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For me, raising baby ducks is a sure-fire sign spring has arrived. I have spent over 20 years breeding and raising ducks, and over those years I have successfully raised countless broods of baby ducklings, sometimes bought in as day-old ducklings, other times hatched from my own eggs.
Every year my small barn becomes a hive of duck, chicken, and quail raising activity, with brooders on almost every surface.
When I give duck breeding talks at shows around the country, there is one question that comes up a lot, and that is ‘Do ducklings need a heat lamp?’.
All ducklings being raised artificially (without a mother duck) will require an additional heat source until they are around 6 weeks old. The heat source can be in the form of a heat lamp, a heat plate, or a heated pad. Baby ducks need to be kept at around 85°F to 90°F (29.5°C to 30°C).
Do Ducklings Need A Heat Lamp?
When ducklings are born, they have that famous, soft yellow and black plumage that makes them so adorable.
The feathers a duckling is born with are not designed to keep the little birds warm, that is the job of the mother duck.
In the wild, or in captivity when ducklings are hatched naturally with a mother duck, the mother duck continues to sit on the newly hatched ducklings for the first few weeks of their lives.
Even once the ducklings reach 4 or 5 weeks old, and are too large for the mother duck to physically sit on, she will take them under her wing, continuing to share her body heat with her ducklings.
When we raise ducklings without a mother duck, we need to replace the body heat she would share with her brood, and we typically do this using heat lamps, heat plates, or heat mats.
Over the years I have tried pretty much every chick heating device on the market, and in my experience, a heat plate suspended on legs, like the Rural365 from Amazon.com is the best way to provide your baby ducks with the warmth they need.
What Temperature Do Ducklings Need To Be?
When ducklings first hatch, they have no insulating feathers at all. They are totally exposed and reliant on an outside source of heat.
As the ducklings get older, that need for heat is reduced. By the age of 6 or 7 weeks old, ducklings generally no longer need supplementary heat, but that does of course depend on local weather conditions and the ambient temperature where the duckling are living.
The table below gives a very rough guide to the heat requirements of ducklings for the first 6 weeks of their lives.
|1 Week old||85°F to 90°F (29.5°C to 30.0°C)|
|2 Weeks old||82°F to 85°F (27.5°C to 29.5°C)|
|3 Weeks old||78°F to 82°F (25.5°C to 27.5°C)|
|4 Weeks old||73°F to 78°F (22.5°C to 25.5°C)|
|5 Weeks old||68°F to 73°F (20.0°C to 22.5°C)|
|6 Weeks old||64°F to 68°F (17.5°C to 20.0°C)|
Clearly, the temperatures suggested above are purely a guide, and there is no need to meticulously check the temperature each day.
Providing your ducklings have the ability to move in and out of the heated zone as they need to, they will be fine. Ducklings seem to be able to tell instinctivly when they need to be in the warm and when they do not.
Using a heat plate like the one above also allows you to adjust the height of the plate. Each week I raise my heat plates with a single click, meaning even as the ducklings grow, they can still comfortably fit under the heat plate.
A similar thing is possible when using a heat lamp by simply raising the heat lamp by 1″ to 2″ (2.5cm to 5.0cm) each week.
Can Ducklings Get Too Hot?
The simple answer here is yes, ducklings can get too hot. Without any jokes intended, a duckling that can not get out of the heat will slowly cook!
It is extremely important that ducklings can move in and out of the heat source as required. I have spoken to numerous first-time duck keepers over the years who have kept their ducklings in a very small brooder with a heat lamp suspended above, meaning there was no way the ducklings could not get out of the heat if they were too hot.
Overheating is a surprisingly common reason ducklings die.
Do Ducklings Need A Heat lamp At Night?
Yes, ducklings will need a heat lamp at night. In fact, it is generally even more important that ducklings have access to a heat lamp at night as that is typically when temperatures are at their lowest.
If you are on your A-game you might want to reduce the temperature of the heat source by a degree or two at night. This practice is recommended in a few old-school books on raising ducklings.
However, I have never really found this to be necessary. I keep the same temperature for my ducklings day and night.
Do Ducklings Need A Heat Lamp In The Summer?
In my experience, ducklings should have access to a heat lamp, no matter what season it is. Providing your ducklings can move in and out of the heated zone as and when they need to, it does not matter how warm the summer day is.
It is better to have a heat lamp running and the ducklings not need to use it, than the other way around and your ducklings end up freezing to death.
Bear in mind, that even on a warm day, a garage, barn, or basement can still be fairly cool, meaning the ducklings do not have sufficient warmth to be happy.
Can You Raise Ducklings Without a Heat lamp?
There are many reasons people may wish to raise their ducklings without using a heat lamp. The potential fire risk is one good reason, as is the additional cost of running a heat source 24 hours a day for 6 weeks.
There is some evidence that you can raise ducklings without a heat source, but it is generally agreed your duckling survival rate will be lower than if you were using a heat source.
Using a feather duster is one way to raise ducklings without a heat source. The theory is that by suspending a large feather duster just above the floor of the brooder, all the ducklings will congregate under the duster, sharing their body heat with one another.
Keeping lots of ducklings in a very small space is another suggestion that is often banded around. Again, the theory is the ducklings have little choice but to be on top of each other, again, sharing body heat.
The only really credible suggestion I have heard for raising ducklings without a heat lamp is to use one or more hot water bottles filled with boiling water. I have used this technique during a power outage in the past, but it does require a lot of work by the homesteader. The hot water bottle must not be allowed to run cold, otherwise, the ducklings may get too cold.
Does the light from the heat lamp matter?
In my experience, ducklings do not seem to be bothered whether they are raised with a heat lamp (which gives off some red light) or a heat plate that gives off no light at all.
Ducklings do eat and drink during the night if there is a light source, so do bear that in mind if you are using a heat lamp rather than a heat plate.
Weaning Ducklings Off A Heat Source
One mistake that is frequently made by those new to raising ducklings is not weaning the ducklings off the heat source.
It is bad practice to give your ducklings heat 24 hours a day for 6 weeks, then suddenly switch that heat source off one day.
It is far better to reduce the temperature of the heat source each week, as per the table above, and then in weeks 7 and 8, after the ducklings are fully feathered, perhaps revert to only using the heat at night.
That way, the ducklings will begin to harden up prior to going and living out in the world without supplementary heat.
Duckling Heat Lamp Frequently Asked Questions
Over the years I have raised many, many ducklings, and if there is one thing I can say for certain it is that ducklings raised without a mother duck do require an additional heat source.
It does not matter to the ducklings what that heat source is, providing it gives them a constant temperature.
You can use a heat lamp, a heat plate, a heat mat, or even a collection of hot water bottles. Providing the temperature stays around the 85°F to 90°F (29.5°C to 30°C) mark the ducklings will be happy.
If you found this article helpful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘How Much Space Do Ducks Need?‘.
- A Guide to Duck Shelters for Winter backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com
- Beginners Guide to Raising Ducklings fresheggsdaily.blog
- Raising Ducks U.S Department of Agriculture