Alan is a veteran of the US Air Force, a master electrician, and a long-time hobby farmer.
Basic Duckling Care
Raising baby ducks is a fun and rewarding process. Only a few easy steps are required to ensure healthy and happy ducklings. The proper food and water presented in a correct manner, a heat source, and proper housing are really all they need to thrive.
These days, the right feed for ducklings is easy to find in most cases. Providing water seems obvious, but there are special considerations when dealing with baby ducks and water.
A heat source along with proper housing is often referred to as a brooder. Brooding ducklings is actually the process of raising them until they are mature enough to leave the brooder and live without an artificial source of heat. This brooding period will normally last six to eight weeks.
What Do Baby Ducks Eat?
They should eat a special livestock starter feed specifically designed to meet their dietary needs. This feed may have a couple of different names like duck starter feed or waterfowl starter. It is easily obtained online or locally at a livestock feed store.
Can ducklings eat chick starter feed?
When these cannot be sourced, a more common chick starter feed made for chickens can be used. It is important to note that some chick starter feed contains medication and should never be used for ducklings. Chick starter feed is fine for ducks as long as it is not medicated. The feed should be in crumble form if it is truly a starter feed.
What's the best way to feed ducklings?
Ducklings should be fed using a plastic poultry feeder. These are widely available and help to keep the food clean and sanitary. A feeder normally has a red trough on the bottom that provides access to the feed and a plastic bottle or bucket on top that holds the unused feed. As the ducklings eat the feed from the bottom, more feed slides down from the top container and keeps the trough filled.
They Love Water
Providing water at all times is especially important when raising baby ducks. Ducklings drink very often throughout the day. They also require a lot of water while eating. It is important that water is presented correctly.
Do ducklings like to swim in water?
Ducklings hatched in an incubator and raised in a brooder do not have the necessary oil on their bodies to make them buoyant. Under more natural circumstances, the mother duck would transfer some of the oil on her feathers to her babies. For this reason, ducks raised artificially in a brooder should not be given water deep enough to swim in until they are fully feathered. This is an important guideline and should always be followed to avoid any unnecessary risk of drowning.
When can I let the ducklings play in water?
When ducklings are a week old, they can be offered a shallow pan holding less than one inch of water once a day. They will splash and play in this water. Remove the pan after about fifteen minutes so the ducklings can dry off. Baby ducks will enjoy this daily playtime in the shallow water.
What's the best way to give ducklings water to drink?
Drinking water should be presented to baby ducks in a plastic water fount designed for young poultry. A water fount will usually feature a red plastic trough on the bottom, similar to a feeder. A plastic reservoir on top holds the water, which flows out via gravity through a small hole to keep the trough filled. Keep the water fount clean and filled with water.
They Need a Brooder
A brooder is really the combination of a reliable heat source and a draft-free enclosure. The enclosure should be draft-free and protect the ducklings from both harsh weather and predators. This could be something as simple as a large cardboard box or plastic tote in the corner of a garage for a few ducklings.
How big should a brooder be?
Whatever the enclosure may be, it should provide a draft shield around the baby ducks at least eighteen inches tall.
What should I put in the brooder?
Line the bottom of the box or enclosure with untreated pine shavings. Pine shavings are often used for all types of baby poultry and should be easy to find. The shavings should be about four inches thick. Change the shavings often to keep them clean and dry.
How to Keep Ducklings Warm
The heat source most often used at the hobby farm level is the heat lamp or brooder bulb. This is a special bulb that puts off a lot of heat, especially directly underneath the face of the bulb. A heavy-duty lamp holder that is specifically designed for heat lamps should always be used. These heat lamp setups are pretty easy to source online or at a local livestock feed store.
Hang the heat lamp about eighteen inches over the shavings. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature on top of the shavings, directly under the lamp. The correct starting temperature is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Raise or lower the lamp until this starting temperature is achieved. Make sure there is enough space in the enclosure for the ducklings to move away from the heat if they get too hot.
After a week, raise the lamp enough to lower the temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower the temperature by 5 degrees each following week until 70 degrees is reached. At this point, the baby ducks will no longer need a heat source unless temperatures in the brooder drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brooder Temperature in Degrees Fahrenheit
When Does a Duckling Become a Duck?
After six to eight weeks of brooding, baby ducks are not really babies anymore. Ducks grow fairly quickly, and they should have many adult duck traits at this age. Avoiding the heat lamp and lots of new feathers are sure signs that brooding is no longer required.
