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Eight Reasons Why Backyard Chickens May Be The Wrong Choice

You’ve decided you want backyard chickens.  You know you want fresh eggs, you think you would enjoy the backyard antics, and some extra bug control would be great.  But what if I told you there was a better option for you than the backyard chicken?  What if I told you there was an option that was a better layer, more entertaining, and a straight-up bug assassin?  And what if I told you that this option is just as legal in the Front Range cities as chickens, and tolerates our climate better?  Such a creature does exist – it is the common, adorable, and highly dependable backyard duck.  Read on for my top eight reasons why chickens may be the wrong choice for your backyard farm, and why you should consider ducks instead.

1) Chickens stop laying in the winter, ducks don’t – Chickens lay fewer eggs during the winter due to the amount of sunlight each day.  Most chickens stop laying entirely during the deep winter, and start up again around March.  Ducks on the other hand lay all winter without missing a beat.  If you have three Welsh Harlequin or Khaki Campbell hens, you can generally count on three eggs a day, every day, regardless of the season.  Considering the price of feed, getting something in return for your investment just makes sense.

2) Chickens lay smaller eggs than ducks – Ducks eggs are bigger and contain more nutrients and calories than chicken eggs.  For those of us who bake on the Front Range, you will notice that most recipes call for an extra egg due to our elevation.  If you use duck eggs in the recipe you can often skip the extra egg.  Ducks eggs are considered the egg of choice for many high end bakeries.

3) Chickens will destroy your garden, ducks help your garden – No joke here folks – if your chickens get loose in your garden there will be damage.  Chickens dig, turn, and scatter soil.  This is great after the garden is finished for the season and you would like your chickens to work the beds for you, but this is bad if the garden is still up.  Also, chickens have a knack for seeking out the most tender, nearly ripe, and tasty vegetables in your garden.  If they find a way into your garden they will strip your vegetables.  Ducks on the other hand will do considerably less damage, and in fact can actually help your garden.  While I wouldn’t let either my ducks or my chickens loose in my lettuce patch, I do let my ducks patrol my large tomato and cabbage plants for predatory caterpillars and insects.

4) Chickens don’t forage for food as well as ducks – While chickens are adept at wiping out your garden, they are not as good as ducks at foraging for their own food.  This is due in part to a ducks very sincere interest in bugs.  Ducks head out to hunt, and they are fierce on the bug, mouse, and snake populations.  This is not to say that chickens are worthless in this regard – our chickens catch a respectable number of bugs and mice each year.  But ducks are more focused on the task, and because of this ducks can often forage a good portion of their diet.  Again, with the rising cost of feed, having a backyard animal that can forage a good portion of its food can help keep your feed bill down.

5) Chickens are more susceptible to disease – I don’t understand avian physiology well enough to explain why chickens are more fragile than ducks, though it is rumored that ducks have a stronger immune system than chickens.  This is something I have heard repeatedly, and something I have experienced first hand.  Ducks are just simply bomb-proof.  They don’t get sick, and if they do they often recover.  This is not as true for chickens, as many of us chicken keepers have found out the hard way.

6) Chickens cannot rear their own in the cities – All of the cities along the Front Range that allow chickens ban roosters.  No roosters, no chicks in the spring.  As we all know laying hens only produce well for a couple of years, and then most of us need to rotate in new birds.  The new birds that we bring in are often shipped to us, and not raised locally.  If you raise ducks, in most cities you can have drakes as well, though there are some cities that have banned drakes outright (i.e. Denver has banned drakes, Colorado Springs has not).  The drake is not like the rooster who crows all day, every day.  Drakes are very quiet – they are in fact much more quiet than the duck hens.  If you live in a city on the Front Range that allows backyard poultry, there is a good chance you can have drakes (sorry Denver, they’re banned for you), which means your hens may hatch out ducklings.  Our ducks have hatched out ducklings in our backyard, and while it is not as easy as it sounds, it is a more sustainable method of backyard egg production than buying birds from a hatchery and having them shipped to Colorado.

7) Chickens are less cold tolerant than ducks – On average, chickens cannot tolerate extremes of temperature as well as ducks.  Ducks have no bare skin on their faces to subject them to frostbite (with the exception of the Muscovy duck – a bird with fleshy “carnicles” on its face).  When the temperatures are extremely cold a duck sits on the ground on its feet and tucks its bill under one wing.  By contrast, when a chicken is cold they are often roosted with their heads exposed.  This habit of chickens literally exposes them to dangerously cold conditi0ns.  When the mercury really dips ducks have the best natural instincts to stay warm and safe.

8) Chickens have less personality than ducks – This is where the feathers really start to fly.  There is no actual manner in which to quantify which species has more personality, chickens or ducks.  This is really a matter of personal preference.  That being said, a baby duck has got to the be the cutest creature on earth, plus these adorable fluff balls grow up into elegant, funny, and easy to handle backyard partners.  To all of you chicken lovers out there I know you love your birds and I wouldn’t try to talk you out of that.  I am clearly smitten with ducks.

