Ducks are cold-hardy animals, making them an excellent choice if you have harsh winters. Don’t stress about caring for ducks in the winter!
My husband brought ducks to our homestead, and they might be one of my favorite animals – ever. They have adorable personalities, and, for the most part, they’re low-maintenance. Raising ducks in the winter compared to chickens feels like a breeze.
It feels like our weather continues to get more unpredictable than ever. While we had less snow than usual last year for our area, the temperatures dropped lower than ever. Polar vortexes are a real issue lately.
Homesteaders and farmers alike have to know how to keep their animals comfortable and alive when Mother Nature rocks their world.
Ducks are one of the cold-hardiest animals to raise on your homestead. But, with the right preparations and a cozy area to sleep in, they’ll survive whatever temperatures are dealt their way.
Can Ducks Handle Cold Weather?
Your biggest concern is probably whether or not ducks handle cold weather – do ducks get cold in the winter?
Yes, ducks handle and thrive in the cold weather. Think about all the ducks you might see out in the winter at your local pond; they are fine.
The biggest concern is your ducks’ feet. When the temperatures are very low, they could become frostbitten, but I’ve yet to see that happen.
Last year, on Christmas Eve, our temperatures dropped very low, and it snowed. They refused to come out of our pond to go into the warmth of the coop. Instead, they swam all night long, despite my attempts.
Surprise – they were fine. I suppose they know better than I do what they can and cannot handle.
Ducks have a counter-current heat exchange system that stops their feet from becoming damaged in icy and cold conditions. As a result, the warm blood flowing from their heart flows close to the blood flowing from their feet.
It keeps their feet at a normal temperature, even in the cold. Plus, ducks have an average body temperature between 106-108 degrees F under all of their feathers and fat.
Personally, I think that’s fascinating, and I sure wish chickens had something for their combs and wattles because frostbite on chickens is never fun. On the other hand, ducks don’t have frostbite-prone combs and wattles – you only have to worry about their feet.
Raising Ducks in the Winter: What You Need to Know
Caring for ducks in the winter is fairly simple. As long as they have a place to escape the bad weather, that’s really all they need. Our ducks lay steadily throughout the winter (not as good as the spring but steadily) and seem happy as clams.
Ducks Need Fresh Water to Drink
Ducks LOVE water. It’s their most favorite thing in the entire world, and they need it all year-round.
Your biggest goal is to make sure their water doesn’t freeze. You have several options, like heated water bowls and buckets. They need to be able to dunk their heads and drink as they eat.
Ducks use water to digest food and clear their sinuses and eyes. It’s why you’ll watch them dunk their heads repeatedly.
Their water needs to be changed and kept clean daily. I suggest keeping their water outside of their coop, especially if you raise chickens and ducks together because ducks will muddy up your chickens’ water.
Never feed your ducks without access to water because they can choke. If they don’t have access to water all night, they shouldn’t have access to food.
Swimming Isn’t a Necessity Though
Water is a must, but swimming is not. Ducks don’t HAVE to swim, although they really love it. Ducks need water to process food but don’t stress if you can’t stop their pond from freezing.
We’re lucky to have a natural pond that doesn’t freeze, but if we didn’t, I wouldn’t put effort into chipping out the ice!
Make Sure Your Ducks Eat Quality Layer Pellets
Keeping your ducks well fed in the winter is a big part of having healthy, happy ducks. Free-range ducks forage for snails and slugs, but foraging isn’t possible when snow and ice cover everything.
We double their rations during the winter and keep up a steady supply of scraps from the kitchen. They love greens and fruit bits. So don’t forget to give them some duck treats as well!
Make sure you offer a quality layer pellet as a majority of their diet. Even if they aren’t laying eggs, ducks still have high nutritional needs.
Feed Your Ducks Healthy Treats
I like to offer healthy treats to my ducks. For example, we offer scratch grains in the evenings before bed to our entire flock; this helps keep them warmer because grains take longer to digest, increasing their body temperature.
You want to provide protein-rich snacks during the winter to your flock, along with fresh greens. Grab some lettuce or kale to give to them. My flock, chickens and ducks, love warm oatmeal!
Provide a Predator-Proof House
Predators are looking for their next meal in the winter, and prey is often scarce. So now is the time when you have to make sure they have predator-proof housing. Since ducks nest on the ground, they need to be secured.
Also, when it comes to housing, make sure your duck house or coop is well-ventilated. Ducks send off a lot of moisture when they breathe, and this all can lead to problems. Also, the vents need to be up high; we have windows at the top of our barn.
Straw Keeps Them Cozy
Ducks don’t roost like chickens; they lay on the ground to sleep. I often find my ducks sleeping on the ground beside our pond.
Laying extra stay in your duck house or coop helps keep them off the cold ground. We lay a full bale of straw two or three times per year.
Make sure you don’t toss out that straw; it should go right into your compost pile!
The ducks love the straw and build little nests to sleep. They sleep together and stay cozy out of the wind and snow. Also, I like when they lay their eggs there because I hate hunting for duck eggs.
Seriously, my ducks laid eggs INSIDE the pond a few times.
Put Up a Wind Barrier
The cold and snow aren’t annoyances to ducks, but they aren’t huge fans of the wind. Making a wind barrier with a tarp or sheet of plywood will keep your ducks happy. I lay down straw, and they’re so happy.
This isn’t your predator-proof shelter; this is an area outside for them to be out without the cold wind blowing on them.
Ice is a Problem
Snow and cold aren’t a problem for ducks, but ice is an issue. Their webbed feet slip and slide on ice, and they can injure themselves.
The easiest way to combat that is to lay straw down in the areas they often go like the waterer. Not only does straw help reduce ice forming, but it also stops them from sliding around.
Common FAQs about Caring for Ducks in the Winter
What Temperature is Too Cold for Ducks?
Ducks survive when temperatures are in the negatives. As long as they have a warm coop that they can easily access when needed, your ducks know when they’re too cold and need to go inside.
I can’t always say the same for raising chickens in the winter. One year, my rooster stood outside in the freezing rain and snow, and then he ended up with frostbite.
Do Ducks Need Heat in the Winter?
No, ducks don’t need heat in the winter. Adding heat lamps to your duck house or chicken coop increases the risk of a fire, especially if you have any wiring issues.
Don’t believe me?
My husband is a volunteer firefighter and responds to these fires yearly. Talk to your local firefighters to get their thoughts.
However, the fact is that ducks don’t NEED heat in the winter. Nature designed ducks to handle cold temperatures because they have layers of fat and feathers that keep them warm, even when they’re wet.
Will Ducks Lay Eggs in the Winter?
Yes, ducks lay eggs in the winter, but they won’t lay as frequently. If the temperatures are too low, they might stop laying eggs entirely as their bodies put more energy towards keeping them warm. There is no need to give supplemental light; your ducks lay without that.
However, seasonal ducks, like mallards, won’t lay in the winter. Most backyard duck breeds do!
Can You Raise Ducklings in the Winter?
It’s possible to raise ducklings in the winter, but you need to keep them in a brooder space until they’re fully feathered. Even then, they shouldn’t be outside when the temperatures are below 20 degrees. That’s why most people wait until spring arrives to raise ducklings.
I find that raising ducks in the winter is much easier than raising chickens in the winter, and that’s still really easy! Farm animals are hardier than we realize, so don’t stress. Give your ducks plenty of good feed, freshwater, and a dry, well-ventilated place to sleep. They’ll make it through winter just fine.