What is better, raising ducks or raising chickens, is becoming a far more frequently asked question. Backyard chicken keeping has been popular for many years as more folks became engaged in homesteading in small urban and suburban settings, as well as the more traditional larger scale rural setting. Duck keeping is garnering increased attention because the common myth that you need a pond to keep ducks has been busted.
Over the last few years, keeping chickens has been on the upswing. Whether it’s due to families wanting to know where their food is coming from, a desire to be more self-sufficient or merely wanting to experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with going back to the basics, it seems that backyard chickens have become all the rage. But lately I have been getting more and more hints of a new reality: ducks are the new chickens.
I have been raising ducks for as long as I have been raising chickens. Over the last several years, I have had ample opportunity to compare chickens and ducks.
If you have a homestead, you probably already have chickens. Many folks these days are keeping backyard chickens in suburbs, on homesteads or even in city-based coops.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether chickens or ducks would be best for your homestead, ponder no more. Here are all the 11 reasons why I prefer raising ducks to raising chickens, to help you figure out which species of poultry might be best for your small homestead.
HEALTH & DISEASE RESISTANT
As for diseases, ducks take the prize. Ducks hardly fall sick and they rarely unexpectedly die like what chickens do at times. A duckling is hardier than a chick because the duckling has more feathers, even at a young age, as well as a layer of subcutaneous fat. These enable the duckling to resist chill and therefore, more sicknesses than a chick. If waterproofed properly, (something you must leave up to them) ducklings can be out and about in their third week of life. Chicks are usually kept in during the first six to eight weeks.
Unlike chickens, ducks don’t need vaccinations, shots or worming treatments. They are not as vulnerable to things like ticks and lice like chickens tend to be as the daily bathing ritual keeps them cleaner.
WEATHER RESISTANT OR TOLERANT
A wet chicken is an unhappy chicken. A wet duck, however, is a very happy duck. Ducks are made for the cold and will continue to lay. Chickens will use their resources and energy to keep warm. Also, ducks can free-range longer due to their weathering skills. Chickens cannot. Keep in mind, though, that in areas where the ground is frozen during the majority of the winter, you won't be able to free-range any sort of poultry.
Chickens actually make more noise than our ducks. Chickens cackle and carry on after they lay an egg, before they lay an egg, and for no apparent reason at all. Female ducks on the other hand, although they will quack loudly when agitated or excited, normally they just quietly chitter-chatter.
Both ducks and chickens can be noisy. It really depends upon the breed, and also the number of birds being kept exactly determines how quiet or noisy the flock will be. Muscovy ducks don't make any noise. If you're more than 10 metres away, you may not hear any hisses and light quacks that muscovy ducks make. On the other hand, pekin ducks do make noise, but it's often less noisy as compared to the noise that chickens make.
Roosters are notoriously noisy and, contrary to what some folks believe, they crow throughout the day and not just at dawn – which is their favorite time to make an abundance of noise. The noise roosters make is why there are often restrictions on keeping them in incorporated areas.
Some duck breeds are better layers than some chicken breeds. This can vary greatly on duck breed, which is also the same for chickens. Some duck breeds, such as khaki campbell, Welsh Harlequin and Indian runner, lay year round which is great if you want to have fresh eggs daily and they lay for more years than a chicken. Again, this can be dependent on the breed.
Chickens can also lay eggs year round, for instance, Black Australorp and White Leghorns chicken breeds, but most of the time it is done seasonally and slows down after a couple of years. Duck eggs have a higher fat content. But good fat is, well good. Their eggs are also generally bigger and contain more egg white which makes them great for baking. Some people say they also have a richer taste. So it’s a matter of preference. And to be honest, personally I haven’t really noticed any difference, as far as taste is concerned.
Duck hens often lay eggs for a far longer span of time than chickens. The average number of egg laying years for ducks is 7 to 9 years. Chicken hens generally slow down their egg laying by their second or third year before it draws to a close entirely. From a purely fiscal standpoint, this makes ducks far more economical to keep than chickens.
