In a comment on last week’s Five Things Friday, Tracy asked,
Are there any reasons not to get ducks? This is a serious question. I really want ducks. I’ve wanted ducks for the last 12 years but have never been able to jump into duck ownership, except for once when someone gave me a couple of ducklings and they disappeared…I don’t like to think about it.
I want easy-ish, I want to be able to keep them in the large chicken run and maybe give them their own house. I am a little worried about the duck penis thing…that was a life altering post. I don’t want to have to worry about managing a chicken flock with its own set of rules and a small duck flock with another set of rules. Should I just give up the dream or is it really as easy as you make it look?
Here’s my answer, extended from the comment I left for Tracey.
Yes. There are many reasons to not get ducks, especially in a situation like you’re describing, where you would be co-housing ducks with a flock of chickens.
Problem #1: Water
The biggest issue is water. Ducks love it, need it, want it, and make a huge flipping mess with it. Chickens drink water but other than that, want nothing to do with it.
This difference is really apparent during
unending months days of rain. In a downpour, the chickens sulk, hiding in the covered coop. The ducks pretty much do this.
Ducks must have access to water deep enough that they can dunk their heads, because they clean their bills by blowing water through their nostrils. They don’t technically need a pond or full-on swimming area to survive, but without a good bath every few days, ducks get dirty and more prone to external parasites like lice and mites. And, in my opinion, it’s just kinda mean not to give ducks access to something they can really swim in every couple days.
However, if you give the ducks all the water they want inside your coop and/or run area, they will turn everything they can into a muddy, mucky mess. That excess moisture can make your chickens unhealthy.
According to Backyard Chickens, muddy coops “can promote bumblefoot and internal parasites, [and make] it less easy and pleasant for chickens to get around. A muddy run looks awful, gives you brown bedraggled chickens, stinks to high heaven, and breeds a lot more flies than a dry run does.”
A possible solution is to get Muscovy ducks. This breed, unlike pretty much all the others, is not derived from Mallard ducks. It tolerates dry conditions much better than the mallard-derived breeds, so if you can’t provide swimming accommodations for your ducks, check out Muscovies.
Muscovies have a lot going for them in general – they are good mothers, better able to protect themselves than other ducks, and – if you roll this way – they are about the most delicious meat on the planet. But they aren’t very…duckish. They fly, roost in trees, have claws, and look….well…funny.
Bottom line: co-housing chickens and ducks is possible – but there will be water problems to manage.
Problem #2: Male Ducks
Just don’t. They are assholes.
I’m writing this in spring, when the mating urge of many species – and certainly ducks – is at its peak. I hate the drake in our flock so much right now.
My favorite female has a bald neck from his mounting. He has drowned two females out of sheer incompetence during the conjugal act and, to add a sick insult to the literal injury, I think he’s shooting blanks. I’m not even supposed to have this duck. I gave him away and he came back with a sob story.
So Tracy – and people in a situation like Tracy’s – avoid male ducks. They are nothing but trouble.
Luckily, this problem isn’t a deal breaker – you can order sexed, female ducklings through some poultry houses.
Bottom line: male ducks are not worth the trouble unless you really want a self-sustaining homestead animal.
Problem #3: Heartbreak
In my experience, free range ducks are pretty much a walking raccoon buffet. The domestic duck has absolutely no ability to protect itself from predators. It can’t peck or fly. Hell, it can’t even run. (Muscovies, as mentioned above, are a duck apart.)
A big, slow, juicy, waddling package of duck meat is a very tempting and easy prize for raccoons, or whatever your local flock marauder might be. I’ve never lost a chicken to a predator. I lost more ducks than I care to count, four of them – including my favorite – on one particularly bad Christmas Eve night.
To be fair, all predation stopped when our ducks moved in with the chickens. The lesson here is that ducks must be kept a secure, predator proof coop and locked up before dusk. They don’t return home to a coop with the same reliability as chickens, so if you free range ducks, give yourself plenty of time to herd them home before it gets dark.
Bottom line: assume any duck not locked very safely away before dark will become something’s dinner.
Problem #4: Duck Poop
Duck poop isn’t like chicken poop. It’s very wet. It’s….bloppy. It just blops all over the place. Blop, blop, squirt, blop. That’s ducks.
Duck poop sits on top of most coop litter. Then, big wide duck feet come along and trample it into a uniform coating of shit. It’s as terrible as it sounds. If you keep ducks, all by themselves, on wood shavings or straw, you get something like this: a bottom, thick layer of perfect, dry straw, a middle layer of damp straw, and an upper layer of poop. Like poop icing on straw cake.
It doesn’t take a lot of icing for things to get stinky, and fly-infested.
