Ducks are delightful birds and can give their owners much pleasure and enjoyment. They are hardy and suffer from far fewer serious diseases than other poultry. They are also very easy to keep, providing that a few basic facts are kept in mind.
Housing made especially for hens is not suitable for ducks without modification but simple homemade housing can do very well as long as certain considerations are taken into account. These are space per bird, type of floor, bedding, ventilation and access. Large breeds need a minimum of 2 sq.ft. floor space per bird in the duck house. The floor should be rat and fox proof. A solid concrete or paving slab floor is good as long as plenty of bedding is provided for warmth. This floor can be washed and disinfected easily. Temporary or portable walls should generally be of wood, either exterior ply or tongue and groove boards. The roof should be of wood covered with roofing felt and have a reasonable
overhang to take rainwater away from the walls. The wood should be treated with preservative well before installing the ducks. Never let the birds come into contact with fresh creosote.
Bedding can be a variety of materials. Wood shavings make a
good base with straw on top for warmth. Avoid damp or musty straw and hay as fungal spores can cause lung diseases such as Aspergillosis. Bedding soon becomes trampled and mucky so add a few handfuls of fresh bedding every few days. This allows the moisture to drain downward while the birds stay warm and dry on top. They also have clean straw on which to lay their eggs. It is advisable to change all the bedding material at least once a month.
Ducks do not readily use nesting boxes or perches, so eggs will have to be collected from the duck house floor. The door must be large enough to give easy access or, for alow duck house, the roof can be hinged. The door should be at least 2ft. wide as ducks tend to stampede out in a bunch when let
out in the morning. Wait until they have laid because they do not return to the house as hens do: 8 to 9am is the usual release time.
Ventilation can be provided by a wire grille or series of small holesbored above the birds’ head height on a sheltered wall. Ducksshould always be shut in before dark although foxes may sometimes take birds in daylight.
Fence in your ducks as well as you can afford but remember a fox is a very determined animal. Unless you put up fencing that is at least 6 foot high there is a danger that he will get in. It does not have to be too rigid, in fact loose floppy wire netting or electric fencing can be very effective deterrents.
Ducks are excellent foragers and will find a lot of their own food if they are given plenty of range, particularly in the summer months. It is advisable, however, to supplement this with morning and afternoon feeds. The morning feed should be layers pellets (mash is not suitable for duck bills and is therefore largely spilled and wasted) fed in a shallow bowl or trough when the birds are let out. DO NOT GIVE HEN LAYERS PELLETS AS THEY CONTAIN INGREDIENTS WHICH ARE TOXIC TO DUCKS AND CAN KILL. Wheat, barley or mixed corn can be fed in the afternoon or early evening according to the time of year. This feed should be at least half an hour before dark. If food is left after an hour you are giving too much. This is not only uneconomical but will attract flocks of wild birds and vermin, both of which can introduce diseases. If you give the afternoon feed of grain in a bowl or trough of clean water this will please the ducks and foil the pilfering sparrows. Ducks running on the grass will not need extra green stuff but during the winter it helps general good health if you give your birds fresh greens several times a week. Soft leaf greens such as lettuce can be fed whole but tough greens like outer leaves of cabbage (often discarded by the greengrocer) are easier to eat if chopped and fed with water. Grit aids digestion and should be supplied in a separate container. Oyster shell is helpful in providing extra calcium or the production of strong egg shells. All the above information applies to young ducks but they should be fed on ‘growers’ ration up to the age of 18 weeks.
Ducks naturally enjoy swimming but this does not mean that you cannot keep them if you do not have a pond or a stream. They need to be able to wash their eyes and nostrils and give themselves a splash-wash in order to keep their plumage in good condition. However still water should be changed as often as possible. A small fibre glass garden pond could be used but be sure to provide a submerged ramp or stone to help your ducks out of the water as the sides will be too slippery for their feet to grip. A good alternative is a PVC replacement wheelbarrow body. The sloping end gives easy access and it is deep enough for a good splash. It is also not too heavy for you to lift and empty. If you surround this ‘bath’ with concrete or paving slabs it will prevent the adjacent ground becoming excessively muddy due to trampling and beaking. A daily bath is particularly important in the winter as the feathers must be in top condition to insulate the birds’ bodies against the cold.
Ducks should not be kept in small pens. Their webbed feet and watery way of life will quickly turn a small pen into a stinking, disease-riddled swamp. Ideally ducks should have as much space as possible, a minimum of 20 sq. ft. for Runners. This should be a grassy enclosure which can be rested periodically while the ducks move on to an alternative pen. This also helps prevent build-up of parasites in the soil.
Shade must be provided as ducks can suffer badly in very hot weather. Spreading shrubs give shade and look attractive or you could build an awning.
Indian Runners cope well with most terrains. Well-cared-for ducks are normally quite healthy and can live for many years. Theybecome very tame and are often regarded as members of the family,