Raising Ducks 05.12.2008

Duck house and run

New crib! The ducks moved into their new house in October 2003.

When we first got our ducks, we put them under our second-story deck at night for safety. This was secure and comfortable for them, but not entirely convenient for us, and not a very good long-term solution.

During the ducks’ second summer I built this house and run at the back of our yard. It is smaller than their old space; the house is about four feet square, but the attached run triples that space. Except in very cold weather, they spent most of their nights under the deck by the fence, looking out, and in cold weather they huddled together between straw bale windbreaks, so this new design suits them well. I’m glad I waited to build a proper house, actually; when we first got the ducks I wouldn’t have understood their needs. For example, I didn’t bother to build nestboxes, since we were never able to get our ducks to use the ones in their old pen.

I built this house to be extremely secure, long-lasting, and attractive enough for the backyard. As a result it was not cheap (over $250 for materials) or trivial to build, but it should last for several generations of ducks, and we don’t have to worry about predators. I should also say that I borrowed the basic design from the Kintaline Poultry and Waterfowl Centre in Scotland; if you live in the United Kingdom, you may want to buy one of theirs instead of building your own. (Their Westford model is the house I was looking at.)

Photos

Click any of the photos for a larger version.

The house, framed but not finished. Having never built something like this before, I copied the framing of my shed.
Front view of the house and run. In the enlarged photo you can see the door, which latches tight; the run, enclosed with 1/2-inch hardware cloth; and the handles for the lids/roofs to the run that allow for easy access.
The windows on the side are finished with 1/2-inch hardware cloth, and a beveled 2×4 over the windows keeps the rain out. The hex sign is for luck, abundance…all the good stuff.
A view of the inside. Interestingly, the ducks don’t crap in the house; they use the run. Maybe they’re smarter than I thought.
Side view. The lids are hinged for access. A ramp provides access from the house to the pen. Next to it is another hardware-cloth window, to provide cross-ventilation in warm weather.

Construction notes

Materials

The total cost of lumber, hardware, hardware cloth, roofing, paint, and other materials was between $250 and $300. It wasn’t cheap, but it will last a long time, and it is also extremely secure.

  • The wood frame is regular untreated lumber, which is half the price of pressure-treated lumber. This is covered with exterior-grade siding plywood designed for sheds; it has indented vertical stripes to help rain run off. The wood frame of the pen is also untreated; with regular repainting it will hold up fine, and was half the cost of pressure-treated lumber.
  • The roof is a composite material that seems to hold up fine but was an awful pain to work with. It is corrugated like tin roofing to aid runoff. If I had it to do over, I’d use tin roofing, but since it’s done, I don’t have any regrets. The roofing is nailed into exterior grade plywood that I nailed to the rafters.
  • The run, windows, and vents under the front and back of the roof are secured with 1/2-inch hardware cloth, stapled to the wood frame with 3/8-inch staples. I have heard of racoons reaching through chickenwire, and the narrower gauge also keeps snakes out. It’s more expensive than chickenwire, but I think the security is worth it. The run is also floored with chickenwire (also stapled to the frame) to prevent anything digging in.
  • The paint is exterior grade oil over an exterior oil primer. I found an oil-based paint designed for barns whose manufacturer alleges it to be non-toxic.

Construction

Building the house and run — framing, roofing, hanging the door, building the run, stapling hardware cloth, building the lids, and painting — took almost four months, but I wasn’t in a hurry, stopped a few times to reconsider my plans, had to wait out frequent rain, and had a baby in the middle of the process. If I had to build a second one, I could probably finish it in a week of work.

As with the grazing pen, I went to some extra trouble to make the house and run look good in the backyard. The joints in the wood frame of the run are half-lapped (so that the surface of each side is flat). For portability, the run is joined to the house with screws that can be removed, and the house and run transported separately.

  • The house is 48" wide by 50" deep on the outside; 47" high in back, 53" in front. The run is the depth of the house, 8′ long, and 30" high.
  • The house rests on cinder blocks which are set into the ground to level it. The run was built after the house was leveled, directly on the ground.
  • The door to the house is hung like the door of a house and latches tightly. The latch is not difficult to open but it does require a level of manual dexterity beyond that of any nonhuman animal that might try to open it.
  • The run is covered with two lids, framed by 2x4s and secured with hardware cloth. The lids are hinged at the back; in the front they latch with barrel bolts. This provides easy access for humans but, again, no predator can get in. There is no ground-level entrance to the run.

As with the grazing pen, I don’t have formal plans to offer. My pencil sketches and scrawled notes, most of which I revised in my head as I actually built the thing, would not be of much use here.

Notes on use

I use one lid to the run almost exclusively — the one furthest from the house — and it has come apart a few times. Repeated opening and closing places too much stress on the lap joints. At some point, I need to rebuild that lid with stronger joints.

Otherwise, the house has held up wonderfully for nearly five years.

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