Ducklings, Ducks, and Dinner

We live on a normal sized suburban lot though we’re hoping to get some acreage. When I first caught the homesteading bug, I really wanted chickens. However, our town ordinances require a permit, fee, and about four other hoops before allowing them. I was distraught because we did not have the resources to go through those hoops at that time. However, being the ever clever homesteader/rule bender that I am, I noticed a loop hole. Ducks, were not mentioned in the town ordinance therefore were not technically against the rules. I also thought that my neighbors would be less likely to complain about ducks since they’re just so darn cute even as adults. I think chickens are cute too, but some people really have it out for those birds!

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The plan worked a little too well and now I’m obsessed with ducks. I have fallen hard for these web footed wacky creatures. They give us fresh eggs, meat, feathers, and entertainment. Oh and if you’ve never bonded with a baby duck, you don’t know what you’re missing. Their little peeps as they climb to your shoulder are just darling.

Ducklings are a great choice for a small homesteader. Granted, I don’t have much to compare them too. We do have one American Buff gander that we call Big Daddy. He works as our flock protector and police officer. Other than that I’ve only had the normal assortment of pet animals. I think that I like ducks so well because their nearly beginner proof. I’ve done a lot of reading on different poultry breeds, and chickens seem to be comparatively hard to keep. I’ll let you know my personal findings when we move and get a hen house.

To get started with ducks the first thing you need is commitment. They are adorable when they’re tiny, but they grow FAST. That darling peeping baby that you picked out at the feed store or up from the post office will be an awkward teenager in just a few weeks.They then be come crazy poop and mud machines. If you’re not ready to deal with animals like this long term don’t buy the duckling. Contrary to popular belief they won’t be happy if you go dump them at a lake. They’ll just be a fox’s or another wild animal’s dinner that is if they don’t starve to death when cold weather rolls around since most domestic breeds can’t fly and migrate like wild ducks.

Ducklings are great. Other than commitment you’ll need the following:

1. A Brooder- We use a plastic kiddie pool with a cardboard “fence”. Some people use rubbermaid tubs or even the fancy brooder boxes.

2. Food- I’ve used chick starter/grower feed and it worked just fine just make sure it’s unmedicated. Lots of people supplement that with brewers yeast to raise the nician levels. We didn’t know this when we got our first duckling set and they did just fine, but I did give them green peas as treats and apparently peas have a lot of nician (just make sure they’ve got access to grit if you give anything other than store bought feed.) You can buy waterfowl diet, but our feed store didn’t carry it and the thought of spending that much on shipping made me ill.

3. Water- I just give drinking water while they’re really small since they can easily get water logged and drown early on. You can use the standard chick waterers at first, but the ducklings have to be able to dunk their heads under so they can clean their nose and eyes. We just use a milk jug with a hole cut into the side at about their height. This worked really well because they could get their heads in but not their bodies, and it held a lot more as they got older. As they got older I did let them have occasional swims in the tub, but I kept a close watch on them and dried them well before they went back into the brooder.

4. Heat- Ducklings aren’t as delicate as chicks, but you will need a heat source if they/re in a chilly area. We have ours in a spare bedroom, and they’ve done ok without heat, but we used an ecoGlow when the others were in the garage. You can use a traditional heat lamp as well, but I’m paranoid about fire risk so the ecoGlow was worth the money for us. They are also easier on the electric bill.

5. Bedding- We use straw, but we’ve also used wood shavings. Either world fine, but straw is cheaper. Don’t use newspaper or your birds can get what’s called spradle leg.

That’s about all your ducklings need aside from love. There are lots of great books and resources. Backyard chickens runs an excellent duck thread with tips and questions. We’re on our second set of babies. We are currently brooding two rouens and a pekin.

Care for grown ducks seems to be even easier. Our main issue has been that they can be escape artist. That or we’re just bad with fences. We did lose a few ducks to a local dog due to the fencing issue, but that’s since been repaired. There was a crack big enough for them to get out behind some ivy so we missed it.We currently have a pair of Welsh Harliquins which are among the best layers according to the American Livestock Conservancy. They are also listed as critical meaning that they ALC estimates that there are only 500 breeding flocks left in the world. These ducks are so pretty, calm, and great layers. The will also hatch out a nest of eggs though we’ve not tried that yet. We also have the gander.

Grown ducks are super easy; they only need the following:

1. Water- They don’t have to have swimming water, but the do love it. We have a kiddie pool that we keep full for them,and they have access to a creek that runs through our back yard. The kiddie pool does get dirty quickly so you have to be committed to change that out regularly. I’ve seen a lot of cute duck pond designs on pinterest.

2. Food- We use unmedicated layer feed, and supplement with veggie treats. Again you can get waterfowl feed, but we’ve not had an issue with the cheaper chicken feed. The ducks also free ranger for a good chunk of their food. I love watching them forage. I keep their feed bowl,a large Tupperware container, full, and they eat from it as needed. If they don’t free range, and you give treats make sure they have access to grit. I also give my girls ground up egg shells to up their calcium intake. Oyster shell is available at feed stores and will do this too.

3. Protection- We use a large dog kennel as a duck house, but our NC weather is fairly mild. We did bring them into the garage the two days it that the temp dropped below -10. They’re hardy animals and designed to be weather resistant. Have a good fence to keep out predators and keep in ducks. As I said before, they are escape artist. We let ours free range in the fenced back yard. We had a hawk hanging about until I got Big Daddy, and since that gander arrived that hawk has been nowhere to be seen.

For these few things we get lots of nice eggs, They taste just like chicken eggs to me, and they’re very large. They are also great for baking. We also get meat. We culled our first duck just yesterday. My husband did the hard part, and I helped pluck it.While it’s not pretty, it’s very satisfying to know he had a good life and didn’t grow up in a factory farm. Hubby made sure he had a quick and humane death. I would have been happy to keep him, but he was bullying our other drake and being very hard on the girls. We’re going to have him for Easter dinner tomorrow. This was one of the most satisfying steps in our self-relaince/homesteading journey. It kind of took things to the next level. I can’t wait till we get more land and of course more of these wonderful creatures.

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