Should You Really Get Ducks?

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Buying ducks can be an exciting, rewarding, and fun experience. But, keeping ducks might just not be for everyone. While duck keeping may involve a bit more space than keeping chickens, these egg and poultry birds can be kept not just on large rural homesteads but in small town backyard, suburbia, and sometimes even by urban dwellers. As with most things in life, knowledge and planning are the keys to success when acting upon a desire to buy ducks.

Should you really get ducks? The short answer to the question is yes – but only if you have the space and time to care for them properly. Why should you get ducks? Because they can have a lot more to offer than chickens. Ducks provide not only a delicious and healthy meat, but more and better quality eggs than chickens. They are easier keepers than turkeys which require a lot more space and are far less docile.

pekin ducks

There are many reasons why buying ducks and keeping a flock of them on your homestead is a wonderful and sustainable idea. While buying chickens is a far more traditional form of small livestock keeping, there has been a substantial increase in ducks as homestead livestock – and with good reason.

Even though there are a myriad of similarities between keeping chickens and keeping ducks, there are some important distinctions potential buyers must be aware of before opening their wallet to buy ducks, as well.

Experience keeping chickens can help prepare you for keeping ducks – we house both of our flocks together, but chicken husbandry knowledge alone will not enlighten potential duck keepers to everything they should consider before bringing some cute little fuzzy ducklings home.

Meat and Eggs

If creating an economical and sustainable source of meat and eggs on the homestead is a priority, buying ducks could be a superb idea. Raising your own meat and egg birds can be accomplished as easily with ducks as it can with chickens.

The harvesting and butchering process for duck meat is equally simple, but duck meat can be an acquired taste. Some folks do not care for the more “gamey” and greasy taste of duck meat. Because ducks are a lot larger than chickens, you get more meat per bird on the dinner plate.

Ducks not only produce more and larger eggs than chickens, these poultry birds also regularly lay year-round. A chicken typically lays eggs for only three to maybe five years – if you are lucky enough not to experience a drop in both the quality and quantity after 3 years.

Most duck breeds lay between 200 to 350 eggs annually until they are six to nine years old. Duck eggs are creamy and delicious, but can be an acquired taste just like duck meat. I recall a sister-in-law using duck eggs for the first time when making homemade noodles for Thanksgiving dinner.

The slightly different smell and taste of the eggs turned half of the meal attendees off, but the other half absolutely loved the creamy and tangy addition to the favorite recipe.

Ducks lay eggs between dusk and dawn more often than not. This makes egg collection a simple once-a-day chore. Chickens lay on a 24-hour cycle, so if you do not check the nesting boxes multiple times per day, valuable eggs can be lost.

Unlike chickens, ducks tend to drop eggs wherever they happen to be at the moment instead of consistently in a nesting box – this habit can cause eggs to be trampled and crushed if not picked up in time.

Duck Foraging

A duck flock is an excellent choice for keepers who are looking for a sustainable type of small livestock for their homestead. Ducks are far more adept foragers than chickens, on average.

Not only do ducks tend to spend far more time foraging than chickens, they are less destructive to your garden and landscaping throughout the process.

Ducks are capable of eating insects that are thick like whole mature slugs, and those up to eight inches long. A flock that free ranges for at least part of the day will help rid your land or backyard space of not only insects that live on the land, but those that develop in puddles, damp areas, and on their water source, as well.

Feeding ducks is a lot less expensive than feeding chickens or other poultry birds because of their deep desire to forage so intently.

Unlike chickens, ducks can be spotted foraging eagerly in the rain and even during the winter time. Even pouring down rain will not prevent a flock of ducks from going roaming for protein and greens around their domain.

The more natural a diet a duck enjoys the healthier it will be, while also saving you money – especially during the winter, when feeding costs associated with poultry birds typically climbs.

If ducks are permitted controlled or even uncontrolled access to the garden, they will do less damage than chickens to the soil and crops because domesticated ducks cannot truly fly.

A duck’s bill functions differently than a chicken’s pointed beak, so hundreds of little holes will not suddenly appear and reappear during natural pest control strolls in the growing plot.

Immune System

The immune system of ducks is more hardy than that of some other poultry birds, on average. Access to clean water to swim in on a daily basis can help prevent the spread of feces borne diseases, kills parasites, and generally washes away bacteria and fungus.

A duck flock will spend as much time in the water as they are allowed, even when there is snow on the ground. The near constant washing combined with a duck’s desire to spend time in the run instead of the coop as much as possible – unlike chickens, can also play a substantial role in their robustly strong immune system and general overall good health.

