While chickens were our gateway into this homesteading life, ducks have had my heart since I could walk basically. So naturally we’ve ended up with them on our little farm. We’ve got some friends that made a deal with us – if they bought us ducks, we’d be their duck egg suppliers. Lately I’ve tried to keep our additions as useful as possible-if it doesn’t have a purpose we probably shouldn’t have it. Having ducks just because they’re adorable and I love them just didn’t seem like a good enough reason, so once we were given this deal it was EASY to say yes! So far we’re still learning long-term duck ownership life, but I thought I’d share what we’ve learned at this point in case anyone was interested or is thinking about adding ducks to their life. There’s definitely pros and cons to these sweet little things.
Ducks are friendly
Ducks imprint. Chickens do not. If you read the Twilight series at some point in your life then you need to forget everything you think you know about imprinting (ew). In the real world (the one without creepy werewolves and vampires) imprinting is simply the process of something coming to see another thing as it’s parent. When you get baby chicks it’s important that you socialize them so that they’re friendly and enjoy a pet here and there. But when you spend time with your ducklings you aren’t just getting a friendlier bird, you’re getting a literal fuzzy shadow that will follow you everywhere and need your love as often as you’re willing to give it. These babies will cry for me when I leave them and cuddle with me for hours if I let them. If you aren’t a fan of poultry cuddles, however, having several ducks and giving them less of your time will cause them to imprint on one another only and be just as content. I personally love the snuggles, though.
Ducks are messy.
Birds poop. A lot. If you have chickens then you already know this. So think of chickens and add larger bodies and a lot of water to the mix. It’s not pretty, y’all. Personally they’re so cute it just makes me feel okay with the constant smelly mess in their brooder, but it’s not for everyone. My personal tip here is to use pine shavings and make it a good couple inches in depth in the brooder so it soaks up as much water as possible. When it mixes with their food and the heat from your brooder lamp it will be nasty…but just remember how sweet they are when they cuddle up in your lap and fall asleep and you’ll push through.
While I wish someone would impart some wisdom on keeping their brooder less soggy, there is some good wisdom out there in helping your run stay tidier with ducks. We will be building a little “deck” around our ducks’ water pool to give them a place to preen and dry off before getting out into the run, which should cut down on the mud situation quite a bit. More on that in the coming months 🙃.
Ducks don’t need a pond, but do need more water than chickens.
Ducks love to swim, but don’t have to have a large body of water for swimming if you don’t have that available. The important thing is that you have water deep enough for them to submerge their whole bill so they can clear their airways. A water trough of some kind is a must as well because they do love to swim and while chickens take dust baths, ducks take baths in water.
We also have purchased a duck waterer so that they’ll have fresh, clean(er) water to drink from aside from their pool. The more water opportunities for ducks, the better.
Duck eggs vs. chicken eggs
Our ducks are still very young so we haven’t had duck eggs on the premises yet, but from what I understand you either love them or hate them. As I said before, a friend’s love for duck eggs brought about their existence on our homestead, but I’ve also had a friend that tried duck eggs and said they were gross. Even if you aren’t a fan of them, I’ve heard their richness makes them excellent baking eggs since their yolks are larger! You still use the same number of eggs in your recipes, but you get a richer flavor as well as other benefits based on what you’re baking. I’m looking forward to seeing how they can improve our recipes at home.
Ducks also seem to be consistent layers as well and you may actually get more duck eggs than chicken eggs in the colder months.
Ducks have a specific diet.
When adding ducks to your flock it’s important to change your feed to accommodate for their dietary needs. Ducks need niacin in their diets for proper growth and development, and regular chicken feed doesn’t contain it. You either need to add some to it (brewer’s yeast is a good source) or begin purchasing feed specific to a mixed flock. Just make sure niacin is in the ingredients list.
Ducks also need a little more attention given to their snacks than chickens. Any bird’s beak is created for a specific diet. Chickens have sharp beaks that make it easy for them to tear their food into bite sized pieces. Ducks, however, have bills designed to sift through water and mud and eat smaller things. Because of this, you unfortunately can’t just throw a whole zucchini out in the run for your flock to pick apart anymore. Ducks need their snacks cut into bite-sized pieces so that they don’t choke. The only exception that I know of to this is watermelon since it’s so soft.
Overall, I believe that ducks are a fantastic addition to any homestead or farm. They’re so sweet and friendly, and they give back with their eggs! While ducks weren’t in our original plan when we decided to start the farm life, I’m pretty certain that I’ll always have a flock of both chickens and ducks.