In the springtime, we often see ducklings offered for sale in pet stores as Easter gifts. Sadly, most of these little critters end up living short and unhappy lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little good planning, ducklings bought as pets can grow up to be happy, healthy pet ducks. In this article we discuss how to raise a duck as a pet and what it takes to keep ducks as pets. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- Can You Keep A Duck As A House Pet?
- Why A Duck?
- Why Three Ducks?
- How Can You Tell Boy Ducks From Girl Ducks?
- Should You Imprint With Baby Ducks?
- What Do You Need To Take Care Of Ducks?
- What Kind Of Feed Do You Need?
- Keep The Water Clean
- Do Ducks Need To See The Vet?
- How Much Space do Ducks Need?
- Never Abandon A Duck!
Can You Keep A Duck As A House Pet?
Although you will see articles and videos promoting the notion of keeping a duck as a house pet, this is actually a very irresponsible and cruel thing to do. Ducks are sociable, meaning they like to socialize with other ducks. A duck kept as a solitary house pet will live a short, unhappy and unfulfilled life.
Additionally, ducks have no control over their bowels whatsoever, so they are not suitable for indoor living. Although you may see articles asserting that behavior modification can be used to potty train a duck, this is utter nonsense. Ducks have no sphincter. They cannot be housetrained. The other alternative, forcing them to wear duck diapers, is just absurdly cruel.
Does this mean you can’t keep ducks as pets?
Absolutely not! Ducks are fairly rugged, and they are very easy to keep as outdoor pets. A trio of ducks kept in your back yard with a wading pool and a secure shelter will live happily for up to 20 years, all the while gobbling up garden pests, providing fertilizer for your compost heap, laying eggs for your breakfast and baking enjoyment and providing comic relief.
Why A Duck?
There are many good reasons to want ducks as pets instead of more traditional pets, such as cats or dogs. A person who is allergic to pet fur and dander might be able to keep outdoor ducks as pets instead of fur bearing animals.
Ducks are quieter than dogs and may be more acceptable to your neighbors, or if you choose a quiet breed, you may even be able to hide them from your neighbors.
Ducks are not smelly when well cared for, and they do not typically harbor parasites, such as fleas and ticks.
Ducks bring added value to your yard and garden. They produce eggs, and fertilizer and eat weeds, bugs, snails and other garden pests.
Ducks are friendly, and when you keep them as pets they learn to behave in a very pet-like manner. They come running when they see you; they learn to play with toys and follow simple commands; they beg for treats; they stoop to be petted and may enjoy being held and sitting in your lap.
Just be sure you get a minimum of three if you get any at all!
Why Three Ducks?
Ducks are sociable and like to live in a flock. For this reason, just two ducks is not enough. Three is the minimum number required for sociability and duck happiness.
If you want to raise ducklings, you’ll need two hens and a drake. If you just want eggs, three hens will keep you well supplied as each hen will likely lay an egg every day, all year round once she reaches maturity.
How Can You Tell Boy Ducks From Girl Ducks?
It can be difficult to tell male and female ducklings apart, and they are usually sold “unsexed” meaning no one knows which is which. It is important to have the right mix of sexes for your purpose, so you may want to order ducks from an upper end breeder that does sex ducklings before selling.
This may cost you a bit more, but when you are dealing with a reputable breeder, you can expect healthy, well-bred ducklings and a greater degree of support from the seller.
If you are purchasing older ducks, you may be able to tell the sexes apart by listening to them. At about six weeks of age, little drakes develop a hoarse voice while the young hens continue to quack.
In mature ducks, the drakes are typically a bit smaller and more colorful, but this is not true of all breeds of ducks.
Should You Imprint With Baby Ducks?
Although many keepers recommend doing this when keeping pet ducks, it is actually not a good idea. If you hatch your ducklings from eggs, you should get them used to spending time with each other in their brooder, eating on their own and socializing with one another. If you allow them to imprint on you, they will be needy and unsettled and this state of affairs can carry over into adulthood.
You want your pet ducks to be tame and tolerant of handling. You don’t want them to become inconsolable when you are out of their sight. For this reason, you should establish a regular feeding and handling schedule.
Each day, clean the brooder and feed and water your ducklings at the same time(s). Pick them up gently, pet them and talk to them and then put them back into the clean brooder to enjoy their food.
