Lisa Steele

Lisa Steele

Pekin ducklings
Raising ducklings just requires a few essential tools and tender loving care.

So, you've decided raising backyard ducks is right for you and you're ready to begin? If that's so, you’re probably wondering exactly how to go about raising ducklings. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

What You’ll Need

  • Brooder – a spare bathtub, large Rubbermaid tote, dog crate or cardboard box lined with plastic
  • Heat Lamp
  • Thermometer
  • Chick feed  — regular (chicken) chick starter feed is fine as long as it is unmedicated
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Grit — commercial chick grit or a small dish of coarse dirt
  • Shallow bowl for water — such as a sturdy ramekin or soufflé dish
  • Shallow bowl for food — a small terracotta planter base works well

I have raised ducklings in a plastic tote, a kiddie pool and a galvanized tub. By far, the best place I have found to brood your ducklings is a spare bathtub, if you have one, with their water dish at the drain end.


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Ducklings can’t help but play in their water, and the brooder will be soaking wet all the time no matter what you do. So the bathtub method seems to be the most effective in containing their mess. I line the bathtub with a few layers of newspaper to absorb the water, then lay rubber shelf liner over that so the ducklings won’t slip on the slick newspaper. After the ducklings come to recognize what is food and what isn’t, I add a layer of pine shavings which are replaced as necessary, along with the newspaper and shelf liner.

When you first bring your new ducklings home from the feed store or they arrive in the mail, dip each duckling’s bill into a shallow dish of room-temperature water (or sugar water – 1/3 cup sugar/per gallon water), then set each into your pre-heated brooder. The temperature needs to be 90 degrees for the first week, then lowered a degree a day (7 degrees/per week) until the temperature in the brooder is the same as the outside low temperature, at which time the ducklings can be transferred outside to a predator-proof house/pen. By the time the ducklings are 3-5 weeks old, weather-dependent, they can spend warm, sunny days outside, carefully supervised and protected from predators.

Until the ducks are fully feathered around 7-9 weeks old, they have trouble regulating their body temperature and need heat. Watch the ducklings (as well as the thermometer) to gauge if they are warm enough. Warm ducklings will scamper around the brooder. If they are too cold, they will cluster under the heat source. If they are too warm, they will pant and stand as far from the heat as they can get.

Ducklings hatched in an incubator, unlike those hatched under a mama duck, don’t have oil glands working yet to coat and waterproof their feathers, so they can easily become waterlogged and drown. For this reason, a shallow water bowl should be used for water, one into which they can submerge their entire bill to keep their mucous membranes moist, but not fall into and drown. Stones or marbles can be added to a slightly deeper dish as the ducklings get bigger. Until they are about a month old, ducklings should only be allowed short, supervised swims. I fill a plastic tub with warm water and let them splash around for a few minutes to get used to being in water. I then dry them off and return them to the brooder so they don’t catch a chill.

Ducklings can be fed regular chick feed. (Be sure it is unmedicated because ducklings eat more than chicks and there is a risk they could over-medicate themselves.) However ducklings have higher niacin requirements than chicks so add a sprinkle of brewer’s yeast on top of their feed to assist in building strong bones. Raw oats can also be slowly added to their feed for added protein and nutrients until a 25% oats/75% feed ratio is achieved. Grit in the form of commercial chick grit or coarse dirt must also be provided to help the ducklings digest their food.


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Healthy treats such as dandelion greens, chopped grass and weeds (chemically untreated), worms, Swiss chard, kale, peas and moistened oatmeal are all favorites of growing ducklings. Ducks don’t like to eat wilted or trampled greens, so I toss the treats right into their water bowl where they enjoy scooping them up with their bills.

When they eat, ducklings grab a bill full of feed and then dunk it in water to moisten and swallow. Their feed will get wet and should be thrown out daily. Wet feed can harbor mold and bacteria, especially in the warm environment of the brooder. I use a terracotta planter base for feed. The porous material wicks moisture away from the feed and seems to keep it drier. It is also a good idea to place their feed under the heat lamp, where the heat will dry it a bit. I provide constant feed and water for ducklings. Once they are about two months old and presumably living outside, you can remove their feed and water at night if you wish. Leaving only water is fine, leaving feed without water is not. Any time they have access to feed they must have water nearby or they can choke.

