How to Raise Ducks

The basics you need to know to raise ducklings into happy egg-laying adult ducks

  1. Life Stages of a Duck
  2. Water for Ducks
  3. Shelter for Ducks
  4. Food for Ducks

raising backyard ducks

Duck Basics

Ducks are an excellent addition to any homestead.  Raising ducklings to mature adults is a straightforward process and very similar to chickens.  The biggest difference between ducks and chickens is their requirements for water.  Ducks do not need lots of water, but they must be able to submerge their entire head underwater.  Due to this water requirement, it is important to have the necessary watering device that will allow them to get water properly as a duckling without fully submerging in the water.  Later in life ducks will appreciate it if you throw them a pool party with a kiddie pool.

A duck needs a shelter that is secure from predators primarily.  It needs to be adequate for wind and rain protection but ducks are hearty and it can be simple.  Proper nutrition early on in life will ensure that your ducklings mature at the right growth rate without debilitating problems like a niacin deficiency.  Access to a high-quality feed along with copious amounts of bugs and grasses from the yard will sustain your birds while laying delicious eggs.

Let’s dive into the basics of how to raise ducklings to mature ducks.  Ducks love a daily routine so keep that in mind as you develop your daily duck chores and feeding schedules.

How to Raise Ducks from Ducklings to Adults

Ducklings grow very rapidly.  It is wise to be ready for ducklings and adult ducks when you receive your first ducklings.  Baby ducks will be juveniles and adults in a matter of weeks so if you are not prepared with a duck house or duck run and you have ducklings in a brooder, it’s time to get busy.

Where to Buy Ducklings?

  1. Local feed/farm supply store.
  2. Local breeder or local farm willing to sell a few birds
  3. National breeders

We have purchased chickens and ducks from all of these sources.  Local birds can be a great option if available, however if you have specific breed requirements a local option may be limited or non-existent.  Depending on the source you may be required to get “straight run” birds which means they are unsexed and you get what you get in terms of female to male birds.  Selecting the sex of the birds is important if you will be managing a small flock specifically for egg-laying.

Life Stages of a Duck

raising poultry from duckling to adult


Baby ducks grow incredibly fast.  This is when they are cutest. Ducklings need three things.  Water, food, and a heat source to keep them warm.  The best heat lamp for ducks is a ceramic heat emitter or a heat plate.

Baby ducks will be little eating machines.  During the duckling stage, it is very important to feed them a proper diet of non-medicated starter feed for waterfowl.  Feed for ducklings should be high in protein, approximately 18-20 percent.  At the 4-week mark, it is ok to start to transition the ducks to a grower ration that is approximately 14 percent protein.  At this point, you can experiment with reducing the supplemental heat and preparing them for the outdoors.

Play for ducklings can include short romps around the grass and a swim in the kitchen sink or bathtub.  Remember if your ducklings get wet it is important that they get dried off and warmed back up.  Ducklings get in the water from day one in the wild, but they have a mom duck to keep them from getting cold.  You need to be the mommy duck if you allow them to go for a swim, dry them off with a towel.

Juvenile Ducks

As ducks start to get their first full set of feathers they start to look a little ugly.  Don’t worry those feathers will fill in soon enough.  Your duck is well on its way to being a mature adult duck.  We built a mobile duck run for our ducklings and juvenile birds to use.  This allows the birds to get grass time, but stay safe and protected inside.

Adult Ducks

Quack Quack is what most backyard duck owners are hoping to hear from their ducklings as they mature.   Female ducks have the quintessential quack that we all recognize as a duck.  The males known as “drakes” have a raspy-sounding quack that is not as clear and crisp.  As well as a drake feather that curls near their tale.

Roast Duck or Egg Layers

Ducks are wonderful egg layers and their eggs are more nutritionally and calorically dense compared to a chicken.  A roast duck or using duck fat elsewhere in the kitchen is divine.  No matter what you are raising ducks are exceptional and worth the extra labor involved.

If you have male ducks or you were planning on raising birds specifically for meat then you will want to plan your butcher date in the 7 to 8 weeks old range.  Duck feathers are very difficult to pluck, nowhere near as easy as a chicken’s.  Therefore, selecting the butcher date before a new flush of feathers emerges is ideal.  Waiting too long to harvest your ducks may mean you need to skin the birds versus plucking.

