Raising Ducks 08.01.2002

Nighttime duck pen

Adapting available space. It ain’t gorgeous, but it’s secure.

For their first year and a half, the ducks spent their nights under our deck, which is nearly a full story off the ground and was already enclosed with chain link fence. (We think a former owner kept a dog under there.) Note: I long ago built a house for the ducks, but some of the information here may be valuable to others.

Construction

To make the pen predator-proof, we topped the chain link with chicken wire, stapling it to the underside of the deck and tying it with wire every 6-12 inches to the chain link, and added a couple of 2x4s to fill gaps next to the house and around the gate. This required some creative construction as the original deck was not exactly what you’d call "square." But there is no hole larger than the 2-inch holes in the fencing, so nothing a fox or possum can fit through. (We do not have weasels ’round these parts. If we did, lord, we’d have to buy a guard llama.) As a final precaution we added a 2-foot strip of half-inch hardware cloth around the bottom of the pen, including the gate itself, tying it to the chain link with thin wire; we have heard of possums reaching through chicken wire to grap poultry.

Additionally, the floor is covered with chicken wire which is stapled to half-buried 2x4s around the base of the deck so that determined predators can’t dig their way in. It is then lined with mulch and we use straw for bedding. If the mulch gets too messy we will break down and get a truckload of gravel. We need some for the driveway anyway but we have spent enough on the ducks this spring!

I should mention that Jane’s Cottage (now gone from the web) lost 19 ducks to a fox that stretched out the chicken wire on their pen until an opening was just large enough for it to fit through. We do not believe that we have foxes in our immediate neighborhood, and as far as we can say now, the ducks are safe in this pen. But I suspect that, unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure until some determined predator gets in.
The small shelter underneath the deck is a simple frame built from 2x4s, 4 feet square, 45 inches high in front and 51 inches high in back. (45 and 51 inches, for you humanities majors, total 8 feet, the length of a 2×4. I’m trying to conserve materials here.) The roof is plywood with tin roofing nailed to it, sloping to the front, so the ducks can get out of the rain if they want to.

As fall came on I decided the ducks needed more protection from the rain—they weren’t using the shelter I built. So I stapled heavy (6-mil) plastic sheeting to the underside of the deck, angling it so the rain runs off. It is not a permanent solution, but it keeps the ducks dry at night.

Lighting

Just to keep the ducks calm and to deter predators, we keep a 15-watt light bulb burning all night in the pen. (We re-used the heat lamp reflector as an outdoor light fixture.)

According to the Beginner’s Guide to Indian Runner Ducks (now, sadly, defunct), this is not enough light to simulate daylight and thus stimulate greater egg production. When our power was out for a week after a December ice storm, our ducks’ egg production did drop off slightly (from seven eggs a day to six). During that time, though, their routine was interrupted—a downed power line across the yard kept them in their pen for several days, and they couldn’t swim or graze—and ducks do not like having their routine altered; they seemed agitated and didn’t eat well the first few days. So I suspect that the confinement was the greater factor.

Note: When we moved the ducks into their new house in 2003, we no longer bothered with a light. We have an overhead security light in the backyard, though — essentially, a streetlight — and so the yard is never pitch dark.

Bedding

We use wheat straw for bedding. One bale provides a decent layer, a few inches thick, and stays relatively clean for about two weeks. In warm weather, we rake out the used bedding and replace it with fresh straw every couple of weeks to keep the flies down. In the winter, though, we just pile additional straw on top until it gets too thick for them to climb into the pen easily.

The used bedding goes into wire bins for composting.

Nestboxes

I had intended to build nice wooden nestboxes before the ducks started laying, but they were a bit precocious, and I didn’t get a chance. Instead, to save trouble, I bought two black plastic storage bins and set them on their sides with a layer of straw inside. I cut the lids into a U-shape to hold the straw in but let the ducks climb in and out easily, and duct-taped them onto the bins. (See the photo, below.) I am, for once, glad to have been lazy, because these boxes are much lighter and easier to clean than wooden boxes would be.

Note: The ducks never used the nestboxes. We tried everything we’d read in books, but no luck. I once found a cool salamander living under one of them, though.

Photos

Click any of the photos for a larger version.

The larger version of this photo gives a pretty good look at the construction. I did not build this deck, folks. I just tightened it up to keep the possums out.
A closeup of the hardware cloth that lines the bottom of the fence.
The shelter, enough to keep the rain off of seven ducks and their eggs. As you can see I was not particularly concerned with aesthetics here: the ducks don’t care, so far as I can tell, and nobody else needs to be looking under my deck.

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