Lots of people in the homesteading circles talk about raising chickens. They will tell you how chickens are the gate way animal and you can raise them in all sorts of places. For a look while my wife was very interested in raising chickens. She would research and plan out chicken tractors and make Pinterest boards about chicken things. Well, we are now at the point that we can seriously look at getting some and knowing that I would be called on to help raise these animals I started doing some research. At the same time I stumbled upon a podcast called Homesteady. (I recommend that you take a listen, I have really enjoyed their shows).
On one episode they talked about ducks. That episode hit off an idea in my mind and I began researching. The more I looked into it, the more I thought that ducks would be a better first animal than chickens. (I would highly recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks)
I have been continuing to research and talk it over with Stella, but it looks to me more and more like we will be starting off with ducks this upcoming spring. I thought I would share with you our top 7 reasons why we are picking ducks over chickens.
1) Ducks tend to be healthier than chickens
In my research I keep coming upon the mention that ducks are healthier than chickens. Anything that might live on the outside of the bird will probably get washed off or drown in the case of a duck with access to water. Also a duck’s feathers have the job of keeping out the cold and rain (more on that later) so it is harder for stuff such as lice to actually get down to duck. I’ve also seen mention a number of places that ducks in general have a heartier immune system, so that they are just better suited to handle any disease or issue that would come along.
2) Ducks are better egg layers
I know, shocking isn’t it. You hear egg and most of us just think chicken is implied. No one asks who came first, the duck or the egg. But here are some things to ponder upon. First off duck eggs are bigger, as in they can be about twice as big. Add to that the fact that a duck is more likely to lay all year round, where as chicken egg production tends to slow more in the winter. As one more added benefit a duck will stick to a more consistent time to lay her eggs, while a chicken is on an approximately 26 hour cycle. So each day when you let the ducks out you can have some eggs-pectation of seeing an egg or more. With chickens it keeps shifting, meaning maybe today your chicken will lay at noon…or worse, each chicken will lay at a totally different time. This might not be bad if you like Easter egg hunts all day every day though.
3) Duck eggs are better
So I’ve already told you that ducks are better at laying eggs, but all that rushed production must make them inferior….I mean, my mega-mart doesn’t carry duck eggs and they have all the best stuff! Right? Well, duck eggs are viewed as a delicacy. They have a high percentage of both protein and fat, leading to a richer product. Also since they are bigger there is more white leading to fluffier baked goods. So if you are a homesteader baking all your own bread the eggs might be worth it just for the baking. As a slight word of warning though, due to these differences you can’t just say an eggs an egg and swap out a chicken egg for a duck egg.
4) Ducks handle heat better
Chickens are able to handle some hot and humid conditions, but they get to the point that they sit around and pant. Ducks will wander around, keep exploring and such. Now sure, you may notice that they are ducking themselves into their pond, pool or puddle a bit more than if it wasn’t the hatefully hot days of late summer. But they still are able to take care of themselves, where as those chickens need your help to cool off. I’m not saying ducks don’t need you at all, you should still make sure there is some shade and also that water that I’ve mentioned, but they do a good job of handling that heat.
5) Ducks handle cold better
And in six months after that late summer heat has been blown away by the autumn winds and you are now in the bleak days of winter, when the sky stays the color of an elephant and you are wandering if you can even make it outside. Well the ducks will be happy then too. Ducks have down feathers and they have oil on their outer feathers so the wet rolls right off of them. Kinda like water off a ducks back. But that feather arrangement means that they are out sporting a grand down coat. Now I’m not advocating that you just let your ducks roam the arctic tundra all winter, but even on cold days you can let those webbed footed wonders out to explore.
6) Ducks don’t scratch up your yard (or garden)
Let’s take a moment to examine the foot of a duck and a chicken. That chicken foot looks mean, sharp and pointy, that’s a great tiller. And there are times that it might be what you want. I’ve read that many people turn their chickens loose into the garden when the season is over and look at that it is tilled and ready for next season. That’s good once a year…but what about the other areas where you want to let your chicken be? The duck foot on the other hand doesn’t have this problem. A flock of ducks won’t tear up your garden. I won’t say that ducks won’t mess up an area if left in a small area long enough, but given space there will be less bare spots.
7) Ducks are quieter
When I first started looking into chickens I thought well just roosters crow and they just crow at dawn. (I mean cartoons wouldn’t lie to me would they?) Well it turns out that roosters crow…well, whenever they darn well feel like it. The hens cackle and make noise when they lay an egg, when they are excited, or again, whenever they feel like it. Ducks on the other hand make noise when they need to. So if you wake up in the middle of the night hearing your ducks…grab a flashlight and see what is going on.
Bonus: Ducklings are cute
I know, this is subjective. But come on, look at these little ducklings.
I don’t want you to think ducks are totally without downsides. In my research I’ve come across some people that have had ducks and have determined that it wasn’t for them. I can’t tell you if ducks are a better choice for you than chickens. I can’t even tell you if some kind of bird is good for you at all. I just wanted to share with all of you the reasons that I think I shall be starting with ducks in the spring. I would love to hear in the comments why you decided ducks or chickens where a better choice for you.