How to train ducks to free range & return to their pen


Staff member
Premium Member
May 27, 2012
Bellmere, QLD
I received this excellent question via email today:

Can i get some advise on ducks please? I have several chickens and plan on getting 3 or 4 ducks this summer. My chickens free range. How do I train my ducks to do the same? I have several acres and wonder if they will leave the yard to roam, or will they stay with the chickens? Any help would be appreciated . Thank you

You certainly can train ducks to free-range just like chickens and return home to the pen before nightfall but they may take a little more time to get used to a free-range routine and require slightly more effort than your hens.

Chickens tend to be smarter than ducks and they also have an inbuilt safety mechanism that makes them go and find a familiar safe place (usually the coop) to roost before nightfall.

Ducks are very similar to chickens when seeking a safe place to sit just before dark; however, when new to your property (or newly hatched ducklings) they may have some trouble knowing where to go initially.

Here's how I train my ducks:

The first thing to do is get the ducks familiar with their new home/pen. I like to keep any new ducks inside their pen for at least a week before allowing them access to the free-ranging area.

This makes them bond with their surroundings, lets them feel safe, isn't too much for them to absorb initially, and generally eases them into their new environment. Ducks are very habitual, once they get this bond they will always consider it a safe zone and then be easier to usher back there.

It also helps for familiarity, if their main food source and a water bucket is kept in their pen area.

After 7 days or so, I then leave the pen door (or their section) open for them to go out to the free-ranging areas. At this point, I don't force them out but rather let them in their own time leave the "safe zone" and wonder out. This sometimes takes a few hours or days depending on how adventurous the new ducks are, or if you already have ducks using the free-range areas, etc but the key is to let them do it in their own time.

If you find after about 4 or 5 days the ducks aren't leaving their pen to go into the free-range area then gently usher them out but in reality this shouldn't be necessary...

Once you see them out free-ranging you are halfway there obviously. Before nightfall or whenever it's your time to have the poultry put back in the pen you might find the ducks will put themselves to bed and return to their "safe zone" on their own.

However, it's more likely you will need to round them up and usher them back to their pen area - this is easier than you think. Ducks tend to hang close together (unlike chickens) so when being ushered they will group up and follow the leader. Grab a long pole or stick (about 2 yards long) and slowly usher the ducks by walking behind them and directing the flock with your long pole it's surprising how well ducks respond to the pole being moved left or right. Don't move them too fast because in their panic they might hurt a leg (especially the larger breeds) but walk slowly behind directing the traffic until you have them back at their pen.

You might have to do this routine for about 7 days, ushering the ducks back to their pen and then you'll soon find simply your presence and you walking down to the free-ranging area at dusk will be enough to trigger the ducks into waddling into the pen themselves. Then after that, you'll find they will return to the pen before nightfall just like chickens do.

I manually let our poultry out free-ranging each morning and then at dusk I go and shut the door to the pen after the last bird has waddled home. In the past 12 months, there has been probably 2 or 3 times when I have come down at dusk to find the ducks out but they soon remember the drill and quickly get back to the pen.

Years ago, I purchased an automatic coop door but I'm yet to install it only because I haven't got around to doing it and I'm currently renovating my pen. However, I'm confident once trained like above we could install the auto door on the pen and the birds would let themselves out and put themselves to bed every day... That could have some advantages! :D

I hope this information helps. If anyone would like to add any points to this or ask more questions about training ducks to return to their pen etc please go ahead.
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