Caring for ducks
While ducks can make great companions, they are also a serious commitment. Before you decide to care for ducks, it is important to consider whether you have the time, resources, and knowledge, as well as the right environment to care for your ducks properly.
Your ducks’ diet should consist mainly of an age-appropriate commercial feed of pellets and mixed grain. In addition to this, their diet can be supplemented with certain suitable fruits and vegetables.
Note: Do not feed your ducks bread, popcorn, potato, chocolate, onion, garlic, avocado or citrus fruit!
Consult a veterinarian to see if, what, how much, and how often your ducks need to be given insoluble grit. A balanced diet provides ducks with the vitamins and minerals they need such as vitamins E, D and B, Calcium, Phosphorus, etc. The nutrients from these foods help prevent deficiencies and/or significant health problems.
Note: Please remember that that feeding ducks is not the same as feeding chickens.
Ducks need clean, fresh water available to drink at all times. Ducks consume about one litre of drinking water per duck per day. All sources of drinking water need to be freshened and cleaned every day so that your ducks do not get sick. They should be near food so that your ducks can wash their food down, though not so close that their food gets wet.
When it comes to your ducks’ living environment – the bigger the better! The more space you can provide for your ducks, the more places they’ll have to explore and show normal behaviours.
They’ll also need to have a secure, sheltered indoor area where they feel comfortable, safe and protected from predators. Housing needs to be secure, well ventilated and out of direct sunlight. At a minimum, ducks should be provided with 1.5 m2 area per duck in their house or pen.
A good environment for ducks has:
- Nutritious duck food and clean drinking water
- Appropriate shelter with soft flooring
- Safe and clean swimming water
- Nesting area e.g. a sturdy cardboard box on its side
- Access to outdoor space
- Long grass and other natural enrichment items
There should be enough nest boxes for the number of ducks in your flock so that they are not competing for space. Nests should also be an appropriate size, dry, cleaned often, and lined with straw or wood shavings so that your ducks can bury their eggs.
It is very important that ducks have constant access to fresh water sources like ponds and pools for the health of their eyes, nostrils, and feathers, and so that they can perform their natural behaviours like preening, head dipping, and dabbling. The water should be deep enough so that they can submerge their whole head and wash their body e.g. a child’s ‘clam shell’ pool. Ponds and pools should be kept clean and away from harmful pesticides and fertilisers.
Regular calm and gentle health checks and knowing the signs and symptoms of illness and injury are key to ensuring your ducks live a long, happy, and healthy life. The best time to observe this is when you put food out for your ducks, as you can watch how they move and feed.
The things you should be checking are:
- Eyes, ears, nostrils, beak, and mouth
- Feathers and skin
- Body (back, chest, neck, stomach)
- Legs and feet
Ducks may require worming every six months, with a poultry wormer. Talk to your veterinarian for advice about worming. If any of your ducks show any signs of injury or sickness, you must take them to a vet immediately. If a duck’s tail is dropping or bobbing, be sure to take them to the vet immediately as this is a serious sign of a health emergency.
Ducks are very curious, smart birds and need to be provided with enriching toys and activities. There are lots of things that you can do to keep your ducks’ entertained and encourage the expression of normal behaviours. For example, you can provide them with safe food enrichment like forage boxes and puzzle feeders, as well as sensory enrichment like mirrors and water toys.
Ducks also love to forage for worms and insects, in the soft or wet earth in gardens.
Ducks are very social animals and they have a strong instinct to live in groups (flocks). Ducks can become sad and lonely if they do not have friends of their own species.
There is an important social aspect to a lot of natural behaviours that ducks perform. They speak the same language, understand each other's body signals and play, preen each other, relax, forage and live together and look out for each other. Be sure to provide sufficient space and resources for your flock to prevent fighting.
Visit the SPCA Kids’ Education Portal (www.spca.nz/kids) for more information on caring for your companion ducks!