When starting a homestead, chickens are usually the first animals to make their debut on the farm. Next spring rolls around and you find yourself in the feed store checkout line with some adorable web-footed babies. Will these adorable little ducks integrate with your chicken flock or will they need a set up of their own?
Maybe you’re not as impulsive as I am, but that’s how my adventures with ducks started out. If you’re reading this article while carefully considering if you should add ducks to the flock or not, congratulations on your self-control. I am definitely the person that researches such things with a box of ducklings in my lap once the damage is done.
No matter your situation, it is, in fact, possible to peacefully manage a mixed flock. However, you’ll need to implement some slightly different practices just to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Raising Ducks and Chickens Together
1. Brooding Ducklings and Chicks
The biggest stage of life that can pose significant challenges for peaceful co-existing is definitely from hatch to young adults. Chicks can easily die when they get too wet and chilled whereas ducklings will constantly muddy up a brooder. Ducks also grow quite rapidly in comparison to chicks, which means that big ducklings can easily bully petite little chicks.
Additionally, feeding requirements are a bit different at this stage of life for ducklings and chicks. For one thing, a medicated chick starter can cause severe issues or death for a growing duckling. Secondly, ducklings require more niacin than chicks do in order to grow up healthy.
It’s honestly not the best of ideas to raise these fuzzy little cuties up to adulthood together. Chicks are delicate and ducks aren’t always as gentle as they need to be around little chicks.
2. Surrogate Mamas
So, what happens when a duck hen goes broody and hatches out some chicks? How about a chicken hatching out ducklings? Well, one of these scenarios is just a recipe for disaster and the other scenario has the potential to turn out fine.
Ducks have the tendency to go out and get wet, then come back and sit on their eggs, which is perfect for hatching ducklings. Chicks? Not so much. Excess humidity levels in the eggs can result in lower hatch rates, and that’s just the beginning. Once the chicks are hatched, mama duck will want to show her babies to the water.
As you can imagine, chicks aren’t nearly as adept at swimming as ducklings are, which often ends in drowned chicks who innocently followed their mama into the water. Overall, it’s generally not a good idea to allow ducks to hatch chicks. Some people have success stories, but it’s more likely that it ends in chilled or drowned chicks.
Chickens raising ducklings can be a slightly different story than the other way around. Keep in mind that duck eggs take 28 days to hatch vs 21 days for chicken eggs. This shouldn’t be a huge issue for your hen as long as she’s a committed mama.
Once the ducklings hatch, closely observe for the first few hours to make sure that mama is okay with the slightly interesting looking “chicks” she’s got under her. It is definitely amusing to see how perplexed hens will get when their babies take to the water.
Overall, you can expect the very best results when letting each bird brood their own kind. However, the results that come from chickens raising ducklings are usually priceless.
How to Care for a Mixed Flock
Ever heard the phrase “Madder than a wet hen?” Well, this one can come into play when you’re mixing water-loving birds with birds that aren’t nearly as enthusiastic about being soaked. However, it’s definitely possible to set up a watering system that both parties will be equally enthusiastic about.
Ducks do best with open watering vessels such as ponds, kiddie pools, or even a large rubber feed pan. The reason ducks appreciate these so much is because they can jump in and muddy the water to their heart’s content. Chickens, being the sophisticated little divas that they are, prefer their water clear.
One setup that works well for ducks and chickens is a nipple or cup waterer for your chickens and a kiddie pool for the ducks. Ducks may occasionally mess with the nipple or cup waterer, but they’ll generally stick to their kiddie pool where they can jump in and play.
If you have young chickens in the flock, be wary of them around any open containers they can drown in. It’s a good idea to keep water in the run instead of the coop because ducks will quickly wreck the bedding with access to water in their coop.
2. Feeding and Nutrition
Feeding your adult chickens and ducks together isn’t difficult as long as you have a balanced diet for all parties. You’ll also need to acquire suitable feeders for both ducks and chickens.
A mixed flock will do well on a flock raiser pellets, but if they are currently laying, you’ll need to supplement with some calcium. When supplementing calcium, make sure to feed the calcium in a separate dish so the laying birds can eat it as they need it. Ducks can also eat laying feed if you don’t have access to flock raiser and calcium supplements, such as oyster shells.
Ducks can have a difficult time getting their bills into traditional chicken feeders. For this reason, it’s recommended to feed your flock using open containers. Always feed your flock near their water because ducks eat and drink at the same to avoid choking.
Housing a Mixed Flock
1. Space Requirements
Chickens require slightly less space than ducks do, so this will be something to take into consideration when figuring out how much space to provide your flock.
Inside the coop, ducks need 4-6 square feet per duck while chickens only need 3-4 square feet per chicken. For the run, ducks need 12-20 square feet per duck. Chickens generally require 10 square feet per bird in the run, but both parties will always appreciate extra space if they can get it.
2. Sleeping Arrangements
As you may know, chickens like to roost wherever possible, especially when it comes to going to bed at night. Ducks, on the other hand, tend to prefer to sleep on the ground. When you add the two birds together, ducks will sometimes try to imitate chickens by roosting.
Even though ducks might attempt roosting, they generally do best sleeping on the ground. Make sure to provide an area where the ducks can sleep without getting pooped on by roosting chickens.
It may also be necessary to clean your coop more often than usual with ducks and chickens sleeping in the coop. Ducks tend to have much messier droppings than chickens, which will lead to the bedding getting soiled quicker than with chickens.
One large consideration when it comes to keeping ducks and chickens together is how accessible your coop is. My coop is raised by 18 inches with a ramp and my ducks hated that coop. Chickens are nimble and can easily jump and climb, but ducks aren’t quite as good at such things.
Ducks need a coop on the ground, otherwise, they’ll just opt for sleeping outside most of the time. Take it from the girl that has tirelessly chased three ducks around a run at dusk to make sure they were up safe every night. If you have a raised coop, you may consider building a safe shelter on a ground level somewhere in the run so your ducks have somewhere to go at night.
4. Nesting Accommodations
Similar to roosting, chickens like nesting boxes in high places and ducks are pretty content staying on the floor of the coop. If your hens have raised nesting boxes, make sure you provide a clean spot on the floor for your ducks to lay their eggs.
The social aspects of your flock will vary depending on the size of the flock and the breeds of ducks and chickens in the flock. Most of the time, ducks will keep to themselves and the chickens will mind their own business. If you have a smaller flock, the ducks and chickens might mingle a bit more than usual.
There will be a pecking order established, just like in any flock of birds. Ideally, the ducks and chickens will all treat each other nicely with only the occasional squabble. If you see any two animals bickering to the point of injury, you may need to remove the instigator for a little while to let things calm down.
One issue that is sometimes common in a mixed flock is crossed species mating. Drakes have corkscrew-shaped penises, which can injure a chicken and cause vent prolapse for the hen as well as injure the drake. Since ducks usually mate in the water, drakes can sometimes drag hens into the water to mate with them, which will result in a drowned hen.
If you observe your drakes mating with chickens, you may need to acquire more duck hens. If the issues persist, it’s a good idea to consider relocating the offending male.
Happy Duck and Chicken Keeping!
Keeping your ducks and chickens together can certainly require some extra work to make sure everything runs smoothly. If you don’t have space or resources to keep your flocks separate, this is an excellent solution for those that want ducks and chickens. In the end, it’s definitely fun to see all the adorable ducks and chickens happily co-existing.