KEEPING DUCKS AND GEESE
If you are new to keeping Ducks or Geese, we stock a really handy book by well known Author Katie Thear, which is full of helpful tips and coloured illustrations (see books page).
Access to Fresh Water
Contrary to popular belief, Ducks and Geese do not need access to a pond, as they are just as happy with a paddling pool, or low bucket full of fresh water. This water does need to be replenished daily, as stagnant water can cause illnesses including Bochulism. We also put a small amount of water in with the waterfowl at night, this helps with eating their evening ration of feed. If you do have a pond or lake, it may be worth knowing that open water can encourage wild birds and waterfowl which can carry disease and pass this on to your stock. This is the reason many breeders do not keep their livestock in this way.
Geese and ducks like to graze. Geese prefer short grass, no longer than 4 inches. If the grass is long and tough, it can choke them. It is a good idea to mow long grass first, or let other animals graze on it in order to shorten it, before putting ducks and geese on it. Ducks and geese can suffer from illness caused by eating mouldy feed. It is important to remove any uneaten feed, dispose of this and replace with fresh feed.
In the summer we only feed our Ducks and Geese once in the evening, however, in the winter, when grass is scarce, we also feed them in the morning.
We feed our ducks and geese on the following:-
Ducklings and Goslings from day old to around 3/4-weeks
Starter Duck/ Goose Crumbs with a little poultry spice/minerals or grated cuttle fish bone for extra calcium. Do not feed Chick Crumbs as this may contain a Coccidiostat, which is poisonous to Ducks and Geese.
3/4-weeks to 10/12 weeks
When changing over to a different food, do this gradually over a week, by mixing in a little each day with the usual food and increase the amount each day, whilst reducing the old feed.
Duck Goose Grower Pellets & a little Mixed Corn. The Grower Pellets are very high in protein, so do not over feed, as this can cause them to become too heavy for their legs to support them. To alleviate the problem of weak legs, add a little poultry spice/minerals, or grated cuttle fish bone to their feed for extra calcium.
12 weeks plus - Farmyard pellets(suitable for chickens, ducks & geese) or Waterfowl pellets & Mixed Corn. We also add poultry spice/ minerals, or a little cod liver oil with their feed to ensure they have glossy feathers and are in tip top condition.
We feed our Ducks and Geese with dry pellets (not mash) and mixed corn. Throughout the summer months, through to the end of the winter months, we use Standard Layers Pellets. In the spring, as with our other breeding poultry stock, we feed them on Breeders Pellets. This gives them extra vitamins and energy, which is beneficial for the reproductive systems.
Always dispose of any uneaten food as stale, or mouldy food can cause illness.
They should have access to water when they eat, as they need to be able to wash the grain down their throats to avoid choking. They also need access to grit or coarse sand, which helps them to break up their food.
Poisoning and Choking
Ducks and geese can die from poisoning if they digest anything that is toxic to them. This can include things they pick up from the ground including lead shots and algae.
Geese are notorious for picking up and eating small foreign objects. Our local vet once told me he had surgically removed a childs toy from an inquisitive goose. Be mindful of this and remove anything which they might find interesting that is not designed to be eaten!
Ducks and Geese can like any animal, fall victim to fox attacks, so they do need to be put away at night. Their housing needs to be sturdy, wind proof and rain proof. A shed is an ideal place in which to keep ducks, or geese.
They will be happy with a bedding of thick straw. This is most especially important for the breeding season, as large geese will often make a nest the size of a wagon wheel, using all the available straw that they can gather! Their eggs will be also often be discreetly concealed within the thick, inner walls of the circular nest and a goose and her mate will become very protective of the nest once having laid an egg.
Ducks on the other hand, will make a niche in the bedding, or use a nest box, in which to lay their eggs, but more often than not, they will just lay one anywhere in their house, or outside in the pen!
Wet and soiled bedding should be removed as often as possible. At least once a week and disinfecting should also be carried out regularly (ensure that the floor is dry before they reenter as they may be tempted to dabble in it with their beaks or bills).
Ducks and Geese should have space in their housing to be able to stretch open their wings if they need to, as their wingspans are often very wide! They also need to be able to have shelter and protection from the wind during the day if they need it. Our pairs of geese each have quarters the same size as stables!
All waterfowl like poultry, should be wormed regularly. If they are penned in a small area, then the ground can become host to many parasites including worms. The pens should be moved frequently.
Ducks and Geeese can suffer from gizzard worms, which are red in colour. Adults worms are approx. 2-4cm long. The signs of gizzard worm are slow growth, depression and loss of condition.
We use Flubenvet, which is a multi purpose wormer. This will erradicate gizzard worm, round worm, throat worm, caecal worm and tape worm. We mix this in with their feed ration for 7-days and we do not give them any other feeds during this time.Flubenvet can be used for ducklings and goslings. We also use Flubenvet to worm our chickens. Some goose keepers worm their stock once every three months, however, we worm all our stock once every three months.
It is a good idea to keep waterfowl in an area with a fenced perimeter to avoid them from straying. It will also deter other animals from getting in. Fencing will not usually prevent foxes from getting in, as they can dig and climb. We use electric mains charged poultry netting around our paddocks and to date we have not had any fox attacks. Although we have seen foxes around the perimeter on occasions.
