I spoke with a woman over the weekend who was considering getting a few ducks for her granddaughter to raise. While I wholeheartedly applaud anyone who wants to bring these incredibly entertaining creatures home, I must admit I wondered if she knew what she was getting herself into.
When we first got ducks, I had no idea. I figured "Hey, we've got chickens.They can't be too different." I was about as wrong as maternity Spanx (which I just learned is a real, actual THING. WTF?)
Chickens and ducks ARE different. Very different. And also a lot alike. In the same way that Santa Claus and that clown from Stephen King's "It" are different sure, but still ... kinda alike.
Ducks are messy. Really messy.
Like, however messy you think they are, they are about three times worse than that. Remember The Odd Couple? Felix was the neat and tidy one, and Oscar was the slob? Well, ducks are Oscar's first cousin that he visits occasionally and thinks "Well, geez ... couldn't you pick the place up a little before I show up?"
It's like they're Guns and Roses and our backyard is the latest Hilton suite they've decided to trash. Floor littered in beer bottles, ladies lingerie, condoms and poop. Except replace those first three items with poop.
So make sure you have plenty of room for them to roam. A small yard may be fine for 1-2 ducks, but after that (if you value your olfactory glands) you probably want to give them a bit more space.
Choose your breed wisely.
Decide why you want ducks before buying. Do you want delicious duck eggs, larger with more protein than chicken eggs and better for baking? Do you want a bug brigade to clear your garden but not trample over everything? Are you just looking for a nice pet?
Different ducks are best for different purposes. We have Khaki Campbell ducks for eggs, because they are one of the most prolific egg laying breeds. They are here for the eggs, but not so much for the meat. They only get about 4 pounds - pretty measly in terms of a meal. But they are good at getting rid of the slugs and other insects in the garden. And they are consistent layers. Each one lays about an egg a day (sometimes two).
On the other end of the spectrum, our Aylesbury's are definitely the meat birds. Averaging around 8-10 pounds, these birds get big. They do a bit of foraging for insects but they don't lay very much. On average, they are laying about 1/3 of what our Khaki Campbells are producing per year. If we'd depended on them for eggs we would be S.O.L. most of the year.
You don't need a pond.
You really don't need a pond or large body of water to keep a few ducks. You really don't. That said, ducks need access to plenty of water and are happiest when they can submerge themselves in it.
When we got our first ducks, we opted for a $12 plastic kiddie pool from Academy. The pool was big enough for six or so ducks to get in and be comfortable. It's a cheap way to supply some comfort to your animals. Just put some bricks on the side, both in and out of the pool, as a sort of "step" so they don't hurt themselves trying to get in.
Now, notice I didn't say an easy way? That's because as son as you fill that puppy up with water and put it in a place where the ducks have access - they will promptly get in and poop in it. You will be changing this poop water ALL THE DAMN TIME. At least every day, and sometimes twice a day, unless you are fortunate enough to have torrential rains that wash and water at the same time. The good thing is, this poop water is GREAT for your garden!
You do, however, need a deep drinking water source.
Ducks have to be able to submerge their bills in water. It helps them to keep their noses clean and keeps the membranes in their nostrils moist. So make sure that you buy a waterer deep enough that they can fit a full bill into it when drinking.
One last thing - niacin.
Essentially, you'll need Brewers Yeast. Ducks have a higher niacin requirement than chickens to remain healthy so you will have to supplement. We found ours at a health food store. Beware though, DO NOT buy brewers yeast if it has the words "no-flush" , "flush free" or "slow release" on the label. Wrong form of brewer's yeast and the ducks won't get the niacin they need. We use about a tablespoon or so sprinkled on their feed when we fill the feeders.
Hope this helps anyone thinking of raising ducks. It took us some time to get into a rhythm with ours and feel comfortable knowing that we were doing things right. We still consult the many duck discussion groups, Facebook groups and feed store employees with questions, but learning about these incredible birds is a process. A wonderful, entertaining and enjoyable process.
I'm the wife of a Fledgling Farmer(FF) and mom to Fledgling Farmer Boy(FFB) and Fledgling Farmer Girl(FFG).