Raising ducklings is the most fun and cutest parts of the entire duck husbandry process. These cute little fuzzy bundles of energy and noise are exciting to watch grow and thrive for the kiddos and adults, alike.
Baby ducklings being raised naturally by a momma or incubated by their future keepers, the husbandry tactics are basically the same.
The time of year the ducklings are born plays a substantial role in the raising process of the young poultry birds. It is possible to raise the ducklings entirely outdoors during warm weather months of the year in most climates. Ducklings hatched during the winter must be kept in a heated indoor brooder unless being cared for by a momma duck.
Where Should Ducklings Be Kept After Hatching?
Ducklings can be kept in a brooder or in a coop or duck house and run setting with their momma. In the wild, an attentive duck hen is all that is needed to keep ducklings warm – even during the winter months. Unfortunately, not all breeds of duck hens develop the maternal instincts. These instincts are necessary to coerce them into the time consuming job of taking care of ducklings 24 hours a day seven days a week.
If you choose to try and go the most natural route when raising ducklings, expect to lose up to half of the young birds due to maternal neglect. Loses also occur due to accidental injuries by other mature flock members.
I am a huge proponent of raising all animals as naturally as possible. Yet, I do not keep my ducklings in the coop and run with their mommas. Pekin ducklings are born a fairly substantial size – a lot larger than chicks. They are still fairly fragile and can get run over and squished by the mature ducks in the flock.
Chicken hens are quite content to be in a brooder with their chicks. But, in my personal experience, duck hens, especially those of a larger meat bird class breed, do not take to being secluded in a brooder. This is true even in a large and spacious one, while raising ducklings.
Typically, I keep all ducklings and chicks hatched at or about the same time together in a brooder. I believe this early togetherness has substantially helped me to successfully raise chicken flock and duck flocks together.
So, What Exactly Is A Brooder?
A brooder is a housing unit that can be homemade out of a variety of materials or purchased from a livestock supply retailer like Tractor Supply or Rural King.
A brooder must be made out of material that is exceptionally fire resistant. Any heat lamps used to keep the ducklings warm during the winter, early spring, or late fall months, can catch the entire housing unit on fire.
Dried bedding, plastic baby pool sides or bottoms, or wood framing on homemade brooders are especially susceptible to fire being started by the intensity of the brooder heat lamps.
If you use a brooder that is made out of hardware cloth (rabbit pen wire) and wood framing boards, clipping the brooder lamps onto the support frame. Ensure the lamps are pointed over the metal cage material only – angle out and not straight down while raising ducklings.
Using metal tubs as a brooder is definitely a fire safe option, but the metal gets extremely hot relatively quickly when placed beneath the brooder lamps. Scorching the feet of the ducklings can cause irreparable damage.
Black rubber livestock tubs sold at livestock supply stores, are an excellent choice for a brooder when raising ducklings. These cute little birds are a whole lot messier than chicks. Ducklings will splash water everywhere. This happens even if you use a poultry bird waterer designed with a shallow tray to offer ample drinking but minimal overall access to the water itself. Bedding gets wet and stinky in a duckling brooder. This happens over the course of just two or three days. This drippy mess would right out of a hardware cloth brooder.
The rubber can catch on fire, but it is so much thicker than a plastic baby pool and would take a whole lot longer. The heat from the brooder lamps is dispersed more evenly around the rubber tub. This helps prevent and scorching of the duckling feet or bodies.
A brooder is safe and fire resistant housing that will keep the ducklings contained in a warm and close to room temperature area. This is essential while they are growing after hatching.
While raising ducklings note that domesticated ducklings will not be able to fly like chicks. There is no need to cover the top of the brooder with hardware cloth or chicken wire to prevent escape.
How To Set Up A Brooder
Ducklings should be housed in a brooder until they are at least six weeks old. Once ducklings of any breed reach this stage they are large enough to hold their own in a flock setting. If ducklings hit this transitional stage during the winter months, it may be quite a shock to their system to send them out into the big cold world.
As long as the brooder is large enough to allow the ducklings ample freedom of movement, it is not harmful to keep ducklings in a brooder longer. Ducklings may not be able to fly out of the brooder but can jump high. For safety, make sure the rim of the brooder is one foot higher than the tallest duckling – or simply cover the top of any open crate or tub style brooder.
Once the ducklings are over two weeks old their natural oils have come in and it is deemed safe to allow them water to swim in. Until the oils come in, the water in the brooder needs to be offered in a poultry waterer. This prevents the ducklings from getting a drink, and wet their beaks and nostrils.
The ducklings will get chilled if they go swimming before the natural oils come in. Oils allow them to dry themselves in rapid fashion. Make sure any bowl or tub placed in the brooder for swimming is not so tall. You want ducklings get in and out of it safely. Watching the ducklings quickly pile into their little pool once you set it down. Make sure they can maneuver back out of it safely. Some keepers remove the pool at night if they are worried about the ducklings. Spending too much time in the water and not staying out of it long enough to get warmed up.
