Cold Ducks: Keeping ducks in winter weather

ducks in snow

by Victoria Redhed Miller

We have raised laying ducks for nearly six years now, and one of the things we are asked about most frequently is how to care for ducks in the wintertime. We live in the foothills of Washington State’s Olympic Mountains, at an elevation of 1000 feet. We get a fair amount of snow each winter, sometimes being snowed in for a week or more at a time. Most commonly our low temperatures are in the teens and twenties between late November and mid-March. Currently we have a laying duck flock of about 30 Khaki Campbells. We started out with Khaki Campbells and Blue Swedish ducks, both of which are quite cold-hardy. While most ducks do well in cold weather, it’s a good idea to choose a type known to be hardy in your particular climate. Other things to keep in mind about keeping ducks in the winter are similar to considerations for other poultry types: housing, feed and water. Let’s look at each of these.


First, housing and shelter. While ducks are very hardy, they do need shelter from the weather. They don’t mind being out in the rain, but high winds, sleet and ice storms, and heavy snowfall are very stressful for ducks. Our ducks are out on pasture during the day, but they all go into their respective coops at night. They often sleep during the day, and they prefer to be under some kind of cover, such as under a car or a dense bush. We’re often asked if it’s OK to leave ducks out on the pond to more or less fend for themselves. Sure, you can do that, but keep a few things in mind: Ducks are more vulnerable to predators, especially hawks and eagles, when they’re on a pond. If the pond freezes over, they won’t have access to as much food as usual. And of course, if they have no coop or shelter, collecting their eggs will be very difficult. Because your ducks will be in their coops for longer hours at this time of year, it’s very important to keep the coops clean and dry. I toss in some fresh bedding at least every other day, and our smaller duck coops are cleaned out completely about twice a month.

duck in shelter

Second, feed. Ducks have relatively short legs, so if your ducks free-range like ours, plan to help them a little when you have snow on the ground. We have four feeding stations for our birds, and when there is more than about 4 inches of snow, we sweep or shovel paths between the coops and the feeding stations. A broom works well for this if the snow is dry. Normally at this time of year, adult ducks are either still moulting or have recently finished their moult. It’s important to keep up the protein intake; feathers are about 85% protein, so your birds will benefit from extra protein while they grow out their new feathers. And although their egg-laying does slow down or stop during the winter, I recommend continuing to supplement their feed with extra calcium, such as crushed oyster shell. When the weather is especially cold, we like to give our ducks a bedtime snack of cracked corn, about an hour or so before they head into the coops. This gives them an extra boost of carbohydrate, which helps provide extra body heat during the night.

ducks in snow drinking water

Third, what about water? We all know how ducks love water, and not just during warm weather. In addition to the 3-gallon drinkers, we have about 8 tubs of different sizes for the ducks to bathe and splash in. These range from plastic garbage-can lids to a 50-gallon livestock watering tank. The smaller ones get refilled at least once a day; the big tank is refilled every other day. We live off the grid and don’t use electric water heaters, but I hear that they work well. When it gets cold enough here for the water in the tubs to freeze, we’ve found the best strategy is to simply empty them at night and refill them the next morning. Otherwise, we try to position the drinkers and tubs in the sun, and sometimes top them off with a little warm water during the day if temperatures stay below freezing.

One additional tip: Make sure you collect duck eggs promptly. Ducks lay most of their eggs during the night, so we pick up the eggs first thing in the morning, when we let them out. If there is adequate dry bedding in the coop, ducks like to bury their eggs; this helps protect them from the cold as well as hiding them from predators. Still, when the weather is very cold, the eggs can freeze, so pick them up early.

More articles on ducks

Pure Poultry book cover

Victoria Redhed Miller is a writer, photographer and homesteader who lives off-grid on a 40-acre farm in the foothills of Washington’s Olympic Mountains with her husband David. As well as raising heritage chickens, turkeys and ducks, she works towards enhancing her family’s self-sufficiency through gardening, food preservation, craft brewing and distilling, antique repair and restoration, and other traditional skills. Victoria blogs about her experiences at Pot Pies and Egg Money and Canyon Creek Farms. She is the author of Pure Poultry: Living Well With Heritage Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks.

