Brooding Ducklings: Tips For Beginners

Bringing home a new batch of ducklings. These are Pekins.

Ducklings are fun and fast growers, they’ll be nearly full size in no time! Until then, they need some special care to make sure they get off to a healthy start and grow well. Special care for ducklings starts with brooding.

Ducklings need a brooder area for the first 3-5 weeks of age, depending upon the weather in your area. The brooder needs to be predator proof, have heat, bedding and duckling sized feeders and waterers.

First thing to set up for your ducklings before you get them is the brooder area.

Have the area ready and test out the heat lamp to make sure you have a cozy spot for the ducklings when they arrive.

Ideally, have the heat lamps on so the brooder is warm when you put in the ducklings.

Is Raising Ducks For Meat Worth It? goes over the costs you’ll have when raising your ducklings, from the purchase of the ducklings at the hatchery to getting them into the freezer.

For a duckling brooder, you will need:

  • Predator proof area
  • Heat lamp with a spare bulb
  • Feeder and feed
  • Waterer
  • Bedding
  • Unheated area

Room To Raise Ducks shows you how to calculate out the space needed for your ducks, from ducklings to full grown.

Ducklings for sale in a store
Ducklings for sale at a local store. You can see there are two size ducklings in the brooder and that it is too crowded. This many ducklings in a small space will get messy, fast!

Brooder must be predator proof!

As far as predators go, every predator and their brother loves to snack on baby poultry! Your duckling brooder must be predator proof, this includes attempted break ins both around the bottom and the very top.

Chicks seem to be the easiest to lose to predators, but ducklings aren’t too far off in snackability!

The biggest predator problem we have, by far, is the barn cats! They love, love, love baby ducks (and chicks).

Ideally, you will have an enclosed area, enclosed up to the roof!, for your brooder. This is for the walk in style of brooder.

If you have a smaller scale brooder (stand alone style) set up, that’s fine as well.

The top of the brooder must be hardware cloth (welded metal wire material that has small spaces, like .5 or .25 inch squares).

Be aware that a capable predator will also be able to grab the ducklings from the outside through larger sized wire openings.

Even if the duckling can not be pulled through the wire the predator will take a wing off!

Heat lamp or other heat source needed

Your ducklings will need some sort of supplemental heat, most commonly from a heat lamp. Heat lamps are easy to find at a local farm store.

You will have two choices of bulbs, white/clear or red. We always get red. While you are there, get a spare bulb, as well.

Both colors have the same heating ability, the red reduces picking in chicks. Since we use the brooder for both chicks and ducklings, we get the red bulbs.

From what I have seen, the clear bulbs are less expensive. We don’t use them, so I can’t say if they work just as well or they are just cheaper!

We like to hang the heat lamps either from the ceiling or from a solid support like a sawhorse.

Do not put the heat lamps on or suspended from anything that is not rock solid! Hot heat lamps touching bedding can start fires! (Not kidding.)

Diagram showing where ducklings will sit under a heat lamp if they are too hot, just right, or too cold.
Here is an example of what to look for when your ducklings are in the brooder. You are going for perfect, of course! Be sure to check your ducklings a few times a day, especially as the temperatures for the day change (up or down) or the wind picks up and adjust as needed.

A heater is another option for your ducklings. Keep in mind it must not tip and if it is a fuel heater, some are not for indoor use!

Another option would be a heating mat, I have to admit that we have never used one, so you’re one your own there.

The reason we have never used a one is money. The heating mat is more than the cost of the heat lamp and bulb, so we go with the more economical option.

If you decide to use a heating mat, remember you’ll have to clean it off quite a bit, since ducklings will poo whenever, where ever.

Duckling size feeder

Really there are only two size feeders for most poultry, baby size and a larger volume size for adult birds.

At first the ducklings will need a smaller feeder, so they can easily reach in to eat.

If you have a larger feeder on hand, let the ducklings get a few weeks old and try it out along with the smaller ones. Use both, not just the larger feeder!

When you notice them eating easily out of the bigger feeder, take out the smaller sized feeders and just use the big one.

Do Ducklings Need Food And Water At Night? walks you through your options of feeding and watering ducklings.

As your ducklings grow you’ll want a bigger feeder to hold at least a day’s worth of feed, to make taking care of them easier on you.

Important Note: Ducklings need non medicated feed. Read the label on the bag before you bring it home!

I go into the details of feeding ducklings and how fast you can expect them to grow in this article. Feed costs are included, as well,

Diagram of duckling brooder set up
Here is an example of a duckling brooder set up. You can rearrange the blocks to suit your needs. Keep the feed and water together and keep the unheated spaces available to the ducklings. For ease of feeding, keep the feeder and waterer in an easy to reach spot.

Get a duckling sized waterer

Ducks and water, it’s a messy situation! Ducks love to play in water, even the babies!

In order to digest their food, they need plenty of water, enough to dip the beak up to the nostrils. But that’s it, no bigger!

Your ducklings will get so excited about the water, they won’t think about getting out!

This is the danger of using an open waterer, like a pan, for ducklings.

You can bet that they’ll get in, but if they can’t get out from anywhere in the pan incredibly easily you’ll find chilled or dead ducklings.

The best way to water the ducklings is in a gravity fed gallon size plastic waterer that has a trough around the outside.

Use bedding material in the brooder

Use a material that the ducklings can easily walk on/over to get to the feed, water and heated areas. We always use straw.

Sawdust is generally easy to find, but you run the risk of the ducklings eating it instead of eating feed.

I have to admit, every store I have seen with ducklings for sale is using sawdust as bedding.

Whatever you decide to use as bedding it needs to be absorbent and non slip.

Ducklings like to zoom around the brooder, but are not super steady on their feet.

When one of your ducklings hurts a leg there is not a lot to be done to help it, so don’t run the risk of a duckling hurting a leg because of a slippery floor.

Have an unheated area for ducklings

Your ducklings also need an unheated area of the brooder. If this is your first time setting up a brooder you might be surprised to see this part.

Why would the ducklings need an unheated area? The whole purpose of a brooder is to keep them warm and unheated is not warm. So true!

The reason why you need an unheated area of the brooder is so the ducklings can choose where they spend their time and hang out in a spot that is the right temperature for them.

As they grow, the place that is the right temperature for them to be will change, since bigger ducklings will need less heat.

Having cooler zones and warmer zones in the same brooder allows the ducklings to adjust to their own comfort level through out the day.

This is especially important if your ducklings are in shed or poorly insulated garage.

The temperature will fluctuate through out the day, so a brooder in the shed that is cozy overnight will be too hot during the day.

Unless you have a cooler zone, then the ducklings will just move and be fine.

Look at the diagram above for an example of a duckling brooder set up. You can have the unheated areas anywhere you want them to be, this is just an example to give you the basic idea.

Arrange your brooder to suit your space, amount of ducklings and to be easily tended for water and feed refills and frequent duckling checks.

Metzer Farms is a wonderful resource for information on all things waterfowl. I look over their site all of the time, since they commercially raise ducks and duck eggs, in addition to being a hatchery.

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