Once they are finished in the brooder, young ducks can be moved to an outdoor enclosure. In extremely cold weather conditions, a heat lamp should be used in the outdoor enclosure as needed. Raising healthy and happy baby ducks only involves a few easy steps, but the rewards are long-lasting.
Alan (author) from West Georgia on April 14, 2020:
Thanks for the comment. Yes, ducklings are a lot of fun and they have more personality than chickens. The eggs taste the same, just larger. Good luck to you with your future ducklings!
Devika Primic on April 13, 2020:
Ducklings are cute and your step by step advice enlightened me. I like the idea of having ducklings sounds a challenge.
What to Feed Baby Ducks
What do baby ducks eat? You can feed baby ducks non-medicated chick starter feed that you would buy for chickens. You normally would feed baby chicks medicated chick starter feed, but ducklings need the non-medicated kind. Amazon does have feed especially for baby ducks. It’s called duck starter crumble.
Make sure not to feed your adult duck adult (medicated) chicken food. Medicated chicken feed contains ingredients that aren’t good for your ducks. Most adult chicken feeds, however, are non-medicated, and those feeds are fine for feeding your adult ducks. We feed our adult chickens and ducks the same food.
Keeping and Caring for Ducks as Pets
With knowledge and the right care these darlings make fun pets!
With the Easter holiday approaching, baby ducklings often find their way into gift baskets, but with some forethought, knowledge, and planning these little darlings can become treasured members of the family. Here is some useful information for those who might be considering a duck as a pet. Ducks are wonderfully hardy, inexpensive, and easy to care for. They can live up to 20 years and make gentle and amusing pets. However, before choosing a duck as a pet, there are several important points to remember:
- Please DO NOT keep a duck as a “house” pet. They are NOT suited to an indoor lifestyle. Although it may make you happy to keep your duck indoors, understand that you are being cruel to the duck, as they need to live outdoors.
- Ducks are social animals that get along very well with each other and seldom fight. They are not solitary creatures and will become depressed and lonely quite easily which will make it difficult for them to survive or thrive. Because they do feel loneliness, isolation, and grief much like humans leaving a duck alone or caged for long periods of time is not emotionally healthy. NEVER keep just one duck this is cruel. Ducks are highly social animals and this means they need other ducks to live with. While it is possible to keep just one duck, it is strongly recommended that you have at least one other duck for company, while having three or four would be best.
- Don’t get a duck, or any other unusual animal for that matter, just to be different. Think about the animal's needs, and how to give it the life it needs and deserves not the life you want it to have.
Ducks are highly intelligent and emotional creatures. They can understand commands, play with toys, play games, give kisses, and beg for snuggles like other birds if you take the time to work with them. If handled frequently and gently from an early age, ducks will become quite sociable with people. It may take some getting used to, but eventually you will figure out what types of activities your duck enjoys. The more you interact with your duck, the quicker you will bond with one another.
- Contrary to popular belief, ducks do not require a pond or other open water in which to swim.
- Ducks do not smell or have odor like chickens.
- Ducks are not subject to parasites, fleas or ticks.
- Sexing ducklings is tricky, and so they are usually sold unsexed. When grown, the sexes may be distinguished by secondary characteristics. For example, in some breeds the males have a mainly green head, whereas the females do not. The rules for sexing by color are dependent on the breed. Ducks can also be sexed by their voices from the time they are about 6 weeks old. The females will begin to quack while the males' voices sound hoarse, like they have laryngitis.
Ducklings must be kept warm and dry for the first three to four weeks. Put a box or cage in a warm place (about 80-85oF, or 30oC), or supply heat with a light bulb. They must be allowed to move into or out of the heat as they choose, so place the lamp in a corner of the cage instead of in the center.
DO NOT leave them with water they can climb into when unsupervised as they could become chilled and possibly drown.
At about 4 or 5 weeks when the ducklings' breasts are covered with feathers, they can be put safely outdoors if it is not too cold. Try to get them used to the outdoors slowly by placing their box or cage outside for longer periods each day. If the weather is nice, they can be outside even when very young.
- Ducks need minimal shelter. They should have the option of getting out of the rain, sun, and wind if they choose.
- For up to four ducks, a good sized dog house is quite sufficient (2 feet by three feet for 2 ducks 3 feet by 4 feet for four ducks).