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter!

My weekly newsletter includes recipes and articles on homesteading, raising livestock, health, and gardening.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

58 thoughts on “Cold Ducks: Keeping ducks in winter weather”

  1. Thanks for the information! I am new to poultry raising so I am trying to research as much as possible. May I pin information from your site on Pinterest so I can remember where I found it and refer back to it?

    Reply
      • Hi! We have a trio of khaki campbell ducks that we have had since they were ducklings since April of 2018. I am wondering how they can handle the extreme cold weather, as I live in Pennsylvania and right now temperatures have reached -20F. We keep them in a sort of cage that has two floors. A lower level made of a metal cage material where we keep their food and water, and an upper level that is covered and made of wood that contains a light bulb. The upper level is also where they like to lay their eggs and where we have some hay. However, I believe that they spend more time on the lower floor than the upper floor. I am worried about my ducks. What are the signs that I should be looking for in terms of that they are not doing well? Can they survive this sort of weather?

        Reply
        • Our temps here in Illinois have been -15 to -25 for the past 24 hours, and our ducks are splashing around in the pond and doing fine. Just remember that people have been stealing duck down for centuries to keep ourselves warm. Normally I say that as long as livestock are out of the wind and are kept dry, they’ll be fine, but in the case of ducks, being wet is not a problem either. I actually think they like splashing in the water because it has to be at least 33 degrees (any colder and it is ice), so that’s like a jacuzzi to them now because it is much warmer than the air temp. (We have an aerator that keeps part of our pond from freezing.)

          Reply
          • Thanks so much! Just got 4 swedes and theyre baby chunks rn. It doesnt get too cold unfortunately here but I have to keep them outside because my baby chunkster wants to eat them! The cat who normally kills everything and goes after the big dogs in the neighbourhood is fine with them as is the little dog. My husky is angry at them and wants duck confit. I couldnt find good info on their weather tolereance or needs until i found this page thanks sm!!! I have them in a 9×12 crate but atm theyre sleeping in a medium sized dog crate covered with 5 heavy blankets and warm towels and a dog bed on the inside so theyre definitely fine

      • I have baby pekins they are almost 7 weeks i need them to go outside i cant stand the smell i keeo them clean and they still smell i have them outside today but it is going to get 30 tonight sould i keep the light on them outside in there house my big pekins are fine they are older but they dont like the babys
        Help me i dont know whay to do

        Reply
      • Duck eggs don’t differ much in flavor. “My opinion” some people say they do, what I prefer in duck over chicken eggs is their texture! fried, boiled or poached their yolks stay moist they don’t get that chalky powderyness that chicken eggs do. And fried they have a firmer texture and the yolk isn’t so runny, I like my eggs over medium so they are wonderful for that! Iv not used them in baking yet. That’s my 2 cents!

        Reply
      • Yes, duck eggs taste just like chicken eggs. They are a bit bigger and there is a little more yolk in relation to the white part.

        Reply
    • Yes and no. The yolks are much bigger than chicken eggs, so most people who like yolks will love duck eggs. If you are not a yolk lover, then maybe not so much.

      Reply
    • Eating from a base on the floor allows ducks to swallow directly from the source. A soft mix reduces their mess by stopping the transfer of food and water between two vessels. Keeping a separate waterer is futile with ducks as they muddy it rapidly with food when they attempt to mix the two in their beak. Beaks are hard and not like lips on mammals; they simply can’t keep it in there as it mixes enough for them to swallow.

      Swallowing their food directly from the source means less waste and the ability to add supplements they might otherwise not eat. Our ducks are multi-purpose meat and egg bearing Indian runners. We crush up egg shells I dry from our other birds to a fine powdery crumble and use them as a calcium supplement. They eat every scrap of food I give them including the bits of calcium that tended to sink in their water feeder before I switched to mixed food.

      Reply
  2. Ohhhhh AMAZING! Never even thought of eating a duck egg. I love the yolk. Mmmm!!!
    THANK YOU for responding. Now i have to see if whole foods carries duck eggs. Hahaha!!

