From falcons and eagles to doves and, yes, turkeys (at least according to Benjamin Franklin in 1776), we like to imagine birds as symbols of freedom. The most obvious reason for this is that we are stuck trudging and tramping across the ground while with a flap of their wings birds can go skyward. Eagles and falcons are symbols of state power, doves of love, turkeys win Ben’s vote of approval as “the truly noble bird” due to its Native American origin and understated bravery, and ducks are beloved by sports fans from Oregon to Anaheim.
But whether they’re national symbols or state mascots, all birds deserve freedom to roam, which begs the question – just how much space do ducks need? You don’t want your ducks to feel cramped, but that doesn’t mean that you want or can afford to give your ducks a palace or thousands of feet of fields.
So how much space is right, both indoors and out, and what are some of the best ways of maximizing space while minimizing costs?
A Lack of Space
Why is it so important for your ducks to have a lot of space in the first place? You can probably sense that it’s just not right for a pet to be crammed into a tiny cage, and you’d be right, but it’s worth noting some of the actual potential ramifications of doing so. The best way to think of this is to imagine what ducks need – and then imagine them without it.
For example, ducks need to dip their heads in water, and not just to take a drink. They need space to dunk their heads underwater to forage for insects and water plants as well as clean out dirt and other particulates that might get stuck in their nostrils. That’s not just annoying, but hazardous to their health, and so the funny sight of ducks dipping their heads underwater and blowing out again is also essential to their health.
But what if they don’t have enough space to dip and wash their heads? What if they don’t have enough space to bathe and forage? What if they aren’t able to socialize with other ducks? A lack of adequate space will leave your ducks filthy, foul-tempered, and eventually in fast-declining health.
While it is essential that your ducks get enough space in whatever coop, pen, cage, or other enclosure in which you choose to keep them, you’ll also probably want them to spend some time outside. That said, there is a big difference between a short break outside and free ranging, which is the epitome of outside space.
There are many advantages of free ranging your ducks, not the least of which being allowing your ducks to forage for bugs and grasses. These can provide a nice supplement to duck feed and thus help your ducks maintain a more nutritious and overall balanced diet. You can do this without giving your ducks lots of space in which to free range, of course, but why pay for extra bugs and grass when nature can provide them in abundance?
In addition, just as dogs need to time outside as you take them for a walk, ducks can also benefit from the exercise they can get from being allowed to stretch their little legs whilst free ranging. This, in turn, can help increase your duck’s lifespan by helping them become stronger and prevent conditions such as obesity. It may be funny to think of your little ball of feathers as “obese,” but it won’t be when your duck is suffering the consequences, including heart problems an egg production. Providing your duck with enough space in which to roam now can help prevent health conditions later.
Then there is the fact that giving your duck lots of space in which to free range and forage for bugs can help you cut down on the latter.
Finally, there’s the fact that giving your ducks room to roam via free ranging can impact their behavior and your landscape. When ducks don’t have space to walk around, they may instead decide that it’s time to dig or eat more, which in turn can deplete the soil or cause a big mess. On the other hand, by providing them with enough space outside, your duck will be less likely to continue wallowing and digging in place and more likely to enjoy the benefits mentioned above.
Indoor Space Measurements and Considerations
While there aren’t necessarily “requirements” that are standardized for outdoor spaces, indoor spaces tend to be a bit more exact in how much space should be offered for each duck and, indeed, a group of ducks if you choose to keep more than one in the same space.
When determining the dimensions of an indoor cage or coop, you’ll need to consider several factors, starting with the flooring on which they rest. Duck houses can be situated on different kinds of flooring, from wooden to cement. The most important thing is that however much space you afford your ducks, you give predators no space to slip underneath and into the coop. You’ll likewise want to make sure you have bedding of pine shavings, straw (which ducks prefer due to their insulating abilities), or something similar. Make sure that the bedding isn’t wet or soiled, as that’s a good way to trap disease and disgusting odors and buildups of mold and bacteria, all of which can harm your ducks.
Now let’s get to more precise spacing requirements.
If you supply your ducks with nesting boxes, you’ll want to make sure that they are at least 14 square inches in size and filled with clean shavings or straw. You’ll also want to make sure that the boxes are a couple inches apart so as to make sure that your ducks aren’t right on top of each other.
Another reason to allow for this degree of space between ducks is ventilation. The more you cram your ducks together, the greater the risk they can infect one another – if one gets a disease, they’ll all get it. Ducks can give off a lot of moisture when breathing, and so if they are packed close together, it can lead to them suffering all kinds of conditions that come with that, including transmission of diseases that are transmitted via water particles in the air, moldy conditions, and even frostbite.
Ideally, you should plan on having at least 4 to 6 square feet worth of space for an adult duck, and 1.5 square feet is necessary for ducks who are preparing to lay eggs.
How big of a space should you provide overall? That will depend on how many ducks you have. It is advisable that you provide at least 3 to 5 square feet per duck, so if you have a lot of ducks, you could be talking about building a pretty big coop. That is just a baseline – at the maximum, you may be talking about adding as much as 15 square feet per duck. That said, the more space, the better. If the pen or coop is too small, you can run into problems such as those described above. As such, it is always on the safer side to build coops bigger rather than smaller. You don’t want your ducks to be crammed and lacking in space, and you definitely don’t want to have to build a larger coop and spend even more money once you realize that the first one is inadequate.
Be safe, start big, and give your ducks plenty of space.
Finally, let’s touch on how much space a duckling should have. Naturally, ducklings are a lot smaller than adults and so they require less space, but that doesn’t mean that you can cram them together, and you should of course account for the fact that ducklings grow up fast.
At a minimum, you should give ducklings that are three weeks old at least 1 square foot of space, and that should be extended to 5 square feet if they are part of a larger group. As they reach one to two months old, they will need at least 3 square feet of space. By the time they are about three to four months old, they should have a minimum of 2.5 square feet, and by the time they are 18 weeks, 4 square feet should be the norm. This should remain the size standard into sexual maturity. As mentioned above, ducks need a bit more space when laying their eggs, so you’ll want to make sure that they have at least 4 square feet and probably a bit more to ensure they are comfortable.
Making sure that your ducks have enough space is an essential component to their health, happiness, and wellbeing as egg producers. From allowing your ducks the opportunity to free range to providing them with plenty of space within their coop, these tips can help ensure that your ducks have the space and freedom they need and deserve so they can thrive.