Rouen Duck in Rain

Why ducks?

(FEATURED IMAGE FROM FLICKR BY Robyn Anderson)

Why would you own ducks? Why not chickens? Why not just buy eggs and meat from the supermarket? Why ducks?

Most duck- and chicken-raisers say that the eggs from their own, healthy, naturally-raised ducks taste MUCH better than store-bought eggs. They say the meat at the store tastes like cardboard in comparison to meat from birds raised in the backyard. Definitely! Not only do they taste better, they’re also healthier. This is because most (but not necessarily all) eggs available at the supermarket are raised in miserable, sickening conditions. The chickens never see the sun and never breath fresh air. They are trapped in tiny cages, and if they were not stuffed with drugs, they would all die. Their life amounts to nothing and they are considered “egg machines”.

Just reading about it should make you never want to eat another store-bought egg!

Now compare that to what you can do. You can let your ducks can run freely, eat natural and healthy foods (zero chemicals), bask in sunlight, and be happy. In return, they will give you delicious and healthy eggs, scrumptious meat, adorably cute ducklings, and lastly, they will bring uncountable joy to your family. Often, when I am feeling down, all I have to do to get my spirits up again is to walk outside and watch my happy ducks dancing in the meadow or splashing in the creek. Perhaps I walk up to one duck and pet it, while it nibbles my finger joyfully.

So why would you choose ducks over chickens?

Actually, you might NOT choose ducks over chickens. For some people, chickens fit the bill better than ducks. For others, ducks beat chickens. And if you’re like me, you want both!

I find it strange that in some other poultry books, when comparing ducks to chickens, they exaggerate the ducks’ good characteristics and exaggerate the chickens’ bad characteristics. One book said that ducks have an “Excellent” raisability while chickens are only “Fair-Good.” I’ll try to be more fair.

Accommodation

Chickens have much greater accommodation needs. They need a dry coop, roosts to sleep on, raised nests, and a dust box. Ducks don’t mind being outside 24/7 and don’t like being locked up. However, they prefer sleeping in a dry place over sleeping in the rain, and a coop is often necessary so that they won’t lay all over the yard and to keep them safe from predators. They do not need roosts, and they will only use nests on the ground.

Nutrition

Ducks have slightly different nutritional needs. Their diets require much higher levels of niacin than chickens. Also, some medications and drugs that are routinely put in commercial chicken feeds, especially those for young chicks, can be harmful to ducks. However, since specialized duck food is not available in most areas, most duck owners simply feed their flock chicken food. They usually add extra niacin and avoid medicated feed.

Eggs and Meat

You can’t really compare ducks’ and chickens’ egg-laying capabilities because of the tremendous variation between breeds. Some bantam and meat duck breeds will only lay 25 eggs a year. Campbell ducks can lay up to 340 eggs a year. Leghorn chickens can also lay over 300 eggs a year, and bantam chickens lay very little. There good meat breeds for both ducks and chickens, as well. Duck eggs, in general, have harder shells. I find little difference in taste, but some may prefer the taste of chicken eggs over duck eggs. Duck meat is fattier than chicken meat, except for Muscovy meat (which tastes something like veal or beef). The protein, fat, and cholesterol content is higher in duck eggs than chicken eggs.

Yard Destruction

Chickens scratch and will eat all the grass out of their run, if it is too small. Ducks turn everything to mud if they don’t have enough space or in extremely rainy locations.

Disease Resistance

Ducks, in general, are said to be healthier and more disease-resistant than chickens. I don’t know why this is, and it might be because generations of chickens have been weakened after decades of being treated as egg machines. But maybe it’s true. Maybe ducks are just hardier.

Noise

Chickens cluck. Ducks quack. They’re both rather noisy, excluding the quiet Muscovy. However, drakes have one perk over cocks: they don’t crow! Drakes are very quiet, in fact, and make little noise.

Messiness

This is one area where ducks and chickens differ immensely: ducks are way messier. They dump their water, splash in it, filter it through their bill, and in general make a huge muddy mess. Waterers inside the coop must be as mess-proof as possible! Ducks love splashing water out of their bathtubs, drilling in the mud, and in general making a mess.

Lifespan

Chickens, on average, only live up to 6 years. Many only live to three years old. Ducks tend to live a little longer. I’ve heard reports of 30-year-old Muscovies, but of course those are rare and would no longer be laying.

Miscellaneous

There are breeds of both ducks and chickens that can forage well. Duck incubation length is 28 days (except for Muscovies, which take 35 days to hatch), while chickens only take 21 days. Ducks are generally harder to find and maybe more expensive. When butchering, ducks are much harder to pluck due to their waterproof feathers. (I skin my ducks, in fact, instead of plucking them.) Chickens, of course, can’t stand rain, while ducks love it. (Note that a pond/pool is NOT absolutely necessary for ducks, unlike you may have heard. However, they will be much happier and healthier if they have bathing water!)

So which is best for you? Ducks or chickens? It’s your choice!