by Tracey Parrish
Ducks have many great attributes for keeping as pets or garden workers. They are friendly, intelligent and companionable and are also great sluggers and bug eaters. They tend to be less destructive in the garden than chickens; they don’t scratch or defoliate most green things like chickens. However, I have to admit I only allow them access to my vegetable garden in the non-growing season (they love succulent greens and also tend to find favorite places to sit on things).
Before deciding to keep ducks you should consider their downsides. They are very messy and smelly compared to chickens, making prodigious amounts of wet poop and muddy areas around their water. You should consider how much space you have in your yard and how close you will be housing them to your and neighbors house.
Ducks are very social animals and form strong pair-bonds so I would recommend getting a pair or raising a duck with a companion chicken.
You can pick-up ducklings at feedstores like Murdochs in Longmont or through hatcheries (or you could keep an eye open on Craigslist)
Here are my list of pros and cons for keeping ducks
1. Great sluggers and buggers.
2. Much cold-hardier than chickens
3. Lay first-thing in the morning (around sunrise), regularly throughout the first year and then more seasonally (spring and summer) in subsequent years.
4. Very companionable and intelligent
5. Dual purpose (good for eggs and meat)
6. Some people (about 20%) who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs
7. Grow very quickly and need to be outside in a run much earlier than chickens
1. Phenomenally messy with water and feed (water is spoiled very quickly).
2. Poop a lot more than chickens and very wet (need to clean the coop/run more frequently)
3. Eat more than chickens
4. Female ducks tend to be quite vocal (compared to chickens) when upset (like, hey my water is frozen over and you need to come do something about it).
5. Ducklings are incredibly messy and smelly (compared to chicks) so you will need a run or a larger-brooder prepared (outside) within about 3-4 weeks and it will need to be cleaned more frequently.
6. If you get ducks that are mainly bred for meat you have to watch their weight gain if kept inactive and heat exposure in summer. Dual-purpose breeds such as peking-peking are great layers but also put on a lot of weight if not aloud to roam.
Brief Guide to Duck Care
Raising Ducklings and Feeding
- House in a water-proof cage with cleanable surfaces.
- Line with paper or shavings that can be cleaned daily
- Provide a heat source for warmth and room in the cage so they can move away if too hot.
- Provide water that is deep enough for the ducklings to duck their bill up to nostril level for cleaning. Must be shallow enough for the ducklings to exit. Replace twice daily.
- Ducklings are very active at night so keep them somewhere where they wont disturb household sleep patterns.
- Ducklings are quite fragile so supervise visits with small children
- Feed on a meet-bird starter then switch to a meat-bird growing ration around 6 weeks of age (higher protein content than chicken starters). At 15+ weeks switch to a standard layer feed
- Have an outside coop ready by the time they are 4 weeks (they grow very quickly)
- Ducks love greens and are very happy free-ranging for invertebrates in the garden
Coop & Run Design
- Ducks usually lay eggs on the ground so need a suitable bedding (such as straw or chip) to make a nest
- They usually sleep on the ground, though some breeds such as Muscovies roost.
- During the warmer months they are happy to sleep outside (in an enclosed run) but in winter will need some shelter.
- The coop will need an ‘easy-to-clean’ flooring (such as bark chip, earth or straw). Line the run with a deep layer or bark mulch to help reduce odor and aid in drainage
- Water must be deep enough to duck their heads, in order to keep their nostrils clear. Whatever water is provided will be fouled very quickly. You must consider how to keep water unfrozen in winter (an electric heated water bucket or daily top-ups). If the ducks have water in which they can swim, an exit ramp must be provided (after excess time in the water their feathers become waterlogged and they can drown. If you see your ducks swimming low in the water, this is the reason)
- Ducks and chickens can cohabit though you may have to separate them if the ducks pester the hens excessively. My drake beats-up the chickens if left in the same run throughout the ducks laying season but is very friendly for the rest of the year. Consider this when designing the coop and run.