This information is for all you first-time duck owners, wondering just what temperature your flock can withstand, and not wanting to do any duck survivability studies in your own backyard. We were in the same position just a few short months ago…
We acquired five Peking-Ancona ducks in November 2013. Neither of us had ever raised ducks before and we had no idea what would be needed to keep them alive and well through the winter.
We did a lot, a lot of reading before we got them, researching exactly what kind of shelter they would need and what temperature they could withstand. Wisconsin winters are known to get pretty nasty.
During our research we were hoping to find lots of solid data by other northern-dwelling duck parents on exactly what temperatures their flock could handle. We found very little, and nothing deemed highly reliable. There were some accounts of people mentioning temperatures, but they usually didn’t give any information on what kind of set-up the ducks had. Ducks “surviving 0 degrees in a three-sided shack” is different than “ducks surviving 0 degrees in an insulated, heated coop.”
We were about to head into the polar vortex with no idea what temperature our ducks could handle, other than “cold.”
And then we stumbled upon a little gem: a study in the 1967 Journal of Wildlife Management. In the 1960s, environmental regulations were much less strict and people noticed that ducks covered in oil were more likely to die during the winter. Can’t say that is surprising… But thus, a scientific study was born.
The study involved a group of ducks, some were “oiled” with various types of oil and some were not. The ducks were then placed in a freezer, with their metabolic rates and survivability measured. Other than learning how to properly oil a duck, we learned that the bigger the duck and the more fat deposits it had, the better the duck would fair in cold weather. Non-oiled ducks did just fine for periods of 36 hours at -15 degrees F. In fact, non-oiled ducks of adequate size did great! This was the information we were looking for! Scientific, controlled study with specific temperatures. At least it was a good starting place.
The take away message? Healthy ducks can easily survive -15 degrees F… and not only survive, but fare great!
Being that our ducks would not be covered in oil, the information on the oiled ducks wasn’t of too much concern to us, except for one interesting point. Not only did oiled ducks loose heat faster because of what the oil did to their feathers, but during the study the oiled ducks also lost their appetites. In very cold conditions, ducks may need to eat twice what they normally would in order to keep up their metabolic rate and survive. The oiled ducks ate less than normal, didn’t keep up their metabolic rate, lost a lot of heat, and “didn’t fair well.”
The lesson to be learned is that in very cold weather your ducks should always have access to plenty of food; they absolutely need it!
I have heard of practices where people will remove food from the pen (usually at night) because they can’t keep the duck’s water from freezing. Reason being, a duck can choke on its food if it isn’t able to drink while eating. You should do everything possible to provide your ducks with access to food and water for as much of the day and night if possible- they really need it!
This brings up another point: how do you keep a tub of water from freezing in the middle of winter?!
Preventing Duck Water From Freezing
For the 2013/2014 winter, we used a metal feed pan (just big enough for the ducks to submerge their heads in) sitting in a heated bird bath (heated bird bath itself wasn’t deep enough for them). This worked great, but our bird bath pooped out at the end of last winter.
We started the 2014/2015 winter with a metal pan on top of a heated base unit (made for a chicken gravity waterer). This didn’t work at all. The water on the very bottom stayed liquid, but the top couple inches froze solid; not powerful enough.
Finally we found something that works great! We are using a small tank/bird bath heater (this exact one) in a rubber tub, like this one. Works like a charm! Even on -20 degree F nights, the water still stays thawed.
Our 2013/2014 Duck Survivability Stats
Well, we officially made it through our first homestead winter in Wisconsin, and our first winter with ducks. So, to add our own personal duck data to the pool…
This winter was, um, cold to say the least. -20 and -30 degree F nights were the norm. Our five ducks share a small, batten-board style house that is made of recycled deck boards and reclaimed wood. There is an East-facing door open all the time and the inside of the house is lined with a thick layer of straw… which they make quick work of pooping all over and packing down. Overall the house is solid, and although I haven’t personally spent time in it, I would say it is not too drafty.
We will safely say that our ducks could withstand -20 degrees F for several days in a row. (There were several nights where the wind chill was in the -40 to -50 degree F range!)
The ducks did hunker down in their straw-lined house, only coming out on occasion for a quick meal. Although the cold did seem to crush their duck-spirits a little bit, they survived just fine and even managed to grow (they were teenagers at the beginning of winter). In fact, we got our first egg on a -15 degree F morning! Cold shmold, say the ducks.
Do you have any duck-winter-survivability stories or tips?
What is the coldest your flock has taken?
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