Updated: Mar 10, 2022
Ducks have a reputation in the farming community for being very messy and undesirable yet adorable creatures. I do not blame people for finding them messy especially in the beginning, but I am of the opinion that the pros majorly outweigh the cons. Hear me out, though. I love to allow my poultry to free range but I have my garden next to my coop. When I allow my chickens to free range, many of my crops become de-rooted in the process. Not only do chickens do-root my garden but they rip out landscaping. I am an owner and a lover of chickens and I cope with the issues that come up with raising them as they come, however, if garden destruction was a huge problem for you then ducks are an amazing alternative.
One of the reasons I love my ducks so much is that they stay together. I can easily herd them back into their run if I need to. If you are a current chicken owner and have ever had to catch your flock, you know it can be a literal disaster. Another amazing thing about ducks is that you can just let them free in your garden. They do not dig up my garden at all! They eat all of the pesky slugs that eat my lettuce and herbs. I literally have zero complaints. The poop is a lot but only if they are not given enough space. Ducks need more space than chickens so if you have a small plot and are keeping your poultry in a small run, then ducks probably are not for you. They poop a lot. They need a constant water source. However, once these accommodations are met, ducks are really amazing. I am going to tell you the things no one told me before I got baby ducks. The only thing I actually heard is that they will defecate on everything and they are really gross but I did not hear much about their needs, especially as ducklings.
Ducklings are not as sensitive to the cold as chicks are. They have to be kept under heat but not for as long. They grow their feathers faster and can be removed from heat in a shorter time frame. Watch your ducklings. They will show you when they need heat and when they need it taken away. They will crowd together when they are cold. They will stay apart and pant when they are warm. Most still suggest the rule of 90 degrees at birth and subtracting 5-10 each week until you reach 70. However, my ducks have always needed less much faster. Pay attention to their needs. Ducks overheat much faster than chicks do. I keep my baby chicks warm with a brooder plate. I do not use heat lamps due to the risk of fire. I have personally had bad experiences with them and do not trust them to keep chicks warm inside my house. The brooder plates are wonderful because the chicks or ducklings can choose when they are too hot or too cold. They lay underneath and it mimics being under a mother hen or duck. I get this brooder plate from Amazon. I place my brooder plate on a layer of pine shavings in a cardboard box. I do not buy a special brooder and the reason is because ducks are very messy in small spaces. They love water and make a mess of it. I like being able to compost the box every few days. If you do not like this options, another technique is to use a plastic bin. The bin can be dumped and hosed out every few days and the bedding replaced. No matter what method you use, make sure to line under your brooder box with plastic. Ducklings can messy and this will save your floors! After about a week and a half in a box, I move my ducklings to a baby pool inside the house. They cannot be outside until it is consistently 70 degrees. I put cardboard around the baby pool to protect the surroundings from the inevitable splashes.
Ducks need water and a lot of it! They need to be able to full dip their beaks inside the water to remove any stuck food or bedding that might get stuck in there. Therefore, typical chick waterers do not work for ducklings. I always make DIY versions out of plastic containers. I am careful not to make mine too large at first because there is a risk of a duckling trying to swim and drown. After the first few days, I replaced the small infant duck waterer with a gallon jug. I cut holes from the sides so the ducks can dip their beaks in but they cannot get in to swim. One of the major problems I have had in the past is giving them a container of water and the ducklings will all get in to swim. Ducks just love water and will try so hard to play in it. As the ducklings get larger, I eventually move them inside a baby pool (still inside the house but with no heat if it is still too cold outside) with cardboard around it. This way, when the ducks inevitably splash in whatever water they find, it does not make such a large mess.
Another important thing I should mention about the care of ducklings is that they need different food sources than chickens. I feed my ducklings a duck feed that is all life stages from the time they come home.This is the feed I use. I give them the feed in pellet form and I will wet the pellets just a little and I have never had an issue. Chicken feed lacks the appropriate amount of niacin that a duck needs in its diet. It is important to feed your duck tailored feed to ensure the healthy upbringing of your duckling.
After raising baby chicks a few times and then raising baby ducks, it was difficult to combat the challenges between the two types of birds. Baby ducks are such a joy to have. They are so smart and clumsy little creatures. We have loved raising them.
Have anything to add to our list of things that you need to care for baby ducklings? Comment below with what you think!