Raising ducks can be a fun adventure on the homestead.
But before you jump into buying those cute fluff balls from the feed store you should know a bit about their care and what they will grown into.
Ducks are different than chickens and they have slightly different care. You should take some time to research ducks and decide if they will fit-in in your homestead.
At this point I've raised several dozen ducks (mostly for eggs) and I've learned a few key differences between ducks and chickens the hard way.
The good and the bad
Good- Ducks lay amazing eggs. Duck eggs are noticeably larger than chicken eggs. They have higher concentrations of omega-3s and vitamin D than a chicken eggs and they last longer due to their thicker shells. They also contain more albumen (egg whites) which makes them amazing for baking (think fluffy!) The taste is comparable to chicken eggs, though I find duck eggs richer and creamier. Also people who tend to have allergies to chicken eggs can usually tolerate duck eggs.
Bad- They are messy. All throughout a ducks life it will be messy. Especially when it comes to water. They need to be able to dunk their bills in water to clean out their nostrils and they love bathing. If given enough water to bath in they will splash water everywhere and create a mess. How much is enough water? You'd be surprised how little it takes for them to start bathing. Depending on your set up this might not be that bad, but if you don't have adequate drainage problems can arise.
Good- They don't require bathing water. Ducks LOVE water but if it's too hard to give them clean bathing water regularly they do fine without it. They just need a big enough waterer so they can submerge their bills fully and clean out their nostrils.
Bad- Male ducks are horny devils. One drake (male duck) can handle as many as 12 hens by himself. I actually had to get more hens so my drake had more females to choose from because he was so active. His favorite hen had to spent time with the chicken flock so she could recuperate because he paid her so much attention. If you want to keep a small flock I suggest only having hens.
Good- It's easy to sex ducks if you listen. Male and female ducks can look identical, especially when it's not breeding season. During breeding season male ducks will develop a curled 'sex' feather in their tail, and in some duck breeds the males are different colors (think mallards- boys have greenish heads and greyish bodies during breeding season). These are the only traits to sex the birds apart from behavior and their sounds. When the ducks have matured and developed their adult voices the females are noticeably louder and almost honk (several of our hens sound like evil cackles!). While the males have a softer little 'quack'. Once you hear the difference you'll understand.
Bad- They require a slightly different diet than other poultry. Ducks can eat the same crumble as your chickens but ducks require different amounts of the nutrients. For instance ducks require higher niacin and protein than chickens. Also Ducks cannot have medicated feed, so keep it away from them. You'll either need to provide separate feed for them or supply them with supplements to make sure they are getting all the nutrients that they need.
Good- They make wonderful pest controllers in the garden. Ducks are less intrusive than chickens when it comes to garden care. They don't scratch and peck the way chickens do. They usually leave your plants alone and only go after bugs and slugs. That is unless you have small starts or something extremely tempting like strawberries.
Even with the 'bad' listed above I love raising ducks and don't mind the extra work of having both chickens and ducks. We keep our ducks separate from the chickens (unless they need a timeout!). We find it a bit easier to care for them this way. The ducks have access to water and the chickens get to keep their pen dry.
So are you up for raising ducks?
Check out my post on raising chickens and using essential oils with chickens.
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