Use these ten duck summer care tips as a checklist to make sure your backyard (or small farm) ducks are well cared for during extreme summer heat.
We (and our ducks) live in Greenville, South Carolina, a state known for sweltering summers and mild winters. During the summer, we sometimes go for months on end with high temperatures of 90°F or higher. Due to our humid climate, the feel-like is often at or above 100°F.
These are not conditions in which you say, “I should put on a down jacket and spend the day outdoors.” However, that’s exactly what our ducks do in the summer.
That means we have to take certain precautions in order to make sure our ducks are ready to take on the summer heat and continue thriving. Even if you’re a duck parent who lives in a cooler climate region, you should take the recommendations outlined in this article into consideration.
That’s because extreme weather events are becoming more intense and more frequent and Ag Zones continue to shift ever northward as our little blue planet warms. Translation: your average summer temperatures are increasing and there’s an increasing likelihood of extreme heat waves.
What’s a duck parent to do?
10 tips to care for your backyard ducks in extreme summer heat
Here are ten tips we recommend to help you get your backyard ducks through a hot summer or heat wave:
1. Provide good overall care – a healthier duck is a more resilient duck.
The healthier your ducks are, the more likely they are to endure hot weather. You have no control over factors like your ducks’ age or whatever conditions they’ve had since hatching — factors that can make a duck more likely to succumb to hot weather.
However, regardless of underlying factors, you can optimize your ducks’ overall health through:
- providing a good waterfowl-specific diet — and one that focuses on long-term health, not just maximizing short-term egg production;
- plenty of outdoor time to play and forage;
- a place to swim whenever they want/need to;
- companionship with other ducks.
However, having young, robust, healthy ducks doesn’t mean you can skip on providing additional care during hot summer days.
2. Access to shade every hour of the day.
Once temperatures cross 90°F on a sunny summer day, our ducks’ location in our backyard is pretty easy to predict: they’re in one of their shady spots resting (assuming they’re not in their pond). Our backyard is well-appointed with shade provided from large oak trees and other smaller bushes like loropetalums (Loropetalum chinense), peaches, blueberries, persimmons, and more.
Their favorite shade plant is loropetalums, an attractive shrub in the witch hazel family. Oddly, they also enjoy eating the lower leaves of loropetalums, which creates a nice trimmed, open area underneath the plants. (Ducks are not otherwise known for creating attractive landscapes.)
Regardless of how you do it — via plants or artificial structures — it’s very important that your ducks have access to shady spots at any point during the day where they can go to get out of the sun and cool off. The shade spot(s) should be large enough that ALL your ducks can lay in them without being crammed together or having to fight for the spot.
3. Thoughtful coop and/or run positioning to provide shade.
Our duck coops are in a spot that gets morning sun (helpful in the winter) and afternoon shade (helpful in the summer). Our ducks spend their day in a well-protected backyard surrounded by 6′ tall fencing.
If your ducks are in a run during the day (which is the only 100% fail-proof way to protect them from predators) make sure there is adequate shade in the run. Or position the run such that the entire structure is located in a spot that will be in part- to full-shade during summer afternoons.
4. Provide fresh, clean DRINKING water in no-tip bowls.
Just like you, ducks have to stay well-hydrated throughout the day in order to beat the heat. That means you need to provide them access to *clean drinking water throughout the day. (*Clean to a duck is not the same thing as clean to a human – one or two water changes per day is perfectly adequate.) Ducks also need water in their coop at night as well.
Even though our flock has a large pond from which to swim and drink, we place multiple water bowls out for them within a few feet of their food bowls (not too close or they quickly turn their food into muck). Multiple bowls also means we can put out treats in their bowls without every duck ravenously fighting over the same bowl.
Especially if you’re gone during the day, it’s important to use no-tip water bowls so your ducks don’t spill their water and spend part of a hot day without drinking water. As you may have noticed, ducks are not known for their grace or elegance during land-based locomotion, so standard food/water bowls often end up turned over.
Related: we’d also recommend positioning your ducks’ food and water bowls in shady spots as well since they’ll spend a good amount of time there.
5. Provide vitamin & electrolyte supplements.
Speaking of drinking water: we also regularly provide Rooster Booster to our duck’s drinking water throughout the summer. In case you’ve never heard of it, Rooster Booster is a poultry-specific formulation full of vitamins, electrolytes, and probiotics. (You can buy Rooster Booster via Amazon.)
Rooster Booster will give your ducks an extra boost on hot summer days. It’s also a good boost during the cold months when your ducks can use some extra nutrients.
Rooster Booster is so popular with poultry enthusiasts that it sometimes goes out of stock when you need it most. (Yes, we know this from experience.) We also order and use UltraCruz Poultry Electrolyte Supplement, which has a few less goodies in it than Rooster Booster, but still works great.
6. Provide clean, cool SWIMMING water, ideally in shade.
We built a ~1,200 gallon self-cleaning in-ground pool for our ducks because we got tired of dumping their kiddy pool and turning our backyard into a poopy swamp. No, you don’t have to build a permanent swimming pond for your ducks, but it’s essential they have access to clean, cool swimming water on hot summer days.
Swimming serves multiple functions for your ducks: it cools them off, helps them maintain optimal feather health, fends off mites, and also gives them another drinking source.
The larger the pond, the better for making sure that ALL of your ducks can swim whenever they want without another bossy duck keeping them out. (On that note, you may need to keep your drake/s separated from your hens for the same reason.)
Another benefit of having a larger in-ground pool is that it will naturally cool itself due to contact with the surrounding subsoil. If you have a smaller above-ground duck pool, you can also toss in ice on hot days to temporarily cool the water down.
If you have ducks who get territorial over a small kiddie pool, providing a second pool can help ensure that your whole flock has access to swimming water.
