We got two ducks (named Pate and Confit) on a whim a few years ago and have so enjoyed them that we now have a flock of 15. Ducks are a great compliment to your backyard chicken flock or as a stand alone raft (which is what you apparently call a group of ducks).
We originally got our ducks for the eggs, but they are also good for pest control in your gardens and for meat. And to be quiet honest, the way they waddle, wiggle their tale feathers, and carry on never fails to bring a smile to my face.
We even have a duck with great comedic timing. When my husband says something funny (or that he thinks is funny), this duck belts out a sarcastic “QUACK..quack, quack”. It happens more times than should be considered coincidence.
But enough about why ducks are such a “quack up”; they are also just as easy to care for as chickens, if not easier.
Like chickens, there are many breeds to choose from depending on your needs and environment. We have Khaki Campbell Runners for two reasons:
- Prolific egg layers – up to 300 eggs a year (versus chickens that will lay an average 259 a year)
- Don’t need a large body of water to feed – some breeds require a pond or similar water source to feed as they like to feed off the bottom.
To the first point, many people ask about the difference between duck and chicken eggs. For taste, only a side by side taste test with a chicken egg could probably detect a difference. Personally, I think they taste more buttery with a hint of nuts.
A duck egg is also bigger than a chicken egg so you get about 33% more per egg. The shells are also thicker which means you get a longer shelf life, approximately 6 weeks in the refrigerator.
And depending what your “exit strategy” is for your poultry, Duck breast is a fabulous addition to the dinner table. We have even found it as a great substitute for bacon when cured, smoked and sliced thin.
For the second point, you do need to provide ducks with lots of water. We have a large container in our coop that they use to bathe and soak their food. All ducks require water to help them eat. Because ducks don’t have teeth, they need the water to moisten their food before they swallow (this is called dabbling). Along the inside of the beak they have tiny rows of plates called lamellae. These let them filter water out of the side of their beaks and keep food inside.
Most ducks are foragers and prefer a variety of foods such as grasses, fish, insects, small amphibians, aquatic plants, small mollusks, and worms. We let ours forage but also provide them with an “All Purpose Poultry Feed”. They love going out into the gardens after a rain and looking for garden slugs. If you have a garden slug problem, just get a duck! They are less destructive than chickens in a garden too.
Interesting fact: a fertilized egg will stay dormant until the female starts to brood (or sit) on the egg. Because of this, some people don’t like to purchase fertilized eggs. Like with chicken eggs you will still get eggs (unfertilized) without a male.
Raising ducklings is an incredibly cute adventure (click here to see video). If they were not hatched by one of your hens, you’ll need to keep them in a brooding or rearing pen until they have their adult feathers and like all babies, you will need to provide them with food, water, and warmth.
For food, they can eat an all purpose poultry feed. For water, resist the urge to give them access to open water. When ducklings are fuzzy, they are not resistant to water so don’t provide them with open containers or they will go for a swim, get soaked and drown. Rather give them access to water via a poultry waterier that allows the to just get their beaks wet.
For warmth, a poultry lamp should keep them warm just keep it beyond their reach so they don’t singe their tail feathers. Finally, make sure they have a stable surface to stand on. Ducks have delicate legs and can get bowed legs if they stand on a slippery surface.
When your ducklings get older and get their adult feathers, it is recommended to give them a swimming pool of some sort. The plastic kiddy swimming pools are fine for this purpose; just make sure to give them a way to get in and out with ease. They will love it and take to it like, well, a duck to water.
So if you have chickens, try adding a duck. If you want backyard poultry and fresh eggs delivered with a funny quack, waddle and wiggle, get a pair of ducks and see the joy they can bring.