Ducks

How to build a long-lasting, predator-proof duck coop and duck run

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Your duck coop and duck run are the first and most important lines of defense against predators. In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know to build a long-lasting, predator-proof duck coop and run. 


First, some definitions so things are crystal clear:

  • A duck coop is the actual building that your ducks will sleep in at night.
  • A duck run or pen is the enclosure (fenced yard or fenced/protected section of yard) where the duck coop is located.

Important: predators will try to kill your ducks no matter where you live

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to provide for your ducks’ safety and wellbeing is build them a well-planned, predator-proof duck coop and duck run. Based on our personal experience, it seems like every predator within a five mile radius has tried to break into our duck coop.

Yet, we’ve never had a duck killed or injured by a predator because we planned ahead. We want you to plan ahead too by building a predator-proof living environment BEFORE you get ducks.

Ducklings and ducks are an ideal meal for countless predators. Please predator-proof your ducks' living area before getting ducks!

Ducklings and ducks are an ideal meal for countless predators. Please predator-proof your ducks’ living area before getting ducks!

We’ve seen possums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, snakes, cats, dogs, and even a great horned owl either prowling around or directly trying to break into our duck coop. We actually had to free the owl by hand when it got lodged between our chain link fence and the duck coop! Our ducks screaming at 1am alerted us to the unsuccessful intruder.

Another danger: rodents. Mice and rats will try to burrow under and into duck coops, enticed either by the smell of food or eggs or warmth, or all of the above. And horror stories abound about hungry rats killing or maiming ducks and chickens in their coops.

If you think you can avoid these problems because you live in the city, think again. If anything there are more (and smarter) predators in the city than in more rural environments. 

The short of it: if you don’t build a predator-proof duck coop, you’re setting your ducks up for inevitable injury or death — and setting yourself up for heartache. Instead, we highly encourage you to put the time and resources necessary to build a long-lasting duck coop that doesn’t keep you awake with worry at night. In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that!

Duck coop planning step 1: answer these key questions:

Our first duck coop: the Quacker Box, built to accommodate 4-6 mid weight ducks in our hot climate.

Our first duck coop: the Quacker Box. This coop was built to accommodate 4-6 mid weight ducks in our hot climate.

Before you break out the hammer and saw, you’ve got to do some pre-planning. That’s because there’s no single way to build a duck coop.

Building a duck coop is a lot of fun, but don't get started until you've done planning and design!

Building a duck coop is a lot of fun, but don’t get started until you’ve done planning and design!

Our goal in this article is to help you build a duck coop that’s perfectly suited to your circumstances; it’s NOT to tell you how to build our duck coop (which is right for us).

Here are some key questions you need to ask and answer that will influence your final duck coop design:

How many ducks do you have or plan to have AND what breed of duck do you have?

The general rule is 2-6 square feet of space per duck inside their coop, with some variance based on breed size. For instance, you could get away with 2-3′ per duck for Welsh Harlequins or Runners, but that would be too small for larger breeds like Pekins or Silver Appleyards who’d be happier at 5-6’ square feet of space per duck.

When in doubt, go larger. Your ducks will be happier, and it’s a better problem to have too large a coop than too small a coop.

Also, if you have to have a larger coop due to the number of ducks you have, you’ll almost certainly want to have a taller coop. That way, you can easily walk inside to clean, collect eggs, etc, without having to crawl through duck muck on your hands and knees.

The back door and front door on our relatively small duck coop makes it easy to collect eggs, pull food and water bowls in and out, etc. However, for a larger flock of over ~6 ducks, this coop would not be a good design. A larger, walk-in coop would be preferable.

The back door and front door on our relatively small duck coop makes it easy to collect eggs, pull food and water bowls in and out, etc. However, for a larger flock of over ~6 ducks, this coop would not be a good design. A larger, walk-in coop would be preferable.

Do you have male and female ducks?

If you have male and female ducks, we highly recommend you do one of the following for your drakes:

a) build them a separate coop; or
b) build them a partitioned area within the coop to keep them separated from your females.

