Backyard Ducks (and Why We Got Them Instead of Chickens)

Happy Hump Day! Some weeks, this midpoint feels better than others. This week is off to one heck of a start. Chris is officially away on business and yesterday I came down with a terrible stomach bug.

Stomach bugs are the worst, but having one while caring for a 13 month old and while 33 weeks pregnant? Ugh! It seriously sucked. Thank goodness for my mom who whisked in (by surprise) with all the sick supplies I could need and lots of energy for my little one when I just didn’t have it. I don’t think we ever really appreciate our parents until we have our own kids. People always said it before I became a mom, but man do I know it’s true now. At this halfway point in the week, I am extra psyched to see this illness kicked to the curb and to be one step closer to Friday and the return of my numero uno.

Since I clearly haven’t been working out the last couple days (opting to instead work on just feeling better), my original post is on the back burner and today’s post is about our backyard brood. One of the things that has changed in our life in the last few years is the addition of four girls in our backyard–our four ducks! When we felt like our CSA membership and garden weren’t enough, we tackled the project of raising our own protein in the form of eggs.

In actuality, I conned my husband into the addition of four ducks. Oops–I guess I’m not supposed to admit that. Though we’ve definitely joked about it several times. I had shown Chris backyard chickens at a friend’s house and after seeing their small scale set up, I convinced him chickens were a hobby we could take on. I love ducks though, and quickly started researching the differences between the two and tried to decide if we wanted chickens or ducks. I personally hoped we could have ducks since I love them (so much so that they were even a part of our proposal, another story for another day), but knew we wouldn’t do it if it wouldn’t work logistically.

Ultimately, we decided to get ducks for the following reasons:

  1. They thrive better in the winter. We live in New England and I loved that we don’t need to provide an outside heat source when our temperatures are at their worst, which we would need to do with chickens. It’s most important that ducks are protected from the wind. So, we wrap their pen in a thick plastic (leaving space for ventilation), plus they have a house in their pen for extra protection. When the weather is especially fierce, we have brought them inside and stashed them in a bathtub overnight, but it’s honestly not something I love to do. It’s fun to let them swim around and hear them quacking, but ducks are so so messy!
  2.  Ducks lay eggs for longer than chickens. I’ve read that chickens lay eggs for about 3-4 years, with their most productive laying time being in the first two years (years three and four would basically be lucky). Ducks on the other hand lay eggs more regularly for six plus years! We have two breeds of ducks: two white layers and two cayugas. The white layers lay about 250-300 eggs per year and the cayugas lay about 150-200 eggs per year. We read that these ducks are still laying for some owners at years 8 and 9! This meant chickens would provide maybe 4200 eggs in four years, if they could lay about one egg per day and for that long. And our ducks could lay 6000 or more if they lay eggs for just six years. Maximizing the number of years we could get eggs in our own backyard for the maximum amount of time seemed like a common sense decision.
  3. Duck eggs are bigger and more nutrient dense. Duck eggs are larger in size than a chicken egg. Think like a jumbo egg and then add a little more. We often need to secure an egg carton with a rubber band just to keep it closed. Duck eggs are also higher in protein, fat, minerals, and all of the other nutrients you would find in a chicken egg. We also think duck eggs are tastier–and with their increased fat content they’re better for baking too. Lastly, duck eggs are normally more friendly to those with chicken egg allergies. Not that we have allergies, but I was scraping for every win I could find a couple years ago!
  4. Ducks are friendlier and easier to manage. While our ducks aren’t as friendly as our dogs, they do like to chatter with us and they do really love the company of our two poodles too. Apparently ducks are easier to contain too, at least when roaming free. Most domestic ducks cannot fly. Whereas with chickens, you need to clip their wings to keep them close to the ground. Our ducks are definitely escape artists, finding any little breach in the fence around the back of our yard, but while chickens can seemingly fly out of an enclosure, ducks only need about two feet of protection from the ground to be contained.  Our ducks also herd well. When it’s time to go back into their pen, they move together pretty easily. This isn’t the case with chickens.
  5. Ducks contain pests. With an unusually bad tick season this year, our ducks have been a big help. We still found ticks here and there, but during the heaviest tick weeks, we let our ducks do extra work in the yard and we feel like it significantly reduced the tick population. They are also great at finding things like slugs, and they do their work while creating a lot less damage than chickens who scratch up lawns and garden beds. Our ducks more or less just push mulch and dirt around to get their snacks. Ducks are great foragers, which can also mean we need to feed them a little less food than chickens.

A few things that were a bit more challenging when we considered ducks include:

  1. Ducks need a larger source of water than chickens. Ducks need to be able to clear their nostrils and this means their water needs to be deep enough to do this. We also wanted to provide them with a small space to swim, but we easily did this with a $10 kiddie pool. We also have a larger one in the yard that they can play in, typically from April-November. The water piece is really just a pain in the winter when we literally need to lug buckets of water to them–sometimes twice a day. Good thing I like exercise! During that time of year, the ducks have a deep rubber bucket vs. their pool. So no swimming, but they are alive. I think they like winter as much as me (not at all).
  2. Ducks need more space. While I convinced Chris to get some backyard birds with our friend’s small chicken coop, ducks need about four square feet per apiece. This meant we outfitted them with a large enclosure (their pen), plus put a coop sized dog house inside. Oh, how my husband was shocked when the ducks arrived and then I showed him the blueprints. We outfitted the duck house with a door that we can close during the winter months for maximum protection. Not everyone needs to do this, but we really wanted to create a long term home for our ducks and this seemed like the best answer for us.
  3. Ducks attract more predators. This was a big one for us. We have two small dogs, and when we got ducks, we were hoping we would eventually have kids. Plus we of course value our own safety and the safety of our neighbors. We have seen fox, bobcats, coyotes, hawks, and bear in our yard over the last few years–and that’s even before the ducks came home. However, we found most predators come visit the ducks at the beginning of the spring season, realize they cannot breach the pen, and they generally do not return. We let the ducks roam less during that time, and we also make sure their pen is truly impenetrable. We made sure to dig hardware cloth at least one foot into the ground and to put hardware cloth around all sides and the top of the ducks’ pen. Hardware cloth is heavier and provides better protection than chicken wire which can easily be chewed threw or pulled apart. It was more expensive, but a worthwhile investment.
  4. Ducks are messy. Like seriously. I had no idea how messy ducks were. One winter day when the weatherman was forecasting temps that could reach -20, I brought the ducks inside. I put down a ton of doggy pee-pee pads in the kitchen and let the ducks roam free with a few snacks. I thought I was so smart! 15 minutes later I returned to the biggest mess of my life. There was water, food, and worst of all–poop–everywhere! Literally, everywhere. Chris came home to the smell of bleach and the ducks washing off in our bathtub. I felt silly and honestly laughed hysterically at the predicament (because what else do you do when your life gets so ridiculous), but who knew these small birds could make such a disaster! I’ve since learned. Sometimes the messes our animals have made make the messes Isla makes look easy.

But those are the basics. Why we got ducks vs. chickens. So now, here are our favorite ducky girls.

And a couple photos of their pen and house.

Do you have backyard ducks or chickens? What are your favorite things about having them? And your biggest challenges? Or do you have any questions? Share in the comments below. 

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