Duck brooder

The crib, also known as Kathy’s study. (More photos are available below.)

We brooded the ducklings in Kathy’s study, in a baby pool about 4 feet across. At four days old they were jumping up and getting their heads above the top of the pool, so we cut up a cardboard box and duct-taped it into a fence.

For warmth we used a heat lamp with a 175-watt red bulb (roughly $5 each for lamp and bulb by mail-order from FarmTek), attached to a photographer’s tripod so we could raise it gradually to control the heat. The books say that ducklings need to be kept at 85 to 90 degrees for the first week; the temperature can be lowered 5 degrees a week after that. We checked the temperature in the brooder before the ducks arrived to set the initial height of the lamp, but after that, we just watched the ducks: when they seemed to want to be away from the lamp, we raised it a bit. Had we seen them huddling under the lamp, we would have lowered it.

For bedding we used corncob litter (sold for rabbits) topped with a layer of burlap, because otherwise the ducks will try to eat the bits of corncob. We started out changing the burlap daily and the corncob litter every 3 to 4 days; by the third week we were changing the corncob litter every other day. Longer, and it got stinky. All of the used litter and burlap went into the compost, of course. After three weeks we ran out of burlap and switched to straw bedding, a one-inch layer that we changed daily.

The chick feeder and chick waterer are standard fare from a feed & grain or farm supply store; each screws onto a quart Mason jar. After about a week and a half we had to add a second waterer because they went through a whole quart overnight. Ducklings make an awful mess of their water, and much of it was ending up in the bedding, so we set the waterers in aluminum foil cake pans. (This was Kathy’s idea. Gotta give credit.)

At three and a half weeks old, Patsy (who was always a bit precocious) jumped the cardboard barrier and ran around on the carpet peeping. That was the end of the brooding; the next night we moved them outside. June in North Carolina is plenty warm for ducks at that age.

A note about materials: the baby pool we obtained in a trade; the cardboard was salvaged; and the tripod was borrowed. All we had to buy (apart from the bedding, which was composted and will end up in next year’s garden) was the lamp and the feeder and waterers, which totaled under $20; and the lamp will find other uses. Since we’re not going to be brooding ducklings or chicks on a regular basis—at least not anytime soon—there was no point in spending a lot of money on the setup.


Click any of the photos for a larger version.

Ducklings in the brooder, first week. In the larger photo you can see the burlap and also the heat lamp, which is cropped out of the thumbnail.
By their fourth and last week in the brooder they didn’t fit so well any longer—so we took them out to their grazing pen during the day.