Just to set the record straight, I keep both ducks and chickens.  Both birds have advantages and disadvantages (for instance ducks are far messier than chickens).  But of the folks I know who keep ducks, myself included, most say they prefer ducks to chickens.  Ducks have strong advantages to their avian counterparts, and ducks are really fun to keep.  Ducks do require different care than chickens, so if you are considering ducks I would recommend you get yourself a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks by Dave Holderread.  This is far and away the best book on raising ducks; I consider it indispensable reading for all duck owners.

If you are interested in keeping ducks do some research and see what breeds do well here on the Front Range – there are several.  Duck breeds were bred to achieve different results, so make sure you know what it is you want from your ducks and pick a breed that will perform that task.  And last, double check ordinances that affect your area and make sure ducks (hens, drakes, or both) are approved where you live.  Additionally, Muscovy’s are now regulated by US Fish & Wildlife, though I know many folks on the Front Range who keep these amazing birds.  If you have questions or information to share don’t forget to leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you.

Still not convinced that ducks are a better choice than chickens?  Check out Lisa Steele’s excellent post on ducks versus chickens.  Lisa cited more and different reasons than I did on why ducks might just be the better choice.  And check out my video below featuring me with my Cayuga drake “Sven.”  One look into those dreamy dark eyes and handsome profile and I think you’ll be every bit as smitten as I am.

 

 

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35 Responses to Eight Reasons Why Backyard Chickens May Be The Wrong Choice

  1. Sarah November 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Have you had any problems with hawks? Do hawks leave ducks alone more than the chickens?

    • Christine November 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

      We have chased a hawk out of the yard once, and it was after our young ducks. A friend of ours a few blocks experienced the same thing with her ducks, and I know several people who have had chickens taken by hawks. Raptors are predators, and they will get what they can. If we were allowed to have roosters in the city the roos would defend the hens against the hawks. Our drake Huey, a HUGE Muscovy drake, could fend off near any predator, to include hawks. It all depends on size and temperament, regardless of if we are talking about a duck or a chicken.

  2. laura h November 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    What about the hassel of their water supply?

    • Christine November 24, 2012 at 8:19 am #

      Really good question, as ducks are MESSY with their water. Here is the best idea I have seen, and one that I plan to try here at Ivywild Farm (I’ll let you know how it turns out). The solution comes from a reply to a post on Metzer Farms’ blog.

      “I have just a tiny flock of nine runners. For their indoor pen, I use the bottom of a large plastic dog crate with an inch of sawdust bedding, and the stock pot that is their water bucket sits in there. The sides of the crate catch about 99% of the splash, and the sawdust absorbs it. I stir it once a day for two or three or sometimes four or more days, then replace the sawdust and wipe it down. I use the sawdust around my gardens (instead of buying mulch) so there is little added expense.

      Outdoors, the water bucket is on mulch over soil. In the fall, I find that oak leaves neutralize most odor. In the summer, I rake out and replace high carbon mulch once a week or so.”

      http://metzerfarms.blogspot.com/2011/09/how-do-i-keep-it-dry-around-my-duck.html

    • Christine November 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Laura, one more thing. We have found the addition of a heated dog bowl to really help in the winter with freezing water. Hope those tips help!

  3. Bea November 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    Christine, I will be moving to a new home that has the space for ducks. I did some research and thought a couple of runner ducks would be ideal. What do you think? Also when we’re ready, where’s the best place to obtain a couple of ducklings?

    • Christine November 25, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      Hey Bea! Runners are awesome and great layers, though a bit skittish. We refer to Runners as “land fish” because they move in a group like a school of fish. Very cool ducks though. Welsh Harlequins are worth a look – great layers and a little calmer than Runners or Khaki Campbells. Get a minimum of three, and decide early on if you want a drake or not, though I would recommend a drake. Right now we have Cayuga’s, and we plan to get more this spring. The best waterfowl breeder in the country is Holderread in Oregon, and they do ship day old ducklings (straight run only). I plan to order some Cayuga’s from them and another duck person I know is adding some Welsh Harlequins to my order. Let me know if want to jump in on this as well – it saves everyone shipping. http://holderreadfarm.com/

      • Bill Fuerst February 18, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

        Did you place your order yet for the ducks??? If not or you are able to add, can i jump in? Want 3-4.

        • Christine February 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

          I’m not ordering ducks this year – sorry!

  4. KathyO November 26, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    I’m considering this, but how do you keep them from flying away? I know I’ll become attached, and won’t want them to leave.

