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Keeping ducks, chickens and quails has been a passion of mine for well over 20 years, and during that time I have kept, bred, and entered hundred of different birds into shows.
I think it is fair to say duck keeping is becoming more and more popular, with thousands of people discovering the hobby each year.
These days I spend much of my time giving talks at clubs and shows around the country. Recently I have had a lot of questions based on duck coops and houses, so I thought I would cover some of the most important points people should consider before buying or building a duck coop.
When we are first thinking about buying or building a duck coop, I believe there are 10 fundamental things we need to consider. I have listed out each of those 10 things, and then I look at them in more detail below.
1. Where to place a duck coop?
When it comes to us homesteaders deciding where to live, location is everything. As the old saying goes, when it comes to property, the three most important things to consider are location, location, location!
The same is true when it comes to deciding where to locate your duck coop.
In my experience, there are 4 things you need to consider when trying to decide where to locate your duck coop.
Firstly, how close to your own house can the duck coop be? Generally speaking, the closer you put the duck coop to your own home, the less likely predators are to approach the duck coop (predators typically fear humans), and the more like you are to visit your ducks on a regular basis.
If the duck coop is just outside your own back door, you are more likely to pop out and throw the ducks some scraps from the kitchen. No one wants to walk half a mile with a bowl of leftover salad leaves.
The duck coop should also be located in shade, at least for part of the day. Duck coops are typically made of wood, metal, or plastic, and all three heat up internally pretty quickly if they are in full sun all day long.
When you can, place the duck coop in shade cast by a large tree or the side of your house or barn. Ducks will appreciate some sun, but they don’t want it beating down on them all day long.
You should also try to site your duck coop so the main entrance does not face the prevailing wind. Ducks do not like to be in a draught, and if the prevailing wind howls in through the entrance of the coop, the ducks will be unhappy.
Finally, consider placing the duck coop as close to the compost pile as you can. Soiled duck bedding makes fantastic compost for your vegetables, and the closer the duck coop is, the more inclined you will be to throw your used duck coop bedding onto the compost pile.
2. What size should a duck coop be?
Once you have narrowed down the location of your new duck coop, deciding what size the coop should be is your next consideration.
To my mind, each duck is going to need around 3 to 5 sqft of floor space. This means a small flock of 6 ducks will require a coop with at least 18sqft (1.65sqM) of usable floor space. A coop measuring around 3′ x 6′ (0.9m x 1.8m) is about the minimum size I would consider keeping a flock of 6 ducks in.
Unlike chickens, who roost up on roosting bars, ducks sleep directly on the floor of the coop, and as such, each duck needs its own floor space.
Of course, the more space you can give your ducks the better. If they are having to sleep practically on top of one another, there is a greater chance of bickering and fighting between the ducks.
If possible, always give your ducks more space rather than less.
3. What Should a Duck Coop Be Made Of?
Ok, so we have coop location and size sorted, the next question is what should a duck coop be made of?
Over the years I have housed my ducks in purpose-built duck coops and homemade coops. Both have their pros and cons, and both will depend on your budget and your DIY skill levels.
Essentially there are 3 main materials a coop can be made from, and they are wood, metal, and plastic. There are probably other options on the market, but these 3 are the most popular.
Wooden coops tend to be good at keeping cool in the summer and warmer in the winter, although they will usually need treating with some sort of weatherproofing paint, stain, or oil. Typically a wooden coop is cheap to buy but requires ongoing maintenance.
Plastic coops tend to be a little more expensive than wooden ones, but normally do not require any ongoing maintenance. Plastic coops are often easier to clean than wooden ones as they can be hosed down both internally and externally when they are dirty.
The one major downside with most plastic coops is they do become brittle over time. I have owned a number of Omlet coops, and they are excellent, but even they do become brittle after being exposed to the sun year after year.
The final material coops are occasionally made of is metal. Metal coops are incredibly durable, although they also tend to be very expensive.
Metal coops are also well known to heat up quickly in the sun, and cool down very quickly in the winter weather.
To date, I have not used any duck coops made of metal.
4. Duck Coop Ventilation
Ducks are not the cleanest of birds. They will happily poop in their coops, and they frequently poop during the night. Coops are also typically shut at night to keep predators out.
These factors combine to make for a stuffy, stale environment inside the coop which is an ideal place for mold and fungus to develop.
As such it is essential that a duck coop has sufficient ventilation to prevent a build-up of stale, stagnant air.
Those who are new to the world of chicken and duck keeping often confuse the duck’s need to be in a draught-free space with the fact they need ventilation. A draught and ventilation are not the same things.
A draught typically blows into the coop and around the ducks, making them uncomfortable, whereas ventilation is usually higher in the coop, often in the roof space, drawing out the stale, warm air and replacing it with fresh, cooler air.
When buying or building my own duck coops, ventilation is always high on my agenda. The vents should be large enough the let ample air flow through, but not so large that small predators can get in. Snakes and rats especially can get through the smallest of gaps.
5. How large should a duck coop entrance be?
Ducks are large-bodied birds and they are also fairly clumsy. They literally waddle rather than walk gracefully.
When deciding on the size entrance for a duck house, you first need to consider what breed of duck you are hoping to keep. Small bantam ducks will clearly fit through a smaller door than some of the larger, heavier breeds.
