Free range ducks are happy ducks! When we first started raising ducks, we didn’t let the ducks roam the farm. We didn’t feel that the property was set up for free range ducks. The poultry area backs up to woods. Woods, where raccoon, fox and an occasional coyote make their homes. Eventually we gradually began letting the ducks and chickens out of their pens for free ranging. Other property modifications were made to add safety for the free range ducks.
Free Range Ducks
I started raising ducks years ago, for eggs and to hopefully hatch some ducklings! We have been fairly successful on both goals. The hens are very reliable layers and although our broody hen failed to set long enough to hatch out the ducklings, we did hatch four in the incubator. Ducks get along well together even though I do notice some inner cliques among the ducks we had first.
Our ducks live in a rather large duck complex with a large building with two attached covered runs, two pools and all you can eat buffet of duck food and bugs. I brought in grass, weeds, vegetables and meal worms regularly to supplement. All was well, but after visiting a friend’s home and seeing her ducks free ranging during the day, I had a strong urge to let the ducks taste some freedom.
Being surrounded by woods and woodland creatures, I was still hesitant to let them roam too freely. I set up a large perimeter using a mesh poultry fence. It’s a pretty classy set up, but they were just having too much fun in the fall leaves to notice the boundaries. At first, our dog was concerned that I may have lost my mind. He tried to tell me that the ducks were out roaming around!
Our Free Range Ducks Today
So, yes, the ducks have had the opportunity to free range the poultry area. The area is large and the ducks respected the mesh fencing. The mesh fencing won’t keep out predators but it will slow the predator down, giving us more time to react. In addition, when I leave the farm, the ducks must return to their duck house and duck runs. I don’t think I will ever become comfortable with them free ranging the property while I am not watching out for predators.
Why Let Them Be Free Range Ducks?
There’s no arguing with the evidence that free range ducks are happy ducks. What other benefits are there in free ranging ducks?
Ducks Need Protein
Bugs and grasses are the ideal food for ducks. Duck pellets are a nutritiously balanced diet, however, ducks allowed to free range, choose the balance of protein, minerals, and vitamins. Free range ducks have low incidence of abnormal wing and bone development such as Angel Wing.
Ducks Need Exercise
Letting the ducks out to roam lets them move around more than they will in the pen. Doing so will decrease duck obesity. Did you even know that was an issue? Domestic breeds of ducks were intended to be used for meat. They gain weight quickly which is optimal if you are raising meat for your family or market. However, many of us also keep domestic ducks for pets and for egg production. Obesity will lead to other health problems in your duck. Foraging and free ranging for food is a healthy option. Calories are burned as the duck enjoys the found morsels. Always supplement with a high quality duck ration when the ducks are in their coop and pen. Ducks that are laying will need the extra nutrition and calcium.
Ducks are great at clearing out pesky larvae, grubs and beetles. Insects are a protein packed snack and apparently very tasty. Letting the ducks free range around the garden will help with the pesky insect damage. Of course, they will also help themselves to your tasty vegetables if you don’t take precautions or supervise the free ranging in the garden.
Damage to Lawn and Grass is Much Less
There is less lawn damage when the ducks are free ranging. When we put up the pens around the duck house, the area was grassy. Not long after, the area was a mud pit when it rained. Having nowhere to roam, the ducks just continued to dig for insects in the same spot and eat every bit of green vegetation. Since we started letting them free range for a good portion of the day, they rarely make a mess except close to the swimming pools.
When I leave the farm, the ducks must go back into the enclosed runs. We just have too many hawks, racoons and foxes around to leave them out in the open. For now they will have to be content with this step. It may be all I can bring myself to do in our setting. I realize a lot of people have totally free range ducks but I think its important to remember that everyone has a different comfort level on the topic of free ranging poultry. Each farm or homestead has a different set up, too. For now, I am happy that the ducks can have some free ranging time.