Keeping animals in a climate such as Alaska’s presents challenges for a large part of the year. Ducks and geese are wonderful additions to the barnyard and do just fine during our long winters. Knowing how to overwinter waterfowl is important though.
We keep two geese and a few ducks on our property. They are very interesting creatures and we love having them around. They just wander and forage throughout the day but never go far from their home in the barn.
We really love keeping ducks and plan to get a few more this spring. Ducks lay eggs throughout the winter more reliably than chickens and are very easy to keep. Geese only lay a clutch of eggs twice a year so we enjoy the giant eggs when we can and otherwise we just like the presence of the geese around our home.
We were initially nervous about raising waterfowl a few years ago because we weren’t sure how they would manage during the winters here. We had already been overwintering chickens successfully for a couple of years. But we quickly learned that they are very hearty animals and don’t need much to stay content in the cold.
How to Overwinter Waterfowl
Caring for ducks and geese during the winter doesn’t vary that much from their general care at other times of the year. With a few extra steps, they will stay healthy and happy through the coldest months.
We have a barn on our property and at night, the waterfowl are locked in to keep them safe from predators. Lynx and foxes are threats to our birds so we are careful not to leave them outside at night.They are free to roam the barn as they please but they have made a little area in one corner where they mostly congregate.
If you don’t have a barn, we have many local friends who keep their waterfowl outside year-round but provide them with a fenced in area for safety. A small enclosure that they can nest in and snuggle up together under is appreciated. I have seen them simply made out of pallets or plywood.
We do not heat our barn so our birds would do fine outside if needed but since we have the space to keep them inside at night, we do. Here are a few ways we have learned how to overwinter waterfowl.
This is the main concern, especially with waterfowl. How will they have access to water when it’s below freezing out?
We have a heated five-gallon bucket for the waterfowl. It is kept on a timer so that it’s not running all of the time which helps save us in electricity costs. There are several other water heaters running for the other animals so it adds up! We usually have it set to one hour on, one hour off. If it is well below zero, we end up keeping it on all of the time otherwise ice will form on the top. But when it’s above zero, the timer works nicely.
Waterfowl need access to water not only to drink but to dip their faces in. Standard chicken waterers don’t work very well so that’s why we just give them a big bucket. They are able to fully dunk their heads as needed. On warmer days, the ducks will even enjoy a full dip in the bucket and get all washed up!
During the summer they have a large pool to swim in all they like but that’s not feasible during the coldest months so they make do with the large bucket. Fresh water is a must so investing in a heated container and the additional electric cost is important when keeping waterfowl year-round.
What to Feed Ducks in Winter
Having a constant water source is probably the biggest obstacle when keeping ducks and geese healthy during winter. Feed is another consideration. During the warmer months, waterfowl spend most of their day foraging all over the land. They eat grass, weeds, and whatever else they can find while walking around.
In winter, when they can’t access fresh greens, they rely on a diet of hay. Lucky for our waterfowl, we keep cows so hay is in abundance! They are happy to graze off of the pieces the cows leave laying around and there’s always a bale on the ground as well.
We do purchase a locally made waterfowl-specific maintenance feed. A large bowl is left out for all of them to share and they take little bits here and there but not very much. We only end up having to buy a couple of 50-pound bags for the entire winter because they eat so little.
We also offer them cabbage and other greens on occasion and they really like that. Thankfully, they are easy to please when it comes to feeding during the winter.
Like I said before, we give the ducks and geese free run of the barn when we close the door at night. They chose their own little area to call home in an extra stall that isn’t used by anyone else at the moment. We put their water bucket and feed bowl there and over time they have created nice beds and nests for their eggs.
We provide straw for them to use as bedding, just like we do for the chickens. Straw, because it’s hollow, is great for insulating so it’s a warm material for them to rest in. It’s so fun to watch them pick pieces up here and there to add to their nests. We scoop out and clean the area as needed and lay fresh bedding.
Since the ducks continue to lay all winter, much more reliably than chickens, we sometimes have to dig for buried treasure when checking for eggs. They tend to cover them up really well which is great because eggs crazy easily in freezing temperatures and then they’re no good for us.
Of course, we see our birds several times a day so we are able to keep a close eye on them and catch any health concerns early on. If we notice one of them acting strange, we check it over immediately to find out what’s going on.
Once you know how to overwinter waterfowl, it’s not so daunting and is easily done. They make wonderful additions to the homestead and we love having them around all year.