Overview: Just as your local dog and cat rescue operations provide a great place to get a family pet, wildlife and waterfowl rescue operations are a great way to get backyard or small farm ducks. In this article, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of getting your ducks from a rescue operation versus a breeder or farm supply store — including information gleaned from our own experience adopting domestic ducks from a local waterfowl rescue!
Where do domestic ducks come from?
In our article Where to buy ducklings or ducks for your backyard or small farm we provide an overview of the five ways people obtain ducks:
- Large/national breeders,
- Farm supply stores,
- Small local/regional breeders and farms,
- Waterfowl/wildlife rescue operations,
- Individuals in your area (backyard poultry keepers).
We don’t have hard data on this subject, but our perception is that option #1 and #2 (large breeders and farm supply stores) are how the vast majority of domestic ducks are purchased in the United States. And in our opinion, the worst possible way you can get ducks is via farm supply stores.
Animals are not like candy bars: please do not impulse buy them.
Why is it a bad idea to buy an adorable duckling from your local farm supply store?
Most people buying ducks this way are making an impulse purchase and are therefore not adequately prepared to raise ducklings or care for ducks for the decade or more that they can live. Even worse, many of these purchases are made at Easter so people can take pictures of their kids with baby ducklings, with little thought or care given to how they’ll actually care for the animals thereafter.
Farm supply stores don’t sex ducklings, so most people have no idea whether they’re getting males or females. Since it’s very difficult and potentially even harmful to vent sex 3+ day old ducklings (see our article How to sex ducklings and ducks), nearly everyone purchasing ducklings at farm stores has a high probability of getting one or more males.
As we detail elsewhere, the absolute minimum male-to-female ratio you want in your flock is 1:3. Any higher and you’re going to end up with over-mated and potentially injured girls. And the drakes are going to spend most of the year trying to kill each other. This is a recipe for backyard duck disaster — and a recipe that’s going to make even well-intentioned people more likely to dump their male ducks at the nearby pond.
But as long as farm supply stores get economic signals showing there is consumer demand for ducklings, they’ll continue to supply them regardless of the harms or externalized costs. Their only focus is on the cash register, not what happens later.
What happens to ducks after an impulse purchase?
Assuming impulse-purchased ducklings don’t soon die due to human negligence, they’re very likely to be dumped at a nearby public pond/park within weeks or months (or surrendered to a rescue). We see and hear about this happening around the country every year, especially after Easter.
The people who dump their ducks might think they’re “setting them free.” However, this is like dumping your pet poodle in a forest and expecting it to survive.
Domestic ducks can’t fly. And ducks raised by people have no idea what to eat or how to protect themselves in the wild, where competition for scarce resources is fierce and dangerous predators abound.
Thus, a high percentage of domestic ducks dumped at a pond inevitably end up dead or injured in a short period of time. If they’re lucky, they’ll end up at a waterfowl/wildlife rescue before it’s too late.
In the meantime, if they happen to survive and mate with a wild mallard duck, they then create “genetic pollution,” e.g. generations of offspring who are less fit to survive in the wild. To make matters worse, all the extra ducks dumped in local ponds and parks also create more water and soil pollution due to the extra excrement and dead bodies.
In short: the destructive pattern of impulse-buying ducklings or ducks really needs to stop.
Picturing the problem… and maybe a solution
Imagine this: there’s a 1-cup glass on a table with 2 cups of liquid slowly pouring into it from above. The glass represents the total number of domestic ducklings or ducks that people can responsibly care for in a given year. However, the liquid pouring in represents the sum total of all domestic ducks created/bred by humans in a given year.
There are two straws in the glass. One is being slowly slurped on by intending or existing responsible duck caregivers, e.g. people who have a pretty good idea what’s involved in raising ducks and are prepared to provide optimal care for the long haul. The other straw has been abandoned; the person who ordered the shared drink decided they had better things to do than actually drink it.
But the liquid keeps pouring into the glass until the glass overflows on the table. This overflow represents the ducks who were requested by the collective market, but abandoned by those who didn’t fully consider the consequences and commitments created by their initial desires.
How to clean up the mess? First, we can all try to educate people to reduce overall demand from anyone not adequately prepared to raise ducks. Second, responsible duck caregivers can help clean up the mess by slurping their straws in the spillover, not just the glass.
As demand for new ducklings decreases, the bartender (breeders, farm supply stores, etc) will slow their pour. And as demand for abandoned “spillover” ducks increases, waterfowl rescue operations will have more support. Then the mess starts to disappear…
How to help waterfowl & wildlife rescue operations
Currently, waterfowl/animal rescue operations are the only entities dedicated to cleaning up all the “spillover” from the domestic ducks people demand but don’t actually want. And they really need your help to keep going.
What do they need? First and foremost, they need responsible people to adopt domestic ducks from them. Additionally, they need people to:
- donate money and/or supplies
- donate time and expertise (volunteers)
- spread the word about what they’re doing and the challenges they’re facing.
