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The Homestead Waterfowl Flock
Part Two

Table of Contents

Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Pasturing the Flock

I like to get my young ducklings and goslings on pasture as soon as they are feathered—about five or six weeks. (You can start giving them outings during nice days considerably earlier than that, returning them to shelter at night.) They benefit greatly from pasture. Indeed, once past the brooder phase, goslings can subsist entirely on pasture grasses (though they will grow faster with some supplemental feed, which is my practice). Muscovy ducks are also great grazers, and will put pasture grass to good use. Mallard type ducks are not grazers to the same extent as the geese and the Muscovies, but they do eat a good deal of green forage. Unlike the geese (who are vegetarians), ducks thrive on the live animal food to be gleaned on pasture—earthworms, slugs, etc.

Waterfowl-african-saxony-on-lawn

Pasturing the Flock

Waterfowl on pasture can be confined and protected using electronet fencing. It is especially important to use the newer versions of electric net fencing, with closer horizontals at the bottom, to prevent entanglement of young waterfowl with the net.

Shelter

During the warm season, the only shelter needed is shade from the sun on hot summer days: Fully-feathered waterfowl in the warm season do not need shelter from the rain, and indeed will not use it if available. In a summer rain, they run around excitedly, flapping wings and honking or quacking. Indeed, I provide no shelter at all for ducks and geese, if they have shade from trees at all times as the angle of the sun changes, especially in the afternoon. I have also used a mobile 10 by 10 foot hooped structure covered with 20-mil woven poly fabric to provide shade for my waterfowl.

In the winter, any shelter is adequate for these cold-hardy birds which is dry and provides protection from the wind. On many winter days they can be released to the outside if there is space available.

I strongly recommend a deep organic litter in the winter house. Pine shavings are excellent, as are oak leaves, or a mix of the two. Unlike chickens, however, waterfowl do not scratch in the litter, so it can develop an overlay of caked manure after awhile. I occasionally use a spading fork to turn and fluff up the litter. Another option is to allow the chickens onto the waterfowl’s litter, and they will provide turning services, especially if you scatter a bit of scratch grains.

Water

Provide your ducks and geese the maximum access to water that you can. At the very minimum, waterfowl must have a water source deep enough to submerge their heads—say a 5 or 6 gallon horse watering tub. If geese and ducks cannot submerge their heads, their nostrils can become clogged with feed, and eye infections will be more likely. Much better is an amount of water sufficient for bathing. All keepers of chickens are familiar with the way chickens will make a “dust bath” if permitted—their way of preventing external parasites such as lice and mites. Waterfowl achieve the same results through bathing—essentially, drowning insects under their feathers that might otherwise be a problem for them.

If you have natural open water on your homestead—a stream or pond—you are lucky, and your birds will make good use of it. If you want to add a mini-pond to your place, there is plenty of information on the subject. (Just enter “pond building,” “pond liners,” or similar into an online search engine.)

If you plan to breed your ducks and geese, note that the heavier breeds almost require water deep enough to swim in, in order to mate successfully—the male finds it difficult or impossible to mount the female on the ground.

Lawn

Lawn Flock Accessories

I do not have natural water on my place, and have not decided as yet to make the investment of effort and funds for an artificial pond. My solution to my waterfowl’s water needs is a 50-gallon sheep waterer: 48 inches long, 28 inches wide, and 10 inches deep—just deep enough for a large goose to swim and mostly submerge in. Accessories include ramps (½-inch hardware cloth over a light wooden frame) for the birds to get into the tank, and wire mesh platforms (more ½-inch hardware cloth) around the tank. The latter prevents “drilling” by the birds in the wet soil around the tank and making a muddy mess. If in an area where it doesn’t matter to you if sizable holes are drilled in the soil, omit the platforms.

A couple of other important points about water: An open container of water such as I have described is great for the waterfowl, but can be lethal for young chickens who have not learned how to keep from falling in—I had several drownings before learning this lesson. The solution is either to keep the waterfowl flock separate from the chicken flock (at least when there are young chickens in the flock—adult chickens seem not to have a problem with drowning); or to fill the “duck splash” only when you are going to be working in the area to supervise. I’ve used both approaches, depending on the needs of the moment. [See also “A Drown-Proof Waterer” for a watering solution that serves both the needs of the waterfowl and young chickens.]

Waterfowl-winter-waterer

Winter Waterer

Water for the waterfowl is particularly challenging in the winter housing—they just love to splash, leaving the deep litter in the winter house soaked. (Wet litter is anaerobic, thus more likely to support growth of pathogens.) I have tried scattering the wet litter where the chickens can scratch it out sufficiently to dry, but the chore quickly became prohibitively labor intensive—the ducks and geese splash a lot of water. My current solution: I set the 5-gallon water tub on a wire mesh platform, over a 40-gallon horse waterer as a catch basin. The splashings from the birds’ frolic are retained in the catch basin rather than soaking the litter. (Periodically I empty the catch basin by hand, using 5-gallon buckets to transport it outside. A further refinement would be the addition of a drain line leading from the bottom of the catch basin to an appropriate outflow area outside.)

[Addendum February 2007: In accordance with winter practices outlined in “Current Feeding Practice”, I am now watering the waterfowl outside exclusively.]