A duck can be a useful pet to own. A couple of ducks can be a wonderful addition to your garden, helping you to get rid of snails and slugs. But there are challenges, however to keeping these ducks.
Issues that arise from having a duck as a pet
1. Ducks reach full size in about 5 weeks. They are cute and fluffy for 2 weeks and then they grow up. Ducks can live 10-20+ years, depending on the breed.
2. Ducks poop everywhere. You cannot train them.
3. You cannot raise a duck and “release it to the wild.” Mallards are wild ducks. Most other ducks were domesticated by humans. That means they no longer have wild instincts, can’t migrate and are usually too fat to fly. It is illegal to own wild ducks without a permit and illegal to release domestic ducks on public land. In some areas it is considered abandonment and can result in cruelty charges. It’s also a death sentence, as ducks raised by humans can’t fend for themselves in the wild. Did you know bread is bad for ducks? It lacks the basic nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
4. Qualified avian veterinarians to treat your special pet are few and far between. You can find a vet who treats parakeets, but not one who will treat your duck. If you do find one, expect to spend about $80-$120 for a basic duck check-up.
5. There is a reason for the saying “sitting duck.” Ducks need predator-proof pens with hardware cloth on all sides, top and bottom. They must be in these secure pens from dusk to sunrise in some areas, and at all times in other areas. Good pens that you build yourself start at around $300. Your home is not an exception because you haven’t seen a predator or you live on a pond. Raccoons reach through chicken-wire and climb over chain link with ease. Eagles and hawks don’t need to carry off your duck, they just grab a piece.
6. You won’t be able to take a vacation for the next 10-20+ years because there is no such thing as a duck sitter. You will realize this too late, when your vacation is already planned. Ducks require complicated care. Note: None of your friends or family wants to watch your duck while you are on vacation. They asked me to tell you that.
7. Ducks are more maintenance than the space shuttle. Bob Tarte wrote that line in his book, “Enslaved by Ducks.” Believe him. Don’t get a duck. Just read his book instead.
8. Ducks are extremely emotional. More emotional than cats or dogs. If you raise one duck and that duck depends on you, you cannot leave that duck alone for even one day without that duck missing you and getting upset/depressed/scared when you are gone. Don’t do that to a duck. Ducks need duck friends.
9. Ducks are time-consuming. They need twice-daily care, for at least 1/2 hour each time, every day of the year, rain or shine. They won’t thrive unless they get much more of your time than that. But that is the bare minimum amount of time required twice a day, every single day, without fail.
10. Ducks don’t believe you should have hobbies. Want to meet friends for dinner? Have to put your ducks away before dusk first. Want to have brunch on a Saturday? Need to clean the duck ponds first. Like to knit, sew, paint, listen to music, see movies, watch TV, play games, ride a bike? Forget it. Your sole hobby if you have a duck… is your duck. End of hobbies.
11. Do you live with your parents? Absolutely do not get a duck. You think you’ll keep the duck forever, but you will grow up and get interested in your friends or go to college. And you cannot keep a duck in your dorm room. Your parents absolutely do not want to care for your duck while you’re on a date or away at school. Your parents will tell you your duck died and give it away. Seriously. They told me to tell you that. Do not get a duck until you own your own home, can pay vet bills on your own, and can afford food and amenities for your duck.
12. Do you rent your home or live in an apartment? Every year thousands of people get ducks only to give them up because their landlord/girlfriend/boyfriend/parents/neighbors complained. Giving up a duck means that duck will probably be euthanized or suffer. Do not get a duck first and THEN research whether or not you’re allowed to have a duck. Some ducks are extremely loud. Too loud for neighbors. Way, way too loud. Trust me on this.
13. Have a dog? Think he’s old and friendly and wouldn’t hurt a fly? You’re wrong. Your duck will spaz out and flap in a way that will engage your dog’s innate prey instinct. Your dog will pick up your duck and shake it to death while you watch in horror. Yes. Your sweet little dog will do that. Your dog is not an exception. And it will be your fault, not your dog’s fault. Your dog is just being a dog. Do not get a duck if you have a dog. Your duck will taunt your dog. Your duck will chase and bite and taunt your dog until your dog bites it. That will also be your fault. Your duck is just being a duck.
14. Your duck is social and needs duck friends. Your duck does not want to live with just you. Your duck needs other ducks and more ducks means more poop. (See #2).
