L. Holloway is an experienced keeper of chickens and other fowl who has spent nearly a decade educating others on their habits and care.
The Pros and Cons of Ducks
If you already own chickens, adding ducks to the flock may seem like the next logical step. If you are considering purchasing ducks this season, it's important to know as much as you can about them—the good and the bad. For some, owning ducks is the worst experience of their lives, but for many others, ducks are wonderful, productive, and economical additions to the farm. A great deal will depend on your specific needs, layout, and abilities. Since I believe in starting with the bad news first, let's take a look at the "cons" before moving on to the "pros."
The Cons of Owning Ducks
- Ducks are wet animals. This can also be a pro if you live in a humid climate, but if you are trying to house ducks with your chickens, you will need enough space to place the water far away from the coop to avoid the ducks muddying up the inside of the coop.
- Ducks poop a lot, and violently. Whereas chickens drop a plop as they go, ducks projectile-fire their droppings with reckless abandon. This isn't a problem when they free-range, but if you are trying to keep them in close quarters it will make some interesting cleanup.
- Ducks are not agile creatures and will be easy targets for predation. Although they are avid free rangers, they must have a secure place to sleep at night, or they will be literal "sitting ducks."
- They eat a lot. Ducks eat far more than chickens, in part because they are larger. As with other cons of duck ownership, this is not as much of a problem if they are allowed to free range during the day, but in confinement, they will need to be fed more.
- They are not the same as chickens. Ducks operate differently from chickens, so the things that work with chickens won't work as well with them. Ducks are less likely to want to be held and cuddled than a chicken, and will express their fondness for you very differently most of the time. There will be a learning curve when it comes to understanding your ducks.
- Ducks can kill chickens if they are housed together. A little-known fact about chicken anatomy is that roosters do not have a penis, so chicken hens do not have a space to accommodate one. Drakes however, do have penises, and as such if they try to breed a chicken (male or female), they are likely to kill it. That said, this has not been a problem for the majority of duck owners, especially those that have female ducks in their flock. It is something to keep in mind as a potential danger, however.
The Pros of Owning Ducks
- Ducklings grow very fast and need less supplemental heat than baby chickens. Ducklings will outgrow their brooder in roughly half the time of their chicken counterparts.
- They're good free-range. Although ducks eat more than chickens, they love to free range and are master dabblers. Given access to muddy earth, such as a pond or bog in your yard, they will hunt for—and find—tasty insects, crustaceans, earthworms, and other invertebrates in large numbers. They will also happily devour weed seeds on the property, and if allowed to roam will do so—unlike chickens who will congregate in one spot and obsessively destroy the ground there with their scratching.
- Ducks are better garden companions than chickens. They will eat many of the same things, but don't scratch and are less likely to hop over barriers, so you can pen off your garden plants and let the ducks roam between the rows to catch pests or eat weeds without losing your entire garden.
- They're hardy. Ducks are hardier animals that are susceptible to fewer illnesses than chickens, especially in damp or humid climates. While chickens suffer during long periods of wet weather, ducks will celebrate it.
- They're easily trained. Ducks are easier to herd than chickens, and can be trained in just a few days to move to a new location on command (especially if there is food in the new location.) When my ducks escape their enclosure, all I have to do is clap my hands and say "Ok, Ducks—Go in!" and they will line up and march back to their pen. This also gives us greater flexibility to allow the ducks to free range, because when it is time to go in, we know they will do so. With chickens, this isn't as much of an option.
- Ducks are generally very easy to integrate into a new flock. Although ducks have a pecking order of their own, it is not as aggressive as chickens', and ducks meeting a new duck are generally happy to allow it into the flock. My ducks even adopted a goose with a leg deformity who was not able to keep up with her own kind.
- There is far less danger from an aggressive duck than an aggressive rooster. Although aggressive roosters are actually pretty rare, the few that are can do a significant amount of damage, sending even grown adults to the ER with serious injuries. Ducks lack the spurs or agility of a rooster, and so even if they have a bad attitude (which I have yet to encounter), they can do far less damage. This makes them a safer option for families with very small children, but it does mean ducks will not be able to defend themselves from attacking predators while free-ranging.
- They're great egg-layers. Some varieties of ducks are as prolific at laying eggs as chickens, and the eggs are vastly superior for baking. Additionally, individuals who have an allergy or sensitivity to chicken eggs may find that they can eat duck eggs without a problem. The eggs are richer than chicken eggs, and produce fluffier baked goods. They range in size from medium to jumbo, often depending on the breed.
