Keeping ducks and chickens together is one of those expectation/reality things.
What you think will happen: the ducks and chickens will all eat together and forage together and sleep together and be pretty together and generally be a harmonious, happy flock—right?
What actually might happen: the ducks ruin the chickens’ house and yard and the chickens get grouchy and wage war on the ducks, leading to a bunch of grouchy birds who all hate each other.
Ducks and chickens have their differences, but yes, they can live together peacefully. I have a nice mixed flock and they get along pretty well (mostly). If you have a mixed flock and they’re not jibing together like you hoped, or if you want to add ducks to a flock of chickens (or vice versa) and want to know how to keep them together successfully, here’s how to do it right.
Table of Contents
- Coop and Run Considerations
- Feeding a Mixed Flock
- Peaceful Cohabitation
- Hatching and Babies
Coop and Run Considerations
The best way to ensure your ducks and chickens get along is to give them plenty of space. A crowded coop or run with only one species will cause problems, and those problems will only be magnified when the occupants aren’t even of the same species. Ducks and chickens, for the most part, will prefer to only interact with their own species, so the more freedom they have to live how they like and avoid mingling, the more likely they are to live peacefully. Give your birds as much space as you can, and don’t get too many birds.
Here’s an online calculator for duck coop and run size:
While chickens don’t need quite as much space as ducks, I’d recommend using the duck numbers for both ducks and chickens if you’re keeping them together. Alternatively, calculate how much space you’ll need and then add 20-30% more to that.
For example, if you want a coop that will comfortably house five ducks and five chickens, give the ducks 5 square feet of space each and the chickens 4 square feet.
5 ducks x 5 square feet = 25 sq ft. 5 chickens x 4 square feet = 20 sq ft.
That’s 45 square feet. Now to increase that by 25%:
45 x 1.25 = 56.25 sq ft.
In the run, the same applies. This link also has a run size calculator. I recommend the same numbers for both ducks and chickens. Remember that your ducks’ pool or tub and its splash zone will generally not be usable chicken space.
2. The Coop
Chickens roost; ducks don’t. Ducks sleep on the ground.
Be sure your ducks have floor space that isn’t directly under your chickens’ roosts. Alternatively, install dropping boards under your roosts.
The one exception is, again, Muscovies, who do enjoy roosts at night, although they don’t strictly need them and may not use them consistently, especially if they’re narrow (Muscovies can’t curl their feet as easily as chickens, so they prefer wide, flat roosts) or high up.
In one of my pens, I have a normal wooden roost for the chickens and an old plastic reclining sun lounger for the Muscovies. They love it and most of them sleep on it. Occasionally they’ll sit on the chicken roost as well.
Overall, ducks and chickens can use the same types of bedding. However, duck poop is wetter than chicken poop, so duck coops should have more bedding and/or more frequent cleaning than a chicken coop would normally need. Coop ventilation is always important, but with ducks it’s even more so.
Wire floors are sometimes used in chicken coops since droppings fall through the floor, theoretically making the coop easier to clean. Since ducks sleep in their bedding (and also nest in it), I don’t recommend wire floors.
Even if your ducks and chickens share a run, it may work better for them to have separate sleeping quarters. If your run is secure, your ducks may not need a coop at all. They will prefer to sleep in the run, or perhaps under the chicken coop, or in their pool. Ducks really don’t like being cooped up. Or you could build a duck house separate from your chicken coop.
This is one of my mobile chicken pens, which some of my birds — mostly chickens, but also a few ducks — spend the night in. Although the birds have to jump to get in and out, it works all right for Muscovies. My ducks and chickens share the yard during the day, but are mostly separate during the night, with the exception of two pens that house both ducks and chickens.
3. Duck-Friendly Ramps
If you’re adding ducks to a flock of chickens, you may have an elevated coop with a ramp or ladder. These work great for chickens, but for ducks, not so much. Ducks are clumsy and are often reluctant to climb a ramp, never mind a ladder. Preferably, ducks should have a ground-level shelter.
If that isn’t possible, yes, ducks can be trained to use a ramp. Here are a few guidelines for building a duck-friendly ramp:
- It should be wide: at least a foot wide, preferably two feet wide. A good guideline is at least twice the width of a duck.
- It should have a gentle slope with an angle of 30 degrees or less. An easy way to calculate that is that your ramp should be at least twice as long as the height. If your coop door is one foot above ground level, the ramp should be a minimum of two feet long.
