While chickens tend to be the natural choice for the backyard poultry flock, we encourage you to take a look at their web-footed cousins. Chickens and ducks are more alike than they are different, but ducks do require a bit more upkeep and cleaning. Don’t let that dissuade you, your backyard duck flock will reward you with some of the most hilarious antics and the best baking eggs you’ve ever seen.
Ducks and Chickens are basically the same, right?
Well, yes and no. While chickens and ducks have many similarities, don’t expect the same experience. We recommend that for first-timers, you start with a small flock of bantam or silkie chickens, moving up to production chickens and ducks once you’ve earned your stripes. Here are some differences to consider:
Duck eggs are prized for baking, but some folks don’t care for the rich flavor – they’re used to the milder chicken egg. Be sure to try one before you start your duck flock!
Ducks are hardier and tolerate cold, damp conditions which would knock down a chicken.
Chickens tend to be more personable, gathering around you when you approach and often letting you pet and hold them.
Ducks tend to be messier, louder, and more difficult to put away at night.
Ducks tend to be easier on the garden – you can safely turn your flock loose on an established garden and they’ll eat up the bugs without scratching up your plants.
At the same time, ducks can be very destructive given the right circumstances, turning a puddle into a mud hole fit for a hog!
Choose Your Breed and Buy Your Ducklings
Just like with chickens, you can choose a bird bred for laying eggs, for meat, or a mix of both. Our friends at Belle Vie Farm and Kitchen like Muscovies for meat and Khaki Campbells for eggs. Muscovies are famous for their bright red wattles and clawed feet. They’re native to Mexico and parts south, so they’re well suited for Texas summers. A durable bird, Muscovies also adapt easily to colder areas. They often roost in trees at night, which can cause some consternation for their owners if there are predators in the area. Khaki Campbells are highly recommended for their egg production, often out-laying chickens and producing in excess of 300 eggs per year. They seem less affected by cold and the reduced daylight hours of winter, providing a steady source of eggs during times chickens may quit laying.
Regardless of the breed you choose, it’s always best to start out small and sample a variety. Three to six ducks makes an excellent backyard flock. The internet is a trove of information on the dozens of breeds available for you to choose from. Ducklings are often available for sale at your local feed store, but we also recommend Murray McMurray Hatchery to folks looking for specific breeds or where the local option is off the table.
Prepare Their Space, Keep Them Safe
In nature, a baby duckling’s feathers are treated with oil expressed from a gland on the mother’s tail, which prepares it to swim on its very first day of life. Unless your ducklings were hatched by their mother, you’ll need to make sure to keep them dry and warm for the first few weeks of life, until they can produce their own oils and waterproof their coats. When constructing a space to serve as a brooder for your baby ducklings, please follow the instructions in our Layers 101 Guide. Like chicks, ducklings require a great deal of clean water (a baby duckling will consume twice as much water as food). You can use the standard white and red chick waterers for your ducklings, but it’s a good idea to fill the bottom with a layer of pea gravel to prevent them from getting too wet. Unlike baby chicks, ducklings will happily jump into their waterers in an attempt to try out those webbed feet. It’s also a good idea to place your waterers on a raised wire platform or change out the bedding around waterers daily. Ducks of all ages love splashing in their water, and make a fantastic mess.
Once your ducklings have left the brooder, you’ll find that they’re a great deal more durable than chickens. Because of their waterproof coats, ducklings are practically impervious to the cold and damp.
The Coop and Run
After three or four weeks and depending on outside temperatures, it’s okay to bring your ducklings outside their brooder space. For backyard duck flocks, we recommend a similar coop and run layout as outlined in our Layers 101 guide, but with the addition of some sort of pond for your ducks to swim in. They’ll make a heck of a mess, so a little extra care and planning will save you some significant headaches in the future. A kiddie pool placed on top of a deep bed of well-drained gravel is a great idea. While ducks don’t need a pond to swim in, it seems a shame to deprive them of it. Besides, watching the love a duck shows for swimming is one of life’s pleasures that you shouldn’t deprive yourself of.
Feeding, Watering & Care
Ducks drink a lot of water, even more than chickens do. It’s important to have clean, fresh water available for your birds at all times. Check out this excellent article from Metzer Farms about constructing a mess-free waterer for waterfowl. The extra time you lay out up front will be saved tenfold – nobody wants to muck out a duck run several times a week.
Ducks have similar nutritional requirements as chickens, but need a higher vitamin and mineral content in their feed. They also consume feed at a higher rate than chickens. Coyote Creek’s certified organic Duck Layer and Duck Developer rations are specifically formulated to provide everything a duck needs, whether you’re growing ducks for meat or for eggs. Many folks like the hanging red and white bell-style feeders you can pick up at feed stores, but we like to recommend trough-style feeders like the ones described in our Feeder Design Guide.