I started raising ducks about a year ago. A few days after they hatched, I already started to regret getting them. I had never seen something drink so much water and eat so much food in just a few minutes. Not to mention, their brooder became a wet mess as they spilled their water, knocked down the heat lamp and wasted piles of grain. I simply couldn't believe how different they were from chickens that never wasted even the smallest bit of feed.
After a year, I have finally gotten a grip on how to raise and care for them.
Start out your ducks in a kiddy pool lined with paper towels. I originally started my ducks in a cardboard box, but with how messy they were with water, the cardboard was soaked in seconds. As bedding, I first used wood shavings, but they continuously tried to eat the wood. Also, in my area, there weren't many wood mills so the only place I could find wood shavings was at the store. Since I cleaned out their coop every day, the cost of the wood shavings quickly added up. That was when I realized lining the brooder with paper towels proved more absorbent and inexpensive. Using paper towels was also handy because they compost down more quickly than wood shavings. This usually works through the duration of time spent in the brooder, but once they are moved to a coop, it may be more practical to use straw although it is not nearly as absorbent.
Use a white heat lamp that is out of their reach and properly secured. At first, I used a red heat lamp, but I got frustrated when they began shattering bulb after bulb. I then realized that they were attracted to the color and were pecking at it until it broke. I switched to a while bulb and I never had a problem since.
When moving them out of the brooder, be sure that you have a movable coop and run. This is certainly my most valuable advice. Whether you have a duck tractor or a rolling coop that you can attach a run to, this will certainly make your life easier. Ducks are extremely messy, but they usually prefer to spend most of their time outside during the day. If you aren't able to move their run, it will turn into a sloppy pit of mud in less than a week.
Keep their water outside of their coop during the day. This has certainly helped me out. When I was unaware of this, the coop was always soaked through, no matter how often I cleaned it. This at least kept out excess water during the day.
Use a plastic plant water tray underneath their watering container. For a while, I had the toughest time trying to keep their bedding dry especially when they were in the brooder. I ended up using a plant water tray underneath to catch any splashed or excess water. Although the bedding normally was a bit damp around the tray this prevented them from completely soaking the bedding. Once they were moved outside, this became less of a problem though I kept a tray under the watering container during the night.
Feed your ducks seeded greens from your garden and rolled oats. This will certainly help ease off the cost of duck feed. I've also fed them some of the weeds that I've pulled out of the garden, though they seem to be a bit pickier about them.
Of course like most animals, ducks are a lot of work, but my experience has helped me raise them properly as cheaply as possible. Not only are they great meat birds, ducks are also fantastic layers with large, delicious eggs. Given the right knowledge, raising ducks can a fun and rewarding experience.
My female Giant Pekin duck, Pip.