    • Christine November 26, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      Great question Kathy! There are two methods, depending on when you get the ducks. If you get them as day olds you can pinion one wing. Pinioning is when you cut-off the very tip of their wing. It permanently leaves them lopsided if they try to fly, so they stay on the ground. This is the best method because at the day old age there are no formed blood vessels in the tip of the wing. The ducks act like you are trimming their nails and could care less. The other method, if you get them as an adult, is to cut the flight feathers off, again just on one wing. This has to be done every six months or so (or at least checked every six months) for the life of the bird.

  5. Robyn November 27, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    Hi Christine, new to the group. I kept pekin ducks when I was a kid in Tennessee and loved them – real personable little characters! I am in a condo now, but hope to buy a place where I can have a garden and a few duck buddies within the year. Any advice you can give me on working with a real estate agent in the Colorado Springs area to find a good property within the city limits? I am not sure about zoning laws out here. I need to stay close-in because I am legally blind and must live in areas where Metro Mobility of Amblicab go – so no Black Forest, Falcon, Monument, etc. for me.
    We had peacocks, too – but boy, they sure can holler!

    • Christine November 27, 2012 at 7:52 am #

      Hey Robyn! Yeah, peacocks are something else, aren’t they? My neighbors in Oregon used to keep them, and yes they are loud! Pekin’s are great birds – and so pretty all white. As for a real estate agent, there are several. Would it be alright if I passed your e-mail on? No need to send it to me – I have it already through the site.

  6. Kathy Rowe November 3, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Hi,
    We have 4 Slate Runner ducks. 2 hens, 2 males. We also have 15 chickens and 4 turkeys. Our problem: the ducks seem to lay eggs wherever they want! We have a large coop, a dog house (especially for the ducks) and other nice places to lay eggs, but every morning I end up on an Easter egg hunt! Can you train them to lay in just one or two places? We sell our eggs and want to make sure we have the freshest product possible.

    Please email me, I’d love to have contact with someone who understands my Wacky Quackers!

    • Christine November 3, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      Ah, the every-morning-egg-hunt when raising ducks. Yes, I know it all too well. Ducks nest and lay their eggs on the ground – this makes their nest sites very susceptible to raiding and predation. As such, a ducks nature is to abandon a nest site that has been “discovered” and move to a better, more secret location. Hence the Easter egg hunt every morning. Some folks mark the eggs with a light pencil mark to keep track of freshness, and to always leave a few eggs in the nest. Others use fake eggs to convince the hen that her nest site is secure. The name of the game is set the hen at ease, and to help maintain the fantasy that her eggs are tucked in nice and safe in the nest.

  7. David Trammel June 15, 2014 at 4:36 am #

    Wow, what a well of knowledge. I have no plans now for birds, I rent and while the landlord allows me to garden, ducks or chickens would be a bit much i think. My mother though is trying to get me to come down and build her a chicken coop so she can have chickens. I’m going to send her the link to this and see if she’ll reconsider her choice of birds.

    • Christine June 16, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      I love my ducks! 🙂 Chickens are also a fine choice, I just think ducks are overlooked. Remember that some folks can be allergic to duck eggs (just like some people are allergic to chicken eggs). Get your hands on a dozen duck eggs and eat them before you invest in ducks. If you are fine eating duck eggs, then ducks are wonderful. If you’re in the area I can get you some duck eggs.

      • Melodee August 11, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

        Hello Christine,

        I have been thinking about ducks for a while now, but wasn’t sure I could find good breeds for CO. It looks like that question has been answered! Also, one of my one guys and myself are sensitive to chicken eggs and I am hoping that we might do better with duck eggs. But, where to buy a few to try? If you are interested in selling some, let me know!

        • Christine August 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

          I just sold our gaggle of Cayugas (we had a hen that was LOUD). I do know someone who might have some eggs though – e-mail me and I will get you in touch with her.

  8. Desiree Rodriguez April 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    Hello, I live in San Antonio and I have three Cayuga ducks one female and two males. The female is the newest addition I got her in January when I brought her home she laid one single egg but none since then. I’m wondering what I can do to encourage the hen to lay. She lives in a coop and I let them free range every afternoon that us when they mate and only one male mates with her.

    • Christine April 15, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

      It’s not uncommon for a hen to lay a single egg when they arrive in a new location – that egg was already in production when she was moved. She just needs some time to adjust to the move. Lots of good food, fresh splashing water, and places to hide when she’s feeling overwhelmed. As a species that lays in secrecy, give her places that are just for her.

  9. Mackenzie April 18, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    Christine,

    We liked your article on chickens vs: ducks and are now considering ducks instead of hens. But we have a few questions to ask: How much longer (years) do ducks lay than hens? Do ducks need the same kind of coup structure as hens? What stops the ducks from flying away? Do you slaughter ducks for meat when they stop laying? How do ducks do with other household pets like dogs and cats? Thanks so much for your help.

