Why You Should Try Backyard Ducks!
To be honest, I was not too sure in the beginning that I wanted ducks. I enjoy animals immensely, you could even say that I love animals, but I also enjoy a hefty amount of research before I get my feet wet when it comes to bringing them home. I had heard more bad things about ducks than good when the topic of having a handful on the homestead came up. They're extremely messy, they get water everywhere and drink a lot of it (over 1/2 a gallon a day as ducklings!), they eat more food than chickens, and the drakes can be mean. Well... some of those things are true, at least so far. I was eventually convinced after listening to Theresa Loe's podcast, Living Homegrown, where she talked with Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily about keeping backyard ducks. It was a great episode, and you should definitely listen to it if you are considering bringing some ducklings home.
You can tell that I took these photos a while back - our Pekins are now fully feathered and so much bigger! Ducks grow really fast, so if you are interested in having poultry that only stays in the brooder for a couple of weeks, ducks might be the bird for you.
Ducks Grow Quickly
Like with a rapid fire! Ducks are almost fully feathered and ready to go outside by about 5 weeks old. Our ducks were outside for long stretches of time well before that, as we brought them home late enough to experience warmer temperatures. In truth, I liked brooding ducks a lot more than chickens as it goes by that much quicker. On average, chicks have to stay near a heat source for about 6-8 weeks, depending upon the health of the chick and the weather you are experiencing. That's a long time to run a heat lamp and deal with cleaning up the coop/brooder. I ended up moving all of our Rouen ducks out into the coop with a heat lamp when they were two weeks old. They had already completely outgrown their brooder and were close to being feathered. I was shocked at how big they grew! They move onto grower feed a lot sooner than chickens do, too, at around 3-4 weeks of age. If you are looking for an animal that doesn't take long to mature, you may enjoy having a duck! They start laying at around 18-20 weeks, which is when they should be switched over to a layer feed.
Expect Lots of Eggs!
Did you know that most domestic ducks lay consistently, about 75-100%, all year long? That means you'll get lots of duck eggs by the time they are mature. Our Pekins will lay over 200 eggs per year! Now, that's not necessarily more than some of our chicken breeds, but they continue to lay over time, and they have better production rates compared to a chicken. That means that they'll continue to lay even during the winter months when sunlight hours are shorter. There are so many benefits to duck eggs as well. For instance, they have a longer shelf life due to thicker shells. They are more nutritious, richer, and larger than a chicken egg with more omega-3 fatty acids and 9 grams of protein. Wow! Their whites, which have high amounts of protein, are prized by bakers for the amazing loft they give to baked goods.
Quiet and Friendly
Now, don't take friendly as "cuddly" or "curious" as I have found, only after a couple of months, that our ducks are not the same as chickens. I don't believe a duck would cross the road to find out what was on the other side. Rather, they'd stay in the one place they know best, the safest place, and stick beside their family. They are cautious, timid, and reserved. However, they are not mean. If anything, I've never seen a partially wild, farm animal be nicer to its fellow flock members. Our ducks had to be introduced over a period of three days, separated by a wall of chicken wire, because they were not brooded together. It was the most calm and relaxed animal introduction I've ever witnessed! They even all sleep and snuggle together, which I find precious. Ducks have much better chances of welcoming other ducks to the flock and even other types of poultry - chickens not so much! They have a severe pecking order that can get thrown off completely by just one more bird. Plus, ducks hardly make any noise, at least compared to chickens. Their peeps are minuscule as a duckling and soft as an adult. Females quack more loudly and often than a drake, which is fascinating. If you have a flock of only drakes, then you'll find they are quite silent!
Health Issues are Rare
Ducks are generally healthier than a chicken. They have high body temperatures and an extra layer of body fat which keeps them warm all year round and kills off parasites. Their feathers are waterproof which makes days in the snow and rain bearable. They actually enjoy cold weather! Because of their heightened immune systems, they are hardly ever susceptible to Marek's or coccidiosis. By spending time in the water, if a pool or lake is provided, this prevents them from welcoming external parasites such as mites or ticks.
Nice to Your Lawn
Webbed feet really help the issue of scratching up your lawn! If you are strictly a backyard poultry owner, then you know the pain that is coming out to your chicken run after a few days and finding it's turned into a luxury dust bath for your hens. Ducks do not scratch up the lawn or terrorize your grass, unless of course, they only have so much space to hang out. I came out the other day to find one of our Pekins, feathers all pearly white, looking like it had given itself a mud bath... only on the top of its head. A few days later I noticed a bunch of tiny holes in our yard, about an inch deep, and just the right size to fit a duck's bill into. Hmm... they were digging for grubs and bugs! While this could bother you, think of it as helpful aeration to your lawn! Ducks love eating insects and can help control pest levels. Slugs are a real treat for them! Plus all of the water they drink and splash creates a bright green pasture.
Entertaining to Watch
This one is strictly opinion - ducks are funny! The way they waddle, hide, and sleep all make me giggle. I love to watch them, even amongst the things that I don't enjoy about them. While they may make a mess of the coop or sleep on my rhubarb, I find that their subtle nature is really quite fascinating. They only move as a unit, with one duck leading the way, and the others watching his flank. If one duck makes a decision, the other seven must follow suit. Splashing in their pan of water is a daily occurrence with many hours due to pruning. Somehow dorky and majestic, I think that ducks can be a beloved bird for any backyard livestock keeper.
Do you own ducks? What is your favorite breed?