Ornamental ducks and light breeds Geese will need their flight feathers clipped, to ensure that they do not fly away. The heavier breeds of Geese; i.e. Giant Dewlap Toulouse Geese, do not need their wings clipped, as they are too heavy to fly. Wing clipping does not hurt them and involves cutting the flight feathers on one wing with a pair of scissors.
Larger Geese will not need a very high fence, as they will not be able to fly over it. They can sometimes be very good escape artists, they can get over loose fencing by part climbing, part pushing until any flimsy fence bends over and gives way. They can also wriggle underneath loose fencing.
General Information & Some Common Illnesses
Ducks do live up to the name of "Mucky Ducks" as they can be messy, in that they love to dip their heads in water and dribble the water out of their bills onto the ground around the water, before drilling holes in it!
Ducks and Geese are very hardy animals to keep, as in our experience, if you worm them regularly, it is very rare for them to become ill.
Ducks and geese can suffer sometimes from a condition called Bumble Foot, which is where the skin on their feet can form a hard corn and this can be quite sore for them. This can be caused from walking on something hard, like a stone. In five years we have only ever had this happen to two ducks; the first was treated by the Vet, who cut it out and wrapped a gauze wrap around the foot to keep it clean and dry. This was reinforced with a course of antibiotics. The second time under the instruction of a vet, we removed the corn ourselves and followed the same procedure.
Weak or Shaky Legs
When Ducks and Geese are young, they can also suffer from weak, or shaky legs. This is sometimes caused by a calcium deficiency. We have found that adding some liquid calcium to the water, or food usually works. We usually buy ZOLCAL D for this purpose. Grated cuttlefish bone is also a good source of calcium. This can be sprinkled over the top of their daily feed.
If a Duckling, or a Gosling has problems with putting weight on too quickly, they can also suffer from weak legs and may suddenly be unable to carry their own body weight. To avoid this, introduce them to the Grower pellets very gradually as the pellets are full of protein, which makes them grow very quickly. If they do put on weight too quickly, reduce their feed. Do not feed them excessively, as with chickens, keep their feed rations to around a couple of handfuls a day per bird.
If your Duckling or Gosling does suffer from weak legs, or is unable to support it's weight, you can help them regain their strength on their legs by giving them some daily hydrotherapy in the bath tub, starting with enough water to allow them to touch the bottom of the bath. The water will help take some of their body weight off of their legs, whilst encouraging them to use their legs. By doing this, their legs should have strengthened over the course of a few weeks. Another good way of encouraging them to walk, providing they are tame enough, is by sitting a metre or so away from another person and taking it in turns to call them to walk towards you; much the same as you would do for a toddler!
Ducks and Geese usually lay from February through until June, depending on the weather and climate. If there is a cold snap, this can delay laying.
A good indication of them starting to lay, is the behaviour of the Ganders or Drakes (males). They will begin to get very territorial of the females, water, feed and their space! They will also start to show more of an interest in the females, until they start trying to tread them (mate). This usually happens in the water with geese, whereupon the mating ritual can look very aggressive, with them biting each other, beating each other with wings and twisting their necks against each other.
The Geese start to pair up in obvious pairs during the winter months right through until after the breeding season and during this time, they will never be far away from each other. Extreme care must be taken when approaching Geese during the breeding season, as they can become much more aggresive whilst protecting their mate, the nest and any eggs.
The Ducks will tread (mate) anywhere. This is usually a much more civilised affair, with the Drake starting by standing on top of the duck, almost like he is surfing on a surfboard, before holding onto the head of the duck with his bill and laying on top of the Duck, for what sometimes seems quite a long and somewhat noisy time. The Drake often leaves spittle on the top of the ducks head, which when dry, can become the cause of eye infections if there is no adequate source of water for bathing and washing it off in.
It is very rewarding to raise any kind of young animal, particularly ducklings and goslings. The bond will always remain and you can be certain of having a very tame pet if you do raise them yourself. A word of warning however; ducks and geese will quickly imprint on whatever animal or person raises them. This can lead to them doing anything possible to remain with their mother or father figure and can cause them terrible separation anxiety from a very young age.
If you raise ducks and geese together, there may be some confusion when the drakes or ganders mature. We have seen drakes preferring geese to ducks and it can be alarming to find your adult drake trying to mate young goslings. If you see this, the drakes are only doing what comes naturally to them because they have been brought up together and see no difference between breeds, but this is something which you may want to avoid from the onset, by keeping the breeds apart from day one!
Care should be taken if attempting to vent sex young ducklings and goslings. It is advisable to do this in the first few days, as the older they get, the harder it is to determine the sex.
We have found that the easiest way to do it, is to carefully lie the youngster on their back with their head closest to your body and their bottom facing away from you. Place both index fingers on the younsters back just above the tail bone. Place both thumbs, one either side of the vent. Gently push your index fingers towards your thumbs, whilst at the same time, using your thumbs to push down and slightly open the vent. If the youngster is a male, then a tiny ejectile (tip) will stick up, if it is a female, then there will not be an ejectile and the vent will be an "o" shape.
Vent sexing can be messy, as pushing on the vent can result in the youngster pooping. Gently wipe this off with a tissue and continue.