- Meat and eggs. Ducks can be dual-purpose, just like chickens, or raised exclusively for eggs or meat. Like chickens, there are many breeds and color varieties of duck available, ranging from the super-stocky Rouen to the lean egg-laying machines that are Khaki Campbells. Call ducks are the "bantams" of the duck world, and so cute you could die. Whatever you need in chickens, you can probably get from ducks.
Preparing for Ducks
Although it is possible to house ducks and chickens together and have them thrive, you may find it to be less work to allow them to live separately. As stated before, ducks are "wet" animals while chickens are "dry," meaning that ducks thrive in humid and wet environments while the same environments can make chickens very sick.
What kind of enclosure a duck needs:
- If you have the opportunity to prepare a living space just for your ducks, you may want to consider a coop or shed with a dirt floor and good drainage.
- Elevating your living space around the surrounding ground is advisable for any farm animal, but especially for ducks who will produce tremendous amounts of moisture that you will want to be able to drain away to keep odors down.
- They do not need a pool or pond, though they will be happier with one. All ducks really require is water deep enough to dip their heads in so that they can clean out their bills, nostrils, and eyes. It may be tricky to provide this water in a chicken coop without also creating a drowning hazard for the chickens, so that is one of many reasons to consider housing them separately.
- Giving ducks ample space to roam is the best way to keep odors down and minimize the work you have to do to clean up after them. Because they are vulnerable to predation, they need secure housing, particularly at night, but can usually free-range during the day provided you do not have active day-time predators in your area.
- A livestock guardian dog will deter most predators, while an electric fence should keep ground predators at bay. Closing the ducks up in their shed or coop at night is easy to do, because ducks will habitually return to the same place every night to sleep, and can easily be herded in if they don't do so on their own.
- Since ducks are not as agile as chickens, they are easier to pen to a specific area. A low fence is all you will need to keep them confined to where you want them, as long as they are able to squeeze through it or climb over. You can plan a spacious duck run to give them exercise and room to range (and spread out their poo) without having to invest in a massive covered run or towering fence.
What to Feed Your Ducks
Ducks can be fed a commercial all-flock or flock-raiser feed from the moment they hatch, but they may need supplemental niacin if they do not have access to free range. I manage this by feeding my ducklings peas in addition to their feed, and allowing them to free-range as adults. Just remember to provide grit to any bird you have in confinement that you are feeding treats to so that they are able to properly digest their food.
Varieties of Ducks
When choosing the ducks you wish to add to your flock, there are several varieties to choose from, including proprietary hybrids offered by some hatcheries that are promised to lay abundant eggs, or breeding lines of meat varieties that are so plump they seem to drag on the ground. Determine what you need from your flock, including the aesthetics you are looking for, and from there find the breeds that will be a good fit for your needs.
The majority of duck breeds you will encounter are descendants of mallards. Whether it's Pekins, Cayugas, Indian runners, Call ducks, or Khakis, they are all part of the same mallard species. One variety of duck however, is descended from a different species: Muscovies. Unlike mallards, which are very vocal (the hens especially so), muscovies are virtually silent and make little more than a hissing whisper or peeping noise. Domestic muscovies are heavy, with the hens capable of limited flight, but the drakes unable to leave the ground. Feral and wild muscovies are more agile, and can easily reach the roofs of houses, making them harder to confine than most ducks.
All muscovies are reputed to be extremely diligent parents and will self-propagate given the chance. Because they are a different species from other ducks, they can interbreed, but the offspring is typically sterile. Additionally, muscovies have different secondary sex characteristics from other varieties of ducks, so instead of listening for the loud "QUACK" for hens or looking for the curling tail feather of drakes, you will want to monitor the development of the caruncles on their faces. Drakes have red, prominent caruncle growths while hens are less pronounced in the face. Although wild muscovies are black and wide, domestic can come in a wide range of colors.
Call ducks are "mini" ducks, developed to easy for duck hunters to carry with them on trips and use as living decoys, hence their name. Their quack is much louder than normal ducks, due to their original purpose, but they are otherwise smaller than normal ducks in every way. They come in a wide variety of colors and include crested varieties.