- Make sure that the opening faces away from the prevailing winds.
- The house can be insulated, bit this is not really necessary. If it gets very cold, try to arrange that the door can be closed. This is a good idea especially if predators might be a problem (this includes the local dogs and cats).
- If there are other pets around (yours or anyone else's), make sure the birds are well protected.
- The house should always be bedded with clean straw or wood shavings.
- Fencing requirements are also minimal: a three foot (one meter) high chicken wire enclosure will do, as would a nylon garden fence. Try to arrange at least ten square feet per bird. If dogs are a hazard, the fence must be at least 4 feet high. Remember to keep the fence flush with the ground. If your yard is well fenced already, you may opt to just let the ducks run loose in it.
Food and Water
Waterfowl should be fed unmedicated feed always. For the first two weeks the ducklings should be fed duck starter, which is a special ration for young birds. For weeks 3-7 they should be fed duck grower which is optimal for growth and development. From then on you can feed pullet grower, which is a lower protein, unmedicated chicken feed.
The birds should also have access to GRIT. This is simply ground up stone which they must have to help grind up food in their gizzards (they have no teeth and cannot chew). A bag of #2 grit will last a very, very long time.
Ducks love greens to eat they will keep your yard free of weeds if you allow them free access. Ducks also love other vegetables and grains, and will happily eat your dinner leftovers if they are not spiced too heavily. This includes breads, pasta, and vegetables cut into small bit-sized pieces. Please make sure that ALL fresh food is free of herbicides and pesticides.
The birds require a constant supply of clean water, deep enough to allow them to submerge their head. If you wish to supply water for swimming, try using a plastic wading pool found in toy stores. Just make sure they can get in and out of the pool by themselves. Don't allow the water to get too dirty too. You can use leftover swimming water in your garden or on the lawn for fertilizer so you’re not wasting it.
Other Things to Consider
Feces … is a BIG issue to consider. If you are familiar with other exotic birds then you probably have heard of bird diapering. While the typical bird diaper system sold is suitable for many types of bird, it will not fit ducks or geese. There is a harness similar to the diaper system that will hold a diaper on a duck or goose -- yet not interfere with swimming or preening. Diapers on ducks should be changed on average of every 4 hours and it is relatively easy to do. For those interested in organic gardening, the bulk of the feces tends to ball up and can be easily separated from the diaper and be used for composting or worm farming.
Many local ordinances and homeowner associations prohibit poultry of any sort, and ducks can spread salmonella and avian flu to humans. Salmonella and avian flu can be avoided with the proper precautions. At a minimum, cleanliness and avoiding exposure are paramount in prevention.
If you are considering a duck as a household (indoor exotic) pet, please do your homework and ensure it is the right choice for you. Ducks can live a long time and deserve a happy, healthy home for the duration. As with all pets, remember to contact your veterinarian when you have questions and to schedule checkups on a regular basis to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Ducks do tend to be healthier than chickens and are not as susceptible to Marek’s disease or coccidiosis – two diseases that often plague chicken flocks.
They can also overwinter better in colder climates as they have an extra layer of fat and don’t mind walking around in a bit of snow. In summer, they keep cool by splashing in a pond or pool, or by simply laying in the shade.
Because they spend a good deal of time in and on the water, the possibility of attracting mites, fleas and ticks is very minimal. In essence, they are hardy birds, well suited to most climates.
Rather than dreaming about a flock of chickens, how about bringing a brace of ducks in your backyard?
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy all their antics of mucking around in muddy puddles as they use their bills for digging and bug foraging.
Watch them long enough, and you’ll even get to see them blow bubbles in water!
They aren’t just having fun, though it may look that way, they are also cleaning out anything (feed, dirt, feathers, etc.) that could be lodged in their nostrils. They are just keeping clean, only to get muddy again just like children.
If you don’t mind the mud and the water and the quacking, then you’ll love raising backyard ducks!
It is an experience that no homesteader should live without, at least for a year, or more.
How to Take Care of Ducklings
Last Updated: January 1, 2021 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 40 testimonials and 85% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.
This article has been viewed 1,588,570 times.
Ducklings that have just hatched from their shells need a warm, safe environment to grow up strong and healthy. If you create a home free of hazards and provide them with plenty of food and water, your curious, playful baby ducks will be able to waddle and swim on their own before you know it. Learn how to make ducklings feel at home, feed them what they like to eat, and keep them safe from harm.