Ducks

“Should I get male or female ducks… or both?”

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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.   

Our Welsh Harlequin duck ladies foraging and playing in the front yard garden on a summer evening.

Our Welsh Harlequin duck ladies foraging and playing in the front yard garden on a summer evening.

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,
  • breeding,
  • 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.

duck house, duck coop, duck tractor

The Quackerbox, the first of our two mobile duck houses. At 12 sq ft, it was designed to fit a maximum of six Welsh Harlequin ducks. (Read more below about space allowances for ducks in duck coops.)

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. 

Jackson and Marigold (two of our female ducks) out for a stroll in our front yard garden.

Jackson and Marigold (two of our female ducks) out for a stroll in our front yard garden.

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:

  1. Eggs – more than enough eggs throughout the year (with plenty to share with family, friends, and neighbors).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
Pippa Luckinbill, hatched and raised right here on Tyrant Farms. We couldn't have had a fertilized egg without a drake in our flock.

Pippa Luckinbill (in holiday attire), hatched and raised right here on Tyrant Farms. We couldn’t have had a fertilized egg without a drake in our flock.

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.

male or female ducks / Welsh Harlequin male drake

Sir Winston Duckbill, our Welsh Harlequin 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? 

You should get at least two ducks. Ducks are social creatures.

What’s going on up there? Nothing much. What’s going on down there? Nothing much. As you can tell from this conversation, ducks are very social creatures, so don’t 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. 

Our ducks also get along with our cat. They're not best friends, but they commingle in the garden or when they're inside together.

Our ducks also get along with our cat. They’re not best friends, but they commingle in the garden or when they’re inside together.


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:

Thanks for planning ahead to be good duck parents!

KIGI,

Other duck articles you may enjoy:

and more duck articles from Tyrant Farms…

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Amanda C
    July 29, 2021 at 11:17 am

    My husband and I found 8 duck eggs in our backyard (from two wild mallards that would frequent our pool every spring). The momma duck left the eggs unattended for about a week when we had construction done. Long story short, we found the 8 cold eggs in our bushes by the pool, and a squirrel had already eaten 4 eggs (momma duck laid 12 eggs total). So we were forced to rescue the 8 eggs and ended up having a successful hatch of all 8! Since we weren’t expecting to get ducks for a while (my husband always wanted them/he thinks these eggs we found were a “gift from above”), we had to quickly research how to care for ducklings. We gave 3 of the ducks away to a friend who owns a farm with her own pet ducks and we currently have 5. We thought we had 2 boys and 3 girls, but one of the “girls” decided to develop a green head. We built a super safe duck hutch for them and are almost done building a 9ft round pond for them. (Hutch and pond will also have an enclosure built around them) We don’t want to give away any more ducks because we are super attached to all of them-so what is the best way to house them to keep them from hurting each other? Should we keep the two girls in the large hutch and buy 3 separate hutches for the boys? And do we only have to separate the drakes and hens during mating season or all year round?

    Hope these questions aren’t silly! Bear with us, we are new duck parents. And we don’t really care about egg production-these guys are first and foremost our pets. (Eggs are a bonus).

    Thanks in advance for any advice you could offer.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 30, 2021 at 9:52 am

      Hi Amanda! Before diving into answering your questions, one thing you may want to consider is re-wilding your Mallards once they mature. They’re wild birds, not bred, and that may ultimately be what’s best for them. The other thing to consider is that unlike flightless bred ducks, Mallards can and will fly, which will make them more difficult to keep. If you decide to release them, you could then get a sexed run of bred ducks, and not have problems (which will make things far easier for you, especially as first time duck parents). Obviously, it’s your decision either way, just wanted to introduce that possibility for your consideration.

      With your male-to-female ratio (3:2), things are going to be a bit tricky, as you already know. Young drakes are going to be particularly aggressive for the majority of the year; they will calm down during the coldest months. Some people also say that drakes calm down as they age. We have an eight year old drake who is still very aggressive when his hormones are turned up.

      With multiple drakes, you can build a large single run and coop, but you’ll want to have partitions within the structures to keep them separated from each other – 1/2″ wire meshing or something similar so they can’t reach through and grab each other.

      Hope this helps, even if it’s not good news. 🙂

  • Reply
    Zoe Mendez
    July 7, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Duck friends,
    So I thought I had two females. That’s what I ordered from Metzer farms but I know they’re not always correct. I have White Duclaire’s so they look identical.

