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How should I keep and care for my pet ducks?
Ducks need housing that meets their physical, behavioural and social needs. They are social animals and should be kept with other ducks for company. They are also very curious and intelligent animals that need sufficient space to move around freely and access to water facilities to carry out their natural water-related behaviours.
Ducks and your garden
Ducks love to forage around a garden. They search in mulch and under plants for tasty grubs and worms. Ducks like to eat grass, so they will enjoy grazing on lawn and keeping the weeds down. You will need to fence them out of your vegetable garden or they may eat it all! Ducks do not dig (unlike chickens) but they will make little holes in soft or wet earth with their bills, ‘drilling’ for worms. Let the ducks in when you are digging in your veggie garden– they will have a wonderful time finding earthworms and other treats.
Ducks love water and use about 1 litre of drinking water per duck per day. They need water to keep their eyes, bills, feet and feathers in good condition. The water should be deep enough for them to stick their whole head into and to wash their body. The water container needs to have a shallow edge so that the ducks can get out again easily if they happen to climb in. They love pools where they can climb in and splash. A kids pool (clam shell) or a tub about 20cm deep is perfect. Supervise access to swimming water until you are sure that the ducks can get in and out of the pool easily. Old baths are not ideal because they are slippery inside and ducks can find it hard to get out. Although ducks are usually great swimmers, they can still become waterlogged and drown.
Ducks need to be kept in a secure pen or house when you are not at home that will protect them from predators. To be secure, housing needs to have solid sheeting or welded mesh (with wire at least 1.2mm thick) on the roof, floor and walls. Provide as much space as possible for each duck. At a minimum provide at least 1.5 sq metres area per duck in their house or pen if they are to be confined in it during the day. For a night house provide at a minimum, at least 0.5 sq metres per duck.
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 dangerously hot inside (ducks can die from heat stress so precautions must be taken). Housing must also be well-ventilated. A simple three-sided shelter with a mesh base, front and door is suitable. The open side should face North, to get the Winter sun and avoid cold, wet Southerly winds.
The duck house or pen should be easy to clean as ducks poo 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. Rake the rice hulls over each day. Do not use bare concrete or pavers over more than one third of the pen floor or your ducks will likely 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 generally need a perch - they will sleep on the floor.
Keep their food container inside the duck house under cover so it doesn’t get wet. Keep the water and food at least a metre apart to discourage them from dribbling water in their food. Ideally, put the 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 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 they usually need to be wormed every 6 months with a poultry wormer. Talk to your veterinarian for advice about worming.
Ducks can be a bit clumsy and prone to tripping over things, and are easily injured. Ducks kept on a rough or hard surface can develop foot ‘ulcers’. Swellings, sores on their feet or limping need attention from a vet.
Never 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!
Please see the article below "What should I feed my pet ducks?" for dietary advice.
Reference: Inner South Veterinary Centre: www.innersouthvets.com.au/
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