This is one area where I think co-housing ducks and chickens actually makes the problem a lot better. Chickens come along and scratch the litter up, which helps to break up and bury the bloppy duck poop so it never turns into poop icing.
We found going to a different coop litter made a huge difference in managing duck poop. We use compressed wood pellets that turn to sawdust when they get wet. They are designed as fuel for pellet stoves, but they are perfect for coop bedding with ducks.
These pellets are a zillion times better than anything else I’ve ever used with ducks, including sand, straw, wood shavings, and heavier woodchips. The moisture in the poop gets absorbed as it hits the pellets, making the poop far more manageable. Switching to these pellets was a great move – I can’t recommend them enough for ducks or a mixed flock.
As a bonus, once the pellets get saw-dusty, the chickens really like them for dust-bathing. I toss a little diatomaceous earth down on the coop floor along with the pellets to help manage parasites. Works great.
Bottom line: there are ways to mitigate the poop problem, but it might require changing up a coop litter system that works perfectly well already for your chickens.
Problem #5: Feed
This is kinda a fake problem. I’m putting it in here because lists of 5 are better than lists of 4. Still, it’s worth knowing about. Laying ducks can eat chicken layer feed, but they will do better on a waterfowl-specific formulation with higher niacin and other key micronutrients.
If you can’t feed your birds separately (and in a co-housing situation, you can’t), either look for a “mixed flock” type feed, or offer niacin-rich nutritional yeast as a supplement for your ducks.
If your ducks have daily access to a true pasture situation, where they can eat lots of greens and slugs, additional supplementation of a basic layer feed designed for chickens shouldn’t be necessary.
It’s also very important not to feed ducks or ducklings medicated chicken feed. Medicated chicken feed contains one or more coccidiostat anti-parasite medications. It’s fed to chicks to prevent coccidiosis, but the medication can be harmful to ducks.
Bottom line: you can’t assume any ol’ chicken feed will keep your ducks in tip-top shape, but this problem is fairly easy to mitigate.
So should you get ducks….I think ducks, when they are cared for as ducks, are wonderful. I love having them around. Personality wise, I prefer them to chickens. They are ideal as a Pacific Northwest poultry choice – they adore slugs and live for the the rain.
But co-housing ducks with chickens does bring up challenges. You can do it. Many people do. I’m doing it sorta successfully – which is to say that my chickens and ducks are doing fine together. (All current problems are the sole result of duck-on-duck violence.)
But don’t expect that you’ll be able to throw a couple ducks in with your chickens and everything to work perfectly right off the bat. There will be tweaking, and learning, and adjustment and maybe a screw-up or two. (Ducks and screwing – just…ugh, never mind.)
I am glad we have ducks. I like ducks more than I like chickens. But even in the ideal climate, I think ducks can be more challenging than chickens for the casual, backyard poultry-keeper.
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Nicole Javaly says
I cannot agree enough on the pointlessness of keeping drakes. I effing hate those things. I basically only ever liked our duck flock during the brief lull between processing all the drakes, and when someone would dump their ‘pet’ ducks on us and my boss at the time would accept. This is the primary reason why, now that I’m on my own homestead, even though there’s a natural pond, I refuse to get ducks.
Just a note, if you do decide to process that drake: their feathers are a pain in the butt to pluck, they don’t come out as easily as chicken or turkey feathers. Apparently adding some soap to your dunk water will help, but honestly, resigning yourself to hand-plucking a ton of very obnoxious feathers is probably easiest.
But also, process that jerk. It makes life so much more pleasant for you and the remaining ducks.
Besides racoons, we can now add wolves to our list of predators, since they’ve been sighted where we live. It’s kind of cool, but I do worry about the ducks and baby goats.
We have Ancona ducks, and yes, they are the preferred dinner choice for raccoons. We’ve lost a couple, even though we lock them up at night in electric fencing.
And about the… duck-on-duck violence… We have a trampoline in the yard, sitting over a large hole we dug with an excavator, so it’s ground level and the kids won’t kill themselves. Only problem is, the ducks love it, too. Not only for pooping on, but also for… you know… I bet it’s nice and it’s so bouncy, so the drake doesn’t have to works so hard. Ahem.
Nicole A says
Oh my goodness, I had no idea a drake would try to get it on…on a trampoline! :O That’s crazy!
We have anconas as well as Golden 300s and a Runner duck. We used to have 2 more Runner ducks and a 2 Khaki Campbells….they got eaten. We lost 3 out of 4 Golden 300s and I think 7 out of 12 anconas. All duck breeds seem equally tasty, I think. We’ve lost ours mostly to eagles and bobcats, and maybe even the local coyote or bears. There’s a lot of predators out here! 🙁
Nicole A says
I personally like my drake, but we originally ended up with 7 drakes and 3 females, and so picked the least aggressive (and prettiest) drake to keep. He currently hangs out with 6 females and we just added 5 more layers to our flock. Our drake does a little dance for our ladies in the pond, but leaves them alone when they’re foraging (some drakes just don’t stop. They’re constantly trying to get some action while the ladies are walking around foraging). This drake even stands back while the ladies eat, giving them first dibs. It’s sweet! He might be mellower, too, since he’s now 3 years old. We have one chicken, but he leaves her alone as he has so many duck ladies to hang with.
