Every year, the digital elves at WordPress gently suggest that I consider writing more about ducks and cold weather. According to their algorithmic analysis, many people need this information and seek it from my website again and again. So, rather than appear churlish by not sharing more of my ducky wisdom, herein lies the 2016 edition of my most popular blog topic–waterfowl in winter.

Tip #1: Collect eggs early.  See photo above.

Tip #2. A frost-free spigot is a duck owner’s best friend.

It took several winters before a contractor suggested this to me but better late than hauling buckets! Those of you who live in toastier climates (like I used to), may not know this but in winter, pipes burst, hoses freeze and your birds still need liquids no matter what the thermometer says. In year three of our duck odyssey, I finally discovered you can install an outdoor faucet that will work even when you don’t feel like it. Where have you been all my poultry-related life, frost-free spigot?!

Caveat #1: you still have to remove the hose between uses unless you want it to go Popsicle on ya. Caveat #2: the spigot needs to be on the side of the building so don’t use it under a snow- or ice-covered roof (danger, falling objects!) Luckily, this snowless season, I’ve had non-stop access to running water even in the (finally) brisk New Year.

Tip #3. Create shelter not just for cold but for wind.

You can’t think only about air temps, you gotta factor in that fave topic of meteorologists, wind chill, too. As naturally down-comforted as they are, ducks still dislike drafty conditions and even the plumpest hen needs a dry, windless place to hang out during the day as well as at night.  We use straw bales around the perimeter of our duck pen and find them to be useful in many different ways. In addition to providing shelter, the bales also harbor (good) bugs for handy duck snacks, break down slowly into warming compost and, in the spring, serve as instant planters for our heavy-feeder, cruciferous vegetables.

Tip #4. Consider installing a heater in your garage.

Another contractor tip: a hard-wired barn heater. That first spring, we started out with just one brooder lamp but by the time our first real winter rolled around, we knew that little bulb would not be enough. In ordinary cold, say above 20 degrees F or so, the ducks are okay in a wind-shielded pen and, between 10 and 20 degrees, tucked into their coop. But if it dips below 10, or if snow blocks the door, or if a nor’easter shows up, staying outside isn’t a great option. On nights (and even days) like those, we keep the ducks in our garage in a kiddie pool filled with wood shavings and caged with plastic poultry fencing.  Stylin’!

Still, though inside is oodles better than outside, when we get to talking subzero or close to it, even the garage gets arctic and–forget the ducks– we don’t feel like standing on that cement floor, either! For times like those, an electrician-installed, thermostat-equipped wall heater can be downright luxurious. Our model is heavy-duty and placed safely out of the way, much more reliable than a space heater and you don’t have to stay awake all night wondering whether your girls will knock on the door asking for hot water bottles.

Tip #5. The end of winter can be the most dangerous time: Everything is hungry.

Hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes.  ‘Nuff said.

Bonus Tip: Ducks may be cold-hardy but humans are not. 

Think about how you’re going to get to/from your birds with their water/food. Best time to do that–summer, not winter.

Okay, WordPress bot, sure hope you’re happy now. Or, at least until 2017, that is!*




*Or maybe I just made it worse! Maybe even more folks will come seeking cold duck discussion. Aieeee! It’s a vicious cycle!!!

Copyright 2016, Lori Fontanes