    Reply
    • The point of this article is that they do not need any additional heating. If you've ever had a down coat or a down comforter, you have experienced how much insulating power "down" has — and down comes from ducks and geese. Using something like a heat lamp or heat mats simply creates the possibility that you could have a fire, and it is unnecessary for adult ducks.

      Reply
    • Is this true for extremely cold climates as well? I live in northern Minnesota and we have excellent springs/summers/falls, but it can get down to 40 below zero in the winter… Is there maybe a weather temperature that ducks should be cared for with some extra heat?

      Reply
    • I'm assuming that the 40 below is at night when your ducks are in a shelter where they are huddled together with their body heat helping to keep each other warm, while it also raises the temp inside their coop. During the day, you should still open the door so humidity and ammonia can escape. Whether the ducks go outside or not is their choice. If you have windows on the south side of the coop, the sun warms it up during the day. This post on chickens during winter has a lot of information that would also apply to ducks: http://www.homegrownandhandmadethebook.com/2011/11/chickens-in-winter.html

      Reply
      • I suspect that this poster means stretches of -40 +lower & the possibility of windchill day & night. I live on the Canadian prairies not far away from Minnesota and with windchill have seen it get down to -53 in the daylight hours.

        Sometimes extra heat is warranted in these conditions.

        I have found that the lasagna type of bedding seems to help, however (straw, poop, straw, poop, straw) as it helps create an insulating mattress of sorts. But still, extra auxiliary heat (done smart & safe) is sometimes necessary.

        Reply
  3. I have two mallard ducks currently and I am trying to plan ahead for winter in Vermont. I am currently in the process of upgrading their hutch, do you have any recommendations on a size that would be comfortable/warm for two ducks?
    If you want to take a gander I have some pictures up on my blog: http://www.gardenshades.blogspot.com

    Reply
  4. I have a question… i was on vacation for a week and the person who watched my house never picked up my pet duck's eggs and now she is sitting on them and everytime someone goes near them she freaks out. i only have one duck so they aren't fertile eggs. if i get the eggs, is she going to get ill and die over heart break? i'm just afriad she might be very upset and pass away.

    Reply
    • I've never heard of a duck, turkey, or chicken dying because someone took away her eggs. I hate to say anything is impossible, but it is definitely very unlikely. She may continue to sit on the nest though. On the flip side, if you don't take the eggs, they will rot and explode, and you will have a very stinky duck in a few weeks!

      Reply
    • Ducks are very social animals, so although taking away her eggs will not cause her heartbreak, she is probably already very lonely, as it is considered cruel to only keep one duck. I am replying to this only because 2 out of my 3 ducks passed away several days ago, and my surviving duck was immediately upset and it was unpleasant seeing him so lonely.

      Reply
  5. We had 3 ducks last winter in Pennsylvania with no shelter. They splashed around in our pond during the day and huddled together at night until 2 of them disappeared in February (we're thinking a fox). We took the remaining duck (who is reluctant to be in captivity) inside the barn for the remainder of winter with tubs of water for her to play and bathe in. Wondering what I should be considering to do this Winter now that she is alone and it is often pretty difficult getting her into the barn.

    Reply
    • Since ducks are flock animals, this is a tough situation. I'd be more concerned about predators outside than the weather. When they are in groups, they have lots of eyes looking for predators, and they warn each other. With only one, she will probably get picked off easily.

      Reply
  6. Hi! I'm very excited to come across your blog and am going to look for your book! We have a 1-acre property about an hour west of Toronto, Canada, so typically have a good 3 months of hard winter. We have been keeping laying hens for about 10 years. We have a heat-lamp on a thermostat in their coop and we keep it around 0 C so that their water doesn't freeze (it is hanging up high where the chickens roost and lay), and they are a bit more comfortable when it is -20 C for weeks. We introduced 3 Ancona ducks and a drake this summer, and we're really enjoying them! We are concerned about managing their water over the winter, and the coop becoming a slick of ice over the winter months. From what I understand from your post, you find that through the freezing months, just giving the ducks fresh water each morning in a tub of some kind, (that likely will freeze by night) is enough?

