Raising Baby Ducks for Beginners
I just have to say it – I think raising baby ducks is EASIER and way more fun than raising baby chicks.
I always stood firmly in camp chickens until my husband brought home three baby ducks, and the rest was history. Raising baby ducks is far easier than chicks, and I realized that I love their little feisty personalities and joyful swimming.
Seriously, you need to watch baby ducks swim. It’s possibly the happiest thing in the world.
After raising three groups of ducklings, I can say that it’s easier than raising chicks and just as satisfying. Ducklings are hardy and adorable to watch, plus they grow at a rate unmatched by chickens.
Are you wondering how hard raising baby ducks might be? Here is what you need to know.
Related: 17 Healthy Treats for Ducks Your Flock Will Love
- Selecting Your Homestead Breeds of Ducks
- Raising Baby Ducks for Beginners: What You Need to Know
- What to Feed Baby Ducks
- They Need Plenty of Water
- Keep Them in a Brooder Box
- How Long Do Baby Ducks Need a Heat Lamp?
- Start Prepping Your Duck Coop
- 7 Things You Need to Know about Raising Ducklings
- FAQs about Raising Baby Ducks
Selecting Your Homestead Breeds of Ducks
Like chicks, there are dozens of duck breeds to consider for your backyard homestead. You have many domesticated duck breeds to consider, and you need to consider what breeds will best suit your needs. Don’t rush this decision – you want the best backyard flock for your homestead.
Most people try raising ducks for duck eggs – they are delicious! Check your local feed store to see what breeds they sell, or check out different hatcheries to find different breeds.
If egg production is your most important consideration, pekin ducks are a popular breed of domestic ducks, but they aren’t the only ones! We opted to raise Welsh Harlequin ducks, a heritage breed that lays steadily and work well in our cold winter.
You can even consider raising ducks for meat – duck meat is so delicious!
If meat production is your main goal for raising ducks, pekin ducks also top the list, but you might want to consider raising Muscovy or Rouen ducks.
Related: 11 Best Ducks for Eggs for Your Homestead
Raising Baby Ducks for Beginners: What You Need to Know
What to Feed Baby Ducks
When your raising baby ducks, their nutritional needs aren’t the exact same as chicks. I assumed that they were, but I’m glad I did research and learned otherwise.
Ducklings need to be fed a high protein diet from birth until maturity. Their feed should contain 20-22% protein.
One big difference is that new ducklings don’t need medicated feed like chicks. Some say that medicated feed is toxic to ducklings; you’ll notice that all duckling starter feed is unmedicated at feed stores.
Niacin is Needed by Baby Ducks!
Baby ducks need niacin, a crucial vitamin that helps with proper development. Waterfowl need higher amounts of niacin than chicks, and if they fail to receive enough, the ducks might end up with leg problems and other deformities.
All commercial duckling feed contains niacin, but some backyard duck owners opt to add a/.;p[ niacin supplement to their diet. If you decide to feed your ducklings unmedicated chick food, you’ll need to supplement them with niacin.
One of the easiest ways to ensure your baby ducks get enough niacin is to add one tablespoon of brewer’s yeast per cup of feed.
How Long Do Baby Ducks Need Starter Feed?
Start by giving your baby ducks unmedicated, high-protein duckling feed for the first two weeks of life. They don’t need anything else at this point, and the feed must contain niacin.
From three to 14 weeks, you can bump down the protein ratio to 16% and add a niacin supplement. This is typically when you might start giving treats for ducks and allowing them to forage in a protected space for a few hours per day.
Provide Grit for Your Ducks
Ducks that forage will pick up small stones and rarely need chick grit, but if your ducklings don’t have access to natural grit, make sure you provide some in a small container as a free choice.
Feeding Your Laying Ducks
Once your flock starts laying duck eggs, your laying hens require plenty of calcium and protein. Make sure you feed them an appropriate layer or breeder diet.
