Ducks are far easier to care for during the winter months than chickens, according to my years of personal experience. If you start preparing for the coming months of frigid cold in the fall, just as you do for firewood and hay bales, keeping your duck flock safe, healthy, and laying eggs will be a breeze.
Ducks are typically a lot less likely to contract frostbite, or develop respiratory issues than chickens. While these water-loving birds can be stricken with such potentially deadly conditions, it has never once happened in all my many years of keeping ducks.
The thick body fat layer and fairly weatherproof feathers and soft down on ducks help protect them from winter chill.
Even though snow may be on the ground and the temperature down to single digits, ducks will still want to be out and about lounging in what sun there is and getting at least their heads and bills wet.
Even though ducks are more hardy against harsh winter weather, there are still crucial steps that need to be taken before the snow starts to fall in order to protect them and the many eggs they will be laying throughout the season.
The ducks should be provided with ample extra bedding as the days start to grow both shorter and colder during the late fall.
Adding extra straw and sawdust into the nesting boxes and floor of the duck house or coop will provide the ample insulation necessary to prevent ducks from chilling, or losing excess body energy staying warm – especially in the weeks of late January through February.
Ducks do not typically spend as much time inside the coop during the winter as chickens. They prefer to be outdoors in or around water. Being larger birds, they also tend to feel more cramped when remaining inside of a coop all day long.
The extra bedding provided during the winter months will help to quickly warm the ducks after hours spent outside on a chilly, snowy, or rainy winter day. It would also be wise to fill a few tires or tubs with holes drilled in the bottom with straw, and place them around the coop run.
This will provide a dry place off the cold ground for the members of the duck flock to lounge outdoors without getting unduly chilled or damp.
Protein And High Energy Treats
Boosting the protein and fat intake intake of the duck flocks as winter is coming on will greatly help their bodies generate the energy to stay warm, and keep producing those delicious eggs.
Because ducks use less energy than chickens to keep their body temperatures up, they don’t require as much of a protein and fat increase as chicken hens, but when the ducks use more of their natural abundance of energy to stay warm, they have a deeper well to draw from generating eggs during the winter months, and when a severe cold snap occurs.
Not only can increasing the fat and protein ducks ingest help with the quantity of eggs produced, it can also improve the quality by helping to harden the shells.
The best fat and protein-rich high energy treats for ducks in the winter include: kale, peanuts, warmed oatmeal, Swiss chard, cracked corn, soybeans, and cabbage.
Even though ducks will not hover inside the coop as much as chickens, they will likely spend more time indoors during the winter than they do during any other season. When all of those feathered little bodies get inside a small space, the humidity levels will increase, and make the environment muggy.
This extra moisture will make it difficult for the ducks to dry themselves quickly, and could even cause rotting on their webbed feet, in severe cases.
Do not close ventilation openings in the coop because you are afraid of the ducks getting cold or the humidity levels inside the coop could force the ducks outside too frequently or cause ill effects if they remain inside despite the uncomfortable conditions.
It is also crucial that the coop offers the recommended two square feet of spacing per duck. If you have purchased or hatched additional ducks since the coop was built, an extension of some type might be needed before winter arrives.
Ducks are far more tolerant of the cold and rain than they are wind. To keep the ducks comfortable and outside for extended periods of time, create a windbreak on the coop run walls using a tarp or similar material.
If part of the coop run is also covered on the top, this will further protect members of the flock from both wind and inclement weather.
I have placed plastic dog boxes inside of our spacious run and filled them with straw to give the ducks a nice “porch” to lounge in during the worst part of the winter when they still want to spend time outdoors.
Lights And Coop Warmth
Adding one or more solar hanging coop lights on the inside of the coop will help foster increased egg laying during the winter, and put off a small amount of extra warmth inside the living quarters.
I would never recommend using a red or white brooder heat lamp inside the duck house or coop because of the extreme fire hazard it can pose.
If you are worried about the coop being extra chilly even with the addition of the solar lights, consider placing straw bales around the exterior walls of the coop to better insulate the living area.
Keeping The Water Container From Turning Into A Tub Of Ice
Ducks should have access to water at all times. A mature duck can only go roughly eight hours without drinking water before ill health effects can occur.
A duckling could experience negative health effects if the poultry bird goes more than four hours without access to water – especially if it huddles around a hot light in a brooder to stay warm.
Preventing the duck water tub or hanging water tub from freezing over the winter may be a constant battle – but it is one that you can win. There are several ways that can help keep duck water moving and slightly warmed.
Using a waterer with a lid, such as the hanging models noted above, is one such way you can more easily prevent the water from turning into a thick slush and ultimately, solid ice.