Indian Runner Ducks
Developed by duck keepers who needed to march their ducks over vast distances, Indian Runner ducks have a different posture from other ducks, standing upright like a penguin to assist their forward mobility on land. Like call ducks, Indian runner ducks come in a wide variety of colors and configurations. They are typically prolific layers, easily outperforming some chicken breeds, but are high-energy and nervous by nature. They would do well in a free-ranging environment where they can forage for their own food.
Crested ducks aren't so much a breed as they are a trait. Crests have been introduced to many different breeds of duck, including calls, runners, and other varieties. Crests are attractive poofs of feathers on top of the duck's head that may range from a small tuft to an impressive coiffure of feathers that spills over the top of their heads. The genes that produce crests are known as "lethal genes," meaning if a chick inherits a copy of the gene from both parents, it will die before it is able to hatch. For this reason, if you want high hatch-rates from your eggs, it is advisable to only have crested males or crested females, but not both to avoid the possibility of both parents passing on the gene.
Perhaps my favorite breed of duck, Cayugas are a "meat" breed, though not so developed as jumbo Pekins or some strains of Rouens. They grow big, and they grow fast, with gorgeous black feathers than shine in metallic shades of blue, purple, and green. As they age, flecks of white begin to appear in their feathers, making your senior birds look like star-speckled skies. Their eggs are charcoal-black at first, fading to a sage green with each subsequent egg laid in the cycle. They do not lay as often as khakis or runners, but their eggs are larger, often exceeding "jumbo" status.
Khakis are a beautifully understated bird, with hens and drakes alike feathered in muted browns, with khaki-colored legs (hence their name.) They are small ducks by comparison to Cayugas and other heavy varieties, but are renowned for their egg-producing skills.
When one pictures the stereotypical white duck, a Pekin is typically what they bring to mind. Large, heavy birds, they grow large and fast like Cayugas, but are pure white. Jumbo Pekins get even larger, intended for meat production. They do not lay as many eggs as khakis, but their white, tinted eggs are easily jumbo-sized and numerous enough to keep most backyard farmers supplied in eggs.
And so Much More
There are many, many more varieties of duck to choose from, but lacking personal experience with these breeds, I will not offer an opinion on them for fear of misleading you. Instead, I will refer you to this wonderful chart by Metzer Farms that compares several of the varieties they offer, since I have ordered fowl from them multiple times before and been extraordinarily happy with my purchases.
More Tips for Beginners
There are a few more things to note about ducks before you take the plunge into duck ownership.
- Female ducks are called "hens," males "drakes," and baby ducks are "ducklings."
- Drakes will develop a curled feather on their backs, but the first indication of sex may be their voice. Hens quack loudly while drakes have a raspy whisper of a quack.
- Ducklings should not be allowed to swim unsupervised for the first few weeks of life, because they do not have waterproof feathers yet. In nature, mother ducks would coat the ducklings in oil from their own glands, but in human care, ducklings must wait for their own oil glands to mature before they can swim safely.
- Ducklings imprint on the first moving object they see when they hatch, and with handling and care, can be bonded to their human caregiver. If not bonded to you, they may yet learn to trust you, but will generally prefer the company of their own kind—even if they have never previously seen another duck before!
- Ducks need water to properly digest and even eat their food, and should always have water deep enough to dip their faces it to avoid food becoming compacted in their bills or nostrils.
- Ducks need more niacin in their diet than chickens, so they can be fed an all-flock or flock-raiser feed, supplemented with a source of niacin such as brewer's yeast or peas. Additionally, they can be allowed to free range, and seem capable of meeting their niacin needs through wild greens, seeds, and prey.
© 2019 L Holloway
Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on March 03, 2019:
This is a great and comprehensive article about keeping ducks. I always have some ducks on my farm. Normally ones that other people got on a whim and then want to get rid of since they didn't realize what they were getting into. More people need to read things like this before getting ducks of their own!
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 02, 2019:
I love ducks. I wish I had the land to keep them, they are such lovely animals.
A Complete Beginners Guide to Raising Ducks
A lot of people nowadays are raising ducks for profits. The main reason for this is that ducks are easier to raise than chickens. First off is that chickens live shorter than ducks and ducks longer. And since they live longer they can make you profits in their second year of egg laying.
When it comes to housing its much cheaper to house ducks than to house chickens. And on the other hand ducks tend to be less prone to common diseases than chickens. But the sad note is that ducklings can be quit difficult to handle for a beginner farmer thus making them stressful to raise.
