Questions we often get from intending duck parents: “Should I get male or female ducks… or both? How many ducks should I start with?”
The answer to each question is — as with a lot of things — it depends.
Male or female ducks: choosing the right sexes and number of ducks for your backyard flock
If you’re a newbie to the world of raising ducks, a quick lesson on terminology:
- mature male ducks are called “drakes”;
- mature female ducks are called “ducks” or “hens.”
This terminology can get confusing when you’re referring to a group of male and female ducks as simply “ducks,” while simultaneously referencing drakes (males) and ducks (females). We’ll try to be crystal clear when referring to male or female ducks in this article so as not to cause confusion.
Here are the questions you’ll need to answer when deciding how many ducks to get in your backyard flock — and the numbers and ratios of male and female ducks in your first flock:
1. Why are you raising ducks?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Answers might include:
- for pets,
- egg production,
- meat production,
- wildlife rehab, etc.
2. How many eggs do you need per day to meet your and your family’s food needs?
Most duck parents we know (us included) became initially interested in ducks for egg production purposes.
As you might have guessed, it takes one hen to make one egg in a 24 hour period. So if your family of four needs four eggs per day? You guessed it: you’ll want at least four females.
Keep in mind that while many breeds of ducks can outperform chickens on egg production, they still need to take several months off each year so their bodies can remineralize and remain healthy. If you want healthy, long-lived ducks, don’t push them to the max on egg production.
Do you plan to breed ducks?
If you plan to do duck breeding or raise your own ducklings (read our step-by-step How to Raise Ducklings guide), you’ll obviously need to plan on having at least one male in your flock.
If you want to get serious about breeding show-quality ducks, you’ll also want to go with a top breeder, such as Holderread Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center. They breed show quality ducks to exacting breed standards.
If you do have a mixed-sex flock, keep in mind that the ideal male-to-female ratio in a flock of ducks is a minimum of three hens per every drake. Break this rule and your hens have an increased likelihood of getting over-mated or injured.
How much space do you need to have in your coop/duck house?
As we wrote about in 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators, it’s essential to have a safe well-built duck coop in place BEFORE you get ducks.
It’s also essential that you have a secured run or fenced in back yard with a 5’+ tall fence (or both a run and fenced yard). Predators will kill your ducks if they’re not protected — especially nocturnal predators like raccoons and possums. Yes, even if you live in the city.
If you’re in the process of building your duck coop or you already have one built, you might be wondering: how many ducks can my coop hold? In the book Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, Dave Holderread recommends 2-6 square feet of space per duck inside their coop/duck house, depending on breed and temperament.
Smaller breeds like Runners or Welsh Harlequins can deal with 2-3 square feet of space each. Larger breeds like Pekins and Silver Apple Yards will need 4-6 sq ft.
If you have a flock (or a breed) that is more temperamental and inclined to be aggressive when packed on top of each other, plan for more than the recommended space allowance. If in doubt, plan to build a larger duck coop than you think you need.
Doing so will keep your ducks happy and also allow for room in case you decide to get more ducks in the future. (Warning: ducks are a gateway drug to more ducks.)
Do I have plenty of protected outdoor space for my ducks?
Ideally, your ducks can get a minimum of 6 hours of outdoor time in the sun in a safe fenced in area to play, swim, and forage. This helps keep them healthy and happy.
We have a 75′ x 20′ fenced back yard where our flock spends their day, and two 2′ x 6′ duck houses (aka the Tyrant Farms’ Quackerboxes) where they spend the night. We also let our flock out in our front yard gardens in the evening to forage while we garden and pick veggies.
In our space, a flock of ~6-7 ducks feels just right (we currently have 5 hens and 1 drake). This quantity of ducks and male-female ratio provides:
- Eggs – more than enough eggs throughout the year (with plenty to share with family, friends, and neighbors).
- Optimal care – a small enough flock that we can easily provide each of them with excellent care, make them like us, and keep a close eye out for any injuries or illnesses.
- Breeding potential – we wanted at least one drake in our flock so we could occasionally hatch our own ducklings. For instance, Pippa Luckinbill (one of our hens) was the loveduckling of Sir Winston Duckbill and Svetlana.
If you’re a new duck parent, we recommend starting small and simple… No more than 3-4 new ducks in your flock until you’ve got 1 year+ of duck parenting experience under your belt.
Do you have or can you build a single coop with a separate enclosure? Or two coops?
IF you get a drake(s), you’ll need some way to keep your drake separated from your hens at night so the hens don’t get over-mated or injured. We found this out the hard way with our first hen, Lady Margaret Thrasher who ended being over-mated in her coop at night, sustaining an injury on the back of her head in the process.
During the day, we now also keep our lone remaining drake in his own enclosure in our back yard because he can be aggressive with our hens and interrupt flock cohesion.
Are you prepared for a drake?
Over the past 6 years, we’ve had three drakes. We actually had them all at the same time (by accident).
Once they hit sexual maturity at around 20 weeks of age, our drakes spent their days trying to mate the females and fighting with each other to be top drake. When we set up fenced enclosures to separate them, they spent their days trying to rip at each other through the fencing. Now we have one drake.
If you get multiple drakes, you’ll need to plan to pen them off from each other, or you’ll end up with injured drakes and likely injured hens if you don’t adhere to the aforementioned 3:1 hen-to-drake ratio.
Does it ever make sense to get an all-drake flock?
Apparently, if you raise male ducks with no females around, they’ll get along perfectly well. If you have no interest in eggs and you just want pet ducks, you might actually consider getting an all-drake flock.
Why? Drakes require less care (no extra calcium, layer feed, etc.) and are less prone to medical complications (continual egg laying can cause a host of medical problems).
Can I just get one duck?
No! Ducks are incredibly social animals. They need constant companionship to feel safe, comfortable, and happy.
Unless you’ll be around 24-7-365, please don’t get a single duck. If you temporarily only have one duck, make sure it has a mirror so it feels like there’s another duck there. A stuffed animal to befriend and cuddle up against while sleeping would also be appreciated.
Will ducks get along with my chickens?
Yes, ducks and chickens are often raised together, and they get along great.
However, anytime you’re introducing new animals to each other, do so carefully and slowly. For instance, you might want to set up temporary fencing so they can all see each other and get used to each other over several days, without being able to make physical contact.
Once they appear to be used to each other, allow for supervised commingling. That means you’ll need to be present for the introduction and prepared to break up any serious fights.
We hope this information helps you select just the right number and sex of ducks for your first flock!
Being owned by ducks comes with a lot of responsibility, but it also comes with constant rewards such as:
- delicious and nutritious duck eggs (see how duck eggs compare to chicken eggs),
- constant laughter,
- companionship and more.
Thanks for planning ahead to be good duck parents!
Other duck articles you may enjoy:
- How to raise ducklings: a step-by-step guide
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators
- Duck eggs vs. chicken eggs
- The Quacker Box duck house / duck tractor
- DIY: How to build a self-cleaning backyard duck pond