Keeping Ducks with Chickens
By Candi Johns
I have been waiting for this all winter. Spring! Baby poultry are showing up in farm stores everywhere. Next time you visit the feed store nearest you, you may consider sticking a duckling or two in the box with the chicks. If you love chickens, you may love ducks too.
Ducklings are just like baby chicks except they are ducks. They have the same needs as a baby chick:
• Warmth (heat lamp)
• Water (ducks will need more water than chicks)
For details on bringing up ducklings (and chicks) go here.
We own American Pekin Ducks. Not because that is what we wanted, but because that is what our Tractor Supply had for sale the day we brought home 3 ducklings.
American Pekin Ducks are the most popular breed of duck in the US according to Wikipedia. They are a domestic duck used for meat and eggs. We wanted eggs, but didn’t end up with a female. So, we have two dude ducks waddling around our farm being cute and providing yard art.
I’m not a duck expert, but am happy to share our experience.
Over a year ago we got our first ducklings.
We turned into those weird people who have chickens walking around the inside of their house wearing diapers. Only, it wasn’t a chicken. It was a duck. If you don’t believe me, or want to see a duck in my house wearing a diaper go here.
Now that I have a year of duck-ownership under my belt, I can tell you a few drawbacks and a few fabulous things about owning ducks.
I do think if you have owned chickens, ducks can be a fun, easy addition.
Things I’ve learned:
• How to keep ducks
• Why ducks need water
• How to coop train ducks
• Why folks don’t keep ducks
• How to keep ducks in winter
• What ducks do in the snow
• I’ve learned a bunch about ducks.
Our ducks are great.
Here’s some interesting notes on duck ownership:
Ducks in Winter
Our 2 ducks, Ping and Filbert, have been troopers this winter. Even with temperatures well below freezing they have been happily waddling around the homestead. They like the snow more than the chickens.
When the chickens have decided it’s too cold & snowy to go out of the coop, or can’t figure out what happened to the ground (it’s all white — so it must be gone) — the ducks are out and about playing in the snow. They love it. They eat it. It’s so cute.
Our ducks also love rain. Turns out, the expression that folks use around here when the weather is cold, rainy and basically miserable is actually true:
“It’s a great day if you’re a duck.”
If it’s horrible, cold and pouring the ducks couldn’t be happier. I’m not sure what duck down is made of, but it must be some warm, water-proof stuff. Next time I need a warm ‘something’ I’m gonna look for “duck-down.”
Ducks Need a Place to Sleep
Our ducks are coop trained. They are free-ranged. It did take us some time to convince the ducks to walk up the ramp to the coop — but with a little help, they got the hang of it. They go to bed every night with the chickens now.
Here is our coop just before I spread all the soft hay into the nesting boxes (you can see the hay stacked on top).
We have nesting boxes in our coop, and the ducks sleep in 2 of the bottom boxes.
You could use something other than hay (straw, sawdust, shavings, shredded paper or other organic material).
Bedding is important in coops:
• It provides a soft nest for eggs.
• It absorbs manure.
• As the manure and bedding “compost” they create heat for your flock in winter.
• It keeps down the humidity in the coop. Too much dampness in a coop can cause frostbite.
• It makes cleaning the coop easier.
• It give the ducks a nice place to bed down for the night.
Ducks are Messy
As far as the mess goes … we heard the same thing, “Ducks are a disaster.”
We do not fence in our chickens (or ducks), so I guess we don’t see the mess as much.
I can imagine that the “duck” area would be unfortunate if we fenced them into a small space. If I was going to keep ducks fenced in, I would probably create a “mini” rotational system for them. For whatever reason, this is more appealing to me than moving a coop and run around my land.
If you’ve never heard of rotational grazing, it’s a very simple system. A building is placed with several “fields” or “runs” off of it. In a rotational grazing situation for ducks or chickens, I think 2 runs would work (just make sure they are large enough to support your flock).
Once you have a few separate runs in place you will be able to control how much time your flock spends on a patch of land before moving them onto another. Rotating your flock from run to run will (hopefully) not give your poultry enough time to destroy the ground. Likewise, this gives each run a resting period so that it has an opportunity to grow, vegetate and recover.
Ducks Need Water
They do need water. Like, really really need water. Ducks have to have access to water each time they eat in order to wash their eyes and nostrils. They need water deep enough to dip their heads into it — this prevents infections. Water is really important.
Kids’ plastic pools work — but will get messy.
We have a little spring on our property that always has water in it. It was the size of a puddle. We used a back-hoe with a big scoop on it and took a few shovels full of dirt out of that puddle & it became a little, tiny, duck-sized bathing pool (pictured above). It is just down the woodline from the coop, so the flock has easy access to it. Our ducks love the little pool. It’s not huge, it’s not a pond, but it’s a (mostly) fresh source of water. They love it and it provides them with the water they need.
If you can let them roam free, your ducks will be nothing but fun. Just be sure they have water and a place to sleep. If free-range isn’t a viable option, setting up a couple of different runs may give your land the rest it needs to support those messy ducks.
With all that being said, I will tell you that our ducks are CHERISHED!!! They are funny, adorable and so fun. Watching them waddle around makes everyone laugh. They never stop quacking and are always on the move. They circle our house, our fields, our barns. They venture a good 700 feet from the coop some days. They adventure everywhere — but always come back to the coop at night. The ducks are adorable.
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