If not, your females may sustain foot or head injuries due to your drake mating them throughout the night on the ground. We found this out the hard way with our first flock and ended up making a separate duck coop for our drake.

If you have multiple drakes, they’ll often spend mating season trying to kill each other, so you’d need separate partitions for them inside the drake coop for much of the year. (This is why we recommend new duck parents start with an all-female flock.)

What’s your climate?

A duck coop in Maine is going to need some different features than a duck coop in Florida. For instance:

  • A hot climate coop will be designed for maximum ventilation to keep the ducks cool at night.
  • A cold climate coop will need to have its otherwise ventilated windows and doors covered during winter storms and/or sustained temperatures below 20ºF (-6.7ºC).
  • A cold climate coop needs to be on the upper end of the 6 square feet per duck range (or higher) since your flock may be unable to come outside for days at a time during heavy snowstorms. This will make being cooped up (literally) more tolerable.
  • You may also want your extreme climate coop to be moveable so it can be placed in a sunny spot in the winter or a shady spot in the summer.
We live in Zone 7b in South Carolina. Due to our scorching hot, humid summers and mild winters, lots of ventilation for our ducks was a key consideration in our duck coop design. This coop wouldn't work in Maine unless you put temporary siding on it in the winter months.

We live in Zone 7b in South Carolina. Due to our scorching hot, humid summers and mild winters, lots of ventilation for our ducks was a key consideration in our duck coop design. This coop wouldn’t work in Maine unless you put temporary siding on it in the winter months.

Do you have a lot of large predators around?

Bears are harder to defend against than raccoons. If you live in an area where bears are common, you’ll need to plan to have an extremely sturdy/structurally reinforced duck coop that’s anchored to the ground.

For instance, setting your coop’s framing posts into concrete is a good way to make sure a bear can’t tip it over. Since bear claws and teeth can make quick work of mesh wire, you’d also want your coop to be built more like a human house with solid walls rather than spots with wire mesh for siding.

Are there any large trees overhead?

Tree branches die and fall off. Trees and their branches also fall during storms. Placing your duck coop or run under a tree is a recipe for dead or injured ducks or a destroyed coop or run.

While ducks will pretty well destroy any small/annual plant you plant in their runs, we do grow mid-sized edible perennial plants around our duck coop and fenced duck area: peaches, THORNLESS blackberries, blueberries, Asian persimmons, and more. Due to their small size and location, these plants don’t pose any risk to our ducks, and our ducks keep them well-fertilized and free of ground-dwelling pests like slugs.

These perennial plants also serve another function: they block easy access from aerial predators like hawks and eagles, which prefer attacking prey in open areas. There’s virtually nowhere in our backyard for these predators to swoop down and in without clipping their wings on a plant.

Is the coop in a fenced in backyard or out in the open?

Our coop is in our back yard which has a 6’ tall fence. Thus, our large backyard serves as our ducks’ run during the day. We let our ducks out in the morning when the sun is fully up and put them away at night before it’s fully dark. That’s because most duck predators are nocturnal. We also work from home and can respond to any alarmed duck noises immediately.

If you don’t have a fenced in backyard with other measures in place to protect your ducks against predators, you’re going to need to construct a covered run/pen that’s attached to or surrounding your duck coop.

Keeping your ducks in a protected run by day is the only 100% certain way to keep them from being killed or injured by predators.

Where will your duck pool be, how big is it, and how will you drain/fill it?

If you have ducks, you’ll need a duck pool for them to swim, clean, and play in. There’s no hard and fast rule on how big your duck pool needs to be, but the bigger and deeper (at least up to a few feet deep) the better.

Our original flock was four Welsh Harlequin ducks and this was their pool.

Our original flock was four Welsh Harlequin ducks and this was their pool.

Our Welsh Harlequins probably spend 4-6 hours per day in their pool in the summer and 3-4 hours per day in the winter. At least once per day, they’ll go into a frenzied play mode where they start diving and swimming underwater, something they couldn’t do in a kiddie pool.

