Is keeping and caring for ducks in winter difficult? How do you keep ducks warm in winter? What do you need to know? Let’s find out.
How To Care For Ducks In The Winter.
Ducks are my favorite animals – ever. They have wonderful personalities, and, are easy to care for. They keep themselves cool in the summer by a quick dip in a pool or pond but they still have an amazing ability to keep themselves warm in cold weather.
Raising ducks on your backyard homestead is fun. They are full of personality, enjoyable to watch, and relaxing to be around. When the weather is warm, they are very low maintenance. Fill their pool with fresh water, feed nourishing food, and collect the amazing fresh duck eggs.
But, if you are caring for ducks in winter where it gets below freezing, there are a few things you can do to make them a lot more comfortable.
How Do Ducks Stay Warm In Winter?
I’ve been asked, “Do ducks get cold?”
Ducks don’t mind the cold like we do – really! Here’s why.
Yes, ducks are warm-blooded like people are. But adult ducks are much better at handling the cold than we are. Ducks are one of the cold-hardiest animals to raise on your homestead making them an excellent choice if you have harsh winters. They are amazingly well-equipped to withstand the harsh, bitter, winter elements.
Even in inclement weather, ducks can stay warm. They are equipped with a layer of waterproof feathers, so water rolls right off their backs, on top of a nice, warm downy layer.
And then they also have a nice dense layer of fat beneath all of those feathers and down to keep their body temperature a toasty warm.
To top it all off, they can fluff up those feathers trapping warm air against their body. It’s an amazingly efficient way to retain heat.
Why Don’t Duck’s Feet And Legs Freeze?
And that’s not all, ducks have a special circulatory system in their legs.
The cold blood from their feet is met with the warm blood from their bodies and warmed up through their blood vessel system.
This means that their feet are kept just above freezing to keep the blood moving and the cold blood never reaches their warm body, but their feet don’t get frostbite.
That is why they can swim in almost frozen water and still survive. When they are out of the water, they are able to warm their feet back up, by tucking them up against their warm chests.
Ducks really are an ideal cold weather farm animal!
What Temperature Can A Duck Survive?
How to keep ducks from freezing, is an often asked question. And it’s a good one. We want the best for our feathered friends.
Of course, ducks are not completely invincible to the cold. Below about 20° a duck can get frostbite if they can’t get in out of the weather and wind. But with a good coop that won’t be any problem at all.
Ducks vs Ducklings.
Just a word of caution. We are talking about healthy-adult-ducks. Not ducklings that don’t have their adult feathers, older ducks, any that are sick, or those molting, as these do run the risk of becoming chilled or suffering hypothermia in cold temperatures.
You will need to treat these birds differently.
How To Care For Ducks In The Wintertime?
Even though ducks can take a lot of cold, when the thermometer begins to dip, there are certain things you can do to provide a more comfortable and safe environment.
- Proper housing so they can get out of weather and wind.
- Food that will keep them both nourished and warm.
With the right preparations and a cozy area to sleep in, they’ll survive whatever temperatures old man winter sends you.
Housing Needs For Ducks in Winter – Preparing The Coop.
When considering a shelter for ducks, preparation is the key when the weather turns cold.
Ducks will survive even when temperatures dip into negative numbers, but on very cold nights, you should take extra care to make sure your ducks are comfortable.
The amount of space your ducks needs is a balancing act. Ducks need a minimum of 2 square feet per bird if they have regular access to the outside. If they’re going to be cooped up for long periods, you’ll want to provide them with 4 to 5 square feet or more each to keep them from driving each other crazy.
However, smaller spaces are easier for them warm with their body heat.
They will usually sleep all bunched up next to each other to keep each other warm, but when they are awake, they will need space to stretch out.
Related>> 10 Necessities To A Perfect Duck House.
Provide Deep Litter On The Floor.
If your coop is raised off the frozen ground you can insulate under the floor to keep the space warmer, but you still want to provide bedding on the floor of the coop. This provides a warm insulation under their bodies too.
Ducks don’t sleep on a roost like chickens do, instead, they sleep on the floor, so using the deep litter method is your best option.
Placing a layer of deep litter on the floor of the coop will go a long way to keeping them warm on cold nights.
What To Use For Deep Litter.
Many things can be used for deep litter. Some are better than others.
Many people believe that straw is the best to use as a deep litter, because of its excellent insulating properties.
But be careful of whatever you get, if you are going to compost it when you take it out of the coop for use in your garden.
Much of the straw and hay are being treated with herbicides that will kill your garden.
Use Organic hay or straw or opt for something else such as pine chips or dried leaves or a new product that people are raving about. Hemp! Hemp is reported to be very absorbent and much less dusty.
Or make your own hay from dry grass clippings from your own untreated lawn.