- It should have plenty of traction. Ducks will slip and slide when trying to walk up a ramp made of smooth wood. Some people cover their ramps with shelf liner, pieces of carpet, rubber mats, turf carpet, or horizontal wooden cleats/rungs.
- Ducks actually prefer stairs or steps to ramps. Consider stairs instead of a ramp.
- Side rails are helpful for preventing your ducks from falling off or jumping off and getting hurt.
Large breeds that are prone to leg problems, such as Pekins, really shouldn’t have to climb a ramp to get into their coop, unless it has side rails. They may fall off the side, and when coming down a ramp, they will likely be tempted to jump off partway down, which can cause leg injuries.
This is a great duck ramp!
Ducks will need to be trained to use a ramp. Use treats to lure them up it. It may take a few weeks before they use it consistently. Even if you don’t feed your ducks and chickens in their coop, you might consider putting an evening snack in the coop if you’re having trouble convincing your ducks to use a ramp.
Another ideal for a duck-friendly coop is wide doors. Ducks don’t like the small, narrow popholes chicken coops tend to have. They will be more willing to go in if the door is wider and taller.
4. Nest Boxes
Chickens like raised nesting boxes, while ducks prefer to nest on the ground. They may use ground-level nest boxes, or they may lay their eggs on the floor of your coop, but they won’t jump into elevated nests.
If your chicken coop only has raised nest boxes, add a few ground-level nest boxes for your ducks. Ducks also prefer larger nest boxes than chickens.
Muscovy ducks can be an exception. Often, they’ll lay on the floor, but they may also be willing to use chicken nest boxes. Right now, one of my Muscovies is laying in an outdoor sink.
5. Water Control
Ducks, of course, have a much greater need for water than their landfowl counterparts.
They need to be able to immerse their entire bill in water to keep their nares clean and healthy, so chicken waterers are not appropriate for ducks. They need access to a bucket or other deeper source of water. Although they can use a chicken waterer, it shouldn’t be their only available source of water.
Ducks are very messy with water. Not only do they drink it and splash in it (if they can), but they will also spill it, dabble in it, and filter water through their bills. They’ll spill more water than they drink.
Don’t put a waterer in the coop. Your bedding will be soaked. If you do want a waterer in the coop (if you put food in the coop, you MUST also provide water), place it over a wire platform so spillage won’t soak the bedding.
Ducks can be trained to use nipple waterers. However, they should never be the only source of water available. Ducks must have an open dish to drink from. They also should not be used if your ducks are eating mash or crumbles. They can, however, be used as a mess-free option for nighttime coop use only.
In the run, water management is still important. Ducks don’t scratch and dig like chickens, but they can ruin a chicken run and turn it all into mud if you’re not careful. Chickens hate mud, and it isn’t healthy for them to be in muddy areas.
It may be wise to put your ducks’ water bowls or buckets over a wire platform, particularly if your run is small, so your chickens won’t have to stand in the mud that will inevitably materialize. There are also various DIY “spill-proof” duck waterers such as five-gallon buckets with circular holes cut into them.
Here are some ideas:
I’ve heard people complain about ducks messing up the chickens’ water. Even if the ducks have buckets, tubs, pools, and luxurious lakes of their own, they’ll still find the humble chicken drinker and muddy it, dabble in it, and even drain it completely. To stop your ducks from drinking from a chicken waterer, try putting it on an elevated surface. The ducks won’t bother to jump up, but the chickens won’t mind. Here’s a picture of one setup: https:
Ducks also should have swimming water. A kiddie pool is a common option. My ducks have a large pond, but I also use these 15-gallon stock tanks and love them:
I also like these 20-gallon utility tubs:
Try to dump or drain your ducks’ pools or tubs away from the run to reduce mud in the run. Move the tub frequently so your ducks won’t scar the surrounding ground with deep, pock-marked mudholes. You don’t have to make swimming water available all day or every day either—it’s okay if your ducks only have a bath every few days (although they’ll prefer having one every day).
Here are some tips for reducing mud in the run:
Feeding a Mixed Flock
Ducks and chickens can share the same feed, with a few considerations. Adult ducks and chickens both need a good layer feed, along with grit and a calcium supplement.
Although it works to feed chicken layer feed to your entire flock, an all-flock feed is preferable. Chickens can also eat duck feed. If you try to offer chicken feed and duck feed separately, both species will indiscriminately eat both feeds.