Laying feeds consist of 16 to 17% protein and 3.25% calcium. You want to make sure you provide them with a balanced diet if you want quality duck eggs. Their feed should be made with grains, oyster shell, and all the essential vitamins and minerals.
They Need Plenty of Water
Baby ducks need a constant source of clean water; a chick fountain is a great solution. However, they need to be deeper than the water source you use for chickens because ducks need to dunk their heads. Don’t be surprised when you have to refill their water often – ducks need a lot of water.
Ducks have to be able to fully submerge their heads to keep their eyes and nostrils healthy.
Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest challenges, especially with baby ducks. While chick waterers work, pans or a clean milk jug work best for duck waterers. All you have to do is use a knit to cut a milk jug, leaving the bottom available for your young ducklings to dunk their heads.
However, the water must be shallow and easily escapable if they step into it. Baby ducks get tired and drown easily otherwise.
Water is often the biggest complaint about ducks – ducks are messy!
They throw water everywhere, splashing and making huge messes out of their drinking water. You have to keep it clean and provide them with new water frequently.
Can Baby Ducks Swim?
Technically, yes, young ducklings can swim, but their bodies don’t produce waterproofing oil until four to five weeks of age. Wild ducks receive oil from their mothers.
If you allow your ducklings to swim too early, they might end up chilled or drown unless the swimming dish is under a heat lamp.
It’s safe to introduce ducklings to swimming as early as one week old, but you have to be careful. Since young ducklings don’t have oil on their feathers yet, they can become chilled quickly. Make sure they can get out of their water and have quick access to their heat lamp to rewarm after their swimming dip.
Don’t Set Up a Pool Until 4 Weeks Old
Wait until your ducklings have their waterproofing oil to set up a baby pool. After four weeks, it’s safe to set up a small pool within their housing but still safe and easy to escape.
I often use baking pans at this age because they’re shallow but provide enough space for them to practice swimming. Another option is a paint roller tray; these work great for introducing baby ducks to water.
Keep Them in a Brooder Box
Ducklings need a brooder box space like baby chicks, but they won’t spend as much time in it as the chicks.
One of the most important things is keeping your ducklings safe from predators and the elements, but they appreciate quiet and seclusion. Baby ducks are fearful and skittish.
It needs to be a warm area to safely keep young ducklings until they are old enough to take care of themselves.
Supplies Needed for a Duck Brooder Box
I suggest getting all the supplies on hand before you get your ducklings. The list of things you need is essentially the same thing as what you need for chicks.
- Brooder Box
- Heat Lamp
- Brooder Warming Plate (instead of a heat lamp)
- Duckling Feed
- Chick Feeder
- Brooder Thermometer
Duckling Brooder Options
One of the most complicated things is to figure out what your brooder setup should look like. My husband built one for me, but you also can try other options.
- Large Plastic Totes: Perhaps the easiest option is to buy a large plastic tote to hold your ducklings. Young ducklings grow fast, so this will only last for so long, but it’s a great choice.
- Plastic Kiddie Pool: Another option is to use a kiddie pool with a fence wrapped around it.
Ducks Need Bedding
One difference between raising baby ducks and raising baby chicks is that ducks are SUPER messy in their brooder.
They aren’t the same!
Ducks make a huge mess when eating, and their droppings are wet. Plus, if they have a container of water to swim in, they’ll splash everywhere.
Plan to change their bedding often. I use wood shavings because it’s absorbent and makes it easy to change what is wet. Pine shavings are a popular choice because you can address wet areas easily.
Straw isn’t absorbent, so it’s not the best bedding for ducklings. However, if you can change the bedding twice per day, straw may work.
How Long Do Baby Ducks Need a Heat Lamp?
Ducklings require a heat source but not as long as chicks. Typically, you can remove the heat lamp between four and six weeks. My baby ducklings rarely need a heat lamp after four weeks as long as we are raising them in the late spring into the summer.
