Ever thought about raising ducks for eggs? Why raise ducks instead of—or, in addition to—chickens? Here are some important things to consider.
Ducks or Chickens?
First, if you have indeed raised chickens, you already know know how delicious eggs straight from the coop can be. Eggs laid by chickens who enjoy plenty of sunlight and exercise roaming around eating grass, weeds, and bugs are not only tastier and fresher than store bought eggs, but also contain more nutrients. All great reasons to consider keeping a backyard flock.
Why ducks instead of chickens? For starters, ducks are easy to raise even in a small backyard. They are extremely social, so consider raising at least three (but preferably five or six) together. In terms of male versus female ducks, good flock makeups include three females (and no males) or a male with four or five females. You don’t need a male duck (called a drake) for the females to lay eggs, but they won’t ever hatch into ducklings without a drake around.
Also, ducks tend to be better year-round layers than chickens, continuing their egg production right through the winter without any added light. Several breeds of ducks, including Khaki Campbell, Welsh Harlequin, and Silver Appleyard, will often outlay all but the most prolific chickens breeds.
What Are Duck Eggs Like?
About 30% larger than medium chicken eggs, duck eggs can be eaten scrambled, fried, or over easy. Highly prized by some pastry chefs due to their higher fat content, duck eggs do contain more cholesterol and calories than chicken eggs, but also taste a bit richer and more “eggy.” They also contain more vitamins than chicken eggs, as well as more protein, Omega-3, and iron.
Note that some folks may be allergic to duck eggs. For this reason, it’s a good idea to try duck eggs before investing in your own flock!
Raising Ducks in Your Backyard
As far as keeping ducks, they are fairly low maintenance. Contrary to popular belief, ducks don’t need a pond to swim in; they will be content splashing around in a kiddie pool. They are extremely cold-hardy and prefer being outdoors, so their housing doesn’t need to be elaborate, nor all that large. A small shed, dog house, or playhouse can easily be converted to a serviceable duck house with minimal renovations—mainly a secure, predator-proof lock on the door and adequate ventilation with all openings covered with ½” welded wire to keep the ducks safe at night.
Their house should be dry and draft-free to keep them out of the rain and wind, but other than that and a pen to keep them safe from dogs, fox, coyotes, raccoon, and other predators during the day, they don’t need much else to be happy and comfortable. Ducks don’t roost on perches like chickens—instead, they sleep on a bed of straw on the floor—and they don’t need nesting boxes in which to lay their eggs, since they prefer to make a nest on the floor.
One downside to ducks (and waterfowl in general) is that they can be a bit messier than chickens. Their bedding will need to be refreshed regularly, especially if they track in water or mud.
Ducklings require heat for the first few weeks until they grow their feathers. They should be fed chick feed for the first two weeks (although it’s recommended you add Brewer’s Yeast to it in a 2% ratio for the added niacin that the ducklings require to grow strong legs and bones), then chicken grower feed until they are almost ready to lay eggs at which time they will need a layer feed. Adult ducks can eat chicken feed and enjoy treats such as peas, lettuce, and other leafy greens, as well as the occasional watermelon and cucumber.
Ducks are great foragers and will enjoy roaming your yard looking for bugs and weeds. They’ll happily scour your garden for slugs and grubs, but will also trample young plants, munch on anything green, and eat beneficial toads and earthworms, so it’s best to only allow ducks access when you don’t have crops growing or can supervise their nibbling!
For Good Luck, Get Ducks!
Raising a small flock of backyard ducks can be an extremely rewarding and enjoyable family activity. If you raise your ducks from ducklings and spend lots of time handling them, they will grow up to be friendly, affectionate pets who, as an added bonus, will lay you delicious fresh eggs. Ducks start laying eggs at about five to six months old and continue to lay for several years. However, with proper care, a duck can live to be about 12 years old. Once they stop laying, your ducks will continue to eat bugs, fertilize your lawn with nitrogen-rich manure, and entertain the entire family as you watch them splash in their pool or waddle around in the grass.
Now, if you still think chickens are more your speed, here are my thoughts on the best chicken breeds for your backyard and what to consider when choosing your first chicken.