The thermometer hit -20 a couple weeks ago and it has stayed right around there ever since. I’m in the house trying to stay warm with a blanket and hot tea. I know in temperatures this low my backyard flock is feeling it too. So, how do we keep ducks warm in winter when it gets so darn cold?
Ducks are amazing creatures. They are my favorite flock to keep around for many reasons. They provide me with food and entertainment. They have waterproof feathers and warm down to insulate them. Their circulation moves in a way that keeps their feet from freezing. But how can we help them when the weather is at its worst. I use three simple tricks to keep my ducks warm in the winter;
One question you often hear debated when it comes to a keeping a flock warm is light or no light. I’ve done both, but I feel like it’s not as beneficial as the other three on my list. My ducks don’t like the light on in their shelter and won’t even use it. So I’m definitely going with no light!
Now let’s look at the three simple steps to keeping ducks warm in the winter.
1 . Shelter
It’s so important to provide shelter from the wind, and a place free from snow and ice for their feet. Ducks are hardy and prefer to be out in all but the worst conditions. For this reason, my shelters are open to allow the duck the freedom to chose- in or out.
Years ago we made our duck house out of pallets and old tin scraps we had lying around. This fall I added a lean-to onto it as my flock is bigger. My ducks will get a little snippy when they’ve been stuck inside too long, but then so do I sometimes. So I wanted to make sure everyone had plenty of space.
I positioned my duck’s shelter to provide the most protection from the wind. I also build a smaller lean-to in a sunny spot in the yard I know they like to hang out in on warm winter days.
Step two in keeping ducks warm is to provide plenty of bedding. A duck’s feet are especially susceptible to the cold air. Their feet were designed to stay warm in the water, but walking on snow and frozen ground is considerably colder. I had a duck lose several toes to the cold last year. Now I like to shovel the snow and keep straw on the paths they walk to water and their sunning spot.
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In my shelters I use a compost bedding method I read about in Fresh Eggs Daily. I put wood chips down first, then straw. I do this because duck’s big feet will pack straw down in a hurry and lessen its insulating power. Every couple weeks or so I go in with the pitchfork and give the bedding a toss and flip. This usually sends the ducks in to search for lost morsels of grain. It’s a winter highlight for them to stick their beaks in the fluffy straw and search for anything to eat.
Ideally, with this straw composting, it generates a modest amount of heat, helping the birds stay warm. The birds break down the big stuff into smaller bits and add their manure. By the time spring is here it’s ready for the garden and flowerbed!
The last thing I need to keep my ducks warm is provide plenty of food. Like with anything that generates its own heat, it take lots of energy to do it. So I make sure to provide plenty of high-protein feed to keep them going through the winter. I use grains (oats mostly) we grow on the farm, and supplement with layer or meat bird crumbles. I also like to put dried oregano (like you get on the spice aisle) in their warm water. It makes an infused water that is supposed to boost their immune system, and keep them healthy.
Interestingly, we use these three tricks to keep the cow herd and pigs warmer too. The cows on our place have plenty of windbreaks to stand by. When the temperatures drop low, extra bedding is thrown out for them. They are also fed later in the day so they have more food to digest and use to create heat during the night.
Sometimes winter is mild with fluffy snow to play in, warm sun, and blue skies. Other times winter is harsh with biting winds, and bitter cold. When those horribly cold days come all we can do is hunker down and endure it. Use my three simple tricks to help your ducks endure the worst winter has to offer. They will be happier and healthier. And when the warm weather comes again they will be ready to produce well for you!