Your brooder space needs to have a warm side and a cool side to allow them to escape the warmth. The best way to do this is to use a heat lamp or a heating plate on one side of the brooder, leaving the other side cool without any light from the heat lamp.
Watch your ducklings’ behavior!
If they are panting, it’s too hot, but if they’re huddled together and peeping loudly, they need more heat.
Brooder Temperatures for Ducklings
Brooder temperatures for baby ducklings are different than the temperatures needed for baby chicks. If you try to keep it the same, your ducklings will NOT be happy.
- 90-92 degrees F for the first three days
- 85-90 degrees F for days four to seven
- 80-85 degrees for two weeks
- 75-80 degrees for three weeks
- 70-75 degrees for four weeks
Start Prepping Your Duck Coop
Ducks go into their coop sooner than baby chicks; they also grow larger much faster. While you wait for them to reach the right age to go outside, it’s time to prep their duck coop.
If you have a chicken coop, it’s totally possible to raise chickens and ducks together; I do! All you need is water for the ducks and straw for them to make a cozy place to sleep.
My ducks and chickens get along well!
No matter if you raise them together or not, ducks need to have a predator-proof shelter that is well-ventilated but provides them escape from the elements.
It needs to be large enough for them to expand their wings and groom, something they do often. Each adult duck needs three square feet in the coop, but I still think that’s a bit tight.
Ducks are hardier than chickens, but they still like to escape the cold temperatures and winter weather from time to time.
Make sure you have a plan to provide your ducks with plenty of water access; their run should be large enough for a kiddie pool.
You also have to make sure that your ducks are safe from predators. Despite being larger than chickens, ducks are slow on land and too heavy to fly in most cases, so a predator-proof house is a must-have.
Keep Ducks Safe from Predators
One of the biggest concerns you need to consider when creating a duck coop is how to keep your backyard flock safe from predators. The biggest concern is raccoons, but other predators enjoy trying to kill your lovely ducks, such as weasels, foxes, skunks, and coyotes.
There are a few things to consider when creating your duck house.
- Cover the window openings covered with hardware cloth wire mesh.
- Consider shutting them up at night or keep a securely fenced duck pen to keep out predators.
- Make sure your duck house has a floor barrier to keep predators that like to burrow inside. Concrete pavers works, but consider plywood floors as well.
- You can consider secure poultry fence that goes below ground level to stop burrowing predators, and fencing also keep out climbing and flying predators like hawks and raccoons.
7 Things You Need to Know about Raising Ducklings
1. Don’t Keep Chicks and Ducklings Together
Housing adult ducks and chickens together is fine, but it’s not a good idea to keep chicks and ducklings together.
Ducks get water everywhere, and chicks shouldn’t get wet. Wet chicks equal a dead or sick chick.
Plus, ducks grow much faster, so they’ll end up being much bigger than your chicks, potentially trampling them. Also, ducklings don’t need a heat lamp as warm as chicks nor for as long as chicks need them.
Related: Can You Raise Chickens and Ducks Together? Yes! It’s Simple
2. The Feed Should Be Unmedicated
A lot of farm stores don’t sell duck starter feed; my Rural King does though! So, if you can’t find duckling starter feed, don’t stress. Just make sure you buy an UNMEDICATED chick starter feed.
Medicated chick feed could kill your baby ducks. They eat way more than chicks, so it’s possible for them to overdose on the medication.
Also, the medication is to prevent coccidiosis, a disease that ducks are fairly resistant to anyway!
3. Ducklings Are Particular about Protein
When you’re raising baby ducks, pay attention to how much protein they receive in their feed. During the first few weeks of life, they need 20-22% protein.
After a few weeks, their protein can be reduced to 16-18% protein. If you can’t find a lower protein feed, add oatmeal or other healthy duck treats to their feed like peas and leafy greens.
