Domestic Ducks


Guinea Fowl

Ornamental Waterfowl





Domestic Ducks

Ducks are delightful and very entertaining but a word of warning – they insist on turning soil to mud by using water from their drinker, so it is best to give them a larger area than would be given to chickens with regular moving of the drinker.

Domestic ducks are all descended from the wild mallard (Anas  p. platyrhynchos) except the Muscovy (Cairina moschata). The lighter breed ducks certainly lay more eggs during the year, but the heavy breed ones will lay in the spring and summer and the variation in colour, shape and size makes for a more interesting flock.

External points of a domestic duck


Check with your local authority that there are no regulations to prevent you keeping ducks and remember to inform your neighbours, re-assuring them that there will not be a sea of mud or smell. Female ducks can make a certain amount of noise, but not nearly as bad or as early as a cockerel. Remember, you do not need a drake for egg production and ducks are polygamous, mating with any female with the exception of the Call ducks who need to be allowed to choose their own mate.

Unlike the chickens, there are very few commercial hybrid type ducks available. In fact, the pure light breeds are more than adequate for laying purposes. It is most important to make sure of a market for the eggs – they are supreme in baking, having generally a better yolk colour than hen eggs (via natural feeding) plus extra moisture – duck eggs are the secret ingredient of prize-winning and popular cakes and cooking.

Light breed ducks should lay well for about three years and then for continuous production, they should be replaced either by buying in or breeding your own.

Should you want slug control in a vegetable garden, the smaller bantam or Call ducks are useful as they do not do much damage with their feet, but you may need to clip the feathers on one wing as these birds fly well. Indian Runners do not fly and are also good sluggers.

Heavy Light Bantam
Aylesbury Abacot Ranger Black East Indian
Blue Swedish Bali Call
Cayuga Campbell Crested
Muscovy Crested Silver Appleyard Miniature
Pekin Hook Bill Silver Bantam
Rouen Indian Runner  
Rouen Clair Magpie  
Saxony Buff Orpington  
Silver Appleyard Welsh Harlequin  


You will need to decide the reasons for having ducks and this will then narrow the breeds down. Study the health points and follow the biosecurity guidelines so that you know what to look for when going to buy birds. Reject any which do not come up to scratch: don’t buy them because you feel sorry for them – they will be nothing but trouble.

Ducks mature faster than hens and are sold at 12-14 weeks, sexed, as they should start to lay from about 16 weeks. Or they are sold to the more experienced breeder at dayold, sexed. Most breeders of exhibition stock will only sell pairs or trios i.e. including a drake, so try and negotiate for females not quite good enough for the show pen, for instance, remembering that the heavier breeds will lay less in any case.

Bantam ducks do well in small enclosures with a pond or water container which is easy to clean and either on grass or gravel.  A child’s plastic sandpit makes a good movable pond, but build a ramp so the ducks can get in and out easily. Water for larger ducks is ideally provided in movable ponds that have a ballvalve, thus keeping the level of water constant plus avoiding the muddy patches which always accrue due to their habit of dabbling. A pond which is capable of being emptied at least once a week is adequate. If a natural or dug out pond is very large, put small mesh netting around all the banks to prevent the waterfowl from digging them out as this is one of their favourite activities. Do not think for one minute that plants will survive in a pond with ducks, unless it is a large pond and has only one pair of bantam ducks.  Pea gravel around a fixed pond will help to keep the area cleaner and this can be hosed down. No matter how disciplined you think you are, waterfowl acquisition is addictive, so allow for serious expansion when planning your enclosures.

It is important that ducks have a wide enough drinker so they can dunk their whole head in order to keep their eyes clean.

As with hens, use commercial feed for the correct species and age of bird and put this in vermin-proof hoppers. Hanging ones with a coiled spring at the base work well for pellets with ducks and wheat can be put in shallow troughs which are then filled with water so that crows and rooks are not attracted to the feed, but ideally net it over. 



If ducks are in a house and run then driving them into the house will be the best method. Then corner the duck you want, restraining it loosely around the neck before sliding your other hand underneath from the front, palm up, and clasping its legs between your fingers. Ducks wriggle, so hold the legs firmly. Transfer the duck to your forearm, the other hand now on its back and its head pointing behind you with the mucky end pointing away from you – they tend to projectilely defecate when picked up, so you really do not want duck mess in your pocket.