You don’t have to build an electric powered, self-cleaning duck pond like ours. Especially for a 3-4 bird flock, a smaller plastic pool will do, but you’ll need to consider where you plan to place the pool in the run because:

a) you’ll have to drain or dump the water at least once every 2 days, and
b) you’ll have to refill it.

This might not sound like a lot of work or a sanitation issue from the outside, but after a couple of months of dumping your duck pond in the same spot, you might be a bit shocked by how much muckiness this process can create (and notice a little stiffness in your back). It also means you’ll need to locate your pond:

a) away from your duck coop (you don’t want the area to be wet and cause wood rot); and
b) in a spot that makes it easy to drain or dump OUT of your duck pen to prevent the area from getting too squalid and creating ideal habitat for parasites and pathogenic microbes.

This is our final duck pool - quite an improvement! And you can see our two duck coops in the back. One houses our girls, the other houses our drake.

This is our final duck pool – quite an improvement! And you can see our two duck coops in the back. One houses our girls, the other houses our drake.

Where do you want the duck coop to be located in your yard?

This can be a surprisingly hard question to answer! There are climate factors to consider (see above). There is also topography to consider. If at all possible, we recommend putting your coop and run on higher ground in a well-draining spot that gets plenty of light.

We’d also recommend putting your coop in a spot that you can easily see from a window. Ideally, the spot can also be illuminated at night as-needed with the flip of a light switch from INSIDE your house. This way, you can easily see what’s happening if your ducks are especially upset about something late at night without you having to run outside in freezing weather in your skivvies after fumbling to find a flashlight.

The Tyrant moving the Quacker Box into a new position. We new we'd be moving our duck coop around seasonally and/or until we found the right permanent spot, so we built it to have removable wheels. Once the wheels are removed, it sits flat on the ground atop protective wire mesh with bedding on top of the wire to protect delicate duck flippers.

The Tyrant moving the Quacker Box into a new position. We knew we’d be moving our duck coop around seasonally and/or until we found the right permanent spot, so we built it to have removable wheels. Once the wheels are removed, it sits flat on the ground atop protective wire mesh with soft bedding on top of the wire to protect delicate duck flippers.

Do you want/need electrical power and/or lighting in or around the coop?

We’ve heard many horror stories of well-intentioned people putting heaters or brooder lamps in their chicken or duck coops only to have their coops burn down with the animals inside.

Ducks are very cold-hardy creatures. An extra heat source isn’t necessary even in cold climates so long as they have a thick layer of dry bedding inside a coop that’s sheltered from wind and storms.

By artificially heating your duck coop, you may actually end up harming your ducks. A temperature differential of 30 degrees or so between where they sleep and where they spend their day can make it difficult for their bodies to acclimate to the cold, causing them to get too cold or sick.

However, you may still want power to run to your duck coop so you can turn on a light, have a heated water bowl (for cold climates), run power tools, etc. With lights, keep in mind that a bulb placed even 6’ from a duck will provide it extra stimulation to lay eggs, when it may be better for them to take time off from laying for health reasons. So turn any overhead lights off at night to help your ducks stay in tune with their natural, seasonal cycles.

Since our duck coop is fairly close to an electric outlet on our back porch, we run an extension cord to a box fan on really hot summer nights to help our ducks stay comfortable. That’s cheaper and easier than running permanent electric lines to our duck coop, but your situation may be different.

For liability’s sake, we should state here that any electrical work done on your duck coop should be undertaken by a licensed and insured electrician, not your cousin’s friend.

Step 2: Follow these duck coop planning rules:

How many square feet per duck should a duck coop be?

Build your coop for 2-6 square feet of space per duck inside their coop, with some variance based on breed size. Also consider that you’re very likely to get more ducks (ducks are a gateway drug to more ducks), so starting with a larger coop gives you room to expand your flock.

How big should a duck run be?

The optimal amount of space for a duck run is 125’ per duck. This gives them plenty of room to move around and allows room for other essentials like a duck pool.

