If you want to raise amazing avians that are perfect for improving soil, nourishing perennial plants, and helping with insect control, ducks absolutely fit the bill.
Deciding how to house them is not as straightforward though. With some planning, you can put them to work there where you keep them. It takes some strategizing, and we are going to share the different ways to give them a home on your homestead and utilize them at the same time.
Before we get started there are some things you need to know, such as how to incubate duck eggs and raise ducklings. You also need to pick the right breeds for your intended uses. But, if you get those things right, then using ducks around the homestead is like floating in a pond.
Seriously, putting ducks to work is so easy that any quack can do it! Alright, I can hear you groaning. So, I promise, no more duck puns. Just lots of good info to help you decide how to get your feet wet as a new duck keeper.
Oh, and if at the end of reading this post, you still aren’t sure how best to use ducks on your homestead, then feel free to dabble in some other ideas. OK, I’m definitely done ducking around now! Here’s that list.
Confined Housing Options
1. Keep Them With Your Chickens
If you already have chickens, it may seem like a good idea to keep your ducks with them. This complicates things a bit, but it can be done.
Ducks kept with chickens sometimes take on chicken-like tendencies making them more like a hybrid of ducks and chickens. For that reason, I call them ‘chuckins’ or ‘dickens’.
You’ll want your chicken/duck coop and run to have as many of the features detailed previously as you can. However, you should also anticipate that your ducks will try to copy your chickens. They may try to roost on narrow bars or fly up into raised nest boxes.
This is cute to see. But it puts your ducks at risk for injuries.
Most domesticated breeds aren’t suited for flying, so getting up and down even a few feet of the ground increases risks for bumblefoot or leg injuries. Either make it too hard for them to emulate chickens or make chicken areas duck accessible to minimize risks.
Here are some specific precautions you have to take if you want to keep chickens and ducks together.
Set up a Droppings Board
If your ducks don’t try to roost, they will likely still stand under the roost bars to be part of the flock. By adding a slanted droppings board under your chicken roosts, you can help keep them from spending nights in the dirty drop zone.
Ducks also bathe in their water and splash it everywhere. So, when housing ducks with chickens, use tricks like rimmed chicken waterers and bowls within a bowl to keep your chicken coop from becoming a soggy, wet mess.
Have Widely Separated Grooming Areas
Also, situate duck grooming locations, such as kiddie pools well away from your chicken dust baths. Dust baths and duck ponds don’t mix…er, well they do. But you don’t want them to!
2. Confine Ducks on Their Own
We are used to seeing ducks on ponds in parks or wildlife areas. So, we often think of them as wild birds. However, many of the highly domesticated breeds can’t survive in wild conditions. So, they prefer the security that comes from living in captivity.
Separate confinement has slightly different housing and grooming requirements. But overall their basic requirements are similar. Here are some details to consider when confining ducks.
The duck house, like a chicken coop, is a structure that should be completely secure at night when predators are most plentiful. It should also protect ducks from inclement weather such as heavy snowfall, hail, or excessive heat.
Except for Muscovies, most ducks are quite cold tolerant once they have their mature feathers. In extremely cold or hot weather, you may need to supply supplemental heat or cooling.
Ensure Good Ventilation
Generally, though, the big challenge with duck housing is to make sure it has enough airflow to minimize ammonia accumulation.
Wire mesh or hardware cloth covered windows, good cross ventilation, under eave openings, and breeze catching locations can all improve ventilation.
I like to make my poultry shelters tall enough for me to stand up in so I can clean. Ducks though like the sensation of head protection when confined at night.
So, rather than offering them roost bars, I give them cozy nooks to crouch under. Laying 55-gallon drums on their side or making extra, in-ground nest boxes work well.
A few of my lightweight ducks also like to roost on low benches so they can get away from the heavier breeds I house them with. Because they lay on their folded legs, make those benches at least as wide as your duck is long.
Muscovy ducks do like to roost. Their favorite spot in my landscape is a 4-inch diameter sourwood tree that overhangs our pond. So, when I do confine them, I like to use 4-inch round wooden posts for those beauties.
I like to keep duck flooring in contact with the soil because it absorbs their manure and minimizes bad smells. I then use hardware cloth, tacked to the house frame, to keep digging predators from getting inside.
If you do opt for an elevated duck house, you’ll want to give ducks a ramp rather than steps to enter. They will climb steps, but not happily. Ramps are easier on their feet and easier to herd them up.
Ducks tend to move as a mass rather than in a line. Making ramps wider, so that at least two can enter the house side by side, will make training them to go in the shelter at night easier. Or start with a wide opening that funnels them to a narrow opening.
Most domesticated ducks are ground nesters. Which means they’ll be more comfortable laying in a nest at ground level than a raised nest box. They do still like privacy. They also like leaf litter or semi-dry grass clippings as nest materials. They will also lay in straw or wood shavings.
In addition to the shelter, you’ll want to give ducks some room to run. Like chickens, a run can be any kind of protected space that gives ducks a chance to feel like they are outdoors while keeping them completely safe from predators.