Ducks need more dietary niacin than chickens. However, this is primarily a concern for ducklings, as adult ducks are not as affected by low niacin levels, especially if they have the ability to forage. But some people add supplementary niacin to their adult ducks’ diet to play it safe. This can be in the form of brewer’s yest, niacin tablets, or liquid niacin.
Avoid feeding dry mash, as ducks can choke on it and need a lot of water to get it down, which is wasteful and will dirty the water very quickly. It helps to wet or soak the mash before feeding it, but it’s still preferable to feed crumbles or pellets to ducks.
3. Snacks and Treats
Ducks and chickens can also eat the same treats and snacks. I find that ducks are much pickier and take longer to try new foods. My chickens will plow into new foods with wild abandon, whereas my ducks will eye them from a distance with levelled suspicion. There are also a variety of foods that my chickens eat with even more wild abandon and the ducks just quietly disdain. Carrots, for one.
Ducks and chickens can share the same feeders, but open pans and bowls work better for ducks than gravity feeders and suchlike, since ducks can make their feed quite wet with their habit of bringing food to the water and then water to the food. Gravity feeders don’t work with fermented or soaked feed, and if the ducks make the available dry feed soggy, it will stick to the bottom, and new dry feed will fall on top of it, and the stuff on the bottom will start to mold.
Also, there are some chicken feeders that don’t accommodate a duck’s wide, flat bill well. I have one chicken feeder that my ducks can barely eat from. If you’re using a chicken feeder, be sure your ducks don’t have issues with eating from it.
Another potential issue is ducks and chickens squabbling over food bowls. My chickens are the bossier bunch and if they don’t have much feeding space, they’ll peck my ducks and chase them away. I’ve also heard of people who had it the other way—their ducks wouldn’t let their chickens eat.
The solution is enlarge the perimeter of the dinner table. Add more feeders, and spread them apart by a few feet. When I feed my mixed flock in the morning, I use up to 7-8 food bowls and pans and put a scoop or two of feed in each.
1. Bullying and Fighting
Ducks and chickens may not get along. I’ve heard many anecdotes of ducks bullying chickens, chickens bullying ducks, and other nastiness and unpleasantness. My personal experience is that the chickens are bossier and are much more likely to peck the ducks than the other way around. But as long as everyone has plenty of space and there are plenty of food bowls to go around, everyone’s pretty happy.
It’s also possible your drakes will attack your roosters, or vice versa, or your hens will attack your chickens, or vice versa, or even any combination of the four.
In any case, if adding space is not an option, the best solution is separation. Put the aggressors in a separate pen.
One important thing to know about is the risk of drakes trying to mate with female chickens. This can be very dangerous for hens and can cause internal injuries or even kill them. Drakes have penises; roosters do not. Their anatomy is very different and drakes are not compatible with chickens at all. If your drakes try to mate your hens, separate them.
You can try adding more female ducks and then reintroducing the drakes to the flock. This may or may not solve the problem.
I’ve raised ducks and chickens together for years and, fortunately, I’ve never seen my drakes try to mate the hens, but my flock has a very low drake-to-duck ratio and has access to acres of space. So it’s possible to keep drakes with hens without issues, but it’s not a guarantee. You may not be able to have drakes in the same pen as your hens, particularly during breeding season.
Roosters may also try to mate with female ducks. This isn’t as dangerous, but still annoying and unpleasant for the ducks. I had a young rooster that did this. He was lower on the pecking order, so he didn’t have hens of his own. I got rid of that rooster, but if you have a rooster mating ducks and want him to stop, your three options are giving him more chickens, separating him from any dominant roosters, or separating him from the ducks entirely.
Ducks and chickens cannot crossbreed. A duck-chicken hybrid is impossible.
Some people wonder if ducks can protect chickens, like geese can. The answer is no. Not at all. Ducks are not much larger than chickens and are very vulnerable to predators themselves, so they are of no use in protecting chickens.
Roosters are known to help protect their hens, keeping a constant eye out for danger and uttering a loud warning call when they see something that worries them. They probably won’t protect ducks, however. Ducks may not stick around close by the rooster, and they may not understand his warning calls.
4. Just One Duck (or One Chicken)
Can one duck and one chicken live together? One duck and a group of chickens? One chicken and a group of ducks?
They prefer companions of their own species. A lone duck in a chicken flock, or a lone chicken in a duck flock, will be lonely. It’s better than keeping one bird alone with no companions at all, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
When introducing ducks to a flock of chickens or vice versa, there may be squabbles or harassment. The original birds may feel the run or yard is their territory and try to put the newcomers in their place. This is normal and should subside after a few days, but keep an eye on the new birds to be sure they aren’t being bullied or attacked excessively. Bullies may need to be separated.