Deep litter can also be used in the run to keep the ducks off the ice and snow and during the spring melt when the muddy season begins.
Do You Need To Heat The Coop In The Winter?
One of the most asked questions regarding the winter coop is, do ducks need heat in the winter?
When caring for ducks in winter, you may think a little heat will help. But contrary to popular belief, neither ducks nor chickens need a heat lamp in the winter. Not only is it completely unnecessary, but more importantly, heaters of all kinds are a major fire risk.
By having a roof over their heads and protection from howling winds, and a well-insulated floor, their body heat will keep them warm.
With all the dry, dusty bedding there is a real risk of fire if your coop contains a heater of almost any kind. The fire could endanger not only the life of your flock but it could spread to your home and neighborhood.
Besides, ducks that are acclimated to cooler temperatures in the coop actually do better when they go outside in cold weather.
When cool weather turns to cold, the ducks develop thicker down that protects them from the cold. If they have a warm cozy place to sleep, their bodies don’t put on the “extra layers” and when they go outside they will actually feel much colder.
Ducks vs Chickens In The Winter.
Chickens, however, are equipped a little differently. If you have taken care of chickens before, you know you need to be careful not to let them get too cold. They are at a much greater risk of frostbite. But ducks don’t have combs and wattles to freeze. Ducks also get far fewer respiratory problems.
Caring for ducks in winter compared to chickens is a breeze.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing that you need to do to keep your flock healthy, happy, and comfortable in winter.
Moisture In The Coop.
Ducks put off a lot more moisture than chickens, and moisture and cold together can cause the chickens to suffer frostbite.
If you are going to house a mixed flock together in the winter, make sure you have excellent ventilation. Or you may consider a separate room for your ducks.
Provide A Well-Ventilated House For Ducks In Winter.
You might be inclined to want to shut your birds up tight, but that will cause more problems than it fixes.
With poor ventilation, the coop will keep all the moisture inside. All coops need good ventilation, but in a coop with chickens, it is especially important. Vents should be plentiful and positioned up high to let the moisture out, but not at floor level which can cause a draft.
Keeping Ducks In Winter – Create A Windbreak.
Your ducks will enjoy being outside on sunny winter days, and the sun is good for them, but they don’t like being exposed to the cold winter wind.
You can make a windbreak by using hay bales, a tarp, a privacy fence, or thick shrubs so they can enjoy some time outdoors on good days.
Bales of hay or straw can act as insulation and block drafts around the run and coop too, by stacking them outside the walls of the coop. Put them on the side that the wind usually blows from.
But even during the day, make sure they can get back inside if the winds begin to howl or the clouds make the sun hide.
Winter Duck Care – Cover Part Of The Ground.
They will also be more comfortable and their feet will be protected from ice and snow if you lay down a layer of straw, hay, cardboard, pallets, or a piece of plywood for them to walk on when they are outside.
During the day, they will likely still enjoy roaming the yard, even when it’s covered with snow.
Ducks Need Fresh Water To Drink All Winter.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but ducks LOVE water. It’s their most favorite thing in the entire world, and they need it all year-round.
After housing, your biggest task is to make sure their water doesn’t freeze. Ducks need access to liquid, unfrozen water. Water is obviously the most important consideration for ducks in the winter.
Ducks use water to digest food and clear their sinuses and eyes. It’s why you’ll watch them dunk their heads repeatedly.
Their water needs to be changed and kept clean at least daily.
Never feed your ducks without access to water because they can choke. If they don’t have access to water all night, they should not have access to food.
I suggest keeping their food and water outside of their coop in a sheltered area. They can go in and out of their coop during the day to eat and drink.
This will help keep their coop dryer. Moist cold air at night is one of the greatest dangers they will face in the winter.
How To Keep Water From Freezing In The Winter.
If you live where it stays below freezing for even a part of the winter, this is definitely something you need to plan ahead for. There are several things you can do, depending on how severe your winters get.
Here are just a few:
- A water hydrant close to their coop will make this job so much easier. Much easier than hauling buckets from the house.
- If you have access to electricity, the easiest way to keep their water unfrozen is to have a heated dog bowl. Change the water at least daily to keep it clean. Most bowls are equipped with a thermostat that will kick in when the temperatures dip below freezing
- Black rubber tubs inside tires. Place this in the sun. The tire will absorb heat from the sun during the day and the space between the tub and the tire will hold the heat. Check it in the morning to make sure it is thawed for breakfast.
- Float some ping pong balls or other floating balls in the water, or plastic bottles 2/3 full of salt water. These will move about and keep the surface of the water moving and it won’t freeze as fast.
- Fill the bowls with really hot water several times a day.
Swimming Water For Ducks In The Winter. Do Ducks Need A Pond In Winter?
