Winter care for ducks

As the weather grows colder in the fall we make some minor adjustments to our housing and management. They do not seem to mind the cold; they do fluff up their feathers and huddle together to sleep on cold nights, but the first thing they do every morning is to jump into their pool—even if we have to break up floating ice first to let them in. They also eat more to keep warm (and because there aren’t any bugs to eat after a hard freeze).

Daytime care

For winter we park the grazing pen at the back of the yard and use dry leaves for daytime bedding.

By late October the grass had stopped coming back after the ducks trampled it, and because they spill so much water from their pool and waterer, the ducks quickly turn any bare patch of ground on which they are confined into permanent mud. That’s not good for the ducks or the yard, so we parked their pen and laid down a layer of wheat straw (which we use for nighttime bedding). They so quickly mucked up the straw, though, that I switched to dry leaves raked from the rest of the yard to save money and time.

About once a week I add about a six-inch layer of fresh leaves, which quickly breaks down with rain, slopped water, and manure. Every month or so I rake out all the leaves, cart them to the compost bin, and start fresh.

The ducks seem perfectly happy with the leaves, even when they are mostly pine needles. Rooting in freshly raked leaves for wintering insects gives them something to do when they can’t graze.

Note: This actually worked so well that we began doing it year-round; see my notes on backyard pasture.

Nighttime care

In the summer we rake out the ducks’ bedding from their house and run every couple of months to keep the flies away (though the ducks eat the flies, of course), but in the winter we simply pile on fresh wheat straw, letting the old bedding start to break down underneath. The extra several inches of straw provides some extra warmth.

To provide a windbreak, we drape 6-mil plastic sheeting to cover one exposed side of the pen. When they were in a larger space, we also stacked bales of straw three high to provide a “cubby” for them; on cold nights, they slept in a pile at the back of the cubby.

When the forecast calls for snow or sleet, I cover half their run, the half nearer the house, with a piece of plywood to give them extra shelter.

We have read that ducks are fine without special shelter at temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit; we were skeptical of this, but they do seem fine on mornings when the temperature dips to the teens, which is as cold as it normally gets in our part of North Carolina. Their behavior remains normal, and we have not seen them shivering, which we hear ducks will do in extreme cold.

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