Do Ducks Need Water? What You Should Know

Ducks do not just love water, they need it. A duck must not be left without clean water to bathe in, swim in, and drink. Ducks in such a scenario will suffer not only ill health effects but also become emotionally distressed and exhibit anxious and even destructive behavior. 

It does not matter if you are keeping ducks only for eggs, also for meat, or merely as cute farm pets, they all must have water. The absolute longest a duck should go without water is eight hours – but even such a short time without water access could have negative effects on the health of the poultry bird.

Chickens have been the traditional meat and egg bird in America, but ducks are now becoming far more popular on not just farms and homesteads, but in backyards across the country. Why? Well, ducks are adorable AND they lay not just larger eggs but more eggs than chickens … and typically for years longer, as well.

ducklings near water

Do Even Ducklings Need Water?

Ducklings will want to go swimming the first minute they spot water – even if that water is a shallow dish that is supposed to provide them with drinking water. But, it is vital to the health of the ducklings that their natural desire to swim be deterred until they are at the very least two weeks old.

The natural oils that allow a duck to quickly dry and prevent them from chilling and become ill, do not materialize until after two weeks. As hard as it can be to not allow the cute fuzzy little ducklings out of a brooder and into the water access area with the older ducks, it really needs to be done. I prefer to wait until the ducklings are one month old before allowing them to have access to swimming water, especially if they are born during cold weather months. 

As long as the ducklings have drinking water – lots of drinking water, they will not suffer any ill effects from being denied a swim. If you have never kept ducklings before you will likely be surprised at just how much water ducklings will consume during just a single day. In my experience, four ducklings can drink (and slosh to the point of soaking brand new bedding) one gallon of water daily, on average.

ducks in a steel tub

What If I Don’t Have A Pond?

While ducks need water, they do not necessarily need a full-fledged pond. For far too long many homesteaders thought only we rural folk could enjoy keeping ducks because of the space needed to put in a pond if one did not already exist on the land.

Although ducks would prefer to have a large and deep pond to swim in everyday, one is not necessary to keep them happy and healthy – and in water. A small hand dug garden pond or a plastic baby pool place in the duck coop run, will suffice. 

Even if you have a pond for the ducks to use when they are free ranging, a small water source is still necessary inside of the duck house run. There may be times when the ducks cannot be let out to free range all day, such as a lurking predator, keeper illness, or a family vacation. 

Unless your substitute duck flock helper is very familiar to the birds, it is likely they will not adhere to their free range “put up” training and comply with any direction given to herd them safely inside at dusk. Domesticated ducks of all breeds are extremely routine driven creatures. If their keeper could wear the same clothes and boots every single day during feed time and put up time, this would thrill the poultry birds to no end – THAT is how married to routine ducks can become.

Planning ahead to a single day or longer when the primary keeper cannot let the flock out for the day and put them up by placing a plastic pool in the run will help ensure the health of the flock because their access to water has not been thwarted.

Never use an inflatable pool because the toenails on the webbed feet of the ducks will eventually poke holes in it. Ducks may also bite at the new addition to their run and/or stand on the sides and flap their wings with glee as the water pours out over the side.

A plastic baby pool with a slide is often quite popular with duck keepers. Some ducks really enjoy waddling or actually sliding down a baby pool slide.

Do I Need A Baby Pool And A Waterer In The Run?

Yes, absolutely. The baby pool water will get dirty rather quickly from the ducks jumping in and out of it – and making mud around the entire area. You do not want to eat eggs or meat from ducks that are drinking dirt and the leavings of their own feces all day long.

I recommend using a hanging fountain waterer for the ducks to help keep their drinking water clean and separate from the swimming water. This type of waterer hangs on the outside of the coop run with only the fountain tips being accessible on the inside. 

Some folks have tried to outsmart their duck flock by putting a second baby pool in the run and attaching woven wire or large gauge hardware cloth fencing across it. In theory, this provides a whole lot of clean drinking water for the duck flock that will not get dirty quickly like the pool for swimming (expect to hose it out and refill about every three days) and negate the daily waterer filling chore. Well, despite all of the cute photos on Pinterest of such pool-waterer combos, the duck will sit on top of the fencing because they can hop or fly high enough to do so and eventually leave their droppings flowing inside as they try to figure out a way through the barrier to their water.

If you are struggling to keep up with the waterer filling, invest in two or three waterers to ensure the ducks have cleaning drinking water all night after free ranging put up and on days when they are kept cooped up.

ducks in a ice pond

Ducks Need To Swim In Water Even During The Winter?

Ducks will need water even during the coldest months of winter. Most breeds of domesticated ducks (Pekin ducks especially) are prone to going swimming even when there is ample snow on the ground. 

You will need to plan ahead to devise a way to keep the baby pool and any pond the ducks use from freezing completely over in the winter – as well as the flock waterers. The key to success when fighting winter weather that is cold enough to freeze a pond, pool, or waterer is to have your supplies in place and on the water before the thermometer dips below 35 degrees.

I have had the best luck filling plastic bottles (for waterer) and jugs (for ponds or pools) with a two parts standard table salt and 1 part water mixture to keep water from freezing. The individual water bottles can be placed inside of a waterer and allowed to float around to help keep the water from freezing. 

In a baby pool or pond the milk or juice jugs used should be connected with a rope (knot in between each jug to keep them in place) and strung across the water source. Attach the rope to some fence posts (plastic step in cheap posts work just fine) and do not tie them so taunt that they cannot float about a bit to keep the water moving and to prevent thin ice from forming.

I do not attempt to keep our entire pond from freezing, just about 15 feet of the shallow end to give the ducks a place to dip their heads and necks into on really chilly days and to swim in as they see fit.

If you see the ducks lounging and wallering around in the snow instead of in their baby pool or pond, odds are the water has frozen over and it is time to get a mallet out and break up the ice.

ducks cleaning themselves in water

How Large Should A Duck Pond Or Pool Need To Be?

The width and length of the duck water feature will depend largely on the size of your flock. But keep in mind that ducks do like to dive completely under water. If you are keeping a large breed of duck I recommend making the pond at least two feet deep.

Each duck should have 6 to 9 square feet of water area to call their own so they can swim, float, and preen themselves. The act of preening helps to remove dirt, and feces bacteria from their body and to rid themselves of parasites – all of which help keep the meat and eggs birds, or farm pets, healthy.

Allowing ducklings to swim in a deep pond will not pose any danger to the poultry birds, as long as they are old enough to have their natural drying oils. A steep bank on the pond can be intimidating to a duckling and cause the bird to roll down the hilly area a time or two before they get the hang of traversing the area.

Watching the ducks romp and swim in their water source can be both entertaining and relaxing. Many domesticated duck breeds prefer (or will only) breed when they are on water. Watching ducks mate in the water for the first time can be a little distressing for keepers. Drakes are not exactly gentle during this process and can appear to be fighting or even drowning a hen. There is almost never a need to go running to the pond to rescue the hen, the whole ordeal is over in moments and the hen survives just fine. Attempting to pull a drake off of a hen can damage both of their sex organs and potentially caue terminal internal damage.

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