    Reply
  7. Hi Donna,
    We don't get as cold as you do in the winter, but we do have challenges with water freezing, especially since we are off the grid and don't use things like heat lamps. We don't keep water in the coops overnight, but our birds free-range during the day; you don't say whether your birds are in the coops or out in the daytime. The first year we had ducks we put the drinkers in the coops overnight, especially in winter when they're in the coops for more hours, but we quit doing that. They tended to make a big mess in the coops splashing water everywhere and didn't seem to actually drink that much. During the day, if the sun is out, we try to move the drinkers around so they stay in the sun, and when it's really cold we empty them all, including the tubs the ducks splash in, and just refill them in the morning. We do check all the tubs and drinkers throughout the day, topping them off (with warm water if necessary) so they always have adequate fresh water. We haven't raised Anconas so I don't know how cold-hardy they are; our Khaki Campbells are small birds but very hardy, and they don't seem to need quite as much water as larger ducks do. I hope this is helpful, if you have any other questions please post them.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your reply. Our chickens and ducks are out during the day, with full range over our property when we're around, and a smaller fenced "barnyard" when we aren't around to keep an eye on them, so giving the ducks access to water during the day should be no problem. We can certainly relate to your ducks splashing most of their water around and it is great to know your girls are doing well without having access to water at night. The first winter with any new addition to our little urban homestead is always interesting, so finding those who have done it before is immensely helpful!

      Reply
    • I live at 2000 ft. In West Virginia and I have 3 300 holden layers, one gander golden, and one Pekin duck. All are under a year old. I have an elevated duck house about 3'X6' and use pine wood chips for litter. It is getting cold here, around 0 F at night and will get colder next month, February. I curled a 40' heat tape under the litter that comes on when freezing, and that's been working well to keep their feet warm. They are put in their at night, out in their pen during the day, I have a nipple waterer in their house on a frame, and they have used it at night with no water mess. Since the temps have been getting single digit, I put a 150 watt ceramic heat lamp aimed at the nipple water bucket and it keeps it defrosted to the single digits. I have set up their food in a plastic goat feeder outside under a roof and it stay dry. Mud is a problem when it thaws, especially under their elevated tub (which they love). I am about to put river rock around the water areas. They love to drill in the mud, but I end up with mud tub, waterers, in everything. They seem to be doing alright in the low temps, they just lay on their feet o stand on one at a time to keep their feet from freezing, or go in their house for awhile. Unfortuntely, I'm not getting eggs right now due to the cold, but expect 4 a day when it warms. They are delicious, great for baking, and about twice the nutrition as chicken eggs. My one-year old grandson lives them. And no antibiotics! The ducks all have their own personalities and are fun to watch.

      Reply
  8. I live in the north east and I have trouble getting my ducks to return to their coop at night. I live on a pond and regardless of the food I offer they seem to choose the pond life over the coop. That's fine except for when winter arrives. They survive the best they can until some predator gets to them

    Reply
    • We have a pond also, and our ducks prefer to stay on the pond, even during the winter. We used to lose a lot of ducks to predators until we put a fence around the back of the pond so that coyotes couldn't just walk up from the woods and snag dinner. It reduced our losses to predators a lot.

      Reply
      • Hi Victoria!
        I’m new to off-grid life and raising ducks, so this post is very helpful! I’ve been getting worried about winter as we live in NW Montana and the large pond the ducks are on now will definitely be freezing over. My biggest concern has been how to provide them with water since it will likely get below freezing at times and our energy supply cannot support de-icers or most any heating element. I didn’t even think about taking the water away at night! Glad to hear that’s okay and works. I feel bad moving them from their pond for the winter since they love it out there so much!

        Reply
  9. This has been very informative! I have just two Pekins, male and female and they have been happy on my small springfed pond this summer. The pond doesn’t freeze in the winter so they will always have open water, but I am trying to design a shelter for the cold weather. I am very concerned about predators since the pond is a water source for a lot of wildlife. Will they be safe from fox and coyotes if they are on the water? Should I put the house at the edge with a fence around it? I was thinking about making their house right in the middle of the pond. She’s not laying yet, but not easy to clean out. Also what source of protein should I feed them in the winter? They seem to survive on foraging right now.

    Reply
    • You should be able to find a grain for waterfowl at your local feed store. I love the idea of putting a house for them in the middle of the pond!

