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How to Raise, Feed, and Care for Baby Ducks

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Alan is a veteran of the US Air Force, a master electrician, and a long-time hobby farmer.

Basic Duckling Care

Raising baby ducks is a fun and rewarding process. Following only a few easy steps is all that's required to ensure healthy and happy ducklings. The proper food and water presented in a correct manner, a heat source, and proper housing are really all they need to thrive.

These days, the right feed for ducklings is easy to find in most cases. Providing water seems obvious, but there are special considerations when dealing with baby ducks and water.

A heat source along with proper housing is often referred to as a brooder. Brooding ducklings is actually the process of raising them until they are mature enough to leave the brooder and live without an artificial source of heat. This brooding period will normally last six to eight weeks.

Baby ducks on a bed of pine shavings.

Baby ducks on a bed of pine shavings.

What Do Baby Ducks Eat?

They should eat a special livestock starter feed specifically designed to meet their dietary needs. This feed may have a couple of different names like duck starter feed or waterfowl starter. It is easily obtained online or locally at a livestock feed store.

Can ducklings eat chick starter feed?

When these cannot be sourced, a more common chick starter feed made for chickens can be used. It is important to note that some chick starter feed contains medication and should never be used for ducklings. Chick starter feed is fine for ducks as long as it is not medicated. The feed should be in crumble form if it is truly a starter feed.

What's the best way to feed ducklings?

Ducklings should be fed using a plastic poultry feeder. These are widely available and help to keep the food clean and sanitary. A feeder normally has a red trough on the bottom that provides access to the feed and a plastic bottle or bucket on top that holds the unused feed. As the ducklings eat the feed from the bottom, more feed slides down from the top container and keeps the trough filled.

Poultry feeder used for chickens, ducks, and other birds.

Poultry feeder used for chickens, ducks, and other birds.

They Love Water

Providing water at all times is especially important when raising baby ducks. Ducklings drink very often throughout the day. They also require a lot of water while eating. It is important that water is presented correctly.

Do ducklings like to swim in water?

Ducklings hatched in an incubator and raised in a brooder do not have the necessary oil on their bodies to make them buoyant. Under more natural circumstances, the mother duck would transfer some of the oil on her feathers to her babies. For this reason, ducks raised artificially in a brooder should not be given water deep enough to swim in until they are fully feathered. This is an important guideline and should always be followed to avoid any unnecessary risk of drowning.

When can I let the ducklings play in water?

When ducklings are a week old, they can be offered a shallow pan holding less than one inch of water once a day. They will splash and play in this water. Remove the pan after about fifteen minutes so the ducklings can dry off. Baby ducks will enjoy this daily playtime in the shallow water.

What's the best way to give ducklings water to drink?

Drinking water should be presented to baby ducks in a plastic water fount designed for young poultry. A water fount will usually feature a red plastic trough on the bottom, similar to a feeder. A plastic reservoir on top holds the water, which flows out via gravity through a small hole to keep the trough filled. Make sure to keep the water fount clean and filled with fresh water.

Poultry water fount used for ducklings and chicks.

Poultry water fount used for ducklings and chicks.

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Provide a Brooder

The enclosure should be draft-free and protect the ducklings from both harsh weather and predators. This could be something as simple as a large cardboard box or plastic tote in the corner of a garage for a few ducklings.

How big should a brooder be?

Whatever the enclosure may be, it should provide a draft shield around the baby ducks at least eighteen inches tall.

What should I put in the brooder?

Line the bottom of the box or enclosure with untreated pine shavings. Pine shavings are often used for all types of baby poultry and should be easy to find. The shavings should be layered about four inches thick. Change the shavings often to keep them clean and dry.

How to Keep Ducklings Warm

The heat source most often used at the hobby farm level is the heat lamp or brooder bulb. This is a special bulb that puts off a lot of heat, especially directly underneath the face of the bulb. A heavy-duty lamp holder that is specifically designed for heat lamps should always be used. These heat lamp setups are pretty easy to source online or at a local livestock feed store.

Hang the heat lamp about eighteen inches over the shavings. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature on top of the shavings, directly under the lamp. The correct starting temperature is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Raise or lower the lamp until this starting temperature is achieved. Make sure there is enough space in the enclosure for the ducklings to move away from the heat if they get too hot.

After a week, raise the lamp enough to lower the temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower the temperature by 5 degrees each following week until 70 degrees is reached. At this point, the baby ducks will no longer need a heat source unless temperatures in the brooder drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brooder ready for baby ducks.

Brooder ready for baby ducks.

Brooder Temperature in Degrees Fahrenheit

WeekTemp. F











Heat lamp used in a duckling brooder.

Heat lamp used in a duckling brooder.

When Does a Duckling Become a Duck?

After six to eight weeks of brooding, baby ducks are not really babies anymore. Ducks grow fairly quickly, and they should have many adult duck traits at this age. Avoiding the heat lamp and lots of new feathers are sure signs that brooding is no longer required.

Once they are finished in the brooder, young ducks can be moved to an outdoor enclosure. In extremely cold weather conditions, a heat lamp should be used in the outdoor enclosure as needed. Raising healthy and happy baby ducks only involves a few easy steps, but the rewards are long-lasting.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Alan (author) from West Georgia on April 14, 2020:

Thanks for the comment. Yes, ducklings are a lot of fun and they have more personality than chickens. The eggs taste the same, just larger. Good luck to you with your future ducklings!

Devika Primic on April 13, 2020:

Ducklings are cute and your step by step advice enlightened me. I like the idea of having ducklings sounds a challenge.

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