Environmental Hardiness

One of my favorite parts of duck keeping involves the small amount of time that I have ever had to spend treating weather related illness and injuries.

In my personal duck keeping experience, I have never once had to treat a duck for frostbite – even though they have access to a pond year round … and use it during January and February. Chickens on the other hand, are susceptible to frostbite to their comb, wattles, and even their feet.

Ducks are also not bothered by periods of intense heat and humidity like chickens and turkeys – as long as they have open access to a water source. The ability to cool themselves in a pond, decorative small garden pond, or plastic baby pool keeps them cool and comfortable.

During the summer months I have to constantly provide fresh cold water in the flock waterers, often along with ice cubes, to keep some of the chickens cool, especially the hens sitting eggs.

Time is a factor for all homesteaders, whether you work off the property or not. The added trips to the coop and cost of additional water can add up to an impactful degree throughout the year.

The time-saving nature involved with husbandry is one of the reasons I believe more and more people are starting to keep ducks on homesteads of all sizes.

While there are some parts of duck husbandry that do add time to their keeping and must be factored into the decision to buy them, overall they are highly independent little creatures that require little human intervention to raise successfully.

Mess and Hygiene

The only downside to buying ducks from an upkeep perspective involves coop and run cleanliness. You have to expect to clean the area more often than when keeping chickens for two very specific reasons.

First, duck droppings are larger and more liquid than chicken or turkey droppings. Thankfully for duck flock keepers, these meat and egg birds prefer to spend time in the run or free-ranging instead of huddling inside the coop during inclement weather.

But, the run itself can become a massive and stinky mud bog if the sun does not dry it out frequently enough.

Also, if the ducks are using a plastic baby pool or a decorative garden pond as their water source, or you just keep on in the run for times when the flock cannot free range (highly recommended practice).

A filtration system should be installed to the little pond or the baby pool dumped and hosed out at least two times per week.

Placing straw around the coop run to prevent the ducks from sliding around and dropping eggs in their own muddy mess is the best way that I have found to economically take care of the nastiness ducks create into the run.

A coop or run that has become muddy from dirt, water, and droppings can easily create an environment that will cause painful bumblefoot problems for chickens, if both types of poultry birds share the same space.

During rainy and colder times of year, I replace straw in the coop run at least once a week. Because we harvest our own straw and hay, this practice is still relatively cheap, but for folks who have to buy hay or straw for bedding and ground cover in the coop and run, the added expense might be a solid reason not to buy ducks.

Growth Rate

Ducklings are far more rapid growers than chickens. This means the birds can be released into the general flock population without fear of them getting trampled at a younger age.

The size and hardiness of ducklings as opposed to chics, poults, or especially keets makes a huge difference in mortality rates after a natural or incubator hatch.

When they are merely two weeks old ducklings will be ravaging the grounds and shallow mud puddles for every bug or green they can find. Do not be fooled by a duckling’s size or desire and allow it to go swimming too quickly.

Ducklings should never be permitted to swim until they are roughly two months old. It is not until this time that their natural oils come in that help them dry themselves quickly.

The quick growing nature of ducklings can be a money saver, also. The less time new additions to the flock have to remain inside of a breeder with heat lamps going, the cheaper your electric bill will be for the month.

We run three heat lamps in our large brooder when doing a hatch. Trust me, those lights can soak up the energy and jack up the electric bill.

Removing the ducklings from the brooder quicker than chicks, keets, or poults is also a time saver. Cleaning out a brooder is not fun… at all. I prefer to take that chore off of my homesteading “to do” list as quickly as possible.

Duck Demeanor

Ducks are cute and hilarious to watch, so there’s that perk for keepers. If I had time, the grandkiddos and I could spend hours just sitting and watching them swim in the pond, and waddle about around the homestead. The free entertainment offered by a duck flock is not the only major plus related to the general demeanor of ducks.

Unlike chickens where a firm and sometimes violently enforced pecking order rules the day, ducks are an affable poultry community. They are largely far more accepting of new additions to the flock than chickens or turkeys.

You can introduce a new mature drake into an existing flock without bird-on-bird violence erupting. Keeping two or more roosters at a time nearly always leads to at least mild fighting – if you are lucky.

Other than quacking at each other and posturing, if two drakes are interested in the same duck hen, bloodshed will not result from the confrontation.

I have never had a problem keeping chickens and ducks together. I start chicks and ducklings out in the same brooder, and they literally become friends for life.

The mini flock within a flock thing happens with each hatch, regardless of wether the new birds are all ducklings or a mixture of ducklings and chicks.

As long as you maintain the recommended one drake to three hen ratio when increasing numbers in the duck flock, the amicable balance within the winged community will not be upset.