Water for Ducks

Ducks don’t need a pond, but they do need more water access than backyard chickens.  It is important that ducks are given a water source that allows them to dunk their head in.  Ducks need to clean dirt from their nostrils on the top of their bill.  Therefore, it is best to give them access to a bucket or bowl instead of a chicken waterer.  Be careful with ducklings, we made a top for our watering container so they could dunk their head in, but not get stuck or fall in.

Adult ducks just need access to clean water.  We dump the bucket each day and fill up the water so they have fresh water for the day.  Ducks will mix their food with the water so if you are not cleaning the water container out daily it will accumulate a large amount of sludge comprised of food, dirt, and anything else they have found to snack on in the backyard.

Shelter for Ducks

The ducks will live in a brooder during the duckling stage of growth.  A brooder needs to contain the ducks so it should be at least 12 inches tall, but it’s best if it is closer to 18 inches deep.  Fill the brooder with pine shavings.  These can be found at Walmart or any big box pet store.  Ducklings make a mess with water and you will want a spare place to place them when you are dumping the wood shaving to clean it each day.  Do you need help coming up with the right DIY plans?  How to build a duck coop does not need to be overly complicated.

Brooder Basics

  1. Brooder Container – Rubbermaid container, kiddie pool, cooler, stock tank, cardboard box.  We made our brooder by cutting the ends of two Rubbermaid containers and zip tying them together.  The size and shape are similar to the farm stock tank.
  2. Water Management – Ducks combine their food with their water when they eat.  Consequently, ducklings are very messy eaters.  If you place any water container directly on any bedding material it will quickly get waterlogged and messy.  The trick is to create a trap space that allows water to fall through and get captured during their feeding.
  3. Supplemental Heat – Depending on the temperature of your brooder location supplemental heat will be needed for a period of several weeks.   During the first week, the temperature in the brooder should be 90 degrees.  Over the corresponding several weeks drop the temp approximately 5 degrees per week.  By the 4th week the brooder should be around 75 degrees and should remain until they are 6 to 8 weeks old and ready for life outdoors in their coop and run.  We have found that our ducks have been fine with no supplemental heat after 4 weeks if inside in a normally heated room.  A simple heat lamp works well, there are several fancy heating pads and devices available, but if you are on a budget just use a heat lamp.  I like the ceramic heat lamp so it doesn’t emit light.

How to Keep Duck Brooder Clean?

This shows how to set up a water catch for your duck brooder.  A shallow box with a metal hardware cloth surface lets the water and bedding material to fall through reducing the mess in the brooder.  It is possible to clean this small section out a couple of times per day and reduce the brooder smell.  I would not raise ducklings without a trap for catching the water in the brooder.

Duck Coop / House

What makes a good duck house?
  1. Secure
  2. Wind protection
  3. Ventilation
  4. Easy Access for Egg Collection

Building a backyard duck coop or simple shelter does not need to be complicated.  Ducks are capable of tolerating a wet environment and colder temperatures.  Contrary to chickens that do not tolerate freezing temperatures well, our ducks love to run around in the snow and play in the downspouts during a rainstorm.  A good duck shelter should have ample ventilation at the sides near the top to avoid moisture build-up in the duck coop.  There are many DIY cheap duck coop ideas out there and if you put your mind to it you will likely have something around the house that can be repurposed.

Food for Ducks

Ducks do well when given daily access to quality feed either in pellet form or whole grains.   Of course, ducks love snacks and will eat treats from peas to watermelon.  Don’t overdo the snacks when raising ducklings.  It is essential they get proper nutrition when on starter and grower feed during those early weeks.  A grass and dirt clump will give them something to place with and get acclimated to other options than just feed.

Why Learn How to Raise Ducks?

Ducks are wonderful pets, lay delicious eggs, and roast into an amazing dinner.  Depending on why you are getting ducks may help you decide on which breed of duck is right for you.  We have received great birds in the past from Metzer farms and you can review their list of duck breeds to learn about different ducks.

There are many different breeds of domesticated ducks.  Some breeds are well known for being egg layers while others are popular as meat birds.  Whether you are raising Pekin ducks for roast duck or Welsh Harlequins for eggs there is a breed that will suit your needs and homestead.  It is not complicated to learn how to raise ducks and they are a joy to have foraging around the backyard orchard.