“Ducks,” say the revolutionary among us, “have actually always been better than chickens.”
“Fiddlesticks!” say the blinded chicken enthusiasts. “Fiddlesticks and blasphemy. Chickens are obviously superior.”
More and more people are deciding to raise their own eggs. Most of them turn to keeping backyard chickens. Chickens are popular, easily available, and a more conventional source of eggs.
But some people—a rising number—choose ducks instead.
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 like both! (but ducks are still definitely better)
Here’s a quick rundown of the differences between ducks and chickens:
Chickens have much greater accommodation needs. They need a dry coop, roosts to sleep on, raised nests, and a dust box. They can get frosbite in cold weather and prefer being indoors when it’s snowing.
Ducks don’t mind being outside 24/7 and don’t like being locked up. However, they still need some protection from the elements, protection from predators, and a confined area to lay their eggs so you don’t have to search all over the yard to find their eggs. They do not need roosts, and they will only use nests on the ground. They don’t mind cold weather and will happily swim or lounge around in the snow even when it’s very cold.
Ducks, overall, are easier and cheaper to house.
Ducks: 1. Chickens: 0.
Ducks and chickens have very similar nutritional needs, with one key difference: ducks require more niacin in their diet. Feed formulated specifically for ducks may be available, but tends to be more expensive. Chicken feed is sufficient for ducks, but it’s best to provide them with supplementary niacin.
Ducks tend to eat more than chickens, and can be messier and more wasteful with their feed. They don’t like dry feed and will try to mix it with their water.
As I am clearly duck-biased, I regret to admit that my ducks are pickier than my chickens when it comes to treats. My chickens will eat practically anything, while my ducks are cautious about anything new and don’t like various foods that my chickens love.
Do chickens win this one? Hmm. Maybe.
Ducks: 1. Chickens: 1.
(Arguably the ducks’ 1 point is bigger than the chickens’ 1 point. Should I give the chickens half a point?)
Eggs and Meat
It’s difficult to compare ducks’ and chickens’ egg-laying capabilities because of the tremendous variation between breeds. Some bantam and meat duck breeds may only lay 25 eggs a year. Khaki Campbell ducks can lay up to 340 eggs a year. Leghorn chickens can also lay over 300 eggs a year, while bantam chickens lay very little. Ducks are more likely to lay in winter than chickens, and there are multiple breeds with extremely high egg production.
Duck eggs are superior to chicken eggs. They are larger, and they contain a higher percentage of protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, choline, folate, and iron than chicken eggs. Duck eggs can be used in all the same ways as chicken eggs, and they are better for baking than chicken eggs, producing lighter, fluffier cakes and other baked goods. They also don’t go bad as fast and their shells don’t crack as easily.
Many people who are allergic to chicken eggs find that they can consume duck eggs without problems.
Also, ducks are much better at consistently laying their eggs first thing in the morning. I can let my ducks out to free-range for the day and pick their eggs at the same time. My chickens, meanwhile, sometimes only lay their eggs in the afternoon.
The only disadvantage to duck eggs is that they don’t come in as many beautiful colors as chicken eggs. Although ducks can lay blue, green, white, and black eggs, you won’t find all the beautiful shades of brown, red, orange, and pink that you can find in some chickens’ eggs. I also know some people who find the harder shells of duck eggs annoying.
Also, since ducks tend to like getting wet and many ducks won’t make nests, it can be difficult to get perfectly clean eggs from your ducks.
Still: duck eggs win!
Ducks: 2. Chickens: 1.
There are good meat breeds for both ducks and chickens. There is no equivalent to the Cornish Cross in ducks, but bred-for-meat Pekins come close. As for butchering, ducks are much harder to pluck due to their waterproof feathers.
Duck meat is fattier than chicken meat, except for Muscovy meat (which tastes something like veal or beef). Whether you like duck meat or not is a matter of personal taste. For meat, I’d say chickens win.
Ducks: 2. Chickens: 2.(The chickens’ point is smaller again…isn’t it?)
Chickens scratch and will destroy grass cover if their run is too small. If you have potted plants or a garden, they may damage or destroy plants, even uprooting them with their scratching. My chickens love dustbathing in flowerpots and like to throw all the dirt out.
Ducks will also destroy grass cover if their space is limited. They will spill and spread their water and create as much mud as they can. They won’t scratch and dig up plants, and they won’t jump into flowerpots. Mud management in their run can be a challenge, especially during prolonged wet weather.
This one’s a draw—chickens tend to be more destructive in general, but on wet ground, the mudholes ducks create can’t be underestimated.
Ducks: 3. Chickens: 3.
Ducks and chickens can both be used for pest control in gardens, as both love eating many types of bugs and pests. However, ducks tend to be better, as they will eat some pests that most chickens won’t touch, such as banana slugs, while causing less damage to soil and mulch. Both ducks and chickens may eat fruit or vegetables in your garden if you’re not careful. Ducks win.
Ducks: 4. Chickens: 3.
Ducks are much hardier, healthier, and more disease-resistant than chickens. They aren’t prone to coccidiosis, and they don’t get Marek’s disease or infectious coryza. While they do have sensitive respiratory systems, they are still more resistant to respiratory problems than chickens. They are also less prone to worms, lice, and mites.
Ducks win by a country mile! If you don’t want to deal with health problems, get ducks. They’re not invincible, but they very rarely get sick. Bumblefoot is the only health problem I’ve had in my flock so far.
Ducks: 5. Chickens: 3.
Chickens cluck, shriek, and sing (badly). Ducks quack. They’re both rather noisy, excluding the quiet Muscovy. Ducks tend to quack more frequently than chickens make noise, but I find their quacking a little quieter and a little more pleasant than chicken egg songs and other noise.
Roosters, of course, crow. Drakes are very quiet, only producing a hoarse, raspy quack. My drakes are very chatty and seem to talk more than most of my female ducks. I sometimes wake up to them outside my window, but they’re not loud at all.
Both male and female Muscovies are quieter than either chickens or regular ducks.
Ducks win by a small margin.
Ducks: 6. Chickens: 3.
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.
Ducks lose, and really lose. The chickens can enjoy their spare point. (In fact maybe I should give the ducks a negative point. No, I won’t.)
Ducks: 6. Chickens: 4.
Chickens, on average, only live up to 6 years. Many only live to three years old. Ducks tend to live a little longer, more like 10-12 years. I’ve heard reports of 30-year-old Muscovies, but of course those are rare instances.
Ducks also lay eggs and are productive for longer.
Ducks: 7. Chickens: 4.
Ducks and chickens are both great at foraging, though some breeds are better than others.
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 may be more expensive.
Also, ducklings are the cutest. This is not up for debate.
So which is best for you? Ducks or chickens? Both are great, but…ducks.
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