    • Christine April 19, 2015 at 8:26 am #

      Hey McKenzie! Ducks lay more consistently than chickens in their old age – I’d give them seven years or so. Look up Duckingham Palace for the best duck set-up I’ve seen. Our ducks were always in with our chickens, so for us no re-boot on the set-up was necessary. Many of the domestic ducks are too large to fly, though the really good laying varieties could. We pinon our ducks at one day old. You can also trim flight feathers once or twice a year – very easy to do. We did not slaughter the older ducks for meat – party of our flock were Muscovy hybrids (called “mules”) that were for meat. Our ducks ruled the homestead. They bossed the chickens and everything else. Our Muscovy drake, originally named Huey because of his size, was eventually renamed Darth because he was so nasty. He attacked me a couple of times, and at goose size (male Muscovies are HUGE) he was quite intimidating.

  10. Nadia April 20, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    Thanks for the info on ducks. We have 6 hens now in urban Denver. We love them but don’t like the morning noise they make (early!) and our neighbors don’t either. Also, I’m trying to raise them on restaurant scraps only, no import grain, which is working well so far, many eggs daily, they’re very health. But as you said, they don’t forage very well on their own and I have to come turn the compost heap for them before they’ll do much scratching.

    Wondering about ducks and morning noise? Raising them in a long thin urban lot run (about 100′ by 4′) on restaurant scraps? Do they do OK in the same run as chickens?

    Thanks!
    Nadia

    • Christine April 22, 2015 at 9:17 am #

      Our ducks always did just fine with our chickens, providing the chickens were the same size as the ducks. Our ducks ruled the roost, so to speak.

  11. Lorraine May 20, 2015 at 11:03 pm #

    Thanks for all your great info. My 15 acre forest wii be the home to chickens and ducks now. Not just chickens. It’s in central FL so very few frost spells but we do get a few.

    • Christine May 21, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

      If you’re in Florida check with you local fish and wildlife folks – some breeds of ducks are banned there.

  12. Daphney July 9, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    Hi Christine, I really enjoy your site! I would like some advice on zoning that would allow ducks. I can not share too much on this post, but could you email me so I can ask you some questions? Thanks!

  13. KJ October 22, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi Christine! I found your blog because I’m researching a duck that’s taken up residence in my backyard. According to a facebook friend, it’s a female Mallard probably? She appeared to have an injured wing when she showed up and wasn’t able to fly. She would run from the dog and just flap, but get no lift. It’s been a couple of weeks now, I’m feeding her purina flock raiser and giving her fresh water, and she seems to be attempting to fly again, but not really getting anywhere. She definitely knows I bring food and has taken to waiting (impatiently) at the back door for it when she’s hungry.

    It’s getting cold and I don’t know what to do with her when it starts to snow. We’re in Westminster, just northwest of Denver. I’m guessing she was living in city park at the big pond since that’s very close to us. I don’t want to just open the gate in the fence and shoo her out if she can’t fly away and is just going to be coyote food. We get them in the neighborhood because of the park. The kids also love her and the dogs have gotten used to her (and she to them).

    Can you email me any advice you have? I don’t mind taking care of her and feeding her, but I figure I might need to find someone that’s set up for ducks locally for the winter if she needs a heated coop or something.

    Thank you!

    • Christine October 22, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

      I will e-mail you. But for the benefit of the community, if that duck is indeed wild, avian bird flu is currently being circulated by waterfowl and songbirds. To keep her healthy she needs meat bird food (20% or higher protein). She sounds tame – perhaps a mallard derivative breed of domesticated duck? There are several. Has her wing been pinioned, or have her flight feathers been clipped? Ducks are amazingly cold tolerant. She will need shelter, but not as much as you think. She will always need fresh water, which is harder to come by in the winter.

  14. Jamie March 19, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    I loved your article! We are thinking about chickens, now ducks, for our backyard. I think it would be great for our kids (and great education since they are homeschooled) can you point us in the right direction for buying them?

    • Christine March 19, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

      Where do you live? If you’re in town, Buckley’s has chickens. Ducks tend to be something your order through the mail, as weird as that sounds.

  15. Heather May 2, 2016 at 11:36 am #

    I live in central florida, and 3 days ago i bought two pekin ducklings. (fist time duck owner). They are 2 and half weeks old now, and they seem ro hate the heat lamp. I originally had a 250 wt bulb for them, started it at 3ft above the brooder, they were panting horribly, so i raised to about 5 1/2 ft from the brooder, still panting like crazy. So i let them splash around outside for a bit, and they were fine after that. So i raised the heat lamp again, and switched out the 250wt for a 75wt regular bulb, they still seem to be a bit warm, but not panting anymore. Any suggestions on how to get them at a more comfortable temp? I have been shutting the heat lamp off for a about an hour every few hours to keep them from over heating. Is it too early to take them off the heat lamp? They not to really need it.

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