For instance, when we arrived at Carolina Waterfowl Rescue (CWR) to pick up our adopted ducks, their staff was currently caring for over 700 abandoned domestic ducks in addition to countless other domestic and wild animal species. 700!!
Unfortunately, we could only adopt six domestic ducks. But in addition to the adoption fee, we also gave CWR a sizable donation because we know how hard, expensive, and important their work is.
Humorous side note: we also donated a giant bag of Viva paper towels, since the CWR website and social media channels mention how they’re always in need of paper towels. (We switched to washable cloth towels in our home, so we had an abundance.) The receptionist and vet tech at the front desk were absolutely elated by the paper towel donation (they were running low) and immediately tore open the bag to start using them.
Adopting rescue ducks versus buying from a breeder or farm supply store
The decision to adopt rescue ducks versus buy from a breeder or farm supply store involves pros, cons, and tradeoffs. However, if at all possible, we’d like to encourage you to get your ducklings or ducks from a rescue operation instead of a breeder or store.
Below are positives, negatives, and considerations for each option:
Option 1: Large breeder (example: Metzer Farms)
- You can get a sexed run. (Example: all females)
- You can get the exact breed/s you want. (Example: All Welsh harlequins.)
- Ducklings ship in the mail, which can and does lead to mishaps like a package of dead ducklings showing up.
- You need to be prepared for and know how to raise ducklings, which is not a simple process.
- You’re creating more demand for the creation of additional domestic ducks in a world that is already spilling over with them.
Option 2: Farm supply store
- Unless you know how to sex ducklings, you won’t know if you’re getting males or females.
- You probably won’t know what breed you’re getting because the store doesn’t know either.
- Pick up your ducklings and drive them home the same day, no shipping required.
- You’ll need to know how to raise ducklings.
- You’re signaling demand for impulse-purchased ducks and the creation of additional domestic ducks in a world that is already spilling over with them.
Option 3: Waterfowl or wildlife rescue
*Note: Each waterfowl rescue operation has unique policies, and the policies within the same operation may vary depending on how many ducks you’re willing to adopt. See CWR’s adoption policies for reference.
- You’ll know whether you’re getting male or female ducks, but you’ll likely be asked to adopt at least one male.
- You can probably select breeds, but sometimes it’s hard to determine the exact breed in the case of hybrids.
- If there’s a rescue operation within driving distance, you can pick up and drive your ducklings or ducks home – no shipping.
- You can get mature ducks and skip the difficult process of hatching eggs or raising ducklings.
- You’re reducing demand for new ducks while: a) helping clean up the mess from irresponsible duck purchases, and b) providing much-needed support for ongoing waterfowl rescue work.
Can rescue ducks become socialized to humans and make good pets?
Rescue ducks can make excellent pets depending on a wide range of factors, namely:
- individual and breed temperament,
- the care approach and dedication of the caretaker(s), and
- the prior background/experiences a duck has had with humans. (Animals that have been abused are rightfully less inclined to trust humans.)
If you’ve followed our website or social media channels, you know that we adore our ducks and consider them pets and family members. We’ve also been known to diaper ducks and bring them inside for movie night (An Original Duckumentary is a flock favorite).
Yes, having ducks that are used to being handled earns us fluffy cuddles, but there’s also a practical reason we want tame ducks: so they don’t get stressed when we do regular health inspections (such as looking for bumblefoot), bring them in for a vet visit, etc.
What has our experience been so far? The first few days, our new rescues were clearly terrified of us and we didn’t try to handle them at all. Instead, we moved very slowly and deliberately around them and brought them tasty treats throughout the day with the intention of helping them form positive associations.
After a week, they’ve started to warm to us. They now get very excited when we come into the yard because, in their minds, we’re walking feed and treat machines. The Tyrant couldn’t resist the fluffy enticements of a Jumbo Pekin, so a bit of cuddling has commenced — and been well-received!
However, it’s still too early to say whether our rescue ducks will eventually become as tame as the Welsh Harlequins we raised ourselves. Things are looking good so far, and we’ll continue to provide future updates!
- 9 tips and tricks for keeping indoor pet ducks
- How to diaper a duck (w/ video)
- How to get your ducks to like you
We currently have 11 backyard ducks (including our six rescues). That’s all the ducks we can optimally care for in our space. However, any ducks we get in the future will be coming from Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. How did we integrate our new ducks into our existing flock? We’ll detail that topic in our next duck article.
We’ve never ended an article by asking you for a favor, but we will here. If the information in this article seems helpful and important to you, would you mind sharing it to help spread the word? And more importantly, would you please give even a small donation to Carolina Waterfowl Rescue and/or the waterfowl rescue operation nearest you?
We appreciate your support!
Flap on over to other helpful duck articles:
- 11 things you should know before raising ducks
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators
- DIY: How to build a self-cleaning backyard duck pond
- Waddle Inn: Duck coop tour for design ideas and inspiration
- 5 tips to keep your ducks from destroying your yard or garden