I definitely prefer ducks over chickens, and will likely never have more than the one chicken. Chickens can do so much damage in so little time in a garden bed!
I can imagine, though, that trying to keep ducks in a smaller area wouldn’t turn out as well as keeping the same amount of chickens there. Our ducks have a 1,700 sqft run and an 8×8 house (deep litter method) and they get to range over 2 acres for some of the day. When I have to keep them cooped up in their run due to predators, the run starts to look a little worn down, especially during the winter months when the grass isn’t growing. Having low stocking rates really helps when it comes to ducks, I think!
I think it’s time to say something about patreon now, Erica. I’m so used to sliding my eyes over anything that looks like an ad, I didn’t realize you were on patreon until I got a notification that my friend Paul Wheaton was supporting you via patreon. And I see that you’ve been posting there, with cute little videos and such, for, um, over a week now!
Blog followers/Erica fans – click on the orange patreon logo above the comment section. Check it out. You will be glad you did!
Awe thanks Julia. 😀 I soft launched last night – I will do an announcement thingy soon. That logo in the sidebar went up like 45 minutes before Paul supported me – you didn’t miss anything over the past week. I honestly have no idea how Paul knew about it. I think he has super secret permie powers.
Laura ~ Raise Your Garden says
Ok, so I’m sharing this article with my just turned 5-year-old who is convinced we need ducks and that she will let them sleep in her bed. We love walking to a stream nearby to see the ducks and feed them, they are so tame that they eat out of her hands, but that is not enough for her!!! She wants her own. I agreed to another cat. I’m even thinking about a few white mice. But I did just have a baby last week, I mean, how much does the little cutie think I can handle? The water bit is so true. We also have a small stream in our backyard and it’s fun watching the ducks swim, but I can’t say I want to own my own right now. Too much on my plate. Thanks for an interesting read.
It’s enough work keeping human babies in diapers. Indoor ducks in the bed is….not a good idea. 😉
But maybe when she’s older and baby is older, sounds like your space might be great for ducks.
Some nds like your getting your sassy mama voice back.
I agree that a drake and chickens shouldn’t be together…but ALL of my drakes have been so sweet and lovely to have around. I prefer them to females, honestly. Aw, now I want ducks again!
We have a small flock of ducks, and we love them…except for the drake. Not even his mother could love him. We adore our girls. They are all very cheeky and always ravenous. We love their eggs, and the best part is that their manure/ bedding Does not have to be composted like chicken manure. In fact, I don’t think it smells as bad as chicken manure…maybe because All the water they consume dilutes it. Perfect for putting under fruit trees and bushes. We use fine pine shavings for their run bedding and chopped straw for their very expensive shed that they refuse to use for anything but laying and sitting. We just lost one to a fox during a brief stroll around the back of our property line. We chased him and he dropped her, but she was gone. Mr. Fox is going to pay the ultimate cost for his crime. I say GO DUCKS…
I have only 2 Muscovy hens, my husbands parents brought them over as a “housewarming” gift. A gift they are at eating slugs in coastal WA, but they are also jerks. They have 27 acres to free range and one did meet its demise when it played too far from the house, and I, feeling pity, replaced it with another hen because I feel guilt when I only have one animal of a kind. They have a natural pond, we tried putting them in the pond area, lasted two days. We bought them 2 glorious kiddie pools and they use every stock tank I have instead. So my horses, the goats, and the cows have to deal with shitty duck water all the time. They also sleep on the front door step and crap all over my deck constantly, and have figured out how to fly into the chicken coop. And they bite my ankles every time I get grain for other animals until you feed them. And sometimes when they let you carry them they bite your boob and give the most awful titty twisters ever. But I don’t have slugs!
I got 4 ducklings last March for my birthday. We lost the female this month to a coyote. My boyfriend surprised me with 6 more ducklings, I sexed them and this that I have 5 females and one male. So my flock is 4 males and 5 females. Is that enough females to males ratio or should we get more females?? The only issue, other than the coyote, is rats.
your post made me chuckle. I would take a male duck over a roo any day, but I feel a little bad for my girls when they have bald heads (and we have 3 girls and 1 drake). We had 3 ducks, and they just would not go in the coop at dusk. Then we got a 4th duck, who was raised with chickens. Even though she was younger, she somehow became the role model, and taught my ducks to go in at dusk.