If getting a duck out of a box or crate, loosely restrain around the neck, then slide your hand in under the bird from the front, palm up, and clasp the legs firmly, then transfer as above.

If ducks are free-range or have a large pond, they will soon learn that being on the water is the safest place and you will be unable to catch them. Always try and be devious first and feed them away from the water so that they can then be driven into a hut or run. Once in the run, unless they have been used to being handled from dayold, it is best to catch them with a fishing landing net, then transfer them to an arm as above.

Be especially careful to put ducks down gently after handling as they can damage a leg quite easily otherwise.

Ducks rarely bite (and it is only a little nip if they do), but do beware of Muscovy claws as not only are they sharp, the ducks are extremely strong for their size. 



Housing is needed for waterfowl at night for safety from predators. Floor area should be a minimum of 0.75 x 0.75m (2 x 2ft) for each light duck upwards. Ideally, they will all be in a foxproof enclosure so will not need secure housing, especially as waterfowl see well in the dark and really do not like going into huts, except to lay. Make sure the huts have fairly high interiors so the birds feel less claustrophobic if they have to be shut in at night. A hut with a large entrance door, one that perhaps drops down, will encourage the birds to go in. Bantam ducks are going to need half the space of larger ones. If the area is foxproof, then a very simple shelter for laying in is all that is needed.

It is vital to provide good ventilation in the hut as the thick feathering of waterfowl is all they need for protection from cold. It is to provide protection from predators that housing is used, not so much weather protection.  Wire mesh windows or doors are best to allow good air circulation, but don’t make the windows too large as moonlit nights will spook the ducks.

Ducks are less agile than chickens and will not readily use the sort of outside nestbox available on most henhouses. Therefore duck huts tend to be simpler and nesting areas for waterfowl can consist of some overhead protection and wheat straw on the ground. A simple triangular hut with no base and one side open is a good laying area for outside waterfowl as it affords some protection from aerial predators. Inside a duck hut, create nestboxes by leaning hardboard at a 30º against one wall to make a dark and protected area. Letting ducks out after 9am will ensure that 99% of the eggs are laid in the hut, as they lay at the same time every day.

Waterfowl sleep on the ground and do not want a perch, except for Muscovies which do like to perch.

Wheat straw or woodshavings both on the floor and for nesting areas are the best materials. Do not use hay due to the mould organisms present in it.

The floor can be solid or slatted or mesh. Slats should be 1¼” (3.2cm) across with a 1” (2.5cm) gap between, mesh should be square and 2.5cm  (1”). If slats or mesh are used, make sure the house is not off the ground otherwise it will be too draughty. Slats or mesh make for better drainage and should be covered with straw. If the hut has a solid floor, raise the house off the ground about 8” (20cm) to deter rats but you will then need a ramp for the  ducks to get back in.

Weekly cleaning is best, replacing litter in all areas. The best disinfectant which is not toxic to the birds is Virkon. This is a DEFRA approved disinfectant and destroys all the bacteria, viruses and fungi harmful to poultry, but is not toxic to the birds. Remember to replace the litter in the nesting area and move all housing on a regular basis to help with hygiene.



Use commercial waterfowl feed for the correct age of bird and put this in vermin-proof hoppers. Hanging ones with a coiled spring at the base work well for pellets with ducks and wheat can be put in shallow troughs which are then filled with water so that crows and rooks are not attracted to the feed, but ideally net the run over. 



Feed a breeder ration to the adults for 6 weeks before you want to set the eggs to increase both fertility and hatchability, following on from a maintenance ration so that the protein is increased. Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch with Muscovies taking 35 days. If using a Muscovy as a broody for domestic ducks, she will not realise the change in incubation time. Wait for a fortnight before setting pure breed eggs if the ducks have been running with another breed drake:  free-flying wild mallard will take every opportunity to mate with your domestic birds – another good reason for netting them over.  If you do not have a drake, you can buy in fertile eggs. Ask if the parent stock has been fed on a breeder ration as this will increase the number of ducks obtained.

Natural hatching under a broody duck is one way to raise a few and children love the experience. It is, however, essentially dependent on having a reliable broody at the same time as the eggs you want to set. Call ducks or Muscovies make the most reliable broodies, most of the other breeds tend to give up. It is best to leave ducks where they decide to sit, remove others from the hut and run and provide chick crumbs and water at hatching time. When the duck gets up to feed she will cover the eggs with her own down – that is how eider down is harvested in northern lands. If you try and move a broody duck as you would a broody chicken, it will probably put her off altogether. Do not let two broody ducks sit side by side as they will steal each others eggs, try and sit on too many letting the outside ones get cold and probably ruin the lot. Disturbance by cat, dog or child may well upset the whole broody project so try and control access by these if possible.

