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Raising ducks: Care tips, and the benefits of eggs and slug control

Apr 2nd, 2016 | Category: Features

by Corina Sahlin

Ducks are easy to raise, hardy and disease-resistant. Before a bobcat ate our ducks last month, we had a pair of gorgeous, black and white Ancona ducks, an endangered breed. Few things make me happier than watching my ducks waddle around the yard, happily quacking to each other, beaks to the ground in search of slugs. There, I said it. I don’t just keep ducks because I like watching their charming antics, but because they eat their weight in slugs.

PHOTO BY CORINA SAHLIN

PHOTO BY CORINA SAHLIN

Before I had ducks, moisture-loving slugs took up residence on our rainy Marblemount homestead, bringing all their friends and relatives with them. After getting ducks, I rarely find a slug any more, which means I don’t have to spend evenings crawling around in the garden with scissors. (Yep, I cut ‘em and watch their guts spill out.  I’m a peaceful creature, but when slugs decimate my precious garden, war is on). Ducks also exterminate other pests like Japanese beetles and their larvae.

Besides slug control and entertainment, ducks are prolific egg layers. Duck eggs are richer and contain more protein, calcium, iron, potassium and more minerals than chicken eggs. They are popular for baking, because they make cakes and Challa bread rise high and airy. Ducks bred for egg production can lay up to 350 eggs a year, and they produce longer than a chicken – as long as six years, long after a chicken would have become soup.

And talking of soup, dare I mention that many people love the taste of duck? They are efficient and economical meat producers, because they gain weight fast even if they forage for most of their food and can be eaten from the age of about 10 weeks on.

 

What to feed ducks

Ducks forage for a lot of their own food if they are allowed to do so, and also love green scraps from the kitchen and garden waste. Adult ducks don’t need any special supplementation and can be fed chicken layer pellets.  However, growing ducklings need more niacin than chickens so their bones can develop correctly, and therefore some people give them waterfowl pellets. You can also add 2 to 3 cups of brewer’s yeast per 10 pounds of feed until they are 10 weeks old. Or you can buy niacin at a drugstore and add 100 to 150 mg of niacin per gallon of drinking water until 10 weeks of age.

Never feed adult layer mash, crumbles or pellets to ducklings, because it’s too high in calcium and is toxic to baby ducks, causing bone, liver, and kidney problems (or, worse, death).

Once the ducks lay eggs (usually around six months old), you can add crushed oyster shells or egg shells free-choice for strong egg shells.

Provide your ducks with a bucket of fresh water daily.  Their bills (beaks) get plugged from eating and digging in the earth, and they need to wash it out in water by dunking their whole head in the bucket.ducks 2-1

 

Proper shelter and predator protection

There are plenty of predators. Where our family loves, bobcats, raccoons, and bald eagles all would like to sink their teeth and beaks into juicy ducks. But even in town there are dangers, like dogs or cars. One of the most important safeguards against predators is to lock your ducks into a shelter at night. Most of the duck deaths on our homestead happened at night, when the ducks weren’t locked in (don’t ask…. it took me a long time to forgive my husband for forgetting to lock them in one night when I wasn’t home).

Keep in mind that most domestic ducks can’t fly, which is a problem if predators try to chase them.

Ducks don’t need fancy shelter.  They are very cold-hardy and love the rain and even snow, so it’s not vital that their living quarters are completely enclosed, as long as this structure is inside a secure run/pen. Every duck should have four square feet of floor space, assuming that they are not confined to this area for long periods of time.  Since ducks emit a lot of moisture when they breathe, a structure with good air flow for ventilation is important.  Unlike chickens, ducks don’t roost but sleep on the ground. Just put down a layer of straw they can bed on and use as a nest. This material should be changed frequently and makes a great addition to the compost pile.

 

Do ducks need a pond?ducks 4

Ducks love water! If you don’t have a pond, get them a kiddie pool and change the water frequently.Put it where you can watch them – they are incredibly funny when they happily splash and dunk in the water. Another reason for access to water is the oil gland at the base of their tail that is activated when they splash water over their backs. This gland helps cover their feathers with waterproofing oils when they preen their feathers.

 

Best breeds

There are lots of duck breeds. The three most popular breeds for the home flock are probably Pekin, Muscovy and Indian Runner. It depends what you have access to, which brings me to the next point:duck eggs

There are several options when looking to buy ducks. You can buy adult ducks from someone who doesn’t want them anymore or you can get day old ducklings and brood them like chickens. Ducklings require artificial heat for only three weeks, which is a shorter time than chicks do. Or you can get fertilized duck eggs and hatch them in an incubator or hatch them under hens (yes, a broody chicken will hatch duck eggs for you!).

Check with your local farm and country stores for duckling sales during the spring season, and ask around in local facebook groups for homesteaders and farmers.

Corina Sahlin homesteads on five acres in the upper Skagit Valley, where you can find her with her hands either in the dirt, in a pot full of whey stirring curds, or mixing cabbage in a crock of sauerkraut.  She teaches homesteading skills like artisan cheesemaking and fermentation, both at her homestead and also online. More information and inspiration at www.marblemounthomestead.com.

 

Published in the April 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

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