To make integration easier, start by keeping the two groups separated by a fence, so they can see but not touch each other. After a week or so of this, merge the two groups.
6. Health Concerns
Ducks and chickens share many of the same diseases and can pass diseases to each other. If you add ducks to a flock of chickens or vice versa, quarantining the newcomers would be a good idea.
Ducks are less susceptible to illness than chickens, so the chance of your chickens making your ducks sick is very low. However, the wetter environment ducks prefer may increase your chickens’ risk of various illnesses, so it’s important to keep a shared environment reasonably clean and dry. In general, though, ducks shouldn’t make chickens sick.
Hatching and Babies
1. Can ducks hatch chicks?
Yes, it’s possible for a broody duck to hatch chicken eggs.
However, when the eggs hatch, ducks may not take very good care of the resulting chicks. They may let them get wet and chilled, and they may not be very attentive mothers. They will also try to lead their babies into water. Make sure your mama duck doesn’t have access to swimming water while she’s raising chicks.
I had a Muscovy hatch a few chicks a few years ago. The only problem was, she’d had real ducklings before, and when the chicks hatched, she seemed to know they were different. She didn’t really bond with them. She let them snuggle under her at night, but she didn’t encourage them to follow her. She abandoned them after a couple of weeks.
Of course, duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, while chicken eggs take 21 days. If you want to hatch duck and chicken eggs together, be sure to put the chicken eggs under the duck a week after the duck eggs start incubating.
But I wouldn’t really recommend letting ducks hatch chicks. It just won’t work very well.
2. Can chickens hatch ducklings?
Yes. This tends to work better than ducks hatching chicks.
The ducklings will of course want to swim and will instinctively jump into any available water, which may cause the mother hen to panic with worry! Other than that, however, hens tend to be quite good mothers to ducklings.
Since duck eggs take a week longer to hatch than chicken eggs, there’s a small chance the broody hen will give up and leave the nest right before the ducks are due to hatch. But most hens will be determined enough to keep sitting even if their eggs seem overdue.
3. Can you brood ducklings and chicks together?
Preferably not. It’s a pain. The chicks will hate it, unless your brooder is very, very large or very carefully managed.
Ducklings grow much faster than chicks and need much more space. Within a few weeks, your ducklings will be several times larger than your chicks. Thus, a brooder housing both duckling and chicks must be extremely spacious. Here are my recommendations for duckling brooder size.
Ducklings will also soil a brooder faster than chicks and will create a wetter environment, which can be dangerous to the chicks’ health and increase their risk of coccidiosis. A mixed-species brooder must be cleaned often and have good ventilation.
Waterers must be placed over platform of some sort so spillage won’t get into the bedding. One good method is to place the waterer over a wire platform with a bowl or tray underneath to catch the spilled water. Ducklings, like adult ducks, need waterers they can dunk their entire bill in, so chick founts are not a good option beyond the first couple of days. However, your ducklings also should not be able to sit in, splash in, or play in their water.
Here are some tips on making a mess-free duckling brooder (some with DIY waterers):
Ducklings can eat chick feed, but it should have added niacin. Duckling-specific feed, to my knowledge, is perfectly fine for chicks. Try to avoid chick starters with very high protein, as they can cause angel wing in ducklings. High-protein starters can be used for the first week or two, but after that ducklings should be on a feed with 15-18% protein.
As for medicated feed, it’s commonly preached that it will kill ducklings. This is a myth. Many chick starter feeds contain a type of drug called a coccidiostat to reduce the chance of chicks contracting coccidiosis. Decades ago, the coccidiostats used contained arsenic. Ducklings are more sensitive to arsenic than chicks, so these feeds could kill them. Today, several drugs are used as coccidiostats, the most common one being amprolium. All appear to be safe for ducklings. Many people, myself included, have fed medicated chick feed to ducklings with no issues. However, it’s not imperative for chicks to have medicated feed, so if you’d rather avoid it anyway, you can just feed unmedicated feed to all of your babies.
Ducklings prefer cooler temperatures than chicks, but only slightly. Use heat plates and both parties should be happy. If you do use a heat lamp (which is not recommended because of the fire risk it presents), consider setting the temperature to be about 2-3 degrees lower than the general recommendations for chicks. Unless the chicks do seem to be cold, this should work.
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