If a broody duck is not available, you can use a broody chicken who will happily sit for 28 days (or even 35) without realising it and rear the ducks. The broody is likely to get a bit upset when “her” babies begin swimming, however. It is unlikely that you will be able to borrow a broody hen, so perhaps have a pen of Silkie crosses just for that purpose.

If using an incubator, realise that duck eggs certainly do not need any more humidity in an incubator than hen eggs in the UK – in fact, it is possible to drown the embryos by adding too much water.

Artificially incubated ducklings need a heat lamp to keep them warm, preferably one with an infra-red ceramic bulb so that they have heat and not light. The size of the bulb will depend on the number of birds with a 100 watt one being sufficient for a few and a 250 watt one needed for 30 ducklings. A glass bulb is likely to shatter with the way ducklings throw water about. The heat without light avoids feather pecking (Muscovies are the main culprits) as they then have natural light and darkness to maximise body and feather growth. Site the heat lamp in a draught-free place with a generous covering of shavings or newspaper on the floor or make a circle using an 8’ (2.4m) length of hardboard about 18” (45cm) high around it. You can also use a large rectangular cardboard box and change this for each hatch. It needs to be rectangular so that the lamp is at one end and the ducklings can regulate their own temperature by moving away from the lamp. Turn the heat lamp on two days before they are due to hatch. It should be far enough off the shavings so that the temperature under it is about 39˚C (102˚F). If they are too hot they will scatter to the edges, panting. If they are too cold they will huddle in the middle, cheeping loudly. The ideal is to have a small empty circle just under the lamp. Transfer the them from the incubator when they have dried and fluffed up. Dip their beaks in the drown-proof drinker (only use tepid water) and place them under the lamp. If they are thirsty and you give them cold water, the shock can kill them. Handling the ducklings frequently at this stage will ensure that they become nice and tame.

Provide waterfowl crumbs (medicated chick crumbs are toxic to waterfowl) a short distance away from the lamp in a shallow container. Ducklings are unbelievably messy and will play with all the water you give them. Put the drinker on a metal grid so that the water drains through. They can stay in this area either until they outgrow it or they are weaned off the heat lamp, at about 4 weeks. The lamp can be gradually raised and then turned off in the middle of the day if it is hot outside, not forgetting to put it back on at night. They should be well feathered by this stage, particularly underneath, and able to keep themselves warm, the lighter breeds feathering up quicker than the heavier ones. 



Ducks and geese can be vent sexed up to four weeks old by an experienced keeper examining the vent. The voice of female ducks deepens and becomes a proper quack at about 6 weeks of age, the males always rasp.


Health and Disease

Positive signs of health in ducks

  • dry nostrils
  • bright eyes (colour varies with breed), no soreness
  • clean, shiny feathers (all present)
  • good weight and musculature for age
  • clean vent feathers with no smell
  • straight toes and undamaged webs
  • the bird alert and active with no sign of lameness

It is not easy keeping a duck area dry due to their messy habits. Common problems include internal parasites, so it is important to use the licensed Flubenvet at least twice a year. Wounds from excessive drake activity affect the neck, head and eye. Handling on a regular basis (the same way as chickens) will keep you informed as to their body condition. Ducks are not generally vaccinated.

Ducks can have lice (dust with louse powder and keep the bird(s) off the water for 12 hours) and may be affected by red mite, see chicken parasite section.

Biosecurity for Ducks

  • Isolate new stock for 2-3 weeks
  • Isolate birds after taking to an exhibition for 7 days
  • Change clothes and wash boots before and after visiting other breeders
  • Change clothes and wash boots before and after attending a sale
  • Keep fresh disinfectant at the entrance to waterfowl areas for dipping footwear
  • Disinfect crates before and after use, especially if lent to others. However, it is preferable not to be sharing equipment
  • Disinfect vehicles which have been on waterfowl premises but avoid taking vehicles onto other premises
  • Wash hands before and after handling ducks
  • Comply with any import/export regulations/guidelines

These are common-sense measures which can easily be incorporated into daily routine.