What should my duck coop and run framing materials be made of?

We highly recommend you build your duck coop and run out of treated lumber or rot-resistant wood like cedar or black locust. Treated lumber is no longer made with toxic substances like it used to be; it’s now infused with micronized copper.

Using treated or rot-resistant lumber will drastically slow wood rot and make your duck coop and run safer from predators for longer. It will also keep you from having to replace rotting wood every few years.

To save money on cedar or black locust, call around to lumber yards in your area to check prices and availability. Neither type of lumber is typically carried at home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot – they typically have to special order it and the markup is significant.

Do I need to cover my duck run?

If you want to make your duck run 100% predator-proof (which we recommend), then you’ll need to make the roof of your duck run impenetrable to predators. That means it will need to be framed out with wood and covered with ¼” – ½” wire mesh as well.

Since ½” wire mesh will cost less than ¼”, know that it’s a perfectly safe alternative since you’re not worried about the small arms of a raccoon reaching all the way down to the ground to grab a duck from this height. ½” inch is also too small for a snake to squeeze through.

Covering your duck run also makes it easier to put up shade cloth or other sun protection in really hot, sunny environments.

How do I keep things from digging under and into my duck run? 

Just as with your duck coop, predators and rodents will try to dig under and into your duck run. It’s not practical to lay wire mesh under a large area like a run, so what to do? 

Dig a 2′ trench around your run when you’re doing the wall install and bury a strip of 1/2″ wire mesh here as well. If you want to go a step farther, you can also install a wire mesh predator skirt around the perimeter walls as well.

How do you protect openings like windows?

Use ½” or smaller galvanized wire mesh on any openings in your duck coop. Anything larger than ½” and raccoons can potentially reach in and grab your ducks.

1/2

1/2″ galvanized wire being installed during the buildout of our duck coop, held in place by u-nails. Another layer of trim lumber will go over the top of the wire for additional stability and to prevent ducks from injuring themselves on the sharp, poky edges.

Also, window and door gaps should be no larger than about 1/3” to prevent snakes or rodents from squeezing through. The tighter the better.

What type of door latch should be used for duck coops?

Do NOT use simple latches that slide up to open in a single sweeping motion, since raccoons can figure out how to open them. Instead, use safety latch eye and hook locks instead, which require human hands to open.

The spring-loaded safety guard on this lock makes it impossible for raccoons to open.

The spring-loaded safety guard on this lock makes it impossible for raccoons to open.

Do ducks need a perch like chickens?

Muscovy ducks will perch; Mallard-derived breeds do NOT need a perch and instead prefer/need to be on the ground in their coop. The only thing those clumsy duck flippers are meant to grab is water.

Should a duck coop have a ramp entryway?

Duck coops should not have a ramp entry, especially not in climates where icy weather is common. Ducks are very clumsy walkers and a ramp is an accident/injury waiting to happen, especially for older ducks or larger flocks where they stampede when let out in the morning.

Build your coop as close to ground level as possible so your ducks can walk right in or out rather than having to climb up or down a ramp.

What should a duck coop floor be made out of?

There isn’t a single right answer to this question, but here are the factors you need to plan/design for:

  • Rodents will tunnel under and into your duck coop if there’s nothing stopping them.
  • Predators will dig under and into your duck coop if there’s nothing stopping them.
  • Duck flipper pads are prone to injury and infection if they’re directly on hard surfaces (like concrete) or rough surfaces (like wire) for an extended period of time.

So, a couple flooring options for duck coops based on the information above:

Option A. Concrete floor (or other type of solid floor like the wood base in a pre-made shed) with a layer of bedding on top to protect duck feet. We prefer large flake pine shavings. Kimberly Link, another duck expert we highly respect, prefers straw (NOT hay), which is hollow inside (unlike hay) and therefore doesn’t breed Aspergillus. Aspergillus is a fungus which can kill immunocompromised ducks.

If you have a solid floor, spilled water and wet duck poop buildup can become a problem, so cleaning out the duck bedding will need to be done more frequently (probably at least twice per month in the summer and once per month in the winter). Compost or fruit/nut tree mulch!