With ducks, the bigger the run, the better. They have a tendency to stay in one area until it’s saturated with manure. Then they move to a fresh area.
So, if your run is big enough that they can rotate through a few different areas, it will help reduce bad aromas.
Free-Range Housing Options
Free-range means different things to different people. The USDA’s definition means that “[p]roducers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”
Most of us who raise livestock at home use a different definition. Free-range means that our livestock has a chance to forage part of their own food for part of each day.
You can free-range your ducks in several different ways. You can also provide protection during free-ranging in various ways. Here are a few suggestions that work well.
3. Keep Ducks in Fixed Paddocks
When you free-range ducks in paddocks, you basically herd them from their housing to a small fenced pasture daily. Before that paddock is depleted, you change things up and start to herd your ducks to a different fenced paddock.
Depending on how much land you have, how quickly it regenerates, and how many ducks you stock, the number of paddocks you need will vary. The goal, though, is to use them to fertilize while they forage without overloading the area with manure. Then, you want to let it fully recover before you bring the flock back.
4. Use Ducks for Rotational Grazing
Rotational grazing is a variation on using paddocks. The basic process of moving the ducks onto new pasture is the same. However, you also integrate other animals in the grazing rotation.
For example, you may have goats go through the paddock first, then follow up with ducks to plod the goat manure in. Rotational grazing, in this case multispecies grazing, can be done in fixed paddocks or with electric or temporary fencing.
It can also be done as part of a crop rotation scheme. After the goats and ducks, then you might plant specific crops like corn or pumpkins that can make use of that extra nitrogen and phosphorus from the manure.
5. Supervised Freedom
Free-ranging can also be as simple as letting your ducks out of their run a few hours a day. If you only have light predator pressure, you might just check on them every so often. Or, you might plan your day so that you can be working near them while they forage.
6. Dog Protected Camp
Many domesticated ducks are easy to herd. They also tend to stay in close proximity to each other rather than spreading out in all directions.
As such, they can even be raised on open pastures similar to sheep or cattle. They will still need some protection from the elements, but not as much as chickens or goats would.
You can set up electric wire fences over a large area. Then, herd the ducks to the center of the camp and scatter food and offer water. The ducks will fan out from the center but usually won’t stray too far from the water area.
Then, you can run livestock guardian dogs outside the electric wires to discourage predators. The electric wire fence is primarily to keep the dogs out. (Even the best LGD can turn predator once in a while.)
Herding dogs can even be used to move ducks onto new pastures.
Ducks don’t scratch like chickens. They eat some greenery. They use their bills to dig around root zones looking for grubs and other burrowing insects.
In doing so, they act as pest control and aerate the soil. Plus, they can effectively “pinch” plants to make them bushier (e.g. pinching basil to trigger multiple branching). Of course, they poop where they eat, so they also fertilize the soil in the process.
7. Permaculture Ducks
Permaculture, or permanent agriculture, involves growing perennial or self-seeding plants that self-regenerate. It also uses livestock as part of a closed-loop system to regenerate soil, produce food, and return nutrients to the earth.
In permaculture, the way you use ducks will depend on your environment. They may be used in orchards, in aquaponics, for their downstream soil benefits on sloped properties, and more.
8. Food Forest Ducks
A food forest is essentially a multi-storied perennial food system that mimics how nature grows forests. There might be nut trees, fruit trees, berries, vines, herbs, and more in a food forest.
Non-flying ducks are limited to eating what they can reach from the ground. That makes them a good livestock choice to use as a fertility source in a food forest.
They will still eat low growing plants. So, in my food forests, I tend to use herbs like lemon balm or mint that ducks don’t prefer. I also shut them out of the food forest when my strawberries are close to ripening. But, running them under a food forest in early spring is a great way to add soil fertility.
9. Natural Pond Players
Of course, the most wonderful way to raise ducks is on, or around, a natural pond. Here, their abilities really shine.
They add fertility to the water and the pond edge making that area highly fertile and lush with life. They control slugs that are common in wet areas. They eat excess seeds so that some invasive species are kept in check.
If you aren’t going to offer them predator protection, then make sure your pond is large enough and deep enough that ducks can swim to safety. Choosing larger breeds cuts down on risks from other aerial predators who will often only go for smaller ducks that are light enough to lift.
Be careful about stocking densities. The right number of ducks makes a system thrive. Too many and it quickly goes toxic.
Also, be forewarned, ducks make secret nests. So, you’ll have to be diligent at hunting for nests and collecting eggs to be able to eat them and prevent ducks from brooding them. But, if you like Easter egg hunts, it can fun!
More Ways to Keep and Use Ducks
Believe it or not, I could suggest even more ideas on how to keep ducks – in a vermicompost system, in a greenhouse, as part of a mushroom operation, and more. But, these nine ways of keeping ducks are a great start to inspire you to think of all the amazing ways you can put ducks to good use on your homestead.