Raising Pekin Ducks
Information About Ducks Learned From our Experiences at Phillips Farm
My husband and I decided to start raising Pekin ducks kind of on a whim. We were picking out the birds for our chicken flock and saw the ducklings on the hatchery’s site. Our farm has a lovely pond, and we thought the ducks would be a fun addition to our adventure raising birds. We began reading information about ducks: different duck types, what do ducks eat, what type of housing do they need, can chickens and ducks live together, how fast do they grow etc. There is so much to learn! Looking back now, we probably weren’t ready for our ducklings, but we have learned much through trial and error and nobody is too much worse for the wear. We decided when it came to raising Pekin ducks, we wanted three; one for each of our sons to name. I’d like to share with you some of the information about raising Pekin ducks we have learned from our experiences at Phillips Farm.
We brought our ducklings home the day they were born: adorable, yellow, fuzz balls. Their first home was a large plastic tub with a screen on the bottom that my husband made so that the watery mess they made would pass through. Our hope was that this would keep them from standing in muck. We put a towel on half of the screen to give them something softer to stand and lay on. The towel had to be changed often though. Soon we switched to paper towels, which could go into the compost. A heat lamp clipped to the side of the container seemed just right for warmth. We started with bowls for food and water but switched to the same feeders we used for the chicks because the ducklings were walking through the food and swimming in the water bowl. We came in one afternoon and found them shivering and wet from swimming in their drinking water.
It was obvious from their attempts to swim in their bowl that the ducklings wanted to be in water. I read that a paint tray is a good place to start them swimming because the one side acts like an easy ramp so they can walk out when they get tired. In our first week of raising Pekin ducks, we picked a sunny afternoon and got them out in the yard in a large paint tray for their first swim. They splashed joyfully and also enjoyed walking around in the grass eating dandelion heads.
When raising Pekin ducks, you’ll discover the ducks grow fast. It didn’t take more than a couple weeks for them to outgrow their first home. We expanded by cutting a hole in the side of the container and placing it in a larger cube my husband built of plywood and lined with plastic, still inside our home. We made them a little ramp so they could move back and forth as they pleased. The ducklings seemed to spend most of their time out in the bigger run area, laying around on each other. I made them a bigger water container by cutting windows into the sides of an old vinegar jug. They drank a lot and enjoyed sticking their whole heads down into the water, which was impossible with a chicken waterer. This homemade container held a lot more water, allowed them to submerse their heads and minimized splashing.
Along with an expanded home, the ducklings soon required more water for swimming so we upgraded from the paint tray to the bathtub. I kept a close eye on the babes and when they seemed tired I took them out. When raising Pekin ducks, you’ll learn that the ducklings tire easily when they are first learning to swim, and can drown if they don’t have a way out of the water. They could not get up the walls of the bathtub without me picking them up so I stayed nearby. Usually they only swam for 15 minutes at a time. When I took them out, I dried them as best as I could with a towel and quickly put them back in their home with the heat lamp.
The next step on our journey with raising Pekin ducks was outside. From a friend of the family, we inherited a small henhouse and a run made of a wooden frame covered with welded wire. It was taking us longer than expected to finish building our final chicken/duck coop so we decided to set up the smaller run in the front yard to get the birds outside until the larger building was complete.
The run was really the first time that the ducks and chickens were together in one space. We had read that raising Pekin ducks with chickens was doable and that the two could cohabitate. Initially the ducks seemed to think that if they just pretended the chickens weren’t there, they would go away. They stayed off to the side with their backs turned to the chickens, but the smaller birds way outnumbered the ducks and their curiosity soon drew them in close. Then the ducks tried being bossy for a bit, using their size to chase the chickens away from the food and water, but within a few days, everyone seemed to have made their peace. The birds spent the days together in the run. We filled a baby pool each morning for the ducks to swim in. Sometimes the chickens stood at the edge and drank from the pool too.
At night the chickens moved into the small coop and the ducks walked or were carried over to the garage, where we had moved their expanded home from the house. Everyone was locked up for the evening, safe from predators.
We did this routine for a couple of weeks until finally the coop was finished.
The larger enclosed part of the building was for the chickens, and we built a small duck house for the three of them to sleep in at night. Our idea was that the ducks would be in the run at night to keep them safe from predators, but that we would let them out in the morning to spend the day down at the pond. From the start, the ducks were terrified of their duck house. They preferred to sleep under the henhouse.
We tried picking them up and putting them in the duck house, luring them in with food, leaving the roof open so it felt less enclosed…but they refused to go in it. Every night they simply cozied up together in the grass under the henhouse so we let them be and gave up hope on the house for a while. In the mornings, we shooed the ducks out of the run before opening the door for the chickens. We tried walking them down to the pond, but they ran about in every direction trying to avoid the water. They seemed scared to make the jump from the baby pool into the much larger pond. We thought: Maybe if we keep bringing them down to the water’s edge they will eventually figure it out that they love water and go in. This was not the case though. Days passed and the ducks were everywhere but the pond…
…exploring the yard…
…hanging out in the lean-to…
…enjoying the shade of the corn in the garden…
…trying to get back into the coop with the chickens…
Finally we decided that we needed to try something more drastic. So I picked up one duck and my husband got the other two. We counted to three and then threw them as far out into the water as we could. They tried to swim to the edge and come back out initially, but we blocked their passage, and they spent the whole rest of the day out on the water. At last, the waterfowl were on the pond, just how we had envisioned raising Pekin ducks.
