Keeping your ducks in a row

by Andy Bryenton

Perhaps the first thing you need to know about keeping ducks on your lifestyle block or smallholding is that they are impossible to line up neatly. That being said, the old saying is more metaphor than truth, as these waterfowl are easy to care for and don’t need strict discipline — just a well-thought-out home to call their own.

There are many misconceptions about keeping ducks, chief of which is that they need a pond to be dug out — one which will inevitably become a mudhole or eat up the entire lawn. Domestic ducks — the kind you want, as compared to ornamental waterfowl — actually only spend about one-tenth of their day in the water, so something as simple as a child’s clam shell pool made of plastic will do for a small group.

Ducks need housing that’s secure at night — less so here in New Zealand where there are no large predators, but shelter and communal warmth are still part of duck ‘society’. A house much like that used for chickens is perfect, though ducks don’t roost on perches. Make sure there is a wide doorway, as the whole gang will try to squeeze through at once when the call for breakfast comes.

Ducks forage, but can also be fed on wheat or layer pellets. Because they operate as a unit — even if they’re not in a row — you may have to gently herd your ducks into their home at night until they are used to the routine. Don’t worry — they are easily led and not as silly as they sometimes look! Ducks can be easier to look after than chickens with the right setup — and they provide beautiful rich eggs for your home baking. Remember that ducks will often bury their eggs into the straw of their nests, so an ‘easter egg hunt’ may turn up more than you think. Additionally, your average duck makes far less noise at dawn than a rooster! For those who love both, you can keep both ducks and chickens, though give them both enough space, as chickens tend to peck and bully other birds and they have an advantage in a tussle thanks to their sharp beaks and claws.