Livestock Conservancy explains it well: “Heritage animals are the animals that you’d find on your great-grandparents farms. Heritage is an umbrella term that embraces pure breeds of livestock and poultry with deep histories in the United States. These are animals that were bred over time to develop traits that made them suited to specific local environments. Because these breeds have been developed and selected over time, they tend to have better disease resistance, are well-adapted to their environments, and thrive in pasture-based settings.”
We chose heritage breeds so that: 1. We can breed them for others to raise to ensure that they will continue to flourish and 2. We will use them mostly for their eggs. After doing a ton of research on the different heritage breeds, we decided to start with the Saxony, Silver Appleyard, White Appleyard (which has identical physical and productive qualities as the silver, just in a white color), Welsh Harlequin, and Dutch Hook Bill ducklings. There are a couple other heritage breeds we have planned for our next round, but these are what we started with. My hopes are that others will be inspired to raise these rare breeds of ducks so that they will be protected from becoming extinct.
We love our chickens and will continue to raise them, but raising ducks have another world of benefits. Although there is a growing interest in raising backyard ducks, it seems that many people do not realize the benefits that ducks can bring to your home and farm, so hopefully this will help you see just how beneficial they can be to add to your homestead. Some of the perks to raising ducks are:
- Ducks are wonderful for pest control.
- They can be used for eggs and their meat.
- They lay eggs more regularly than chickens do, including in the winter.
- Duck eggs are actually more nutritious than chicken eggs and are excellent for baking. Their eggs are larger and with their thicker shells and membranes, they also stay fresh longer.
- Ducks have hardier immune systems, therefore, they are resistant to most diseases.
- Ducks are more heat-tolerant and cold-hardy.
- They control weeds.
- Their manure provides nutrients for your garden.
You can either obtain duck eggs for hatching or purchase your ducklings online or locally if available. Having 3 ducklings is a good “starter” flock size. You could start with a pair, but if you lose one, the other will be inconsolable which would not be good since ducks are social animals. If you keep any male ducks (drakes), it is usually recommended to have a minimum of 4-5 ducks per drake. We started with a larger flock since we want to be able to have a good bit of eggs. We ended up ordering our ducklings from Holderread Water Fowl Farm & Preservation Center. They have excellent quality stock and many different heritage breed ducklings and goslings available.
Raising ducks is fairly easy and if you already have chickens, it is easy to add them to your flock. They can even share the coop, feed, & water once they get big enough to join your flock (usually around 8-10 weeks, some sooner) which is what we have planned for our ducks. There is no need to add to your roosting area as ducks do not roost. They will happily nest and sleep right on the ground of your coop. Whether you already have a coop or not, ducks do need some kind of adequate shelter to protect them from predators and winds.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, ducks do not need a pond or large body of water. A kiddie pool or trough will be plenty enough for ducks to play in and be happy. It is important though to give them fresh water everyday (preferably twice a day). You will need to make sure that the water is deep enough to dip their whole bill into so that they can drink enough water to get their feed down and also to keep their nostrils clear of feed debris. Just don’t expect or even try to keep duck’s water perfectly clean as that will never happen. As long as their feces are not in the water, dirt and food will not hurt them. As soon as you fill up their water with fresh, clean water, it will be a matter of minutes before it is dirty again. Just don’t leave their water to sit for days as it will then attract flies and get bacteria, algae, or other unwanted things in it.
So basically, to keep your ducks happy and healthy, you will need to provide them with ample space to be able to forage outside as well as a balanced feed, provide fresh water and a safe shelter. That’s about it really. In addition, I love to add natural and healthy supplements to our duck’s diet and environment such as apple cider vinegar in their water (approx. 1 tbsp. per gallon of water), herbs, garlic, nutritional yeast, oats, probiotics, and other healthy treats such as a variety of greens, fruits, and seeds. We also use diatomaceous earth, essential oils, and fresh herbs around their shelter and areas that they lay around in a lot to keep pests and rodents away. Providing these natural supplements will help your ducks thrive and be their healthiest and in return, they will provide you with healthy eggs and/or meat, and can even make happy backyard ducks as pets!
I have done a lot of research on keeping backyard ducks and if I was to recommend a book or two that will pretty much give you all of the details (small and big) that you will need as a reference to raise ducks, I would definitely recommend Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Ducks…Naturally
and Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, 2nd Edition: Breeds, Care, Health. Duck Eggs Daily is an easy and quick read and covers the basics of raising ducks including incorporating herbs and other healthy supplements. You can read my book review on this particular book here. Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks is a more in depth guide to raising ducks and covers everything from breeding to butchering. Both are great to keep around and refer back to as needed.
If you need just one more reason to raise ducks… they are so adorable! Well, their adorable when their babies and then as they get older, they are beautiful! If you want another added bonus, be sure to handle them a lot as babies and hand feed them treats such as greens and they have been known to imprint on you and make happy pets.