Lookout chickens, you’ve got competition! While raising backyard chickens is all the rage these days, ducks have also made quite a case for themselves. Compared to chickens, they have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
We think they give chickens a pretty good run for their money though. Raising ducks can be quite rewarding, as they’re both cute and also quite productive. Here are a bunch of things you should know about raising ducks, including how they stack up versus chickens.
Ducks are simply hardier birds than chickens. They are less likely to contract diseases or harbor parasites and they have a lower mortality rate.
While chickens often need added heat in the winter, ducks don’t really mind the cold. They’ll even still go swimming in below freezing temperatures. They have a built-in down coat and wetsuit combination, plus they’re quite adept at regulating their body temperature.
Unlike chickens, ducks definitely don’t have any problems being out in the rain – in fact, they love it. There are few things – if anything – that ducks love more than mud puddles.
Ducks are great for pest control. They won’t scratch up your yard like chickens might, but they will eat all the bugs they can find. That includes garden slugs and other pests. They can even help control mosquito populations somewhat.
Chickens require far less water than ducks do, which means less wet, mucky messes. Ducks, on the other hand, need a constant supply of clean drinking water. It also has to be deep enough for them to submerge their entire bill to can clean their nares.
They also need bathing and swimming water. While kiddie pools will suffice, they must be emptied, cleaned and refilled quite frequently. Of course, the more room they have to swim, the happier they’ll be.
There’s no getting around it. They may be easier to care for, but ducks and ducklings are both incredibly messy. Not only do they poop a lot, they also make muddy, mucky wet messes anytime they’re given the chance.
Ducklings, especially, can drive you crazy with how quickly they’ll make a mess of their brooder.
Ducks lay a lot of eggs, and, yes, some breeds lay even more than chickens do. While chickens produce, on average, 22-35 pounds of eggs per year, ducks can produce 35-52 pounds. The eggs are bigger, richer, more dense in nutrients, and they’re amazing for baking.
Here’s another interesting tidbit: if you’re allergic to chicken eggs, you might not be allergic to duck eggs. Of course, if you have severe allergies, you should consult with your doctor before trying any type of egg.
Ducks are just plain fun to watch and interact with. They’re cute, cuddly, funny, and they all seem to have their own, unique personalities – especially when imprinted on humans. Talking to your ducklings when they’re young and spending lots of quality time with them will ensure friendlier ducks overall.
Ducks are incredibly social creatures and can get lonely, depressed, and even sick if left alone. While it might seem fun to have a single, pet duck, it’s often not so much fun for the duck. It’s highly suggested you at least have a pair.
Sometimes males have a tendency to over-mate females. One should never ever have more males than females in a flock. Preferably, the ratio should be no less than four females per male.
Many people opt for an all-female flock. It won’t affect egg production, only fertilization. Unless you plan to breed your ducks, you don’t need a male.
Most male ducks are actually pretty quiet. They tend to have a raspier, froglike voice compared to the much louder females.
While many people feed ducks the same food as chickens, adding niacin is a good idea if you do. It’s vital to their health and can prevent leg issues caused by B3 deficiency. Ducks require two to three times as much niacin as chickens – and this is especially true for growing ducklings.
Adding nutritional yeast to their feed is an easy way to supplement niacin. Of course, we also highly suggest feeding a specially formulated waterfowl food, like those made by Mazuri. Medicated poultry feeds should be avoided.
Ducks can live a long time, so that’s certainly something to think about before bringing some home. Just like most other pets, you’ll need to be prepared to care for them for many years to come.
One nice thing about ducks is as long as they have food, water and shelter, they’ll pretty much stay put. Most domestic breeds, with the exception of some ornamental ducks, bantam class breeds, and muscovies, are too heavy to fly.
There is a bit of preparation required before bringing home any sort of backyard poultry. As babies, they’ll need an indoor brooder with a heat source. When grown, you’ll need an adequate outdoor shelter as well. We suggest doing thorough research on building or buying an appropriate shelter before bringing home ducks.
Of course, the same goes for chickens or any kind of backyard birds.
Ducklings don’t start producing the oils needed for waterproofing until they’re about four weeks old. In the wild, their mothers would apply the necessary waterproofing. As much as ducklings love to play in water, you must be careful. Water dishes or fountains should not be big enough for them to climb into for a swim.
Letting them have supervised swim time in shallow water is okay, but only for short periods. Allowing ducklings to swim freely or leaving them in water for too long can be dangerous. They can become waterlogged and die from chill or they can drown from fatigue.
When raising ducklings, be prepared for them to grow quite a bit faster than chickens. They will quickly outgrow a smaller brooder before you know it.
Looking for a treat your ducks will absolutely love? Not all, but the vast majority of ducks absolutely love thawed frozen peas. They make a great training treat, too.
When in doubt, or if you have a question, there are always folks available to help. Not only are there online forums dedicated to raising ducks, but there are also multiple Facebook groups as well. There are thousands of duck lovers that frequent these groups and are always willing to help. There are also many great blogs about raising backyard ducks that can provide a wealth of information.
For offline reading material, we highly recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks by Dave Holderread. The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook by Kimberly Link and Duck Eggs Daily by Lisa Steele are good resources as well.