Over the last few years, keeping chickens has been on the upswing. Whether it’s due to families wanting to know where their food is coming from, a desire to be more self-sufficient or merely wanting to experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with going back to the basics, it seems that backyard chickens have become all the rage. But lately I have been reading more and more hints of a new reality: ducks are the new chickens.
I have been raising ducks for as long as I have been raising chickens. Over the last several years, I have had ample opportunity to compare chickens and ducks, and I have to agree that ducks may very well be the new chickens. I think there are some distinct advantages to raising ducks that I have come to appreciate.
Here are ten reasons why I prefer raising ducks to raising chickens:
1. Ducks are generally healthier
Because they spend so much of their time in the water, ducks tend to be far less susceptible to mites and other external parasites than chickens. Any parasites that might be tempted to latch on will drown. Ducks also have hardier immune systems, tend to stay in better general health and are less likely to contract disease than chickens.
2. Ducks are more cold-hardy
Ducks have an added layer of fat that chickens don’t have. Ducks also have waterproofing on their feathers to protect against the elements, as well as a thick down undercoat designed to keep them warm and dry in the water. This makes ducks far more cold-hardy than chickens. In fact, ours actually prefer to sleep outside, even in the snow and rain.
3. Ducks are more heat-tolerant
During the hot and humid summer months here in Virginia, our chickens stand around panting, crowded in front of the fans I have set up in our run. Meanwhile, the ducks paddle about quite contentedly in their pool. Ducks handle the heat quite easily by merely taking a dip to cool off.
4. Ducks are quieter
Maybe hard to believe, but our chickens actually make more noise than our ducks. Chickens cackle and carry on after they lay an egg, before they lay an egg, and for no apparent reason at all. Female ducks on the other hand, although they will quack loudly when agitated or excited, normally just quietly chitter-chatter. Roosters, contrary to popular belief, don’t just crow in the morning. Here on our farm, it is pretty much nonstop crowing when we’ve got a rooster or two in our flock. Roosters seem to feel compelled to communicate their dominance especially when another male is present. In contrast, drakes (male ducks) don’t quack at all. They make only a soft raspy wheeze and don’t have the same dominance issues that roosters have.
5. Duck eggs are superior to chicken eggs
Ducks lay eggs that are larger, richer in flavor and excellent for baking due to their higher fat and lower water content. Duck eggs are also slightly more nutritious than chicken eggs. Pastry chefs prize duck eggs because the large amount of protein in their whites adds heft and loft to baked goods. Due to their thicker shells and membranes, they also have a longer shelf life and are less likely to break.
6. Ducks lay more regularly
Our ducks consistently outperform our chickens even through the winter without any supplemental light in their house. We average 3-4 duck eggs from four female ducks daily (an admirable 75-100% rate) year round, contrasted with only 8-10 chicken eggs from 20 laying hens (a mere 40-50% rate) in the winter. Many breeds of ducks are also very unlikely to go broody (broodies don’t lay eggs, so they are detrimental to your egg production).
7. Ducks adhere to a far less aggressive pecking order
Ducks welcome newcomers far more quickly than chickens do. Whether the newcomers are chickens or ducks, our ducks seem unperturbed and seldom bother new additions to the flock. Chickens, however, take any new additions to the flock as an affront to their rigid pecking order. The result is squabbling and confrontations that can get quite serious until the new order is established and tranquility again returns.
8. Ducks are easier on your lawn
While it’s true that ducks can, and will, eat anything green within their reach, as long as you plant bushes and trees that are tall enough so that the ducks can’t reach the tops, you can successfully landscape your run or backyard, even with ducks inhabiting it. Chickens, on the other hand, within days of being introduced to a new lawn will have it scratched down to bare dirt. Chickens will continue to not only eat every bit of green that tries to grow, but also dig deep depressions in the earth in which to take their dust baths or cool off in the summer. Ducks may trample your lawn a bit, but they won’t create a barren wasteland of your backyard like chickens will.
9. Ducks are wonderful for pest control.
Given the opportunity, ducks will eat every slug, worm, spider, grasshopper, cricket, fly and grub they can find. They are wonderful for natural pest control. I have found chickens are more selective about the kinds of bugs they will eat. Some of our hens won’t even look twice at a worm – but the ducks will chase a bug down until they catch it. Given the opportunity, they will also dine on small snakes, toads and even mice.
10. Ducklings are adorable!
Okay, I admit this comes down to personal preference. As cute as baby chicks are, baby ducklings are irresistible. Those webbed feet that look too big for their bodies, earnest dark eyes and almost flesh-colored rounded bills steal my heart.
I will leave you with this final thought: chickens do have wonderful personalities, but they tend to be a bit nervous, flighty and skittish, possibly a result of being at the bottom of Mother Nature’s food chain. Ducks however, are less likely to get their feathers ruffled and are generally calm, alert and downright funny at times. In my eyes, ducks win out as my top choice for a backyard flock and they will always be an important part of ours.