Canberra Backyard Poultry


Ducks

Housing

  • Ducks have simple housing needs. The most important thing is to shut them up when you are not at home in a secure pen or house that will protect them from predators. Foxes are the main predator and are common in cities, including Canberra. Night-time is the most risky for foxes but they can come by during the day too.
  • To be secure, housing must have solid sheeting or welded mesh at least 1.2mm thick on the roof, floor and walls. Chicken wire is not strong enough and can easily be torn by a fox.
  • Space requirements: Ducks need at least 1.5 sq metres per duck in their house or pen if they are to be confined in it during the day. For a night house 0.5 sq metres per duck is enough.
  • Duck housing should be out of the sun and should provide wind and sun protection. Ducks don’t really like to be in direct sun. Metal housing in particular should be insulated or shaded to avoid it becoming dangerously hot inside.  Housing must also be well ventilated. A simple three-sided shelter with a mesh base, front and door is suitable. Face the open side away from the prevailing winds in your area.
  • Your duck house or pen should be easy to clean. Ducks poop a lot! A surface of sand in their day pen and sugar cane mulch in the nest is a good combination.
  • Do not use bare concrete or pavers over more than one third of the pen floor or your ducks will develop sores on their soft feet.
  • Inside the house, provide a ‘private’ spot for a nest (a sturdy cardboard box on its side, or an old lawnmower catcher will do). Keep the nest topped up with clean sugar cane mulch, wood shavings or straw. Ducks often bury their eggs in the nest.
  • Ducks don’t need a perch – they will sleep on the floor.
  • Keep their food container under cover so it doesn’t get wet. Keep the water and food at least a metre apart to discourage them from dribbling water in their food.
  • Ideally, put the water over an area that drains well. Sitting the water container over a drainage pit wider than the water container and filled with smooth pebbles is ideal.

Food

  • Ducklings and ducks need to eat a commercially prepared food as their main diet.
  • Up to 6 weeks of age they should be fed duck starter crumbles, for example Laucke Duck Starter. Before this age avoid food made for chickens if possible – it is deficient in the nutrients that growing ducks need.
  • After 6 weeks and up to 20 weeks of age they can be fed a good quality grower food suitable for ducks (e.g. Laucke Duck Fattening Pellets) or a feed for pullets (young chickens).
  • After 20 weeks of age they can be fed a good quality layer or breeder food suitable for adult chickens. Do not feed them mash (feed ground in the form of a powder) as they can choke on it. Pellets or grain are best.
  • After 20 weeks of age ducks also need daily access to shell grit as a source of calcium to ensure strong shelled eggs.
  • At all ages ducks will enjoy being fed thawed frozen peas, leafy greens, or zucchini (including zucchini leaves). Try them out and see what they like! Leafy greens are very good for them.
  • Ducks scoop up their food so feed them in a dish or container that allows them to scoop
  • You can make food available at all times so they don’t go hungry. They will eat what they need.
  • Bread is ok as a treat but it is ‘duck junk food’. Bread shouldn’t be a regular part of their main diet.

Water

  • Ducks love water. They will go through about a litre of drinking water per duck per day.
  • Ducks need water to keep their eyes, bills, feet and feathers in good condition. As a minimum, all day you must provide your ducks with water deep enough for them to stick their whole head into. They will also use this to wash the rest of their body. Without this they can get eye and respiratory infections and their feathers will become tatty.
  • Ducks will also love access to water they can climb into and splash in. They don’t need to have swimming water all day in their pen or house – something out in the backyard will be fine.  A kiddie pool (clam shell) or a tub about 20cm deep is ideal.
  • Whenever ducks have access to feed they must also have access to water. Ducks need water to wash down their food. If you take away their water at night, take away their feed as well.

Health care

  • Ducks kept in a clean environment and fed good food are generally very robust and hardy animals.
  • Ducks rarely suffer from intestinal worms or mites (especially if they have regular swimming sessions) but it is a good idea to worm them every 6 months to a year with a poultry wormer. Use something that covers tapeworm.
  • Ducks are clumsy and are prone to tripping over things. Sometimes they can strain a leg muscle/tendon. Usually this improves over a week or so, but keep an eye on it.
  • If ducks are kept on a rough or hard surface they can develop foot ulcers. If you notice any unusual swellings on their feet or limping that doesn’t seem to be improving then this may need attention from a vet.
  • Don’t ever give mouldy food to ducks – mould spores can cause respiratory diseases in ducks
  • Keep their water clean – change drinking water every day. Ducks can get botulism from stagnant water. But don’t worry that they turn their new, clean water brown within minutes – that’s normal!

Handling Ducks

  • Ducks are easy to herd. To catch a duck, slowly herd them into a corner. To move them from one place to another walk slowly behind them. Raise your right arm to make them move left. Raise your left arm to make them move right.
  • Don’t ever chase ducks – you risk causing leg injuries.  Always move slowly around ducks. They don’t like sudden, fast movements.
  • Ducks usually don’t like being picked up and cuddled. Only pick them up if you need to. To tame them, sit quietly and use tasty treats (like peas and lettuce) to get them eating out of your hand.
  • Day-old and young ducklings should be picked up bodily in the palm of the hand, or if handling groups by the neck.
  • When transporting a group of ducklings, use a box with a lid and air holes – they will jump out of a box unless it’s got very high sides or a lid.
  • Handling older ducks depends on the size of the ducks – larger ducks especially need careful handling to support their larger body weight.  The animal welfare legislation suggests picking a duck up by the wings or neck. Picking up by the wings means by the base of the wing near the body but this is very difficult to do correctly without a practical demonstration.  In fact, many duck books advise against picking up by the wings on the grounds it can injure the duck.
  • A good method is when the duck is standing on the ground, hold the neck to secure the duck and then pick up by the body, keeping the wings held folded to the ducks side.
  • Ducks must never be lifted by a single wing.
  • Ducks must never be held or lifted by the legs.
  • Never turn a duck upside down (with the head to the ground) – due to the design of their lungs they can suffocate if upside down.

Ducks and your garden

  • Ducks love to forage around a garden. They search in mulch and under plants for tasty grubs and worms. They should do a great job of removing snails and slugs from your garden.
  • Ducks like to eat grass, so they will enjoy grazing on lawn. They will keep weeds down too.
  • You will need to fence them out of your vegetable garden – they will eat just about any leafy vegetable.
  • Ducks do not dig (unlike chickens) but they will make little holes in soft or wet earth with their bills, ‘drilling’ for worms.
  • When you are digging over your garden bed, let the ducks in – they will have a wonderful time finding earthworms and other treats.

Other duck facts

  • Ducks are fully grown at about 9 weeks of age.
  • Females will start laying around 6 or 7 months of age.
  • Ducks can live till around 10 to 15 years of age.
  • Ducks (females) quack but drakes (males) only make a soft raspy sound and are very quiet
  • Ducks will moult every year in late summer. They will gradually lose all their feathers (including the big wing feathers) and will grow brand new ones. Drakes also go through a partial moult in early summer.
  • Ducks usually lay eggs in late winter, spring and early summer. Duck eggs can be used for anything that chicken eggs are used for. Ducks usually lay their eggs before 7am. If you keep them in their pen till 7.30am they will lay their eggs where you can find them!
  • Ducks are very curious animals and like to come to watch whatever is going on.
  • Ducks can be awake or asleep any time of day or night (unlike chickens which sleep through the night).
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