4. Lots of Duck Treats and Greens Are Good
Speaking of treats, your ducklings love them. If you have leftover greens, give them right to your ducklings. They’ll gobble them up in no time.
Our ducklings love kale, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce the most.
Don’t feel like you need to limit their greens; they can have an unlimited amount of greens in their diet. It’s an excellent, healthy supplement.
Then, you can give them other goodies like healthy sources of protein, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, or edible flowers.
5. Ducks Are Amazing Foragers
Everyone thinks of chickens when we talk about foraging, but ducks are excellent foragers, even at a young age. Ducklings run around and forage as soon as you bring them outside.
They love to look for bugs and yummy snacks. Plus, all that waddling around is great for their bodies; they need exercise.
6. You Need to Keep Their Bedding Dry
As I’ve mentioned above, ducklings are messy, and they get their bedding wet all the time. The biggest problem is that warm, wet environments become a breeding ground for bacteria.
We want healthy ducklings!
I suggest laying down new bedding at least once per day. It makes a better brooder space for your ducklings, and you’ll be happy knowing that they are in a clean place.
7. They Don’t Need Heat Lamps As Long As Chicks!
If you’ve raised baby chicks, you know that it seems like it takes FOREVER for them not to need a heat lamp, but the same cannot be said for ducklings.
Ducklings typically don’t need a heat lamp after four to six weeks, depending on the outside temperature. By six weeks, ducks can be outside as long as the temperatures aren’t dipping below 50 degrees F!
FAQs about Raising Baby Ducks
Can You Raise a Baby Duck By Itself?
No, you should not raise a baby duck by itself.
Ducks and other waterfowl imprint onto their flock mates; our ducks never leave each other. It makes them very upset and uncomfortable; they quack for each other.
A single duck will be a lonely, unhappy duck; it’s cruel, and unless you’re going to spend every waking minute with your duckling, I suggest you get another friend or two.
When Do Ducks Start to Lay Eggs?
Ducks start to lay eggs between 20 and 28 weeks, depending on their breed. At this point, they can be fed a chicken layer feed if you have a mixed flock or an all flock layer feed with 16% protein.
I provide oyster shells in a separate cup to ensure they have sufficient calcium.
When Can Ducklings Go Outside?
Ducklings are hardier than chicks, so they can go outside earlier. It’s best to wait until they have their waterproofing oil over their body.
Do Backyard Ducks Need a Pond?
Whenever I tell people that I have backyard ducks, they often ask me if I have a large pond.
While I have a pond for my ducks, backyard domestic ducks don’t actually need a large body of water to live a happy life. Many duck breeds have been raised on small homesteads or backyards for years, and while ducks have to be able to bathe, a plastic kiddie pool is all ducks really need.
Now, I will tell you that the kiddie pool takes maintenance. You’ll need to fill it daily, and it gets dirty quickly. I have to wash mine out twice or three times per week.
If you need a push to start raising baby ducks, this is me telling you that you need to get started now. You’ll love these little backyard homestead friends; they’re a joy and so easy to raise!
Thank you for the wonderful advice. We are actually on our way to get our baby ducks now, we are beginners and can’t wait for a new adventure.
I’ve had ducks for a couple of years. Love them. Just had a mom lay & sit on eggs giving us 5 baby ducks. This is new for us. I have them separated from out other ducks – 1 male & 3 females.
Do I need to be concerned about the male interaction w/ the babies? How soon could I have the babies w/ the adults? Momma duck is still very protective- do I keep her w/ ducks, almost 4 weeks old, or keep her w/ them?
I live on a lake and my friend asked if I’d take the baby ducklings. I’d love to until they are big enough but I can’t lock them in a cage once they are bigger . They are wild ducks . I don’t mind feeding them and raising them but how can I teach them how to survive in the wild? How to find food , swim and fly. If anybody has any advice please give me some. I love all animals and I’m willing to do what it takes if it’s possible .