In egg size, duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs. Generally, two duck eggs equal three chicken eggs in size. Chickens start laying eggs when they are four or five months old, while ducks reach six or seven months before they start laying eggs.
Ducks lay eggs that are larger, richer in flavor and excellent for baking due to their higher fat and lower water content. Duck eggs are also slightly more nutritious than chicken eggs. Pastry chefs prize duck eggs because the large amount of protein in their whites adds heft and loft to baked goods. Due to their thicker shells and membranes, they also have a longer shelf life and are less likely to break.
Considering everything above, you can conclude that you should raise ducks if you want larger eggs, and raise chickens if you want eggs as soon as possible.
Still on egg production, chicken eggs have a hatch rate of about 75 to 90% while duck eggs have a hatch rate of between 50 and 70%. Duck eggs take 28 to 35 days to hatch, depending on the breed while chicken eggs take just 21 days to hatch. This means that when it comes to hatching eggs, chicken eggs are better, and therefore chickens multiply faster than ducks, as far as hatching is concerned.
Ducks are a delicacy in most areas, commanding top dollar at fine restaurants. It takes about two to four months to raise ducks for meat, which is shorter than most meat chickens. The fat from ducks is wonderful for cooking and baking. In addition, you'll know that your meat was raised in healthy conditions with good feed and limited or no exposure to harmful chemicals or medications. Ducks also contain significant nutrients compared to other common meats.
PECKING ORDER AND FIGHTING
Ducks welcome newcomers far more quickly than chickens do. Whether the newcomers are chickens or ducks, our ducks seem unperturbed and seldom bother new additions to the flock. Chickens, however, take any new additions to the flock as an affront to their rigid pecking order. The result is squabbling and confrontations that can get quite serious until the new order is established and tranquility again returns.
FEEDING & PRODUCTION COST
Ducks are more economical to raise from an egg laying standpoint. Ducks are much better foragers than chickens. The majority of a chicken's diet is grain, bugs, worms, and such, with a little green food as a supplement. Ducks also eat some grain and animal life, but they consume many more greens than chickens, even grass, if it is rich and growing. Be sure it's no longer than 4 inches so they don't get tangled up in the grass. Ducks also enjoy and use wetlands, ponds, swamps and so on, which chickens avoid or get stuck in.
It is true that chickens gobble up certain insects and pests, but they don't get the large slugs and snails that ducks love. All laying ducks can eat up to eight inches of slug, like a child gobbing a candy bar. Some breeds like the Muscovy duck, can also control the fly, tick, wasp, mosquito and Japanese beetle population on your property.
Given the opportunity, ducks will eat every slug, worm, spider, grasshopper, cricket, fly and grub they can find. They are wonderful for natural pest control. I have found that chickens are more selective about the kinds of bugs they will eat. Some of our hens won’t even look twice at a worm – but the ducks will chase a bug down until they catch it. Given the opportunity, they will also dine on small snakes, toads and even mice.
Water is the main area where chickens are the clear winner for the homestead. Ducks need water – and lots of it. While chickens need drinking water, they are not going to need nearly as much water as ducks are.
Ducks need water to bathe in, keeping their feathers and skin in good condition by bathing in water and then preening and coating their feathers with wax. This is why ducks do so well in cold, wet weather – they have a waterproofing layer on their feathers just like you might put on your boots.
While ducks love water and enjoy periodic access to at least a shallow wading pool (deep enough for them to dip their heads under), they don't have to have access to water all the time. You can let them have a "swimming party" once a week or so, or whenever it fits your schedule. You'll enjoy it, too, as they will put on quite a show! When finished, you can use the water in your garden, so nothing is wasted.
When it comes to drinking water, ducks need a lot more, too. Each chicken needs half a liter of water per day, while ducks need a full liter each. Ducks tend to make a mess of their watering system – they like to play in it – while chickens are more refined. You will need different types of waterers, too, because both species of poultry have different shaped mouths and will slurp up water in different manners.
