If you’re thinking that 2024 might be the time to add some new feathered friends to your smallholding but you need a ‘getting started’ guide, then you’ve found the right place.
The first thing to note for a keen hen keeper is ducks and geese are very different. Hens are quite easy-going whereas ducks can be compared to rowdy teenagers requiring a bit more work especially when it comes to bedtime routines! Geese, on the other hand, can be quite useful “guard dogs” as they will typically make a vocal greeting to any visitors. Differences aside, they will all get on like a house on fire in the day but need separate housing and nutrition.
Like chickens, ducks and geese need a feed that's suitable for their species, age and breed. Ducks spend much of their time feeding in and around water, whereas geese spend far more time grazing, so you'll need to give them plenty of grass. But their nutritional requirements are very different.
Feeding ducks and geese, the right feed at the right time in proper amounts is crucial to their overall health and egg production capacity. Although a natural diet won’t harm them when they are not required for eggs or meat.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about ducks is that they are voracious omnivores. Just like chickens, ducks will need and heavily forage for ample sources of protein. A significant portion of a healthy egg-laying duck hen’s diet should be composed of both protein and calcium- without a source of calcium to create an eggshell, a bird will not lay. Geese are quite different to most other poultry in that they are grazers and once started on a compound diet, soon prefer to be on grass pasture. A little supplementary cereal or compound feed can be provided according to the abundance of grazing, and birds reared for the table are often brought indoors for the final few weeks finishing on a compound diet to help develop the best carcass presentation.
Environment and housing
Access to some open water is preferred, even if only a small trough, and it needn’t be too deep, in order that birds can express natural behaviours. Ducks like to be able to immerse their heads and bodies in the water as part of their cleaning and preening routine. Troughs that can be cleaned and refilled with water are in many ways preferable to an open pond. And whilst geese do not need a pond to survive, if you are considering breeding, geese have a particular preference to mate on water.
Ensure the area surrounding the water is well-managed as muddy and wet ground can increase the risk of disease spreading. You can reduce this by regularly moving the water facilities to allow the area to recover, or by placing the water facilities over a well-drained area, such as a bed of shingle. If the area is large enough you can section an area off to recover while still having adequate space for the birds to roam. Geese are grazers so make sure you have a good-sized grassy area available for them too.
Although ducks and geese like water, they still need protection and shelter from slightly more extreme weather conditions. You'll need to make sure they have suitable indoor housing that's warm, dry and well-ventilated. Ensure there is enough space for your ducks and geese to move around easily, exercise and stretch their wings – at least one square metre of floor space for every two/three ducks, or one goose. Cover the floor with dry material such as wood shavings or straw to keep them warm and comfortable at night.
Supporting healthy growth
Waterfowl have evolved to be around water, particularly at hatching, when their legs are given time to develop and strengthen whilst afloat. Both ducks and geese have great early growth potential, but geese in particular can suffer from leg health issues if they are overly challenged with weight bearing too soon. A steady start in life is preferred, giving the legs time to develop and strengthen before being required to bear too much weight – a little care and attention in the early weeks will help ensure robust birds that can enjoy life on the range.
We are excited to launch two new products in our Farmgate range: Farmgate Duck & Goose Starter Crumbs and Farmgate Duck & Goose Grower. These products support the healthy growth of your ducks and geese through their lives with complete, well-balanced nutrition.