A week-old duckling will drink about half a gallon of water a week. By the time they are seven weeks old, ducklings drink a half gallon of water a day, so be sure their water is always filled.

Using the bathtub as a brooder also works well because the bathroom door can be securely shut to keep the ducklings safe from curious children and family pets. If you don’t have a place you can locate your brooder behind a closed door, consider using something you can cover to keep the ducklings safe. Children need to be taught to handle the ducklings carefully and gently, preferably only with adult supervision, and to not drop them.

Handle your ducklings as often as you can. Talk to them and bring them treats, and soon you will have them literally eating out of your hand!

14 Comments About this Article

  • Mary Sallade
    great info ive had ducks for two years. i got an owl that likes baby ducks. ive fixed the pen now. will have lots this spring.

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • Gretchen Cline
    I am glad to find this advice on Duckies. We have chickens, but the kids talked me into some baby ducks. We were looking for Runner ducks, but wound up getting Khaki Campbell. We hope we have a boy and girl or 2 girls, we want the eggs! Anyway, finding chicken info is super easy, finding duckie info is not....I have found very little! I have some questions though. 1) at what age should I feed them grit? 2) what age can they start greens? They are a week old right now, and I have given them bits of grass 3) between 7-9 weeks, are you saying they need heat at night, but after that, they dont need heat? and they should be good in the barn with the goats? I plan to put a small kennel in the goats barn for the ducks to be locked in at night, and then the goats barn is also locked every night. We have coyotes, so all our animals are locked up tight at night. Thx much!

    Posted 8 months ago

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  • Lisa Steele
    Hi Gretchen. 1) I give our ducklings clumps of grass/dirt from day one and they can have greens as long as you provide them the grit/dirt also. After about 8 weeks once they are fully feathered, assuming it's spring and fairly warm, they don't need heat. Adult ducks don't need heat. They are really pretty cold-hardy, much more so than chickens. Ours ducks actually will sit outside in the snow or sleet and be perfectly happy! We do lock them up at night, as you mention, to keep them safe from predators, but in the barn with the goats they should be just fine. A nice thick layer of straw on the floor and they'll just curl up and sleep there and make a nest in the straw on the floor to lay their eggs in. I have a few articles on my blog regarding duck care here (scroll down to the bottom to the duck part): http://www.fresh-eggs-daily.com/p/chicken-care-index.html Hope that

    Posted 8 months ago

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  • Lisa Steele
    Helps! Lisa

    Posted 8 months ago

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  • SkyeMM
    today is day 1 for our familys new ducklings! we are first timers and are very excited!!! we have welsh harlequin ducklings....1 girl and 1 boy. fingers crossed everything goes well. thanks for the advice

    Posted 8 months ago

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  • Martin Dew
    We've kept chickens for the past couple of years. This year we are adding ducklings to our flock. The run is being predator proofed and a new and improved coop is in the plans. I love to read good advice and really appreciate the article.

    Posted 7 months ago

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  • Maryanne Feranzoviz Baruth
    I have ducklings that are about 5 weeks old, it is pretty warm in sw MO so when I am outside they are too. My beagle however has decided that they are his babies and barks or howls if they get too close to the pen they have out there, will he scare them to death? He has to check on them every night before bed or he won't go into his crate. I have a mini barn that was used for chickens at 1 time but I would like to know if anyone has any suggestions for predator proofing it, it has a door that will be locked at night but what about snakes etc. Right now they are in a brooder in a spare room where the dogs and cat can't hurt them.

    Posted 6 months ago

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  • Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily
    Maryanne, as long as your beagle doesn't chase or grab them they will learn he's no threat. He won't scare them to death. I think the chicken barn sounds perfect. If it was safe for chickens its safe for ducks. Snakes won't generally bother adult ducks but will get in to eat the eggs if you let them. We collect eggs often and keep an eye out for snakes.

    Posted 6 months ago

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  • Donna Gail Hall Carver
    i have question... help please.. i have raised chickens for a few yrs and my granddaughter got 2 baby ducks for her birthday from a friend.. they are about a month old.. she cant keep them and i am letting her bring them to my house. after ducklings are old enough to go outside, can i keep them in the same pen as the chickens? we have a good size coop and fenced area that is locked at night to keep preditors out but will my chickens hurt the ducks?

    Posted 5 months ago

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  • Lisa Steele
    Sure Donna, the ducks and chickens can live togteher, ours do.

    Posted 5 months ago

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