Ducks can not be fed just about anything unlike chickens and are quite delicate. But the good thing about them is that as they grow older they become less dependent on you and become more independent. Below are some beginner tips you can use to start raising healthy ducks.
1. The first thing you need to do when preparing to raise ducks is to build a duck house in a cool peaceful location. And there is no better location than near a stream or pond. The duck house can be built using bamboo or cogon materials. The recommended space for each duck can be 3sq.ft to 4sp.ft. And to keep the floor clean and dry you can cover it with hulls.
2. Although this step is not compulsory you can build your ducks an artificial pond or use your home swimming pool to keep your ducks cool. Not forgetting that they enjoying being in water.
Read more: Raising Baby Ducks Into Healthy Adult Ducks – All You Need to Know
3. In order for your ducks to start breeding it is important to acquire one drake. One drake is good enough for almost 5 ducks. A good time to determine a breeder around 2 months old. And eggs that are intended for hatching must be from ducks that are over 6 months old. Young ducks are known to be less fertile.
4. Please also note that when you are preparing for breeding the drakes should be the same age or just a month older. The drakes should not be raised in the same place with the others, they should only be brought to the others when its time for mating.
Read more: Pet Duck Supplies – Help You Raise Healthy Ducks and Ducklings
5. There are also guidelines when feeding your ducks. Only starter mashes should to fed to newly born ducklings. When they turn 6 months old they then can be fed grower mash. This mash should be given to them until they are 4 months old. Ducks that are older than 4 months can be given laying ration.
There’s a lot more involved in raising healthy ducks. A good start is to get your own ducks, but before you do that get our complete guide on how to raise ducks to avoid costly mistakes.
A Beginner's Guide to Raising Ducks - pets
Having a pet is a correct delight. Whilst most think about dogs as great pets, you will find other animals and birds which individuals select to possess as their pets. Among they are ducks. These birds are very affable. They adore to seek interest, also. Some people, although, believe that raising ducks is rather weird and their only objective is for their eggs or meat. They’ve no clue as to how to raise ducks as pets. Gardeners, nevertheless, find these creatures useful because they feed on bugs. These aquatic creatures are also a pleasure to look at. Children adore them very a lot.
It is thrilling to have ducks at our backyard. However, it’s needed of you to know how to raise ducks as pets. Ducks mature at about 7 months after hatching and they may reside up to ten years.
When contemplating raising ducks, you have to make sure that a body of water is near. You should also a minimum of ten feet of yard space per duck. As soon as you have these, the rest is simple.
You need to be knowledgeable about ducks’ nature, consuming habits as well as other essential details if you intend to raise ducks as pets. There are also a lot of suggestions which will tell you how to raise ducks as pets. You have to learn how to make them happy. One instance is the fact that ducks are social birds and should not be raised alone. A lone duck might really feel lonely and show awkward, shy behavior. Be sure to raise it having a companion. It might be smart to keep one male and a number of females. Males can get too active when they mate and 1 female might not be in a position to handle it.
Make sure to produce a shelter for the ducks that will keep them from cruel weather circumstances. It could be produced from light supplies like wood. Usually check that it is kept dry and make certain to cover the ducks from rain.
It should not be surprising that ducks adore water. It’s ideal to have the shelter close to a physique of water so that the ducks can physical exercise and swim. In the event you select to possess an artificial pond, change the water frequently.
You now have the basics on how to raise ducks as pets. Raising them as pets has fantastic advantages. Make sure to constantly observe the proper pet care and ask the help of specialists when needed. Ducks are attention-seekers, so keep in mind to shower them with love.
Some poultry bird disease can spread through the flock quite quickly. Doing a brief health check of all the birds when they are fed in the morning is an excellent way to notice a potential health problem or injury during the early stages. If a sick bird is discovered, it should be quarantined in a cage away from the rest of the flock and coop and the entire coop and run disinfected immediately – including any waterers or feeders.
Signs That May Indicate A Duck Is Ill
- Showing signs of lethargy, not wanting to free range or even get up and walk around the coop run.
- Nostrils sound stuffy or are runny.
- The bird has no desire to get into the water and wash itself.
- A lack of desire to either eat or drink – or both.
- Bloody droppings
- Feathers are falling out of constantly plucked out by the duck.