Head over to your local farm supply store. What do you see more of – chickens or ducks? Most likely, your answer is going to be chickens. The reality is that chickens are usually less expensive and more readily available in stores than ducks are.
While both can be ordered from hatcheries and shipped directly to your house, if you want a quick purchase, chickens are the way to go. Day-old chicks are also often sold sexed, meaning you can get as many of each gender as you would like. Laying duck breeds are usually sold as straight-run. In other words, you get what you get.
In most countries a lot of people have never eaten duck meat, while almost everyone has eaten chicken before, if not on a monthly basis. This means that selling chicken is much easier than selling a duck. However, on the other hand, it also means that there is less competition in selling ducks than selling chickens. So if you market your ducks well, you are likely to get more customers than one who sells chickens as there are always countless suppliers in every town.
Now, if you decide to sell your eggs, you are going to face another challenge. Chicken eggs are by far the most marketable type of eggs. If you live in the United States or Europe, selling duck eggs is going to be an uphill battle for you.
While it’s not impossible – there are plenty of people who understand just how delicious and healthy duck eggs are – you may have to do some marketing and customer education on how to cook them.
It is easy and fun to keep chickens or ducks as pets. Both birds make great pets, but ducks make better emotional support animals. Some pet ducks will even cuddle up to or neck-hug their keepers.
Before you decide to have chickens or (especially) ducks as pets, remember that they poop a lot. There are diapers you can purchase for your birds if you take them in public. However, be aware that not all places accept chicken or duck pets.
The intelligence level of ducks far surpasses that of chickens. The ducks will like to follow you around and encircle you to have treats tossed to them. Keeping ducks as pets requires the proper set up, the right kind of breed, time, space, commitment – and never raising just one alone. Ducks are flock birds, they need companionship of their own kind and not just humans to remain happy and healthy.
Watching the ducks swim and waddle about is great free outdoor entertainment. If you use a baby pool in the coop run that has a slide, some of the ducklings or ducks will spend hours hopping onto it and splashing down into the water – which is also very fun to watch.
From this tutorial, I'm sure you have seen that raising ducks has a lot of benefits than raising chickens. Ducks are much cheaper to raise than chickens and ducks easily multiply as compared to chickens because they rarely fall sick or die and, generally, ducks lay more eggs than chickens. Ducks also grow bigger than chickens, therefore a single duck is likely to feed more people than a single chicken. However, duck meat and duck eggs are a bit difficult to sell in most countries as most people are used to chicken meat and chicken eggs, not ducks and their by-products.
Personally, after weighing the pros and cons of raising ducks versus raising chickens, I found enough benefit in keeping both types of poultry birds and I have large flocks of both species on our homestead. It is possible to raise chickens and ducks in the same coop or fowl run. Chickens and ducks can eat the same kind of feed. You should give your birds a formulated feed that matches their age. Ducks need more water than chickens and they love to dip their heads and necks in water. In fact, ducks love to play with water, so you should provide water in a large container (such as a plastic swimming pool or bathing tub) that they can swim in. A normal chicken coop is enough for both chickens and ducks. You can use straw, hay, or any material of your choice as the coop bedding.
Generally speaking, however, keeping chickens and ducks together can be a challenge if you are not aware of the two very distinct housing requirements of both. Ducks need a lot of water, and will add a lot of moisture and humidity to the air with their playful, water-loving behavior. Chickens can’t be kept in such wet conditions, so you will need to add extra ventilation to the coop.
Some farmers don't recommended that you keep ducks and chickens in the same sleeping quarters, unless you know what you are doing but personally I have done it before and all went well. Just make sure that you give the ducks as little water to play with as possible and as much drinking water as possible.
Also remember to place the swimming pool outside the coop if you decide to let them swim. A duck pond is not necessary remember. They should swim during the day so that they get dry before the sun sets, so as to avoid wetting the coop bedding too much for chickens liking. Lastly, while muscovy ducks can live together with your free range chickens, keeping pekin ducks and chickens under the same roof is a big blunder. Pekins play with water too much and your chickens will easily fall sick and die if these two species of poultry live in the same fowl run.