15. Every duck is a unique individual. Ducks are particular, and don’t automatically get along with other ducks. Two male ducks can kill each other. Too many male ducks can kill a female duck. Larger ducks will pick on smaller ducks and stronger ducks will try to kill weaker or injured ducks. Ducks act like dinosaurs much of the time. Cranky, cranky dinosaurs.
16. Ducks bite. Some male ducks bite all the time. They do not bite because they are mean. They bite because they love you. They bite hard. They bruise. They constantly bite your ankles, hands, arms, feet and face. You must wear long sleeves and long pants and socks and shoes to visit your ducks. 100 degrees outside? Make sure you’re wearing long pants and long sleeves to visit your ducks. Muscovy ducks have a ridge to their beak that can tear your skin off. Muscovy drakes often also protect their territory or decide you are a threat. Then they attack you. They fly at you and beat their 6-foot wing span wings at you, bruising and welting you. Their talons can be 1 1/2″ long and they will try to claw at you in mid-air. They bite and tear at you and chase you down, faster than you can run away.
17. Ducks make a huge mess when they eat. Duck food attracts rats and mice. In some areas, mice attract snakes. LOTS of snakes. Duck poop attracts flies. Having a pet duck means having rats and flies. It’s a package deal. Your neighbors will love that. Think you can kill the rats? Poison them and they will die in your duck pond, poisoning the pond your ducks drink from. Or their carcasses will attract predators. Try to trap and release them instead. Come winter time you can find them conveniently living in the roof of your house, or in your basement, for warmth.
18. Having a duck means hearing awful horror stories from everyone around you. People will think that because you have a duck, you must really want to hear their story about how a duck flew into their windshield. Or how their dog brought a duck in through the doggy door and splattered blood all over the walls! Or how their neighbor’s kid had a duckling but dropped it on its head and it had seizures and threw up before dying. Or how your neighbors had ducks but raccoons climbed into their pen and ate them. Or how their grandma had ducks and killed and plucked and slaughtered and cooked and served them for dinner. Or how a hawk flew down and ripped into a duck but no one ever took it to a veterinarian. Or how there’s this duck at the park that limps and drags itself along but that’s just nature! Gosh, aren’t those stories great? People can’t wait to share their duck stories! (All of these story examples are actual stories told to me by people who could not WAIT to share their wonderful duck anecdote!)
19. Horrible duck stories will give you nightmares. Only you’ll dream that your own duck is suffering or in danger or being eaten or maimed. You will have this nightmare a lot.
20. You will worry about your duck every day that you have it.
Lastly, if you’ve made it to the bottom of this list and you STILL think you’re the awesome saintly exception who is going to provide a super safe, loving home to a flock… please think of adopting or rescuing instead of hatching or buying. There are a ton of homeless ducks in need of great forever homes.
Ducks can be as useful as they are cumbersome some times. You need to have a dedicated system of taking care of them.
Essential things to consider when keeping a duck as a pet.
Ducks have very simple housing needs. They don’t need anything fancy. A simple three-sided shelter with a mesh base, front and door is suitable.
The key thing is to make sure your duck house is secure from predators. Shut up your ducks when you are not at home in a secure pen or house that will protect them. Foxes are the main predator and are common in cities. Night-time is the most risky for foxes.
To be secure, housing must have solid sheeting or welded mesh (with wire at least 1.2mm thick) on the roof, floor and walls. Chicken wire is not strong enough and can be torn by a fox.
Space requirements: Ducks need at least 1.5 sq metres per duck in their house or pen if they are to be confined in it during the day. For a night house 0.5 sq metres per duck is enough.
Duck housing should be out of the sun and should provide wind protection. Ducks don’t really like to be in direct sun. Metal housing in particular should be insulated or shaded to avoid it becoming hot inside. Housing must also be well ventilated. Face the open side away from the prevailing winds in your area.
Your duck house or pen should be easy to clean. Cleaning will be easiest if you can stand up in your duck pen. Ducks poop a lot. Rice hulls are an excellent pen surface for ducks as they are soft but last a long time and also drain very well. Just rake the rice hulls over each day.
Don’t use bare concrete or pavers over more than one third of the pen floor or your ducks will develop sores on their soft feet.
Inside the house, provide a ‘private’ spot for a nest (a sturdy cardboard box on its side, or an old lawnmower catcher will do). Keep the nest topped up with clean mulch, wood shavings or straw. Ducks often bury their eggs in the nest.
Ducks don’t need a perch – they will sleep on the floor.