- Droopy head and not responding to sound stimuli
- Eyes should be alert and clear and respond to both movement and sound if the duck is healthy.
- Bow legged or limping ducks may be either ill or injured.
Common Duck Diseases
- Fowl Pox – This disease, also commonly referred to as “avian pox” can affect a wide variety of poultry birds. It is typically transmitted via mosquito bites and is highly contagious. It is most often spread from exposure to droppings as well as shared food and water containers. Two types of fowl pox exist, dry and Wet. The wet variety causes canker sores on the interior of the throat and mouth that prevents proper air flow and the swallowing of food and water. The dry version of fowl pox causes warts to grow on the both the feathered and unfeathered parts of the bird’s body. Dry fowl pox tends to heal up and go away when treated with a Neosporin type ointment. Wet fowl pox is often painfully terminal.
- Duck Virus Hepatitis – This is also a deadly and contagious illness. It is most often contracted by ducklings who are one to 28 days old. It would be incredibly odd for a duckling over four weeks old to contract duck virus hepatitis. A duckling can die within 60 minutes of contracting the disease. If a duckling is arching backwards and having spasms in the legs, this is a likely cause. The duckling’s liver becomes enlarged and hemorrhagic spots are often visible. Some duck breeders vaccinate mature hens against this illness to help prevent ducklings she lays from contracting it.
- Duck Plague – Duck Virus Enteritis – The duck plague is an especially contagious and deadly disease contracted by waterfowl through a herpes virus. It typically only infects mature ducks. Birds stricken with duck plague often experience a green or yellow scours (diarrhea) that can be bloody, are sluggish, and have unusually ruffled feathers. Hemorrhages are often found throughout body tissue and cause eruptions of mucous lining of the intestines and esophagus. Immunizations of mature breeding birds are often used to prevent this terminal disease.
- Worms – A poultry bird is susceptible to a variety of different parasites, roundworms being the most common. I sprinkle diatomaceous earth onto the poultry bird feed to help prevent and kill both internal and external parasites in the members of my flock. Commercially manufactured poultry bird wormers are sold at agriculture supply stores.
- Colibacillosis – Ducks and other poultry birds can contract this potentially deadly E-coli disease when the coop and run are not ventilated properly and their living quarters are too cramped and/or soiled. There is currently no known treatment for this contagious disease but mature birds can be vaccinated against it. Keeping the coop and run clean and spacious enough to accommodate the number of birds you are keeping is the best way (in my opinion) to prevent this painful illness. A duck will often show signs of respiratory distress, grow lesions on various parts of the body, and stop eating when it contracts colibacillosis.
- Aspergillosis – When ducks and other poultry birds are exposed to mold and inhale the spores, they contract this painful and often deadly fungal infection. It is also commonly referred to as “chicken pneumonia.” Symptoms of aspergillosis include gasping for air, gaping, and a gurgling sound coming as the duck struggles to breath while their lungs fill up with spores and plaque. Regularly removing moldy straw or other bedding from the coop and run and proper ventilation can prevent any of your ducks from contracting this type of poultry pneumonia. Do not allow grain feed to become damp because it too can create the same deadly mold spores.
- Riemerella Anatipestifer Infection – A duck that contracts this typically deadly infection shows a rapid and distinct weight loss, has discharge coming out of one of both eyes, scours, is listless, and twists its neck and shakes its head almost constantly. A duck with this disease is often found on its back and paddling their legs in the air after lesions infecct their heart, liver, and air sacs. Vaccines are available against this tragic duck infection, but proper husbandry techniques can go a long way in preventing your flock from catching it.
- Botulism – Ducks exposed to stagnant water in a natural or man-made water feature may become exposed to toxins and bacteria that cause deadly botulism spores to grow. Common symptoms of this illness include paralysis of the wings, neck, or legs. Once a duck has contracted botulism, it usually falls into a coma-like state and dies within one to two days.
Keeping ducks is a fun and rewarding experience – and one that produces delicious and creamy eggs, as well. Watching the ducks preen while diving and swimming in their water feature can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience for the entire family. Providing the duck’s with a habitat that is clean, ventilated, and feeding them properly should allow you to keep a healthy flock for many years to come. While the actual lifespan of a duck varies by breed and is influenced by both environmental conditions and husbandry habits, most domesticated ducks live eight to 12 years, on average.