It’s that time of year again! The aspen trees on the mountain are turning yellow and there’s a slight cool crisp chill to the air in the mornings. Our fall preparations for winter need to begin soon, and we have already started preparing our flock of ducks for the colder weather that’s coming.
Let me preface this by saying we live in a very cold climate. It rarely gets over 90 degrees in the summer, a mid-June frost is not unheard of and it will get to -20 several times between January and February. It is beautiful, sunny, and we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. However, it is imperative that we prepare in advance for winter because of our location. We have already started preparing our ducks for winter, and here’s how we are doing it!
Ducks are actually pretty cold hearty and don’t mind the cold. It was a big selling point when we decided to have a flock of six ducks over a dozen chickens. (This is not in any way meant to bash chickens or people who have them. We just made the decision wholly on happenstance to have ducks instead.)
There is a real downside to having ducks instead of chickens during the winter, and that’s their water situation. Ducks have to have standing water at most times. They need to be able to submerge their entire head in the water even in the coldest winter days to clean out their beaks and eyes. This creates problems in the winter because the water often freezes solid where we live.
Because of this, we ordered a heated duck waterer from Amazon. We have the non-heated version of this and the ducks really seem to like it. It holds 2 1/2 gallons of water and the ducks go through this in less than two days. I will take it in the house every week and clean it well just to make sure there is no algae growth, but that could be excessive. Others who have ducks tend to simply refill the waterer only, but they do make a huge mess out of it.
Fortunately, ducks don’t really have to be able to get in the water and swim, although it is easy to tell that they are happier and have more spunk when they can. We are going to use an old metal bathtub with a heater for this so they can swim under cover in the winter. It’ll be drainable and give them a place to play during the winter. And don’t worry; ducks don’t get cold easily.
KEEPING THEM WARM
The biggest concern with ducks in winter is their feet, which can become frostbitten at very low temperatures. Ducks have a counter-current heat exchange system which prevents their feet from becoming damaged even in icy conditions. That means that the warm blood flowing in veins from their heart flows very close to the cold blood flowing from their feet. This helps normalize the temperature in their feet. But if they are walking on the ice created when they made a mess with their water, they could get cold. We have a duck house and plan to use a thicker layer of straw along with a heat lamp so they won’t be overly cold. Ducks are hearty, but we decided early on that they wouldn’t suffer needlessly. We have the heat lamp from when they were ducklings, and it’ll be on in their duck house overnight all winter and on the days it’s below zero. A heat lamp is not necessary, but we felt it’s the right thing to do. We made sure to grab an extra lamp too, just in case.
Ducks will still lay their eggs in the straw, so when we get up to let them out in the morning, we can collect the eggs, remove any dirty straw for the compost pile and add some fresh. We bought 12 bales of the stuff from our farming neighbor and having it now as the weather is changing feels really comforting.
The main thing to remember is that ducks need to get out of the nasty weather, especially at night. Plus, we want them safe from nocturnal predators so sealing up their duck house is a good choice.
During the summer, and even now as fall begins, our ducks forage for a good part of their day. They have a large outside area where they roam and eat bugs. In the winter, there is less for them to forage, so make sure they have food available all the time. We may end up making a larger dispenser for their food if they start going through it quickly as it cools off.