As a rough guide, I like to ensure the entrance to any duck coop I build or buy is at least 12″ to 14″ (30cm to 35cm) wide and 14″ (35cm) high. These dimensions will work well for just about every duck breed.
Ideally, the entrance to the duck coop will be at ground level, but if it is elevated then consideration should also be given to how the ducks will enter and exit the coop.
Unlike chickens, who have strong, flexible feet, ducks can not climb ladders or go up very steep slopes. The higher the coop is off the ground, the longer the ramp will need to be, otherwise, the ducks, who may well have wet feet when they go to bed, will simply slip back down the ramp.
6. Duck Coops Should Be Easy To Clean
Another element of a duck house that is frequently overlooked by those new to the hobby is the ease with which the coop can be cleaned.
Ducks are messy birds that frequently poop in their own bedding. They also often come to bed with wet, muddy feet, spoiling their bedding further.
You will want to clean your duck’s coop out at least once a week, and maybe even more frequently. Believe me, from personal experience, the harder it is to clean a coop out, the less inclined you will be to do it.
I like a coop that has either a side or large hatch that opens to allow me plenty of access for cleaning. If the only access to the coop is the door, you will struggle to clean all the old bedding out properly.
If you can build or buy a walk-in coop, cleaning will be so much easier.
Coops that are made of plastic are usually easier to clean than wooden ones as you can easily hose down the inside of a plastic coop, or spray and wipe it. This is not so easy with a wooden coop.
If your coop is made of wood, consider painting the inside with an animal-safe paint or wood stain. It will usually make the wood less likely to absorb liquids from the duck’s poop, and also make it easier to clean.
7. Duck Coop Bedding and Nesting
The next element to consider is nesting. Ducks do not nest in nestboxes like a chicken might, and they also do not sleep high up on roosting bars, again as chickens do.
Ducks choose to sleep, nest, and lay their eggs on the floor of the coop. As such, they must be provided with sufficient space.
As mentioned in the second point on my list ‘What size should a duck coop be?’, each duck will need around 3sqft to 5sqft of floor space for sleeping and nesting.
If your coop is large enough for the number of ducks, then they will work out the rest themselves. Typically, you end up with 6 ducks all piled in one corner with two-thirds of the coop empty, but that’s ducks for you!
The bedding itself can be anything that is soft and absorbent. Over the years I have used shredded straw, corn husks, and hay, but I currently use cross-shredded paper. It is super absorbent, it composts down quickly in my compost pile and most importantly, it is free from a local office in my town.
Remember, ducks are messy birds and you will want to change their bedding at least once a week, and in the winter when they walk in with their ever muddy feet, you may need to change it more frequently, so choose a bedding material that is readily available and does not break the bank.
8. A Duck Coop Must Be predator-proof!
It seems there is no shortage of potential predators waiting to take one of your ducks. Depending on where you live, you might have to contend with snakes, rats, bobcats, wild dogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks, mink, and even mountain lions!
It is extremely important that your duck coop is as predator-proof as you can make it.
The walls and roof should be strong so that a large predator can not just bite through them. The door should have a sturdy lock on it so that it can not just be pulled open, and there should be no large gaps that a rat or snake, or even a mink can pass through into the coop.
If you are repurposing a chicken coop, make sure the nestbox’s lid is firmly shut, as this is an access point for predators that frequently gets overlooked. Raccoons are smart and they can easily find a way in through a door or flap that has a simple latch on it.
As ducks will not use the nest boxes that typically come on a chicken coop, maybe even consider screwing the nestbox flap down so no predators can use it as an easy back door to the duck coop.
Your ducks will almost certainly be at their most vulnerable during the night, and this is when the majority of predators will be out looking for an easy meal.
9. Keep It Simple!
Point number 9 on my list is ‘keep it simple!’. It is easy to get carried away either by buying or building an elaborate duck coop that has bells and whistles you do not need.
The most effective duck coop I have ever used were just wooden boxes with a good-sized door and an easy way to access the coop for cleaning.
I have seen people posting on the internet pictures of their $2,000 duck coop, which in my opinion just isn’t worth money. Providing the ducks are warm, safe, and have somewhere to sleep, they will not care about the fact your duck coop is a scale model of your own house.
Remember, the more elaborate the duck coop, the more time and effort will have to be put into cleaning and maintaining it. As I mentioned above, I can assure you from years of personal experience, that the more effort required to clean a duck coop, the less inclined you will be to do it.
10. Ducks Love Water
The final point on my list is access to water. Now, this does not mean your duck coop must be next to a pond. For years I lived on a property that did not have a proper pond.
Ducks need access to fresh water to swim in, preen in and use to both wash their food down and keep the membrane in their nostrils moist.
As such, having an outdoor faucet attached to a hose will make your life so much easier. Ducks will quickly foul the water in their pond, and the smaller the pond, the more frequently the water will need changing.
The water in a small kiddie pool for example might need changing every day.
Without a suitable water source close by, filling a pond using a watering can, and walking back and forth will become extremely tedious extremely quickly.
Keeping ducks, either on a homestead or in your backyard is often the first step towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
Ducks are full of character and will help bring your outdoor space to life. They also provide you with an almost endless supply of tasty fresh eggs.
Taking a little bit of time to set their new home up correctly can make duck keeping an easier, more enjoyable experience.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Do Ducks Need Oyster Shells?’.