Raising ducks is an amazing experience! They are cute and bring a lot of entertainment to the yard.
However, ducks are unique creatures. A lot of people think raising ducks and chickens are one in the same.
In some ways they are similar. There are grave differences as well, though.
Understanding ducks and their needs are something that should be understood before jumping into raising ducks.
1. Recommended Breeds
Pekins come as my most recommended breed for a backyard duck.
They are great for many reasons. The first is they are such large ducks that they are too heavy to fly. Therefore, you can allow them to free range in your yard because their average weight is around 10 pounds.
Being that heavy, you won’t have to worry about them trying to fly south for the winter.
Pekin ducks are great foragers and are also a very friendly duck breed. They are a great meat source because of their size and also excellent layers of large white eggs.
It is noted that if you would like to raise Pekin ducks that it usually requires artificial setting because the hens are not good setters.
In my experience, I have not experienced this at all. Our female Pekin has been a great setter. I think this depends more upon the duck and its personality.
Khaki Campbells are another highly recommended duck breed. They are smaller in size (usually weighing about 3 pounds or so) but have limited flight. It is important to find a breed that is limited in flying because otherwise it is difficult to keep them home.
They are noted for being great layers as well of large white eggs. However, these ducks are also noted as being a more skittish breed in comparison to Pekin ducks.
As stated in their name, they are a khaki color. Their feet color differs by sex. The males have orange feet while the females have brown feet. Khaki Campbells are excellent foragers as well.
You can learn more about other popular breeds here.
2. Proper Protection
Ducks are highly preyed upon. If you have a normal dog, you will have to keep the ducks away from it. I say normal because some dog breeds or older dogs just don’t have the energy to chase down a duck.
However, I will say, most dogs do! So take that into account before raising ducks.
Keeping ducks fenced in is a wise option because of hawks and other birds of prey. Placing them in your fenced in backyard or even placing a fence around their area should keep them safe.
Hawks have a hard time navigating how to pull an animal out of a smaller fenced in area. They can’t operate like a helicopter so if you have a fence that stops them from being able to “swoop” down then it adds protection from poultry predators for your ducks.
3. Housing for Ducks
Ducks do not require nor do they desire a fancy house.
As a matter of fact, the more run down the house is the happier they seem to be. Because ducks are waterproof, they love to be wet as much as possible. Giving them a home where they can keep a little moisture in their house and have lots of airflows seems to be what keeps them happy.
Pallets are a great option for duck houses because it gives them shelter yet also allows airflow and some moisture.
The most important part of building a duck house is making sure that it is low enough to the ground that a duck can enter it with a small ramp. If you make the duck house too high, the ducks will be afraid of it and won’t use it.
You can give a duck a nesting box within their house, but that is really for your convenience when collecting eggs. If you leave hay out, the hen will make a nest where she wants it and lay there regularly.
Our hen chose to lay under our rabbit hutches daily so we let her be, and she remained quite content.
4. Laying Habits of Ducks
Ducks are not like chickens.
Chickens decrease laying when the days become shorter, but they still lay sporadically. Ducks do not.
They take a hiatus every year during winter. Where we have had a rather mild winter this year, our hen continued to lay until after Christmas.
Most years, they will quit around November and reconvene at the onset of spring.
However, ducks are actually earlier risers than chickens. During their laying time, she will have already laid an egg before your feet have hit the floor.
It is been my experience that though ducks don’t lay all year long, they lay much larger eggs and are much hardier birds than chickens.
Read more about the difference between duck eggs and chicken eggs.
5. Ducks love Water, but don't Need a Whole Dam
People that have never raised ducks might assume that they need a body of water in order to have them. I know I did! This is not the case.
Ducks do not require water besides for drinking purposes.
Even for that, fill up a 5-gallon bucket of fresh water every day, and they will be very happy!
Though ducks don’t require water for swimming to survive, they do love water. If you live on a property without a source of swimming water, invest in a $5 kiddie pool.
Ducks don’t care! They love to swim and will swim all day long in a plastic kiddie pool!