      Reply
  10. We live in Ohio.We put are blue barrel on a large pole with a platform. And a racoon baffle on the pole.Are macovey ducks can come and go and it is next to the pond with open water all year.

    Reply
  11. What temperature should i start building a shelter for my duck? No snow yet, here in Michigan but it is getting pretty cold outside. I have a runner duck. It pretty much stays floating in the pond all day and night. It that ok.??? I’m afraid it will freeze all by itself. Tried to catch it to put in the garage but it runs away and swims to middle of the pond. I don’t know what temperature is too cold with no shelter. We do have bushes around the pond. Is that enough for November weather? I do plan on building a coop but not till this weekend. Scared for the sudden drop in temps this last couple of days.

    Reply
    • We’ve had ducks splashing around in the pond when temperatures are below zero. Remember, if you have a way to keep your pond from freezing (such as an aerator) the water temperature won’t be any colder than 33 degrees, regardless of how cold the air is.

      Reply
  12. I am new to ducks, living in northern new england, and they are free range. They go in at night, my issue is they seem to be off their food. I have always given them green peas for treats but its all they are eating. Any one have any suggestions, I am going through 10 lbs of peas a week. They meal worms are to expensive to use other than an occassional treat. I have been feeding an organic duck feed from our local farm store and they just push it around and with no bugs or foliage to munch on

    Reply
  13. Is this posting board still open?
    If it is I’m looking for help. A Cayuga duck arrived here in southeastern Wisconsin this spring and has been around all year so far.
    It doesn’t appear to be hetting ready to leave this fall/winter.
    It hung around with a couple other ducks which have since departed , for warmer climates?
    I’m concerned it will attempt to stay around and am wondering if I should build/buy a shelter for winter and provide some heated wate bowls and food stations?
    If you think my concerns are valid have you any information or suggestions for “houses” that allow protection from predators, such as multiple entrances/exits, or water and food providing methods?
    And maybe straw to provide comfort areas?
    Thanks for listening – if anyone is listening…
    Any local sources for help?
    Roger – Hales Corners Wisconsin

    Reply
    • Domesticated ducks have no instinct to head south for the winter. If you don’t have a pond with an aerator to keep from freezing, then the duck will need a source of water, especially when there is no snow. Our ducks don’t bother going into shelters, even in the coldest winter, but they have a pond to stay on, which keeps them safe from predators. Is this duck friendly enough that you could lure it into a shelter? Unless you are closing up the shelter every night, you do need to have more than one opening so that a predator would be less likely to be able to corner it in there.

      Reply
    • Strongly recommend the book Duck Eggs Daily if you’re keeping the Cayuga – it’s a great intro including with details on housing, etc. You may have a duck on your hands who has either escaped their flock or been left behind by an owner since it sounds like it could be domesticated – we have heard stories in our neighborhood of Mallards, because they can still fly, occasionally go “visit” other yards.

      Reply
  14. Hi,
    I live in northern NY- about 3 hours north of the city. So winters get pretty cold here ( I assume, it’ll be my first). I have raised adult ducks before so I understand their strong ability to get through winter. Though 2 of my 3 ducks died recently and I am getting a shipment of baby ducks coming in November 20th. My loner duck is quite depressed and I need to get her friends asap. When is it safe to put my baby ducks outside? Most articles only talk about spring time and letting them out once they lose all their baby feathers and grow in their adult feathers. Is this still accurate for harsh winters?? Basically at what age is it safe to put the babys outside for day play and for good?

    Thanks for your time 🙂

    Reply
    • I really don’t know when would be a good time in this situation. “Fully feathered” doesn’t mean the same thing in spring as it does in the middle of winter. I’ve never tried anything like this. You’ll just have to play it by ear.