While drinking water is a must for ducks and they absolutely need to be able to dunk their head and bill into water to remain healthy, swimming is not a must. Ducks don’t HAVE to swim, but they really love it.
Although ducks do usually swim less during the winter months, they still have the innate desire to swim and, after all, that is how they clean themselves. It is also how they get rid of external parasites.
If it gets really cold where you live, you don’t need to worry about maintaining a duck pond or swimming pool during the winter.
However, if you would like to make your ducks really happy, you can pull out a kiddy pool or break the ice on a pond on warmer winter days, so they can take a quick dip. I always have a black tub that is just big enough for a proper bath but is easy to dump and fill.
Make sure that there is a place with pallets or deep litter, so the ducks can dry off when they get out. When exiting the pond, they will often lay down to warm their feet and they can freeze to the frozen ground.
Related>> Do Ducks Need A Pond?
Feeding Ducks in the Winter.
Is feeding ducks in the winter different than the rest of the year?
What To Feed Your Ducks In Winter.
Whether summer or winter, your ducks need the majority of their food to be a well balanced food. Most people opt for a high-quality layer pellet feed. Where the biggest difference will be, is the type of treats and the temperature of the food.
There are a few things you can do with their food to help them stay warm.
In the wintertime, a nice warm bowl of oatmeal or scrambled eggs will warm you to your toes. This is true for your ducks too. And ducks love oatmeal and scrambled eggs as much as you do.
You can mix up a serving of their pellets like you would oatmeal too. Serving it warm will be very welcome. Just make sure to remove any leftovers as they will likely just freeze into a block and then be impossible to remove from their feeder.
This can also be a nice treat at the end of the day to warm them just before they turn in for bed.
Adding a bowl of warm water will help them warm from the inside out.
Provide High-Energy Treats.
You will want to change the treats you feed your girls in the winter. High calorie snacks, especially just before bed is a must in winter. In the summer, you want the treats to be light, cool, and lower calorie to keep your girls cooler. But in the winter it is just the opposite.
High calorie, high protein, and even higher fat treats, take more energy to digest and thus help keep up their body temperature.
This is especially helpful at night. Treats just before bed is not just a nice idea, but important on very cold winter nights.
Some good examples of high-calorie treats are scratch grains, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and mealworms.
During the day, it’s a good idea to add as many fresh greens and vegetables as you can as they are not able to forage during the day when there is snow on the ground. Growing fodder is a fun and much appreciated project for your ducks.
Keep Feeders Outside.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to keep feeders and waterers outside of the coop.
You can set up a feeding area near the coop entrance in the run. Put it in a sheltered area. A great way to set up a sheltered area is with clear roof panels so the sun can shine in and warm the ducks and keep the water thawed, but keep the rain off the food.
It also keeps the snow and rain off them while they eat.
Keeping the feeding area outside has many benefits. It will allow you to:
- Use heated feeders and waterers without the risk of fire.
- Keep your coop cleaner and dryer. (ducks will spread water e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e)
- Keep rodents out of your coop.
When the temperatures are going to be staying below freezing, food and water bowls should be emptied at night and refilled with warm water and “porridge” in the morning. The food can even be put in a heated water bowl to keep it nice and warm while they eat it.
Don’t forget to surround the waterer with deep litter, as it will keep ice from forming from the water that the ducks splash around.
Egg Production In The Winter.
Ducks typically lay better during the winter months than chickens do, because they do not need to use as much energy to stay warm. High-energy treats will help the birds use even less of their energy to stay warm, resulting in a more productive flock.
Make sure you check and collect duck eggs several times a day. If left very long, the eggs can freeze, crack, and be ruined for human consumption. You can, however, scramble the cracked eggs and feed them back to the ducks if you wish.
Provide A Predator-Proof House.
In the winter it is even more important to protect your flock from predators of all kinds. Winter is the time of year when prey is often scarce.
So now is the time when you have to double your efforts to make sure you have predator-proof housing. Since ducks nest on the ground, they need to be secured.
An automatic door will make this job so much easier on you for those nights you just don’t get home before dark since it gets dark so early in the winter.
Protect Your Ducks Caretaker.
All this talk about taking care of your ducks, there is one thing we haven’t mentioned. That’s to take care of the one who takes care of the ducks. If you are hurt, your ducks will suffer.
When caring for ducks in winter, make sure you wear treads on your boots and watch out for patches of ice. Many homesteaders have taken nasty falls slipping on the ice, especially around the water that ducks spill.
Having a headlamp that frees up your hands is important as well on these very short days. I wouldn’t be without mine.
Winter Care Tips For Ducks.
Most duck breeds are suited to handle the cold weather just fine. They are pretty hardy birds. Caring for ducks In winter doesn’t have to be a big deal. With a little pre-planning, you can easily provide a very comfortable home for your family of ducks and be rewarded by them all year long.