Do you really have to provide a pond to raise ducks? Their are two common misconceptions regarding ducks and water. One is that you need to have a large pond or lake in your yard if you want to keep ducks. Lucky for us suburban farmers, that is just not true! Before you get out the shovel to start digging, dial it back a bit. They really don’t need an Olympic sized pool.
The second misconception is that you don’t need a pond at all. If you observe ducks in the wild, you will seldom if ever see them land where there is no water near by. There is a reason for this. Ducks use water in many different ways. So lets explore how a duck uses water.
The only requirement ducks have is water deep enough for them to submerge their whole head. They need to keep their mucous membranes moist and cleaned out, so having clean water available at all times is really important. (Well, as clean as a duck will allow. Ducks will dirty water faster than you could ever imagine) If a duck eats or digs in the dirt it has to be able to rinse the dirt out or wash the food down. A duck can easily choke without water. For this reason, a nipple waterer that is commonly used for chickens, is not acceptable for a duck.
Chickens will take dust baths to rid themselves of parasites and mites, but ducks don’t take dust baths. They need to have water to take a bath in. Ducks will keep themselves virtually pest free if they have clean water available for daily bathing.
Ducks have an oil gland at the base of their tail that is activated as they splash water over their backs. This gland helps distribute waterproofing oils over their feathers as they preen their feathers, so providing them a place to bathe is critical. This oil helps them swim, but it also protects them from the rain and cold.
Feather health is very important. After a duck bathes it will spend quite a chunk of time preening it’s feathers. This preening cleans and conditions the feathers. Water helps keep feathers healthy. A ducks feathers are very important to protecting the duck from the weather regulating hot and cold temperatures. A duck only gets new feathers once a year so it is important that their feathers are kept in good working order.
Ducks are said to be more fertile if they can mate while swimming. Yes, a duck can mate out of the water. But if given a choice, in the water is where they prefer to mate. If you want your ducks to be happy…..ducks need a pond.
The more water you give them the happier and cleaner they will be. Speaking of happiness, stop to think, If you could only take a bath once a year, you would survive. But your probably wouldn’t be very healthy or happy. I know I wouldn’t! And happiness is conducive to good health. Ducks who are not happy and clean are also likely not as healthy.
A duck is meant to spend time in the water every day, and it’s really quite easy to provide this for your ducks. When allowed, domestic ducks spend around 10% of their time on water, so a plastic water tub that can be tipped out and refilled may actually be better than a fixed pond that will soon get full of mud, muck and feathers.
Ducks love fresh water but they dirty it up pretty quickly. By changing the water daily you make sure that there is nothing nasty lurking in the water and it helps keep your ducks nice and clean. Make sure you have an outside faucet and hose nearby as otherwise a ten minute job can take an hour. In winter the area around the ponds or pools will get very muddy. This along with winter rain can lead to a very slippery area. Try using the deep litter method around the area to allow the water to drain down. However, your ducks wont mind the mud, in fact they will enjoy it as they can dig with their beaks and pull out worms.
If you do choose to use a larger tub, like a stock pond, do yourself a favor and put a drain in the bottom. Make sure it is piped so it will drain away from the ducks area.
Plastic water tubs can often be found in garden centers, farm stores or building centers. You will spot many children’s plastic sand pits or kiddie pools turned into duck baths in back yards. A tub like this is suitable for ducks to bathe in and drink from. If you allow your ducks a large area to roam, It can be moved around and refilled daily to save the grass from turning to mud.
No doubt about it, my ducks need a pond, and we have tried several different types in our time keeping backyard ducks. I started with the kiddy pool. It’s just not durable for long term. I got a concrete mixing tub that is about 12″ deep which worked very well. I love that it is super easy to tip over and empty, which means I can easily & quickly clean it. The downside is it needs to be dumped every day.
This last year we added a built in stock pond with a drain in the bottom to give my ducks a bit more room and let them do some diving and swimming. They love this one best of all. It still needs to be cleaned regularly. You have no idea, until you raise your own ducks, how much mud they can make!
When we hatch ducklings I use a 3″ deep food storage container. It is large enough for them to bathe in and small enough they can get out of it. Any large tanks, that ducklings have access to, need bricks or stones or something to ensure they can get back out. Don’t assume they can’t get in. They will surprise you.
Although ducks will take to the water to escape predators such as the fox, domestic waterfowl often wander from the pond and will usually be attacked unless suitable protection is provided for them. An Electric Fence is a good option around the outer perimeter of their area, or they should be housed at night. If the pond is big enough and you can get ducks used to going to an island, they will likely be safe there. An island might be natural or could be a floating man-made island.
Ducks will use a pond all winter. Ducks need to stay clean to stay warm. Many people will go out every morning and break the ice or refill their pools. Besides they sure enjoy swimming in that icy cold water.
It doesn’t matter if it is a pool, a pond or stream. They don’t care what the water is in. Ducks and water go hand in hand and they do enjoy a good swim. Ducks will have fun in ANY water, puddles included.
So, do ducklings and ducks need a pond to swim in? The answer is no, but a certain amount of swimming is necessary for their health and well being, and seeing them play in the water is the best part anyway. It can’t help but bring a smile to your face.