I recommend using red heat lamps in the brooder over white. This is especially important when keeping chicks and ducks together. If even a tiny spot of blood is present on a chick or duck, some chicks may relentlessly peck at the small wound or feather plucking area. This can create a feeding frenzy among the other young flock members that can easily result in death.
The red heat lamps also prevent the ducklings from mixing up night and day. The bright lights at night do not guide the ducks into sleeping. The light makes them think it is still daytime. The sweet little quacking attempts by the ducklings can be endearing during daylight hours. But, you do not want to hear those same sounds coming from your laundry room, living room, or porch all night long.
Some duck keepers who do not brood ducklings with chickens use white lights in addition to the red heat lamps during the daytime. Then they will turn them off at night to acclimate the newest members of the flock to night and day.
As noted above, always angle the heat lamps out over a brooder living area and not directly downwards. This is to avoid drying out the bedding too quickly and prompting it to catch fire.
The temperature in the brooder should ideally be 70 to 75 degrees throughout the living space except in a designated warming area. The food and water bowls should be placed in the general living and not the designated warming area.
The temperature in the designated warming area should be 95 to 100. Each week the temperature in the warming area should be reduced by about five degrees until it reaches room temperature. The hardening off of the ducklings from the warming area will help them safely acclimate. Getting them use to a more moderate temperature before they permanently relocate outside with the rest of the flock is a good idea.
There are many safe, comfy, and warm brooder bedding options for ducklings. You can use any of the ones noted below. Expect to invest the time to remove it and wipe out the brooder every three days when raising ducklings.
Ducklings left in soiled bedding to sleep and sit in their own filth WILL cause burnt/rash skin, the falling out of fuzz or feathers. This exposes them to potentially deadly pathogens.
- Shredded Cardboard
- Straw – though less absorbent that hay and sawdust.
Place the poultry bird feeder on a brick or similarly safe object to help prevent the ducklings from relieving themselves on their food or climbing over it with dirty feet that can transfer their waste onto their food.
Place the feeder and the waterer on opposite sides of the brooder (but outside of the warming area) to avoid splashed water from reaching the food and turning it soggy.
Inexpensive metal or plastic chick feeders are readily available at livestock supply stores. Do not use just a shallow dish or bowl, the ducks will get into it and not only get their feed dirty, but fling it about everywhere – wasting a lot of it.
Put the duckling brooder in a space that is warm, dry, and well ventilated. A porch is fine in most environments as long as it is not winter time. An unheated garage is where I place my brooder during winter months. During warmer seasons of the year the brooder is placed just outside of the chicken and duck run. Do this so the newest members of the flock can see, smell, and hear the goings on in the barnyard and adapt to them before being turned out.
Ducklings can eat waterfowl food or standard chicken poultry bird feed. Waterfowl feed is going to be far more difficult to find if you live in a rural area. Expect to order your feed online. All of the duck keepers that I have even known do as I do and simply use chicken feed for their flocks.
Ducklings can be fed non-medicated chick starter but should never be given medicated chicken starter. Many brands of medicated chick starter contain amprolium – a coccidiostat that is not generally recommended for consumption by either ducks or geese. I have never used medicated chick starter period, but I choose to treat my flock 100 percent naturally. Your choice may be otherwise and perhaps you can find a medicated chick starter that does not contain amprolium.
Once ducklings are roughly 18 weeks old they can transition to a poultry bird layer feed. Use feed that is either crumble, scratch, or pellet form. Because of the rounded break shape, scratch can be somewhat difficult for ducklings (or ducks) to pick up and consume.
Ducklings need more niacin in their diet that chicks – as do their mature peers. Free range ducklings with the rest of the flock and eat plants and bugs, they get niacin. Until then sprinkle a single packet of brewer’s years onto their feed as a supplement.
Ducklings should also be given a free choice snack of some type of grit. Oyster shell works great as grit. The calcium helps them achieve optimal healthy nutrient intake.
It is best not to feed ducklings treats until they are at least four weeks old. This can be very difficult for many keepers, I am guilty of this too. If you choose to do so, only choose items that are safe for ducks and do so in very light moderation after the daily food ration has been consumed.
Releasing Ducklings Into The Flock
Releasing the ducklings into the run with the rest of the flock should be done after the flock has been fed. Ducks and chickens are highly routine driven and will be too excitable during morning turnout. To safely deal with ducklings in their midst for the first time wait until after feeding.
You may have to work diligently for a while to make sure the ducklings are getting to eat. Make sure they are not being muscled out of position by the mature ducks. Keep watch until they are large enough to fend for themselves.