When we first started our journey here at Longshadows Ranch, I had no idea that you could keep ducks as poultry- having chickens was far-fetched enough for me, let alone waterfowl. However, now that we have ducks, I couldn’t imagine life without them- they are so much more fun than I could have ever imagined! So let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve learned from taking care of our ducks.
Our journey with ducks started one Thursday evening when we were at one of our local farmer’s markets, the Chouteau Market. The person we had previously gotten chickens from had set up at the feed store next by with his poultry, including some ducks. I had done some research on ducks when we first got chickens, so I had a pretty good idea of how to care for them. I called Mom, and we decided that we would come back the next morning to pick up four ducks, and the next morning we were the proud new owners of 4 new ducks.
Because it was so hot that summer, I had bought a kiddie pool for the chickens to cool off in. The chickens liked to drink from it, but they never really used it like we thought they would. When we got the ducks home, we released them into the chicken run and started getting their pool set up. When they discovered the pool we were setting up, they ran over and started splashing around.
Now that we had ducks, we quickly realized that we were going to have to keep their pool very clean- one of their favorite activities was taking baths in their pool and they were very good at getting the pool dirty. They would also get dirty while foraging, and then decide to go for a swim in their pool. I developed a routine- every morning, before letting the ducks and chickens out of their coop, I would empty their pool, clean it, and fill it with water. I also started putting hay on the ground for them to sleep on- ducks don’t roost like chickens do, so they need a comfy place to sleep.
Because they are a meat breed, they are also very heavy. That, combined with their very short legs, causes them some trouble when they have to walk long distances and gives them a very noticeable waddle. Ducks use a nutrient called Niacin to strengthen their legs. It is in chicken feed, but not in the amounts that they need. Nutritional yeast, however, contains a lot of Niacin and is safe for chickens and ducks to eat, so I add a tablespoon of the yeast to their feed twice a day. You can also offer it free choice. (The reason ducks need extra Niacin is because they are unable to produce as much as chickens do naturally due to their inability to obtain it from tryptophan, an essential amino acid).
The ducks we bought were a variety known as Jumbo Pekin ducks. Pekins are known to be good birds to raise for meat, as well as laying large eggs pretty frequently and being decent foragers. We bought our ducks as pullets- a pullet is a bird between 6 months and a year old that hasn’t quite started laying eggs yet, but will soon. Ours started laying within a week. We were very surprised how similar they are to chicken eggs- for us the flavor was indistinguishable from chicken eggs.
I tried herding them out to our pond a few times, but it was a long distance for their stubby duck legs and they were more concerned about escaping me, their “predator”, then having fun digging around in the mud. Whenever it was time for them to head in, they also chose to stay out there so we had to wade in the pond to get them out. Overall, it didn’t work out super well but now that spring is approaching, I might try again with greater success now that their legs have grown stronger and they have become more used to me.