Option B. 1/4” – 1/2″ wire mesh laid flush under the duck coop extending out 6-12” beyond the perimeter walls, creating a “predator skirt.” Bedding is laid on top of the wire mesh 3+ inches thick to protect duck feet. This is the method we use in our duck house floors.

The mesh floor keeps rodents from tunneling in. Larger predators will often try to dig under and into a duck coop. When they dig and hit the wire mesh predator skirt, they’re stopped in their tracks.

What type of ventilation does a duck coop need?

Having a well-ventilated duck coop is critically important to your ducks’ health since ammonia fumes from nitrogen in their waste can build up to unhealthy levels inside an air-tight coop. At the same time, if you’re in an extremely cold climate, you don’t want a duck coop with wire mesh walls and open windows like we have.

Since we live in a moderate climate that’s ideal for ducks year round, our duck coop design mirrors the conditions our environment affords us: we have wire mesh doors and sides around most of our coop, which maximizes air flow. Our ducks can huddle in the protected back area of their coop during the occasional blustery winter night. (This is the same area they typically make their communal nest during the laying months.)

A few clusters of ¼” drilled holes (too small for predators and mice) located on the top of all four sides of your duck coop will provide adequate ventilation for cold, northern climates without letting too much wintery chill and precipitation in.

Step 3: Design and build your duck coop.

Now that you’ve answered the questions in Step 1 and taken the duck coop rules from Step 2 into consideration, it’s time to design and build! You don’t have to have a fancy design or use any software, you can simply sketch out the details on a notepad. 

Some of the design elements of our first duck coop, the Quacker Box.

Some of the design elements of our first duck coop, the Quacker Box. Click to enlarge image.

As you now know from reading the information above, there’s no single way to build a duck coop, just as there’s no single way to build a house for humans. However, by knowing the basic rules and safety risks while taking your unique situation into consideration, you can build the perfect duck coop and run for your feathered family members.

Since your duck coop and run are guaranteed to be tested by predators for as long as you have ducks, please plan and invest accordingly. A vet bill can cost more than an entire duck coop, and you can’t pay to fix a broken heart.

Find out everything you need to know to build a long-lasting, predator-proof duck coop and run to maximize your ducks' health and happiness. #backyardducks #petducks #tyrantfarms #duckcoop #raisingducks  

KIGI,

Tyrantfarms

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Ryan
    May 15, 2021 at 2:11 am

    Hi, appreciate you guys creating this article. I’m currently in the process of trying to design a coop and runner for the first ducks I’ve ever raised and have been struggling with what to do for the flooring to manage the poop situation! To me, the easiest to manage solution would have been to use vinyl coated hardware cloth and have at least most of the poop fall through the wire and hose off the rest every day or two but I’ve been concerned about if this would cause any issues for the ducks feet and it sounds like per your article you believe it would? Or is that more just the bare metal wire? I was thinking a vinyl coated wire would be ok especially since they will only be in this during the night time hours. What do you guys think? If i do end up putting straw in it i would think it would start getting nasty in just a matter of a couple days… what is your experience with that and what is your maintenance routine for keeping it clean? Thanks!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 15, 2021 at 8:33 am

      Hi Ryan! 1/4″ vinyl covered mesh wire flooring might not cause scrapes and cuts on your ducks’ feet, but I’d be concerned about their toes getting caught and injured in the small openings. Any larger than 1/4″ and you also risk leg injuries plus critters being able to get in to your coop (snakes, mice, etc – plus raccoon hands). Secondly, if you spray the duck poo through the floor of their coop, the area under the raised coop would get quite foul very quickly so you’d be back in the same boat.

