As a rough rule of thumb, it’s generally safe and healthy for your flock to have one drake for every 5-6 female ducks. Read on to learn more about why the male/female ratio is important, and how there are exceptions to every rule.
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I hatch and sell many ducklings every spring. Every time I send a new duck owner home with a batch of precious, peeping little fluff-balls, I make sure they know they can call or text me with any duck-keeping question, any time.
In the early summer months, I mostly field questions about feeding ducklings, about managing their water so they don’t live in a muddy mess, and most of all – how to raise friendly ducks that actually want to be around people.
By the early months of the following spring however, I start getting texts that sound like this:
“HELP! My boys are all ganging up on the girls and I’m worried they’ll get hurt. Do I need to get rid of some of my drakes?”
The answer is almost inevitably, YES. With too many drakes in a flock, they tend to squabble over the females. It’s possible for them to endanger each other, but the most serious danger is usually to the female ducks.
When too many drakes are competing for the ladies, it’s common for 2 or even 3 drakes to attempt breeding one female at the same time. This in itself can maim a duck, but since mating activity often happens in water, it can also easily end in drowning for the poor female.
Even when such “gang-mating” tragedy doesn’t occur, having too many drakes in a flock still leads to ducks being mated so frequently that it takes a heavy physical toll. Females with too many suitors quickly end up with bald heads and necks, where they’re being grabbed by the drakes’ bills.
Egg laying is also commonly reduced, when ducks are subjected to such constant stress.
Unfortunately, this stressful dynamic can be very common in backyard duck flocks. Ducklings are most often sold straight run, which means they’re not sold as guaranteed males or females. So it’s pretty usual for duck owners to end up with a flock that has about 50% males (drakes), and 50% females (known as ducks, or hens).
Ducklings are so precious and personable, they quickly get named and become part of the family. So by the time it’s easy to tell which young ducks are male and which are female, it’s hard to imagine parting with any of them. I definitely understand!
Throughout their first summer and fall after hatching, young ducks generally don’t engage in much mating activity. So even throughout the winter months, it’s common for a flock to stay quite peaceful and friendly – even with an even ratio of males to females.
It is very, very common for new duck keepers to know they have more drakes than is recommended, but to feel strongly that everything is going to be fine in their flock, because everyone gets along so well. And this is often true, for nearly a year.
However, as soon as the days begin to lengthen, and the weather warms, springtime hormones begin to surge. Egg-laying has generally been in full swing for a while, and then suddenly all of the drakes become mating machines.
(Since it generally take more hours of daylight to trigger fertility in male ducks than females, this change in male behavior often occurs well after ducks begin to lay.
So, what is the best drake to duck ratio for a peaceful flock?
In my flock, and in most flocks I’ve spent time with, one drake for every 5-6 females is just about perfect. This is generally a ratio that allows for a peaceful flock, and it still allows for excellent fertility in all ducks.
Keep in mind that ducks don’t require a drake to lay eggs, just to lay fertile eggs that can be hatched.
If your flock has plenty of area to free range, it’s likely that even one drake to every 3-4 hens could be fine. This depends very much on the drive and personality of your individual drakes, and I do feel that breed plays a role here. That said, my flock freely ranges over our 2 acres, and I still try keep my ratio at 1/5, for the sake of my girls. Even with gentle drakes, they look more bedraggled than I like at the end of a season with more males than this.
But, there are exceptions to every rule.
I strongly feel that the most important thing in deciding how many drakes to keep, is to know your own flock dynamics well. Right now, I have more drakes in my flock than I’ve ever kept, because I have two bonded pairs of ducks. This does not usually happen. Each of these males has just one female that he’s devoted to, and she to him. These two “couples” spend their days together, and remind me for all the world of Ricky & Lucy, and Fred & Ethel. In fact, I think I may have to rename them.
So right now, I have 2 drakes with a flock of 9 ducks – plus these two odd couples. That means that I have 4 drakes to 11 hens, which is much more than I’d ever recommend to anyone. But – only you know your flock. Keep in mind that keeping more than one drake for about every 5 ducks can mean trouble, but watch your flock closely and listen to your instincts.
What to do with extra drakes
If you do find yourself needing to slim down the number of males in your flock, here are some ways you can do that:
- Give them away
- Sell them, if they’re rare or excellent stock
- Process them for the table
Please though, don’t take your extra drakes to the park or woodland and let them go. They’re not wild animals, and it’s most likely that even being quickly dispatched for the table would be a more humane option than subjecting them to the distress of fending for themselves, unprepared for life in the wild.
I hope this helps a bit, as you seek to create a healthy, peaceful backyard flock!
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