Keep your ducks’ food container under cover so it doesn’t get wet (e.g. keep the food dish inside the duck house). Keep the water and food at least a metre apart to discourage them from dribbling water in their food.
Ideally, put their drinking and bathing water over an area that drains well. Sitting the water container over a drainage pit or platform wider than the water container and filled with smooth pebbles is ideal.
Ducks love water. Adult ducks will go through about a litre of drinking water per duck per day.
Ducks need water to keep their eyes, bills, feet and feathers in good condition. Make sure your ducks, at any age, never run out of water. As a minimum, all day you must provide your ducks with water deep enough for them to stick their whole head into. They will also use this to wash the rest of their body. Without this they can get eye and respiratory infections and their feathers will become tatty.
Make sure that all water containers are low enough so that the ducks can scramble out again if they happen to climb into the waterer.
Ducks will love having access to water they can climb into and splash in. Ducks get very excited when they are given fresh, clear swimming water! They don’t need to have swimming water all day in their pen or house – something out in the backyard will be fine. A kiddie pool (clam shell) or a tub about 20cm deep is perfect. Supervise all access to swimming water until you are sure that the ducks can get in and out of the ‘swimming pool’ easily. Old baths are not ideal because they are slippery inside and ducks can find it hard to get out if the water is a bit low. Although ducks are great swimmers, they can still become waterlogged and drown.
Whenever ducks have access to feed they must also have access to water. Ducks need water to wash down their food. If you take away their water at night, take away their feed as well.
Ducklings and ducks need to eat a commercially prepared food as their main diet.
Up to 3 weeks of age ducks need a high nutrient feed with a protein level of approximately 18-20%. Duck starter crumbles are ideal however chick starter can be used.
After 3 weeks and up to 20 weeks of age they can be fed a good quality grower food suitable for ducks or for pullets (young chickens). Aim for a food that has a protein level of about 15%. You can also use a ‘maintenance’ food that is designed for birds that are not currently laying
After 20 weeks of age they can be fed a good quality layer or breeder food suitable for adult ducks or chickens. Do not feed them mash (feed ground in the form of a powder) as they can choke on it. Pellets or mixed grain are best.
After 20 weeks of age ducks also need daily access to shell grit as a source of calcium to ensure strong shelled eggs. This can be given in a separate dish.
At all ages ducks will enjoy being fed thawed frozen peas, leafy greens, or zucchini (including zucchini leaves). Try them out and see what they like! Leafy greens are very good for them. Little ducklings enjoy their greens finely chopped in a shallow dish of water. Some ducks also love watermelon.
Ducks scoop up their food so feed them in a dish or container that allows them to scoop
You can make food available at all times so they don’t go hungry. They will eat what they need.
Bread is ok as a treat but it is ‘duck junk food’. Bread shouldn’t be a regular part of their main diet.
Ducks kept in a clean environment and fed good food are generally very robust and hardy animals.
Ducks rarely suffer from intestinal worms or mites (especially if they have regular swimming sessions) but it is a good idea to worm them every 6 months to a year with a poultry wormer. Use something that covers tapeworm.
Large breed ducks or Indian Runner ducks can’t fly so you do not need to clip their wings. Bantam ducks or Mallards can fly so consider how you will manage this.
Ducks are clumsy and are prone to tripping over things. Sometimes they can strain a leg muscle/tendon. Usually this improves over a week or so, but keep a close eye on it and see the vet if necessary.
If ducks are kept on a rough or hard surface they can develop foot ‘ulcers’. If you notice any unusual swellings on their feet or limping that doesn’t seem to be improving then this may need attention from a vet.
Don’t ever give mouldy food to ducks – mould spores can cause respiratory diseases or sudden toxic reactions in ducks
Keep their water clean – change drinking water every day. But don’t worry that they turn their new, clean water brown within minutes – that’s normal!
Ducks and your garden
Ducks love to forage around a garden. They love to find a protected, shady spot to sit. They search in mulch and under plants for tasty grubs and worms. They should do a great job of removing snails and slugs from your garden.
Ducks like to eat grass, so they will also enjoy grazing on lawn. They will keep weeds down too.
You will need to fence them out of your vegetable garden – they will eat just about any leafy vegetable.
Ducks do not dig (unlike chickens) but they will make little holes in soft or wet earth with their bills, ‘drilling’ for worms.
When you are digging over your garden bed, let the ducks in – they will have a wonderful time finding earthworms and other treats.