7. Provide helpful, healthy treats.
Since we’re connected to lots of other duck parents on Instagram, we watch enviously as their ducks wolf down watermelons, frozen peas, and other treats. That’s because our Welsh Harlequin ducks seem to be rather picky eaters by comparison.
Our flock goes bonkers over garden greens and tomatoes, but couldn’t care less about watermelons or peas. On hot summer days, these sorts of watery, nutrient-rich snacks can provide a big boost to your ducks.
Find which treats your flock likes best (ideally homegrown and/or certified organic) and provide them as your budget or garden allows during extreme heat. (Read: Top 10 favorite garden plants for ducks and chickens.)
8. Electric fan
As you probably noticed, a windy hot day feels better than a breezeless hot day. A room with a ceiling fan feels cooler than a room without.
Years back, we had a few days where the high temperatures hit 105°F for a few days in a row with high humidity and little breeze. In addition to other measures to help our ducks make it through, we got a large box fan for our ducks and placed it in front of one of their favorite shade areas.
Needless to say, they loved it and spent quite a bit more time than usual in the spot basking in the breeze. Now, we not only have a fan out for them anytime it’s over 90°F, we also put the same fan in front of their coop door on summer nights.
9. Build a large coop for adequate spacing.
Do you and your special someone like to sleep outside on summer nights in down jackets while snuggling? Probably not. Likewise, your ducks need plenty of space inside their coop for comfort, hygiene, air circulation, and to reduce body-to-body heat transfer.
As we detail in our article How to build a long-lasting predator-proof duck coop, a general rule when designing your duck coop is 2-6 square feet of space per duck inside their coop, with some variance based on breed size. Generally, the more space in your coop the better, both for your existing flock and for the future ducks you’ll get once your duck addiction kicks in. (*The same rule applies to your run, if that’s where your ducks will be spending their days!)
Bottom line: make sure your ducks have plenty of space in their coop based on the square footage range mentioned above.
10. Well-ventilated coop
In addition to a large enough coop, it’s very important to make sure your coop is well-ventilated.
Ventilation does NOT mean having wide open doors and window or using inadequate caging on your coop that allows predators to reach or get inside. The sides on 50% of our coop are made of 1/2″ mesh wire, allowing for plenty of air flow but not allowing room for a raccoon hand.
Since our southern winters are mild, we don’t have to do any seasonal modifications to our coops. If you live in a colder, northern climate, you could either cover the sides of your coop with temporary panelling or other material during the winter to keep it from being too cold and drafty.
Other frequently asked questions about duck maintenance in the summer
Here are answers to some other questions we get from duck parents pertaining to summer care:
Question: My ducks are primarily indoor house ducks – do I need to worry about the difference in temperature when I put them outdoors?
If your duck(s) primarily live indoors with you in a climate controlled house, their bodies won’t be well-acclimated to the heat and humidity of outdoors in the summer. The same (but opposite) is true in the winter.
When we were caring for a chronically ill pet duck who spent a lot of time indoors, we asked our avian vet about this issue. She told us that 30 degrees is about as much as we should push it when putting an indoor duck back outdoors in order to avoid potential health/respiratory problems.
For indoor ducks, these temperature differentials are more of an issue in the winter than the summer given that most homes are kept around 70°F. Nevertheless, you do want to be really mindful and keep an eye on your indoor ducks if they’re let outdoors on really hot days when it’s over 90°F.
Question: Wild ducks do just fine in the summer, so why wouldn’t my ducks be ok?
Ducks, like humans, have remarkably adaptive bodily systems that allow them to acclimate to various environmental conditions. For instance, farm workers, roof installers, road pavers, etc are able to survive because of complex physiological adaptations their bodies undergo due to continual exposure to extreme outdoor conditions… within limits.
The same principle applies to wild and domesticated ducks: a healthy domesticated duck kept outdoors will acclimate to the environment. Some key differences:
- Wild ducks can fly to a water source and easily find shade, e.g. seek out environments to help them adapt to specific weather conditions. Hopefully, your domesticated ducks can do the same (minus the flying).
- Domesticated female ducks also (often) lay hundreds of eggs per year, which is an enormous tax on their bodies. This makes them more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies plus reproductive and general health problems.
So if you’re going to raise ducks, we think it’s a good idea to take steps to optimize their health, happiness, and longevity. The above tips in this article detail the steps you can take to mitigate the risks of summer heat exposure to your ducks.
Question: What’s normal? How do I know if my duck is heat stressed or needs an intervention/vet?
Like dogs and many other critters, ducks can’t sweat so you may notice them doing open-mouth panting when temperatures are really scorching. Their wings might even droop a little to let the heat out. These are normal temporary responses to heat.
If your duck is panting and tail-pumping, this may be an indication of either extreme heat stress and/or other serious medical conditions like egg binding. When in doubt, we’d recommend being proactive.
To intervene with a heat-stressed duck, put your duck in a cool tub of water (outside in shade or indoors in an extra bathtub) and carefully monitor them to see if their behavior normalizes. Provide some favorite treats (like diced tomatoes and lettuce) to make the experience more enjoyable and try to get some Rooster Booster (see #5 above) into them. If they continue to show stress, a vet visit may be necessary.
Also, if a duck exhibits the same signs of stress each day when the rest of your flock is acting normal, indoor TLC or a vet visit may be necessary.
We hope this information helps you and your duck flock thrive this summer and for many summers to come!
More helpful articles that will quack you up:
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators
- How to build a long-lasting predator-proof duck coop and run
- What to feed ducks to maximize their health and longevity
- How to keep your ducks from destroying your lawn or garden
- How to make a DIY self-cleaning duck pond
… and more duck articles from Tyrant Farms.