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)
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
Ducklings need a higher protein feed than their chicken counterparts do. For the first 2 weeks, they need a feed with 20-22% protein. It's difficult to find a duckling specific food, so we use UNMEDICATED chick feed with the appropriate protein content. Since ducklings eat more and grow quicker than chickens, they will eat too much of the medicated feed and get sick. Do not ever use medicated feed for ducks.
From weeks 3-9, reduce the protein content of their food to 16-18% protein. Feeding too high of a protein diet can lead to a wing deformity called "Angel Wing".
From 9 weeks until they start laying, 13-14% protein is ideal. Now you won't find a feed with that low of a protein in the store. We start mixing in rolled oats with our duck's feed at about 6 weeks of age. 20% of their total feed is oats for most of their life as it helps to cut the protein amount they are taking in which will help prevent them from growing too fast. If you are raising meat ducks, you wouldn't need to make this addition to their diet, but for pet ducks, we don't wan them to grow too quickly, as it will lead to health and growth problems later.
Ducks require more niacin than chickens do, so if using a chick feed, be sure to add 2-3 cups of brewers yeast to every 10 pounds of feed, or you can add a couple mls/cc's of Vitamin B Complex to their drinking water each day. Your goal is to add 100-150 mg of niacin to each gallon of drinking water daily. If ducklings do not have enough niacin, they can develop leg issues including deformities and weakness to the point that they will be unable to stand or walk. Don't be tempted to add extra though, as too much niacin can be toxic.
We like to start adding in greens with their water at a couple days of age. Tiny cut up pieces of kale, collard greens, dandelions and fresh, soft grasses are perfect. These all contain niacin as well and will encourage your ducklings to drink. We like to keep insects and grasses the main part of all of our ducks diets throughout their life as they will be healthier if they can live as naturally as possible, though they still require proper feed to supplement what they are able to find on their own.
When can they move outside?
Ducklings can move outside at about 8 weeks of age once they have fully feathered. Be sure you've accustomed them to the temperature change they are likely to encounter by decreasing the temperature in their brooder by 5 degrees each week. You want to gradually get them used to the outside temperatures, not suddenly shock their system.
Ducklings require some special care, but they aren't hard to accommodate with some planning ahead. The biggest things to remember are to keep them warm, keep them dry, ensure their nutritional needs are met and always be certain they have access to clean drinking water.