    Penny, the bossy one has been more prone to charging our dogs from a few months old. Then at about 4 months old Penny started to mount Poppy. I read that sometimes two females will do this if there’s no Male in the flock so I didn’t worry too much.

    Now, at 6.5 months old the mounting is becoming more frequent. Poppy recently started limping due to a non-visible leg injury and her Ming feathers definitely look scuffed.

    We also have never found more than one egg per day since they started laying. The evidence seems to suggest we have a drake on our hands which is too much for our one female. Should we get another girl or two???

    Thanks so much for sharing all your knowledge. You guys are the best!

    I don’t know what I’d do with at your guidance!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 8, 2021 at 7:12 am

      Hi Zoe! Thanks for your kind words. Sorry to hear you’re having difficulties there.

      Yes, female ducks will still have sex with each other – ours do it regularly even though we have a drake around. So that’s not an accurate way to determine their sex, as you said. One egg a day would seem like a pretty good indicator that you have a mixed-sex pair, but even that may not be definitive given their age (some ducks won’t start laying until Month 6 ) or if the duck has hormone or reproductive tract issues.

      Let’s try two other things to sex your ducks:
      1) Does Penny have curly drake feathers on the top base of her tail? If so, “she” is a male.
      2) Are both ducks’ voices the same? Female ducks are the loud honkers; drakes make a raspy blurp-blurp sound. If Penny doesn’t honk but instead makes raspy calls, “she” is a male.

      As for mating and/or over-mating injuries: if the ducks are having sex on the ground or in a shallow pool wherein the bottom duck (Penny) has to stand while being mounted, leg injuries are much more likely to happen. Our girls always go to their pool for sexy time, and the pool is deep enough so that they’re fully floating throughout each glorious escapade – thus no foot/leg injuries ensue. Is it possible for you to provide a deeper pool? Adding more ducks to your flock may help reduce Penny’s sexual focus on Poppy, but if the bottom ducks aren’t able to float during sexy time, the problem of leg injuries is likely to persist.

  • Reply
    Susan
    April 25, 2021 at 7:13 pm

    Do you make your own duck diapers or are they available online?
    What a great idea!

  • Reply
    Anthony David Sagastume
    October 4, 2020 at 3:50 am

    Can I get a single duck if I have other pets or does it need to be around other avian creatures??

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      October 5, 2020 at 10:24 pm

      Great question, thanks! We’d strongly recommend getting a second duck for the simple reason that ducks will be happiest if they have another member of their own species around. They can and will bond to another pet (or person) if that’s the only game in town, but there’s no love like duck love.

      • Reply
        Vanessa
        October 8, 2020 at 1:35 pm

        I have two Drake Pekin ducks who are 20 weeks old. They are starting to become aggressive with me. Are they craving female company? Have I made a mistake having only males? I don’t really have the space for a large flock which is why I thought two would be fine.
        Advice please.

        • Aaron von Frank
          October 9, 2020 at 9:46 pm

          Hi Vanessa! Can you provide specific examples of what you mean by aggressive? Typically, with no females around, drakes should be relatively calm and make good pets. If they’ve never been in the company of a female duck, they don’t know what they’re missing. Given the information you’ve provided, it seems like a good idea for you to have two drakes, assuming you’re not interested in egg production.

  • Reply
    Heidi
    September 16, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    Hi, we also learned the hard way that the mating between the male and female duck lasts through the night, so we are separating them to see how that goes. My hope is when they are out foraging in the yard, they can be civil and the male will not try and make up for “lost time.” My question is, how much time does your drake spend on his own during the day? We do have two coops we could separate them in. They are a nice pair but the over-mating is really too much for our female’s neck, and we don’t have the space for more females. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      September 18, 2020 at 1:30 pm

      There are seasonal variations in a drake’s libido, as well as variations by age. A younger drake will be much more aggressive than a 5+ year old drake, however our 7 year old drake is still quite the ladies’ man. Also, from late winter through summer, your drake will likely be far more sexually aggressive than he will be from late fall through mid winter. At present, we keep our drake in a separate coop at night. During the day, we allow for a quick conjugal visit in the morning, otherwise he’s in a separate fenced run. However, there’s about a 2-3 month window in the cold months when our drake is able to be fully integrated with the females, although we still do keep him in his own coop at night just to keep him comfortable with and used to those accommodations.

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