Domesticated Ducks and Flying

Nearly any common domesticated duck breed you decide to buy will not be able to really fly. Sure, some ducks can catch wind and get about six inches off the ground and move through the air for a foot – maybe two, but that is it.

The inability to truly fly can be both a pro and a con when keeping ducks. These adorable meat and egg birds have no natural defense against predators – hence the coining of the term, “sitting ducks.”

You will not have to worry about a domestic duck breed flying away, or ever have to clip its wings to keep it off your roof, as is often done by chicken keepers.

But, the inability to fly also means the ducks cannot fly up into a tree or onto the top of the coop or whatever is nearby to escape a predator as chickens, guineas, and turkeys can.

If you plan to free range the flock after buying ducks, it would be wise to also invest in the junkyard dogs of the poultry world, guineas, to both warn them and protect the meat and egg birds from danger.

Using solar motion activated decoys like those depicting owls or coyotes, can help deter predators. Keeping livestock guardian dogs and placing reflective tape on the coop and anything else in the free ranging vicinity can help deter hawks, mink, raccoons, and bobcats.

Duck Noise

I have found ducks to be far quieter keepers than chickens, most of the time. Ducks are extremely routine driven creatures. If their keeper is only a few moments late with feed, for turn out, or pre-duck snack and put up, expect to hear a lot of loud quacking and carrying on.

What you won’t hear however, is a rooster crowing as the sun comes up or during the day. If you live inside an incorporated area, there may be limits on what type of livestock you can keep, the number of livestock, and the rules could even be specific to breed.

It is not uncommon for there to be a “no roosters” rule in municipalities that allow backyard chickens, but I have yet to hear of any ordinance that bans backyard drakes.

Before buying ducks, ALWAYS check state and local laws that pertain to their keeping. There are no limits to what animals that can be kept in my heaven on Earth rural counting, there isn’t even any zoning or building permit office – but we are far closer to being the exception rather than the norm.

The noises that ducks make can actually help you sex them when they are only around six weeks old.

It is possible to garner better than an educated guess about the number of future drakes and duck hens in your young little flock by the sounds they make, and several other distinctive characteristics.

Training and Intelligence

Ducks are smarter than other poultry birds. There, I’ve said it – and am willing to accept arguments about amazing chickens, guineas, and turkeys in the comments section

It never ceases to amaze me how easily and quickly ducks and even ducklings learn the ropes of the husbandry schedule here on our homestead.

I have never – and I mean not ever, had to chase a duck or duckling in circles around the coop, and run to get them to go up in the late afternoon. The same absolutely cannot be said for the numerous breeds of chickens we have kept or even our beloved guineas.

The new members of the flock instinctively meld in with the other ducks and follow them – often in a straight line, all the way to the coop run door and waddle inside each and every time.

Sure, I use a healthy snack to train the flock and continue to give them treats each night at put up time, but I do the same thing with the chickens with less positive results.

Don’t get me wrong, I have kept some smart chickens too, but by and large, ducks just are easier to train to the coop schedule, as well as teach them their free ranging boundaries.

Ducks and Water

Ducks must have access to water at all times. Not only do they need a water source to swim in, they also need clean drinking water. Keeping ducks in drinking water if they are housed inside of a coop or run all day long WILL require at least two 3 gallon waterers per every 10 ducks.

The ducks will drink from a baby pool with dirty water if they absolutely have to, but doing so puts both them and you at risk for bacteria and fungi related illness.

The droppings in the water will quickly breed potentially dangerous pathogens that may not only harm the ducks but can be passed onto your family in the form of eggs and meat.

As already noted, the water source will have to be kept clean. This takes both time and adds money to your electric bill if you get household water from a well, or your water bill if connected to a municipal system.

Ducks may not choose to go swimming every day in the winter (though my Pekins love it). They still need a small water source that they can dip their heads and neck into at least once a day for overall good health and hydration.

Final Thoughts

There are pros and cons to buying ducks, as there are with keeping any type of livestock. Evaluating what you expect to achieve from keeping ducks and comparing that with the many reasons why you should or shouldn’t buy ducks will help prevent either an epic homesteading failure or help you achieve a great husbandry success.

When you decide to buy ducks you are making a large commitment for the care of a living thing. Their keep will cost you both time and money, no matter how sustainably you plan on raising them.

Understanding what duck husbandry entails on a daily and year round basis will help you make a wise decision so that not only are your efforts rewarded with naturally raised eggs and meat, the members of your flock will live healthy and happy lives.

Ready to get started? Start learning how to raise ducks here.

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