Waterfowl Brooding Basics

by Jess N

Published July 18, 2022

Raising waterfowl is such a rewarding experience! Nothing is more exciting than watching your ducklings and goslings start from little balls of fluff and turn into stunning birds in your flock. Like their chicken counterparts, both ducklings and goslings have their guidelines for brooding them. Let’s look at how to brood waterfowl, making sure your birds get off to a great start!

Magpie Day Old Ducklings Meyer Hatchery


Before your ducklings and goslings arrive, you must gather everything your waterfowl will need in their brooder. A brooder will be your waterfowl’s “home” for 7-9 weeks. A brooder is an enclosure to keep your waterfowl warm and safe while growing in their feathers and getting ready to transition outside. When choosing a brooder, you have many options, including stock tanks, plastic tubs, plastic swimming pools, or any other container that will keep your waterfowl draft-free. There are also wooden brooders, which you can use, but with waterfowl comes lots of water, so using a plastic type container or stock tank can be easier to clean.  Be sure whatever you choose for a brooder that you give it a good cleaning with a 10% bleach-water solution and allow it to dry before introducing your waterfowl to their new home. Initially, waterfowl need about ⅓ sq ft per bird.
ducklings in brooder - Meyer Hatchery blog
Horse Pellet Bedding Duckling Brooder Meyer Hatchery


After you have chosen the perfect brooder, you will now need to add bedding. The bedding will help you keep your waterfowl warm, absorb any droppings, and help to strengthen the birds legs. Pine shavings are an excellent choice for bedding. 2” of pine shaving is suggested for your brooder. You might also consider using horse pellets.

Note: you don’t want to use cedar shavings, they are highly aromatic and can cause respiratory problems for your poultry. Be sure to clean your brooder often, and that your birds have dry clean bedding at all times.

Keeping Your Waterfowl Warm

You will need to provide a heat source for your waterfowl in their brooder. You have two options when it comes to selecting a heat source. First, you can use a heat lamp with a 125-250 watt light bulb. A heat lamp can be easily adjusted by raising and lowering the lamp. Start with the heat lamp 18″ above the birds, and adjust as needed.  Use a thermometer to ensure the correct temperature in your brooder. For the first week of your waterfowl’s life, you want the temperature in the brooder to be 90-95 degrees. You will decrease the temperature by five degrees each week for three weeks. After three weeks, as long as the temperature of the room where the brooder is located is at 70 degrees, you will no longer need a heat source. You can also use a brooder plate when brooding waterfowl. Keep in mind you will not be able to use a thermometer when using a brooder plate as this heat source mimics a mother duck or goose, and the birds need to push up against the plate. You will need to watch your birds’ behavior closely to ensure they are warm enough. If you are using a brooder plate in a waterfowl brooder, ensure the brooder plate is at the opposite side of the brooder from their waterer, so there is no chance for water to be splashed on the brooder plate. Ensure the bedding underneath the heat plate is dry at all times, so the birds do not get chilled. Lastly, when using a brooder plate, ensure the room temperature is above 50 degrees, or the brooder plate will not work effectively.  

Time to Eat

Now that your birds have a good home with bedding and warmth, it’s time for some good quality feed. Choose a feeder that waterfowl can easily get their bills into, but make sure they can’t stand in it and soil the feed.  When feeding your waterfowl, you want to start with 20-22% protein waterfowl starter feed for the first two weeks; then you can switch to 17-19% protein waterfowl grower until the waterfowl is at laying age. If you cannot find waterfowl feed, you can substitute unmedicated chick starter/grower of the same protein. If you substitute chick feed in place of waterfowl feed, you may need to supplement with the additional vitamins to provide all the necessary nutrients your waterfowl need.

Waterfowl Love Water

Your waterfowl need access to water at all times. When choosing a waterer you want to make sure the waterer is big enough to allow for the ducklings and goslings to stick their entire bill and nostrils in to clean out dust and debris. Waterfowl do not have waterproof properties until they are 5-6 weeks in age, so make sure the waterer you choose does not allow your birds to go inside for an extra swim. You can make a DIY duckling/gosling waterer you can adjust as your waterfowl grow.

Keep a Close Eye

With your brooder all set up, it’s time to introduce your waterfowl to their new home. You want to keep a watchful eye on your new waterfowl friends, especially when they first arrive. Be sure to introduce them to the feed and water by dipping their bills in. Watch their behavior to make sure your brooder is at the right temperature. If the waterfowl are all huddled together, they are cold. If they are spread out and panting, the brooder is too warm. If you are using a brooder plate, you may need to encourage the birds to go under the plate so they know where the warmth is.

Going For a Swim

After your ducklings and goslings are a week old, you can allow them to go for very quick swims in shallow warm water. Short swims help to stimulate the oil production, making your waterfowl waterproof. Here is a video for tips when giving your waterfowl their first swim.
Young Girl with Duckling Meyer Hatchery
Preparing with the essential brooder equipment, heat source, and good quality feed will set you up for waterfowl success. Making sure their brooder space is clean and dry will be a challenge with these water-loving birds, but it is essential for them to grow and thrive. Raising ducklings and goslings is tons of fun, and many find that these fun feathered friends form a special bond with them within the first week of their arrival. Whether you are raising waterfowl for eggs, meat, or just as pets, we hope you enjoy the process from start to finish.

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