Fill several individual sized water bottles with half to three quarters of the way full with standard table salt. Pour warm water into the bottle to fill it the rest of the way up and then secure with a firm fitting lid.
Float the salt water bottles in the water to help keep the water at least slightly moving at all times. The salt level in the water bottles usually keeps them from freezing until the temperature drops beneath 20 degrees F (-6 C).
As the ducks drink from the hanging fountain-style waterer, or dip their bills and heads in a tub water tub, the more the salt water bottles will float around and facilitate the movement of the water that decreases the chances of freezing.
Until the bottles freeze, they will bob about in the water to prevent it from freezing. You will need to replenish the water in the bottles about once a day when the temperature hits below the above noted temperature to prevent the duck water from freezing over.
Tossing a few ping pong balls into a duck water with a sealed lid will also help keep the water moving, in addition to the salt water bottles. Because the balls are so light and small, they will not have as much success as the bottles of the salt water mixture on their own.
Preventing Duck Pools Or Ponds From Freezing In The Winter
Whether you use a plastic baby pool, decorative garden pond style plastic pond frame, or a large natural pond to provide a swimming area for ducks, it will be a chore to prevent the water feature from freezing over in the winter.
There is simply no way to sugarcoat the due diligence required to provide ducks with a swimming hole December through February, instead of a skating rink.
At the bare minimum, a duck needs to be able to dip its entire head into water a few times a week – but several times daily is far better. You should expect your ducks to go swimming less during the chilly months of winter, but they will still want to swim.
When the flock members think it is too cold to swim, or do not have an unfrozen water to get into, seeing them lounging about in a patch of snow, and even flopping around a bit as if they were in water, is not uncommon.
The larger and deeper the duck pool or pond you are tending to, the less troublesome it will be to keep from freezing. You can use the same salt water mixture noted above to keep pond or pool water moving. Instead of using single water bottles it is best to use 1 gallon milk or juice jugs with a handle.
A rope can be used to loop all of the jugs together to keep the wind from moving them into a bunch in one area of the pond.
You can also shake the rope a few times a day to prevent a thin layer of ice from forming if there is not enough wind or movement in the pond to move the jugs about naturally. The ducks can swim under, or maneuver over the thing floating rope that ties the milk jugs together without a problem.
Be careful if you also keep chickens with access to the same water source. They may likely walk out onto the rope just as they would a perch or swing and risk falling into the cold water and drowning.
Bobbing For Snacks
You can also keep duck water from freezing while generating some nutrient-boosting entertainment by floating healthy snacks in the duck pool.
The flock will spend hours bobbing their heads for their treats, keeping the water moving too much to freeze. Watching the ducks bob for chunks of cabbage, lettuce, and other small or cut up pieces of vegetables and fruit is quite fun to watch, as well.
Solar And Electrical Ice Prevention Options
If you have a little extra money in your winter duck care fund, investing in a pond fountain for a large water area, or an electrical deicer pad for a plastic baby pool, are both good options.
The cost of either option varies depending upon the size of the model you choose – which will be dictated by the dimensions and depth of the water source you are trying to keep from getting iced over.
If you duck coop and run are close enough to an outlet or you have a solar generator, using a large dog bowl with a built in deicing unit can be used as a waterer if you are struggling to keep a drinking source from freezing.
Increase Feed Rations
Consider increasing the daily feed ration during the winter months to help the duck remain well-nourished and fueled for egg production.
Because fulfilling their natural dietary needs solely on their own during the winter is extremely difficult, the extra feed will better ensure the daily nutrient intake does not dip to dangerously low levels.
Taking care of your ducks during the winter season will be far less of a time consuming task if you prepare for the coming cold weather before it actually arrives. Water care may be a daily or weekly task depending on how bad the weather becomes in your region.
Regular Health Checks
Spend a few moments looking at each duck during feeding or water source checking time. If you notice a duck that is waddling in an odd manner, favoring one foot, or has discoloration or swelling on a foot, the bird could become vulnerable to the elements.
Even though ducks are far less likely to get frostbite than chickens, that does not mean it never happens.
Younger and aging ducks are more likely to contract a weather related health problem, be it frostbite or a respiratory problem, than birds that are 1 – 4 years old.
Monitor the water and feeder levels daily to quickly notice if the flock is not eating or drinking enough. Making such a discovery early will help you pinpoint which ducks are not consuming a normal amount of food or water – which could be indicative to a health problem or injury.
Ducks are independent and hardy poultry birds that do a superb job of taking care of most of their own needs when allowed to free range.
But, during the winter when bugs and wild greens are both scarce, adding in the extra protein and fat as noted above, will help them birds keep on weight and maintain the ability to warm themselves while nested in a coop and run that helps protect them from the chill, wind, snow, and sleet.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.