Everything You Need To Know About Raising Healthy Ducklings

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

Who doesn't love the little fluff balls that are ducklings? There isn't anything much cuter than a tiny duckling chirping away, but how do you care for these tiny fluff balls?

Items You Will Need

  • Container to contain the ducklings (we like the deeper kiddie pools and LOVE the puppy exercise pens)

  • Heat source (we still carefully use the red bulb heat lamps like for baby chicks)

  • Pine shavings

  • Water dish

  • Food dish

  • Feed (duck specific or NON-Medicated chick feed with 20-22% protein to start then 16-18% protein in a couple weeks)

  • Niacin supplement (brewers yeast or vitamin B complex injection)

  • Leafy greens (collard greens, dandelions, young grass shoots, etc)

  • Thermometer


Nice to haves

  • Feather duster for ducklings to snuggle under (acts like a mama duck)

  • Large, shallow dish to collect spilled water (we use a large, metal broiling pan)

  • Cookie cooling racks (used on top of the broiling pan to set water container on so spilled water collects in the pan and doesn't soak the bedding)

  • Painters tray for taking short, supervised swims in


Housing Arrangements

We like using the deeper, plastic kiddie pools and LOVE the dog exercise pens with a tarp underneath to contain our ducklings. If using an exercise pen, you will need to secure hardware cloth (we like the plastic stuff at Home Depot or Lowes) with zip ties to the outside of the pen in order to keep those tiny ducklings in as they fit through the bars. We like to use a tarp which is big enough to partially fold up the sides of the dog pen as it helps contain the shavings and any spilled water and makes clean up a total breeze!


Set up your exercise pen or kiddie pool in an area where they ducklings will be out of drafts and the weather. We use our garage and if there's room, we've used a corner of our duck house before with good results. Put your heat lamp at one end with the thermometer under it at ground level. Spread out shavings all across the bottom on the brooder you're using. They don't need to be too deep, but deep enough that the ducklings aren't slipping on the plastic tarp or kiddie pool bottom. Ducks don't do well on slippery surfaces as babies and the constant slick surface can lead to a leg deformity called Spraddle Leg.



Example of chick waterer on the cookie cooling rack on top of the broiler pan. Egg cartons make a great first feeder for the ducklings until they are about 2 weeks old when we put their food into a bowl.

For water, we start the first week or so with your typical chick waterer. By the second week, the ducklings are big enough to start using a plastic milk carton with some holes cut in the side so they can stick their heads in to drink, but not get their entire bodies in. Ducks need to be able to completely submerge their heads in water to keep their nasal passages clean and moist. Ducks NEED water in order to eat and can easily choke without water. NEVER feed a duck without access to water.

Example of a waterer once the ducklings are larger. We use milk cartons when they are still in the brooder and as they grow make new ones with the holes up higher. Ducklings in this photo are about 8 weeks old.


What about swimming?

Ducklings not raised by mom need to be kept out of the water for at least the first 4 weeks as they do not have a functioning oil gland until they are 5-6 weeks old. Without the protection their natural oils offer, ducklings are at risk of becoming water logged and actually drowning in water. If you want to let your ducklings swim, they can swim for short periods in warm water in a painters tray and then be towel dried and returned to their heated home so they don't become chilled. Once they are at least 6 weeks old, they can start swimming without as much worry.


Temperatures

Ducklings need to be kept warm and in a draft free environment. Their dependence on artificial heat will reduce each week until they are about 6-8 weeks old.


The first 2 days, ducklings need to be kept at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. By the third day, the temperature can be reduced to 90 degrees for the remainder of the first week.

Each subsequent week, the temperature can be reduced 5 degrees until they no longer require the supplemental heat.


Once they are about 6 weeks of age, they can tolerate temperatures down to 50 degrees, but still need protection from heavy drafts. At about 8 weeks they will be fully feathered and should no longer require supplemental heat.


So how do you go about providing supplemental heat?

We use the typical red bulb heat lamps like you would use for baby chicks. Just be very careful they are out of reach of the ducklings, are well secured and aren't touching anything that could catch fire (bedding, paper, plastic, etc).


The heating lamp should be set up in a location in the duckling area so they have the option to get away from the heat. We usually set it up at one end of the kiddie pool so the ducklings can choose to move away. You don't want to heat the entire area.


How do I know if my ducklings are too warm, too cold or just right?

If the ducklings are active and moving around the brooder, they are probably just right. If they are huddled together under the heat lamp, they are probably too cold and if they are all dispersed around the non-heated end of the brooder, they are probably too hot.


What do I feed my ducklings?