Caring For Ducks During Winter

ducks in water

Caring for ducks in the winter involves a small but vital amount of preparation to keep
the flock members healthy. Fortunately for avid duck keepers, these birds are typically a
lot more cold weather hardy than chickens and far less susceptible to both respiratory
problems and frostbite.

The thick layer of body fat combined with the soft down beneath weatherproof duck
feathers significantly help the poultry birds warm even during the coldest day of winter.
It is not unusual to see ducks lounging about in the snow on a January day just as
comfortably as they would be floating on a pond during the summertime.

Although ducks are far less likely to get frostbite and do not seem bothered by the
snow, there are a few husbandry winter preps that should be a part of your fall chores to
better ensure the ducks remain well cared for and healthy until the sun shines bright in
the sky once again.

ducks and chickens in snow

Winter Care Tips For Ducks

1. High Energy Snacks

Infusing more high fat, high protein, and high calorie snacks into the ducks’ diet will help
keep the bird warm not only during the daytime, but at night when the temperature
drops even cooler. Suggested energy snacks for ducks include: peanuts, Swiss chard,
oatmeal (especially warmed) kale, cabbage, and cracked corn.
Ducks typically lay better during the winter months because they do not need to use as
much energy to stay warm. High energy treats will help the birds use even less of their
natural energy to stay, which can in turn foster better egg production – both quality and
quantity.

2. Extra Bedding

While adding extra bedding to the coop might seem obvious, it is too crucial of a duck
care winter prep not to be highlighted. How much straw you will need to add to the coop
will depend on how many ducks you are keeping, but do not be stingy with it.
Just layer the sleeping areas at least as tall as the ducks themselves and there should
be enough natural straw insulation to last for at least a few weeks to a month –
depending upon how much time the ducks spend inside of the coop. On average, ducks
spend less time actually inside the coop during periods of inclement weather than
chickens.

The ducks will trample down the straw bedding, with the hens even making nests out of
it. I often layer some sawdust into the straw bedding as well to help keep out as much
cold air as possible.

Because ducks spend more time outdoors and you want to encourage that to keep
down cleaning chores during the winter, consider sprinkling out a few bales around the
run, as well. Fill a few old tires or tubs with straw to give the ducks a nice soft and warm
place to lounge during the day and particularly after they go for a swim.

3. Keeping The Waterer From Freezing

Float some ping pong balls inside of the water if it has a closed top. The balls will move
about as the avid drinkers slurp from the fountain attachment on the water and keep
them moving about to prevent freezing. This inexpensive little tip typically works until the
temperature dips below 20 degrees.

In addition to the ping pong balls, floating plastic bottles filled at least half way full of
standard table salt will help prevent the water from freezing, as well. In my personal
experience, the salt water bottles often prevent duck waterers from freezing until it gets
into the low teens. The weight of the bottles will keep them from being flown away by a
slight wind, as would happen with the ping pong balls, so they can be used in tub or
trough waterers, as well.

Once the temperature gets this cold, you will likely have to either add more salt water
bottles into the waterer or dump them and pour in more really hot water – or both.
Ducks should never go longer than eight hours without access to water. Ducklings
cannot be placed in water until they are a minimum of two weeks old because their
natural drying oils do not come in until at least that time. Ducklings should not go longer
than four hours without drinking water to prevent the threat of potentially deadly
dehydration.

ducks swimming in ice hole

4. Keep The Duck Pond Or Pool From Freezing

Ducks always need access to a water source, be it a spacious pond on a rural
homestead or a small decorative garden pond or baby pool in a more suburban
environment. Although ducks do usually swim less during the winter months, they still
have the innate desire to swim and cleanse themselves. A duck absolutely needs to be
able to dunk its head and beak into water at least a few times a week to remain healthy.

Keeping a large pond from completely freezing over is a lot easier than preventing a
baby pool or small garden pond from doing the same thing. The more the ducks have
access to the water source, the more water movement occurs, which helps prevent the
chilly water from freezing into solid ice.
There are several ways to prevent a duck pool or pond from freezing – most can be
accomplished entirely off grid so there is no need to run multiple long extension cords
out to your pond or coop.

● Salt Water Bottles

Take the salt water bottles tactic up a notch and use gallon milk jugs for large ponds.
The jugs can be left to float around to a rope can be strung through the handles so a
line of the jugs can be placed in exact positions on the pond and not all clump together
when the wind blows or the ducks go swimming.

Simply anchor the ends of the rope on an inexpensive plastic step in livestock fence
post or a similar simple and cheap to install stake. Criss crossing the jugs across the
pond will not deter the ducks from swimming after the flock members get used to their
presence. I prefer to string the milk jugs a few weeks before I expect the weather to take
a cold turn to allow the birds time to learn the jugs are not a threat and will by no means
eat them if they go for a swim.

Ducks must have access to water at all times, both for drinking purposes and to swim
in. A large duck pond can actually be easier to keep from freezing into a solid layer of
ice than a plastic baby pool or prefabricated garden pond being used as a swimming
water source for a duck flock.

ducks winter pond

The members of your duck flock will need access to swimming water even in the chilly
weeks of January and February. Keeping the water from freezing when the
temperature dips below 32 degrees is far less of a chore if you have prepared for the
annual snow and ice season at least a little bit in advance.

The easiest and most affordable way to keep either a duck pond or a duck pool from
freezing in the winter involves keeping or making a hole in any ice that forms on the
water source. Exactly how you go about keeping the duck pond from freezing will
depend on how large of a space your flock has to swim,but all the basic principles are
the same – and can even be adapted for use in the duck flock waterer.

● Floating Snacks

Not only will some snacks placed in an open tub waterer, small decorative pond, or
baby pool float around and help prevent the water from freezing, the high energy snacks
are also a great boredom buster during a season when the ducks are less actively
foraging.

Until the temperature gets in the low 20 or the teens depending on how much of a wind
chill you are experiencing, heads of lettuce, cabbage, chunks of vegetables, etc. will
turn into a hilarious duck version of apple bobbing. If you are also keeping chickens, this
winter duck care tip might not be a safe option. The chickens will also eagerly go after
the snacks and they can not only catch frostbite easily from being subjected to the cold
water, but can drown rather quickly if they go into the pond after a tasty treat.

● Floating Energy Powered Water Movers

If your coop or pond is not located too far away from the house you can purchase a
small livestock safe de-icer or pond fountain in the water feature used by the ducks to
keep the water moving or warmed enough not to freeze completely. If you would like a more in depth method of the set up, you can watch a video posted by YouTuber, 50 Ducks in A Hot Tub, we have linked here. A heated large dog bowl is often deep enough to allow a duck to dip its head and bill inside to “wash off” if you are momentarily fighting a losing battle against a cold snap, as well.

Ducks can poke their bills through slush or even a thin layer of ice to get a drink, but will
not be able to swim in such semi-frozen water.

Caring for ducks during winter involves just a small amount of diligent planning and very
little expense. Keeping the flock healthy and still producing eggs during even the most
nasty and frigid times of the year can be accomplished without a lot of extra coop and
run chore time, as long as you plan ahead and have the needed materials in place
before the first snow falls.

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