Winter is just around the corner, and if you have ducks, you can’t go into hibernation quite yet! There are some things you need to know about caring for ducks in winter.
Luckily, ducks are pretty resilient creatures. There’s not much that you need to do in order to keep them healthy and warm. They have some natural protection that can keep them cozy even when you feel chilled to the bone!
If you’re gearing up for winter and have ducks to worry about, here are some tips to set your mind at ease.
They Have Natural Protection
The first thing you need to know is that you don’t have to do all the work – ducks are smart creatures that have their own natural protection against the elements. They have a double layer of waterproof feathers. These slick feathers sit on top of a thick layer of warm, insulating downy feathers.
It doesn’t end there. Beneath that is a dense layer of fat that helps your ducks maintain an average body temperature of 106 to 108° Fahrenheit – yes, up to 10 degrees warmer than your own temperature!
If you raise chickens, you might be confused at how ducks can stay warm even when they’re soaking wet – while chickens get frostbite at the merest hint of a snowstorm.
This is because ducks don’t have combs and wattles as chickens do. These are the areas on chickens that make them prone to frostbite. They’re fleshy, just like our own skin.
In addition, ducks have unique veins, arteries, and blood vessels that lie close together and lace-up like capillaries. These help transfer warm blood down the legs for better heat transfer. All in all, your ducks will have a higher core temperature in all parts of their bodies, but especially in their feet.
Despite these natural benefits, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to keep your ducks warm while caring for your ducks in winter.
Tips for Caring for Ducks in Winter
1. They Still Need Water
First and foremost, you need to remember that, like all animals, your ducks still need water in the winter. They use water not just for drinking and hydration, but to digest their food. They also utilize water as a way to clean out their eyes and sinuses. Clean, fresh water is important.
You don’t need to worry about maintaining a pond or swimming pool during the winter. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a naturally-fed pond on your property, this can be a nightmare. However, if you feel inspired, you can pull out the pool or let them have access to a swimming area on warm winter days.
Instead, consider just keeping a heated bowl filled with water for your ducks. Don’t just settle for standard heated poultry water, as ducks will have a hard time drinking from the same shallow, narrow channels as chickens.
You can’t give ducks food without water, so make sure they have thawed-out water at all times. It’s best not to keep this water in the coop because your ducks will continue to splash in the water (as they love to do!) and will make an unholy frozen mess out of the inside of your coop.
2. Egg Production Might Decrease
As with chickens, duck egg production might decrease in the winter. You can use artificial lighting in the coop, adding light half an hour at the beginning and end of each day. If you don’t care much about your duck egg production in the winter, don’t bother adding a light. The cessation in laying can actually serve as a healthy break for your ducks.
3. Provide Plenty of Treats and Greens
While the majority of your ducks’ diets should still consist of a high-quality layer pellet, as it does during the rest of the year, you will want to change your feeding strategies up a bit. Days are shorter and colder, so you should make the feed available at all times if you’re not doing this already. This will help your ducks put on weight.
You might also want to consider adding scratch grains in the evening as an added treat. This will up their body temperature during the night when it’s the coldest. You should also add plenty of fresh greens like kale, lettuce, or wheatgrass since your ducks will naturally have a harder time foraging when everything’s covered in snow.
4. Don’t Forget Protein and Fat
Just as you should also provide extra treats and greens, you also need to add a bit more protein and fat. This will help your ducks conserve their fat stores for keeping warm. Think of adding winter greats like mealworms to help them stay healthy.
Cracked corn is another good option. You can also grow your own fermented feed. This not only contains extra protein and other nutrients but can help you save some money on feed, too.
5. Watch Out For Ice
Ducks don’t mind being out in the cold and snow, but you may need to help them out a bit on the ice. Lay down some straw in the pen so that your ducks can get up and off the ground. You can also put out some wooden planks or low stumps so they have a place to get their feet off the icy ground.
While you’re putting some barriers down, don’t forget about the areas around the water. Ducks like to splash, and that behavior doesn’t stop in the winter. However, the water spilled outside of the bowl will quickly turn to ice. Put some straw or another type of bedding around the water buckets, at least two to three inches deep. This will minimize ice formation.
6. Add Extra Straw
As you likely know, ducks like to nest on the ground. They don’t require a lot for shelter – often, they can get by with a simple hut, as long as they have protection from the predators. However, their ground-nesting grounds can be a bit troublesome in the winter if they don’t have something guarding them from the cold ground beneath them.
Their feet can definitely handle walking on the frozen ground but they’re going to be more comfortable if you add a few bales of straw or hay to the coop. This will give them somewhere cozy to lay down if the wind starts to blow and it will also protect their feet. The feet of a duck is the part that is most vulnerable to cold weather-related injury.
7. Protect from the Wind
While you’re adding straw to the coop, go ahead and stack a few bales around the exterior walls of the coop – or you can line the inside, if there’s space. These bales will help insulate the coop and protect it from drafts.
While a three-sided shelter isn’t ideal for nighttime housing (it will allow predators to invade), it is a good option for giving your ducks somewhere to hunker down during the day. You can keep it up year-round as it will also provide shelter from the sun in the summer.
When caring for ducks in winter, they do tolerate cold well but the wind can be an issue. The hut will give them a place to rest out of the wind. You can also hang a tarp in a corner of the pen, which will provide some wind protection too.
8. Avoid Heat Lamps
Your ducks will love being outside in the winter, even when the run is covered with snow. They are more resilient than you give them credit for.
Resist the urge to add a heat lamp to the coop. Not only will this introduce the risk of fire but it’s also wholly unnecessary. Your ducks have everything they need to stay warm on their own bodies.
9. Keep Things Well-Ventilated
Ducks are known for their ability to emit a ton of moisture in the coop. This isn’t a problem – and likely isn’t something you will even notice – except in the winter. Because they release so much moisture, it’s very easy for the coop to become moisture-laden and unsafe.
Too much moisture can chill the coop, and it can also lead to frostbite. To prevent this, make sure the coop is well-ventilated. You might feel the temptation to board things up all snug and tight to keep out drafts. This is all well and good, but make sure you have vents that are high up. This will prevent drafts while also allowing for ventilation.
10. Take Advantage of Warm, Sunny Days
Don’t forget – you should take advantage of those warm, sunny days that we occasionally get in the winter. Ducks love swimming, so it’s a good idea to set out a pool for your ducks on the warm days. If you’re lucky, the snow might thaw enough for them to do some foraging, too.
Keeping Ducks Year-Round is Simple
If you’re interested in raising ducks around the calendar year – and not just in the summer – you’re in luck. It’s not difficult to do! While there are some extra considerations you will need to keep in mind, ducks are tough, resilient birds that can tolerate most conditions.