You can buy it from Amazon from this link.
6. Food for Ducks
Ducks eat a lot of food. They love to eat!
They can make quite a mess with their food and waste a lot if certain steps aren’t followed to prevent that. The most important thing to do is to keep their food and water separate.
They love to play in the water, and they love to eat so, of course, they are going to try and mix the two!
Ducks do forage so they will eat all weeds and any other plants you offer them.
Ducks love fodder. Here is how you can grow fodder systems to feed them inexpensively.
They also love corn. Corn will make them much fatter so if you are planning on using them for meat be careful how much corn you feed them.
Read this post for even more information on feeding ducks.
7. Ducks are Great Garden Guards
Ducks are a gardener’s best friend!
They will patrol your plants for all bugs that might be trying to eat them. They are great at pulling the bugs off of the plants without harming the actual plant.
The only word of caution is to be sure not to allow your ducks in your garden until the plants have passed the seedling stage. Ducks have a tendency to step on small plants and kill them.
8. Great for Meat
Ducks are great for raising as a source of meat, especially Pekin ducks. They can grow to be 10+ pounds in a matter of 3-4 months.
It does not take long to have a viable meat source.
They are great foragers, so they help feed themselves in order to pack on weight.
The butchering process is very similar to that of a chicken. This makes not only for a fast growing meat source but a simple butchering process as well.
9. The Difference in Gender
You do not sex a duck the way you would most animals. It is important to know the difference in characteristics of ducks, so you don’t end up with two males.
The female duck will look like a regular duck. However, her quack sounds more like a honk.
She is the louder of the two, hands down.
The boy duck will have a little tail feather that curls at the tip of his tail. He will usually follow behind her and be the quieter of the two of them.
When he leads her, you will see him bob his head up and down to communicate and quack softly at her to get her to go where he wants her to.
Though male ducks are softer spoken they are very brave birds!
If you are getting too close to his hen and her eggs he will guard her. He won’t flog as a roost would. Instead, he will start off by bobbing his head (as though to nudge you) to get you to move away from her.
If you don’t take the hint is when he will get angry. The female will hiss and let you know you need to back off.
It is important to know that male ducks (a drake) usually require more than one female.
They have an extremely high sex drive and can literally breed a female duck to death. One drake can handle up to 12 hens!
Also, if you ever come across your ducks mating don’t panic!
He is not trying to kill her.
A lot of times they will look like they are playing in their pool together when really they are mating. If you see him push her head underwater, don’t panic and think he is trying to drown her.
He isn’t, they are just mating.
It is very common during mating that the drake will pull rather harshly on the hen’s neck. If it is hurting her, you’ll know because she’ll honk really loudly to let you (and him) know that she doesn’t appreciate it!
If you don’t hear her honking, then let them be.
11. Keeping Ducks with Chickens
A lot of people raise their ducks with their chickens. This is a personal preference.
Ducks and chickens can coexist fine usually. Even the meanest of roosters can get along with a drake from my experience. The only risk to raising the two together is that a rooster will try to mate a duck hen, and a drake will also try to mate a chicken hen.
This is not a problem as far as a rooster mating a duck hen.
However, things get a little tricky with the drake. A rooster does not have an appendage that protrudes from his body during mating.
It is actually the hen that does the act of mating with the rooster. A duck, on the other hand, does have an appendage. This is an issue because chicken hens are not equipped to handle that.
This causes a danger of prolapse in your chickens which can kill them. This is a personal choice for each owner to make.
12. Ducks are Really Hardy Birds
I allow my chickens and ducks to live together as I don’t have a problem with cross breeding with the current drake I have.
I have had issues with my chickens catching viral respiratory infections. However, my ducks never once got sick.
This is important because chickens have very sensitive respiratory systems where ducks do not. This saves a lot of headaches! They are not sensitive to the cold as you will find your ducks hanging around outside of the coop with snow on the ground or during a rainstorm.
They are just heavier, hardier birds all the way around that serve multiple purposes and raising ducks on the farm is so much more fun!