It took more days of throwing them out there to get them into the routine of going in the water but eventually they got it and began heading straight down to the water when we let them out in the morning. Speaking of routine, for many days after we moved them to the large coop, at night we would find the ducks trying to walk to the garage, where they had been sleeping before.
One thing you’ll learn when raising Pekin ducks is that ducks are animals that thrive on routine. Once they get used to doing something, it takes them a while to learn a new procedure. That is something we learned through our process of trial and error as we moved through various stages of homes with our birds. It would have been smart to have our plan completely developed before we got them so that they could have learned their routine from the start instead of changing things around on them so often. They are smart creatures, capable of learning to do something new, but it takes time and consistency to change their behavior.
As we continued to modify the coop, our goal was to mechanize as much as possible so that we could leave the birds for a couple days at a time if we needed to go out of town, and they’d be okay. My husband built large food and water containers that can hold a week’s worth of supplies. He drew up plans to motorize the chicken door to open and close with a light sensor. The only problem with the scenario was that someone would have to be there to let the ducks in and out of the run. This led us to research possibilities for housing the ducks separately. I found pictures online of floating duck houses, where the water acted as a natural fencing to keep the ducks safe from most predators at night. We decided to give this a try.
We built a raft from PVC boards and foam insulation, floating it in the pool to make sure it wouldn’t sink. Then we widened the opening on the duck house, hoping this would make it more appealing for the ducks, and loaded it on the raft. We used the trailer to dump it into the pond, tied a rope to it so that we could pull it back to shore, and shoved it out into the water.
The ducks stayed as far away from it as possible! During the days, they floated about on the opposite side of the pond, and in the evening, they still waddled up the hill and waited to be let into the chicken coop. They knew their routine and it did not involve that floating duck house. We had no boat and no way to physically put the ducks into the duck house. So we continued to let them in the run for the night with the chickens while we brainstormed how to proceed.
Then something exciting happened on our journey raising Pekin ducks: the ducks started laying eggs in a corner of the run.
At first we thought they were chicken eggs, but we figured out it was one of the ducks laying because we found the eggs before the chickens were let out in the morning and they were huge. The first egg was almost the size of my palm.
We began collecting the eggs and eating them. The yolks were rich yellow, almost orange, and one egg was a big breakfast because of its large size. Many of the eggs had a double yolk. After a week or so, though, the eggs stopped coming. I went out in the morning to find nothing in the run. So I followed the ducks when I let them out to see if they had hidden a nest somewhere in the yard. I saw one duck wandering around aimlessly in the grass, like he was trying to cause a distraction. I kept going down toward the pond, though, and there near the edge of the woods, the second male was standing guard while the female was tucked into a nest of dried leaves laying her egg. I left them be and came back later to look at the nest.
They had found a protected spot in between two downed trees, in a pile of dry sycamore leaves, to make a nest. In it were two large eggs.
I went up and told my husband: they are nesting! We spoke with our neighbors, who lived in our house many years ago and raised ducks here too. They told us a tale of when their female had built a nest under a pine tree by the pond. She had laid 12 eggs then began sitting on them. One day a groundhog came, as she had left briefly to get water and ate all the eggs. Soon after a raccoon killed the mom too. We knew we had to find a way to enclose the nest or at least build the ducks a safe place to nest near the pond.
We examined where the ducks had put their nest and determined there was no way to safely fence it in with the huge downed trees on either side. So we picked a spot nearby, a little closer to the pond, where we could place the duck house and enclose it with a welded wire fence. We hauled the house out of the pond, cut the opening even wider, and put it into place under the willow tree. Next I put in some fresh straw and moved as much of their nest as I could inside, including the two eggs the female had already laid.
Next we worked on fencing. I drove four t-posts into the ground for support. Then we wrapped welded wire around it and held it in place with wire clips. My husband used some scrap metal we had sitting around and welded together a simple gate for the enclosure.
We ran more welded wire over the top, using zip ties to hold it all together. Some left over treated wood that we had from building the chicken coop served nicely as a skirt board to help keep digging predators out. Finally, I put some food and water inside for the ducks.
That night we picked up the ducks when they came up to be let into the chicken coop and carried them down to their new home. Again it was time for them to learn a new routine.
The next morning, I anxiously came down to see if there was a new egg in the duck house. I found that the female duck had thrown the two eggs I moved out onto the ground, but she had made a new nest of straw at the back of the duck house and in it was a new egg. I let the ducks out and took the two eggs that she had abandoned. Oh well, I thought, it’s a fresh start. So as the days progressed, we continued to walk the ducks to their new home each night and the female continued to lay eggs in her new nest. Each morning the ducks came out and went straight into the pond.
The nest is filling up with eggs.
As I write this article on raising Pekin ducks, there are twelve eggs inside: the same amount that our neighbor’s duck had when hers were eaten so many years ago. They are tucked neatly in rows around the edge of the straw nest. We are waiting anxiously to see if the female will start sitting on them soon and perhaps hatch some ducklings.
Finally, we feel like we have a home in place for the ducks where their needs are met and they seem happy. Now if we get a new generation of ducklings they will start things off right and learn their routines from the beginning without having to go through so much trial and error. Hopefully, in reading this, you too can learn from some of our mistakes and have a smoother process in getting started with raising Pekin ducks of your own.