1 - Ducks and water.
When I started considering ducks it was time for me to do some reading on how to care for them and the first obvious theme I came across about keeping ducks was they need at the very least a bucket of water to enable them to dunk their heads and clean out their bills/nostrils.
When I initially collected them from the breeder they also informed me all ducks required was a bucket of water and my research found many reports stating the same, however, I wasn’t sold on the idea that a “water bird” could be happy with only a bucket of water to dunk a bill. It’s true ducks will certainly survive with just a bucket of water for drinking, washing down food, and dunking their heads, but would they really be happy with this arrangement?
If you can provide a tub for them to get in and play, clean themselves, and be a duck, they really do love it. The wag their happy tails and splash like small children, it is a joy to watch. Now, this water source doesn’t have to be big or complex – it could be as simple as a plastic kiddies’ pool, a small poly tank (open top), a small purpose built pond, or a dam depending on the size and type of property.
2 - Free ranging your ducks
Ducks eat more than chickens when it comes to feed, and they also like to eat lots of grass so having access to grass is important. Naturally, ducks will survive on commercial feed alone but if we want our ducks to be happy we should let them forage also whist still providing commercial feed for them.
Foraging is a natural instinct for ducks as they hunt for small frogs, slugs, and worms. Ducks don’t dig like chickens so they are less destructive in the garden and can be particularly helpful in and around orchards. Adult ducks can eat the same feed as chickens as long as it is not medicated because medicated feed is harmful to ducks.And similar to chickens, ducks love kitchen scraps like lettuce, and bread as long as they are fresh and it helps if the scraps are diced up to make it easier for the ducks to eat.
3 - Duck Eggs
Some breeds of duck are amazing egg layers, for instance Khaki Campbell ducks can lay up to 300 eggs a year! Duck eggs are larger and higher in protein than chicken eggs, which make them excellent for cake making and often are sort after by people into their fitness (like bodybuilders).
Duck eggs are more expensive to buy than chicken eggs because they are harder to commercially manage and the ratio for feed consumed to eggs produced is high, which makes it less economical compared with chickens.
Ducks will usually lay very early in the morning or sometimes through the night and they don’t always lay in a nest which can be annoying when collecting the eggs and leave the eggs vulnerable to scavenging crows or other animals. The best way to encourage ducks to lay in one spot is by providing an easy to get to secluded spot on/or close to the ground lined with litter for the ducks to nest.
4 - Ducks are social creatures
Ducks are very sociable creatures and keeping at least two will ensure they stay happy. Most ducks will get along with other poultry and usually stay out of the way keeping to themselves.
5 - Housing
Don’t rely on ducks to always put themselves to bed before dark like chickens do as they sometimes need to be rounded up. Ducks are pretty weather proof and nothing much phases them apart for the heat and sun. Nevertheless, a shelter should be provided for them so they have a nice dry, safe place to rest and sleep at night. Ducks usually find a spot on the ground to sit – they don’t perch – so if the enclosure housing the ducks has a hard surface then lining the floor with a thick litter such as straw will make it more comfortable.
Most domestic ducks can't fly... well they sort of can, to jump down off items, but they can't fly over a fence, however, Muscovy ducks can fly quite well so keep that in mind.
Often my ducks will seek a shady tree and some grass to lay on during the heat of the day and in the late afternoon. If there isn’t a lot of shade around then it’s imperative the ducks have a shelter like a barn/shed/cover to escape the elements. Also, as the saying goes “a sitting duck” they are completely vulnerable to predator attack especially from dogs and foxes. It’s important to ensure that ducks have a safe area to roam and a fox/dog proof pen/enclosure to be locked up at night otherwise the consequences will be devastating.
Ducks should put themselves to bed like chickens do in the evening (in the safety of their pen) but they don’t always and may, in fact, develop a false sense of security so decide to sleep outside the pen in the open paddock. Therefore, if you do have a free-ranging area which is secure through the day but open to possible fox attack by night ensure the ducks have followed the chickens to bed and not missed the automatic chicken door closing for the night