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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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/pen is *125 square feet per duck. This gives them plenty of room to move around and allows room for other essentials like a duck pool, better sanitation, higher quality of life, room to separate ducks if necessary, etc.
*250 square feet for a run for two ducks (you should always have at least two ducks) is based on a recommendation by Kimberly Link in The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook. We agree with her assessment and are echoing it here.
However, this spacing is for people who consider their ducks pets and want them to have the highest quality of life possible. Production-oriented duck keepers or small farms will opt for much smaller spaces for their ducks, since ROI (return on investment) is a primary focus and culling sick, injured, or non-laying ducks is standard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get quacking on other great duck articles:
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators
- How to build a self-cleaning duck pond
- How to choose the best duck breeds for you (with breed rankings)
- How to hatch duck eggs: complete guide
- What to feed pet or backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity
… and more helpful duck articles from Tyrant Farms.