Domestic ducks are an increasingly popular pet and part of an urban homestead life.
They are quieter and easier to care for than chickens, lay delicious eggs, and can be friendly, sociable pets.
Here’s everything you need to know to keep happy, healthy ducks.
How to Keep Ducks
Ducks are easier to keep than you might think and have fairly simple needs. In fact, here’s a quick list of what ducks DON’T need:
- Ducks don’t need a pond
- Ducks don’t need special shelter
- Ducks don’t need complicated food
- Ducks don’t need regular medication
Keeping ducks is a lot like keeping chickens, in that both types of birds are happy to eat garden weeds and pests like snails and slugs, and both birds need protection from predators.
If you are already keeping chickens, you probably have everything you need to keep ducks happy as well.
Basic Duck Facts
- There are four basic types of ducks: domestic, dabbling, diving, and sea ducks. The last three types are wild birds that are more difficult to keep, so today we are talking about domestic ducks
- Depending on the breed, ducks live for about 12 years but can get as old as 20
- Ducks can visit your family indoors but are an outside pet
- Duck eggs are larger, and higher in fat, protein, nutrients, and calories than chicken eggs. They make richer, fluffier baked goods
- Ducks have big flat feet that mash up a landscape or garden but tend to do slightly less damage than chickens do with scratching
- Ducks are nocturnal and will chatter all night, especially if they are exposed to light
- Most domesticated duck breeds don’t fly, so you don’t have to worry about them flying away, but you do have to worry about protecting them from predators
Duck Social Needs
Ducks are social animals, and, even when they are domesticated as pets and socialized to humans, they should never be kept alone.
You should try to keep at least 3 ducks for good social development and to prevent loneliness.
Duck Physical Needs
Ducks need access to water for dunking and bathing.
Domestic ducks only spend about 10% of their time in the water, but they do need regular access to it.
The water needs to be deep enough for them to submerge their heads, since they don’t have tear ducts, and need baths to clean their eyes.
The water will quickly get dirty and muddy, so plastic kiddie pools and the like are a great solution because the water can be dumped and the pool cleaned out.
If the walls of the pool are high, ducks will need a wide ramp or some other way to get into the water.
Ducks are cold-hardy and don’t roost, so their shelter needs are minimal.
Three or four ducks can live happily in a large dog house, as long as the inside is dry and floored with clean hay or wood shavings.
While their shelter should have good ventilation, position the door away from the wind, and prevent light from getting inside the shelter.
Also, give ducks a wide doorway; they like to do things together and may trample each other if they need to go single-file.
Ducks do need protection from predators, including stray dogs and cats.
Their enclosure needs sturdy fencing, not to keep the ducks in, but to keep predators out.
If they have a safe enclosure, they do not need to be locked into a shelter at night.
Ducks like to paddle in mud and will quickly make a mess of the area around their pool.
For this reason, it’s best to site their enclosure somewhere with good soil drainage, so rain and water don’t accumulate.
Their enclosure should also offer them places to shelter from hot sun since they don’t tolerate heat as well as cold.
Duck Dietary Needs
Ducks also need clean drinking water, since they will dirty their bathwater. Chicken waterers work well for ducks.
Almost all domesticated ducks are “dabblers,” which means that they eat food by washing it down their throats with water.
So ducks need a bucket or deep bowl of water near their food. This may also be a source of drinking water, but it will quickly get dirty.
You can also keep a bucket of water sprinkled with grain and vegetables in it for your ducks to eat – ducks are happy to dunk their heads while they graze, but the water deters other animals and pests from snacking.
You can buy food specifically formulated for ducks and waterfowl, but in many cases ducks will do well with unmedicated chicken feed.
Adding brewer’s yeast to their feed provides additional niacin, which is healthy for ducks and chickens as well.
Laying ducks may need additional calcium in their diet.
Ducks will also eat weeds, pests, vegetable scraps, grains, leftover pizza…
Ducks need fine grit to help grind up their food and make it digestible.
Grit is sold as ground-up granite or ground-up oyster shells, and in two sizes: one for ducklings, and one for adult ducks.
Ground-up oyster shells serve as grit with the benefit of added calcium, but it’s best to offer both and let the ducks choose.
Best Duck Breeds to Keep
If you want to keep ducks as pets and for eggs, you should start with a flock of 3 females.
If you want to raise baby ducks, it’s best to start with 4 females and 1 male.
It can be difficult to sex domestic ducks when they are young, depending on the breed.
Here are the best duck breeds to keep, particularly if you are a beginner:
The Welsh Harlequin is a pretty, pale domestic duck breed that originated in Wales in the 1940s.
They are popular ducks for urban life because they are small and easy to manage, have a calm, friendly disposition, and are great egg layers.
They do tend to be broody, so they are also a good choice if you want to grow your flock.
The American Pekin is the classic white-bodied, orange-billed duck you imagine from children’s books.
They were originally bred for meat, so they are a large and fast-growing duck, but they have a calm temperament and are excellent egg layers.
Campbell is a British domestic duck developed at the turn of the 20th century.
They are prolific egg layers, with an average of 300 eggs a year.
They are gentle and friendly when raised by hand, and are less broody than other breeds.
**Want other types of animals to look out for? Check out our breeding rabbits guide here!**
How long do ducks live?
Domesticated ducks live an average of 7-12 years, depending on the breed.
Are ducks hard to take care of?
No, ducks are easier to take care of than backyard chickens.
Are ducks good pets?
A: If you have a domestic duck breed, they can make very good pets.
They are friendly and like to hang around people, and hand-raised ducks enjoy pets and cuddles (though most ducks don’t like to be picked up).
They are intelligent and fun to be around, and make good pets with proper preparation and care.
Can you keep ducks and chickens together?
Yes, ducks and chickens actually make good companions because ducks can eat chicken feed, and the birds will not disturb each other.
How many ducks can you have in your backyard?
You should never have less than two ducks, since they require companionship, and three or four is better.
Before getting ducks, you should check with your local government, and perhaps even your homeowners’ association, to review the rules about keeping ducks in your area.