      While many people like and use straw in their duck coops, we prefer (and recommend) large flake pine shavings as we detail here: /whats-the-best-bedding-for-your-duck-coop-or-run/. We use a modified deep litter method wherein the duck coop bedding gets composted and the compost is used in our gardens (or we use the un-composted spent bedding around perennial fruit and nut trees). Each night, we do a quick top-up of the coop with pine shavings (basically just a thin layer of new shavings over the poo spots). Repeat until the bedding is about 15-20″ deep, then remove all the bedding with a pitchfork, put it in compost or around trees, and start the process over. It usually takes 3-4 months between cleaning out the coops, and there’s no discernible bad odor along the way.

      Hope this info helps and let us know if you have any other questions.

      • Reply
        Ryan Todd Gray
        May 17, 2021 at 7:11 pm

        Hi Aaron, thanks for getting back to me so soon and for the additional information. I live in the city and really had no business getting ducks anyway but… I did. I thought i had good solutions for everything i needed but apparently not so much when it comes to the floor/bedding for the coop and runner. I’m currently only working on the runner and was hoping to use vinyl coated wire for the floor and then have a poop tray underneath that i could slide out to hose off and clean. Thanks again for the info it was very helpful.

        • Aaron von Frank
          May 17, 2021 at 10:14 pm

          One thing to keep in mind is that your setup can be dynamic. You’ll learn a ton once you get ducks. Just because something isn’t perfect the first time or doesn’t work exactly as planned doesn’t mean you can’t iterate and make improvements/changes. Obviously, you need to cover the essentials like having a predator-proof setup, but there are lots of ways to accomplish that aim. We’ve done countless modifications and iterations since our Day 1 duck setup about a decade ago.

        • Ryan
          May 18, 2021 at 3:19 pm

          I’m starting to come to the conclusion that there is no solution to accomplish what i was wanting to accomplish. =) The goal was to make a predator proof runner that was easy to clean (i.e. essentially just spraying off with a hose) and that did not require any type of bedding. I thought i had it solved with the vinyl coated hardware cloth and then a galvanized steel tray that i could just hose the hardware cloth then pull out the tray to dump all the contents down a drain i have in my yard. The ducks will only be in it during the hours that it is dark outside. The only issue I’m concerned about is if it would cause any issues with their feet and legs. If not, then i think I have about the best solution but i don’t know whether to try it or not…

        • Aaron von Frank
          May 18, 2021 at 10:22 pm

          Anything larger than 1/4″ wire mesh is going to make the coop accessible to certain types of predators. However, that size is not going to be conducive to spraying water if there’s bedding inside since the bedding will get wet, moldy, and unhygienic and won’t be small enough to wash through the openings. You do need bedding to keep your ducks comfortable, allow them to make nests, and protect their feet. Even if the wire is covered in vinyl to protect from abrasions/bumblefoot, their toes or nails can easily get snagged and injured in the wire, so it’s not worth the risk. Do a bit of reading about various deep litter methods, which really aren’t a lot of work. Just a couple minutes each time you put them up for top-ups and a full clean-out every few months or so.

  • Reply
    Jeff Johnson
    April 9, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    Love the education about ducks! Thank you. Can I buy the plans for the portable duck coop please?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 10, 2021 at 9:06 am

      Appreciate that, thanks Jeff! Unfortunately, we never did a full CAD mockup of our Quacker Box duck coop so we don’t have plans. Best we can offer is the pictures on our website.

  • Reply
    Ann Brown
    February 14, 2021 at 12:30 pm

    Hi- I’ve read your article about feeding ducks maintenance instead of layer feed, but when I can’t find any! I’ve looked online, asked at my feed store, checked Tractor Supply – it seems that everyone is pushing higher, rather than lower, protein content. On Chewy.com there was some but the cost is prohibitive. Do you have a brand or source of Maintenance feed you recommend? Thank you.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 15, 2021 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Ann! Sorry you’re having trouble finding maintenance duck/waterfowl feed. The brand our avian vet recommends and that we get from our local Feed & Seed is Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenance. Mazuri is highly regarded in the veterinary community and makes feed used in zoos for multiple species, not just waterfowl. Hope you’re able to find some! If not, there are likely other waterfowl maintenance brands that you can get. Maybe ask your local feed store to call their sales rep to see what’s available?

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