Maintain this schedule when you move the babies to their outdoor shelter and pen. This type of raising and handling allows them the freedom to imprint on each other as ducks and behave as normal ducks while still training them to see you as a source of food, comfort and safety.
What Do You Need To Take Care Of Ducks?
Baby ducklings need to be kept in a warm, dry brooder for the first month of life. They need to stay between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit during this time.
The brooder should have a heat lamp in one corner where the ducklings can bask if they want to warm up, and they should also be able to get away from the heat if they need to cool off.
They will need a feed dish and a water dish that allows them to dunk their heads, but they should not be able to get in the water during the first month because they might drown, and they do not yet have the ability to deflect water. Getting soaked could cause a chill, which could lead to illness and death.
When the ducklings are about a month old, if the weather is warm, they can move to their outdoor home. Begin by transitioning them gradually by setting the brooder outside on warm days (in an area safe from predators)for a few minutes and then a few hours at a time. Keep an eye on them to be sure they stay safe.
It’s best to have their outdoor home set up and ready when you begin the transition so that you can set their brooder inside their safe, secure pen. The pen should have predator-proof fencing and a safe shelter. A three foot fence will keep ducks in, but it won’t keep predators out. A 4-6 foot high chicken wire fence, anchored to the ground all around, will provide security. You may also need to cover the top with wire if birds of prey are a problem.
Because ducks do not roost like chickens, they can be happy with an on-the-ground shelter such as a large dog house. Line the floor of the house with straw or wood shavings. This is where your duck hens will lay their eggs, so it’s smart to set the house up so that you can lift one side of the roof to reach in and gather eggs and also change the bedding.
The pen, itself, should provide at least 3 square feet of space per duck, and you will also need to let them out into the yard to roam daily. Inside the pen, you will naturally want to have a water source, but it doesn’t have to be a wading pool. You can just provide drinking water in the pen and let them out to enjoy a wading pool as they wander during the day.
Provide a feeder for dry food inside the pen, but feed scraps and other potentially messy foods outside the pen. If you have a compost heap, that’s the ideal place to feed your ducks kitchen scraps and the like. They’ll enjoy the scraps and dig around in the compost helping aerate it and rid it of pests.
What Kind Of Feed Do You Need?
Ducklings need a special duck starter for the first month of life. During the second month, feed a duck grower formula to help them grow big and strong. After that, switch to pullet grower, which is an unmedicated, low protein chicken feed. You can get all of these from your local feed store.
You will also need to get some grit for them. Like all birds, ducks do not have teeth and grind up their food in their gizzards. They need to eat grit (ground stone or oyster shell) for this purpose. You can just strew a handful of grit over the ground in their pen or with their messy food (kitchen scraps, etc.) A fifty pound bag of grit lasts a long time.
NOTE: Don’t give your ducks very spicy kitchen scraps, and be sure you don’t use pesticides and herbicides in your yard and garden if you are keeping ducks as backyard pets.
Keep The Water Clean
Like all creatures, ducks need clean, fresh water. Change their drinking water completely, daily. Set their wading pool up near an area you want to water and allow the water to overflow every day, displacing dirty water with fresh water.
TIP: Put one big rock in the pool near the edge and one on the outside so that ducks can get in and out of the pool safely and easily.
Do Ducks Need To See The Vet?
As with all pets, you should have your vet provide checkups and any vaccinations recommended for your area on an annual basis. Check with your local feed store or farm center to get the name of a vet who is capable in the care of ducks and other fowl.
How Much Space do Ducks Need?
With their gregarious nature, ducks also need space to roam and things to do. An adult duck should have a minimum of three square feet of space, but if that’s all the space a duck has, it really won’t be very happy.
Your trio of ducks will live a happy life if they are provided with a good sized yard and a varied landscape. They like to take a dip in a wading pool or pond, root about in loose earth for bugs, nibble on fresh grasses, weeds and bushes and generally ramble around exploring and quacking.
Ducks kept indoors, alone or cooped up will soon become depressed, lose health and die, as illustrated in this classic episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show!
Note that, although a great deal of the concept of this show is actually surprisingly accurate when it comes to the notion of keeping a duck as a house pet, the solution to the problem is not.
Never Abandon A Duck!
If you have pet ducks and find that you are not able to provide the right care to keep them happy, don’t turn them loose. They will not be able to fend for themselves. Instead, find a new home, a rescue or surrender them to your local animal control.