You can grow more in your garden than just plants. Keeping ducks, chickens or other animals in your garden can also be an excellent idea. Integrating a small-scale livestock into the system can be beneficial in a range of different ways. Ducks in particular bring a range of benefits, and they are relatively easy to keep and raise – even for beginners.
Why is Keeping Ducks in Your Garden a Good Idea?
Some people will keep ducks for eggs, others will keep them for meat. You may even primarily keep ducks for pest control, and for the fertility they add to your garden with their manure. You might just keep them because they are funny to watch, and fun to have around.
Ducks are fantastic at eating slugs and a number of other pests that you might encounter on your homestead. Integrating them into a forest garden or other food producing area can be of great benefit to the system as a whole.
And though they can make a mess – especially around water – ducks are generally less destructive in a garden than chickens. Chickens can quickly eat prized crops, and are more likely to scratch up the ground and disturb your growing areas.
Which Ducks Should You Choose?
If you want to keep ducks in your garden, one of the first decisions you will have to make is which ducks to choose. Where you live, the conditions to be found there, and your reasons for keeping ducks will have a bearing on which breeds might be right for you. The breed you choose will depend on your primary goal or goals.
Some ducks are of course larger than others. And different breeds can have slightly different needs. Some are great layers, while others may be the best meat birds. Others are dual purpose birds that are great whether you want eggs or meat. Some popular breeds include Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner, Anacona, Pekin and Buff Orphingtons… but there are plenty of others to consider.
Whichever breed or breeds you choose, another key thing to consider when you decide to keep ducks in your garden is where they will live. Unlike chickens, ducks will not need to be provided with a place to roost. All they need is a very simple shelter. But it is important to make sure that you provide suitable housing to keep your ducks happy and healthy.
The duck house itself should be large enough to provide around 4 sq ft of floor space per duck. should be well ventilated, and your life will be easier if it is easy to keep clean. So this is something to bear in mind when selecting materials. It should be not too warm and not too cold.
One intriguing idea to consider is that you might keep ducks in a polytunnel, for all or part of the year. Or use them as part of an integrated growing and pest management system in a food producing polytunnel.
You’ll need bedding for the housing too. Pine shavings or straw are ideal because they are comfortable and absorb some moisture. You’ll need to clean out this bedding regularly unless you opt for a deep litter system.
The deep litter system can often be a good solution, both in a duck house and in any permanent fenced run area outside. With the deep litter system, you will remove the built up composted bedding every three months or so, and using it to grow food on another part of your homestead.
Of course, ducks will also need outside space to be happy and healthy. While you will likely provide most of their feed, they also ideally need somewhere to forage. The more space you can provide them with, the better. But at a very minimum, you should provide around 15 sq ft per duck in an outside run.
Of course, the richer and more biodiverse the environment and land, and the more space they have to roam, the happier and healthier your ducks will be. So make sure you have created a biodiverse ecosystem rich with plants and wildlife before introducing ducks to the system.
If you are rearing ducklings rather than mature birds, then you will of course need to think about their requirements early in their lives. Ducklings are remarkably hardy, but you do need to take good care of them to prevent any accidents and to make sure they grow up healthy and strong.
You will need a brooder, and a heat source to keep them warm. Of course, the ducklings will also need bedding. And as with adult ducks, you will need to think about their water and food needs.
Water For Ducks
Ducks are of course water birds, so it should come as no surprise to you that water is one of the most crucial things to think about when keeping ducks in your garden. Ducks are essentially water birds, and they need water not only to drink but also to clear their bills and clean themselves.
Do Ducks Need a Permanent Pond?
A permanent pond can be great for ducks, and they will certainly love it. But it is not an absolute requirement. However, ducks will need constant access to water. And the water that you provide should be deep enough to allow your mature ducks to completely submerge their heads.
In terms of drinking and cleaning water, you will need to provide each duck with around 1 litre of water per day.In a smaller space, it is a good idea, in addition to providing water for drinking and bill cleaning, to give them a paddling pool or a similar container to splash in.
If you do not have a larger permanent pond, ducks pools will need to be changed daily if small, and every week or so if they are larger.
A permanent duck pond does not need to be deep – around 18-24 inches. But you will need to provide, as a general rule of thumb, around 6-9 sq ft of surface area per duck. So creating a permanent duck pond will usually only be a viable option in larger gardens.
However, if you have the space, a pond can bring many benefits – and not just for your ducks. Create a wetland filter to make a natural filtration system to deal with excess nitrates from duck manure. Vegetation is key to maintaining the pond system.
Ducks obviously also need food. Most of their diet should consist of a specialist feed – either one that you buy or one that you make up according to a recipe designed to meet ducks’ specific nutritional needs. The protein content is important, and the amount required will depend on the breed you are keeping, and which growth stage they are at. A mature duck will typically eat between 170 and 200g of feed per day. Though this is just a very rough guideline.
Ducks need a varied diet to be healthy. And whether you buy or make the main feed, you should also be sure to allow them to forage for an additional component of their diet, and supplement with healthy treats and snacks, such as insects, worms, weeds, whole grains, and certain fruit and vegetable scraps.
Do you keep ducks in your garden? What benefits do they bring? Do you have some tips to share with people considering keeping them for the first time? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.