      Reply
    • We are in Oregon where the winters are milder so our ducklings went into their run at 3 weeks (late March) and started free ranging a week or two later after they acclimated to the coop. In “real” winter states like yours I’d wait longer. Our ducks still had their peachfuzz for a month or so longer but spring was mild here so they did just fine 🙂

      Reply
  15. As a city duck owner I will say that folks should absolutely put their ducks away at night. We let our girls free range during the day but at dusk they always go into their enclosed run with coop that has 1/4″ hardware cloth buried 6″ deep and on the roof as well to keep them safe from raccoons who are known to kill ducks and chickens at night (the biggest mistake many do is get chicken wire which raccoons can stick their evil little hands through and grab a duck, they’re horrible), not to mention keep out rats and mice who will take advantage of the bedding and food. (We always keep their food locked up in the enclosed run rather than give them access to that during the day as it gets them to easily come back into their run for “dinner” after snacking all day…otherwise it’s like herding cats to get them to come back!).

    Reply
  16. Can our Khaki Campbell duck stay outside during the cold months? We live in ohio & was wondering how cold is to cold. He has free range of the yard all day & at night we put him away in his coop

    Reply
    • Yes, you really need to let him continue to go outside during the winter. They need fresh air. Have you ever had a down coat or a down comforter? Down comes from ducks and geese. They’re much warmer than you are outside, even when you’re cheating and using their down. 😉 Our ducks continue to splash on the pond, even when it’s below 0 outside. (The pond doesn’t freeze because it has an aerator in it.)

      Reply
      • Thanks. So I should keep her pool filled up also? Even if it continues to freeze? Where else can I get info to keep her warm & healthy all winter

        Reply
        • She has to have water to drink, and if she doesn’t have a pool, she’ll probably find something to splash around in. Maybe get a 2-gallon heated bucket so that it doesn’t freeze? You’ll still need to change the water every day to keep it clean, but at least you won’t have to thaw it every day.

          Reply
  17. ok for one ive lived in northern alberta and british Columbia these are two provences in Canada equivalent to a state just much much larger for americans who don’t know this sorry to patronize those few that do any way to the point is in my 27 years of living in the far north country ive never seen it ever once get to -57 that’s incredibly cold even with wind chill ive only ever heard of it hitting the -50s in the artic on the firkin tundra witch is for lack of a better way to describe its like a reverse desert barren frozen wasteland nothing but rock snow the odd tree hardly tho some caraboo rocky hills and wolverines the most god darn deadly creature the earth knows the only thing a grizly will change course to avoid crossing paths with pound for pound the most ornery beast that ever did live I love them my favriot critter hands down any way this is about ducks and the cold ive seen ducks liuve in the park all bloody winter in the interior of bc the geese and ducks fly formation then land promptly lol quite the show of effort they at least do the drill even if they only fly 1000 feet point is they don’t seem to care about the cold much cuz even tho in those parts of bc it only sees -30 for maybe a few weeks they stick round so if your iun the states I’m guessing its gonna be warm enoughif you give them a bit of cover or whatever

    Reply
  18. I have four pekins that are put I into an enclosed run with a coop at night. Do i need to force them into the coop during th winter? There is an area of the run that has a roof and wind block. The ducks do go in the coop to lay eggs but I have not seen them sleep in it over night. I just assume they will go in when they feel the need.

    Reply
    • The tend to know where they need to be. For example, last year when we had 36 hours of temperatures that were 15 to 25 degrees BELOW zero, our ducks pretty much stayed on the pond. If you think about it, that was like a jacuzzi for them because the water around the aerator was 33 degrees, which was 50 degrees warmer than the air temp.

      Reply
  19. How big of a duck coop do I need for a set of (1Pekin duck, 1Pekin drake, and 1 Rouen duck)? Then I also have (3 Ancona ducks and 1 Ancona drake) that are kept separate from the other 3 ducks o keep their eggs pure. I’m about to build a new run/ duck house that is divided down the center. So they are all together but apart at the same time. Or should I keep them in separate houses and runs alltogether insted of a split pen?

    Reply
    • We don’t keep our ducks in a coop because we have a pond, so they spend most of their time out there. They even sleep out there, especially in the winter when it’s cold. If you are planning to breed, you only need to keep the Anconas separated while you’re collecting eggs for hatching. It doesn’t matter how far apart they are, so either of you ideas would work. Ducks are so incredibly gross with water, which is why I would personally never have ducks without a pond, so basically you need to make the coop as big as you can, just assuming that they will make a huge mess with their water, which means ice in winter and mud the rest of the year.

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Join me online