Monday, March 21, 2016

So you're thinking about getting ducks

Ducks are extremely fun to raise! They waddle, they quack, and they swim! What's more adorable? However, ducks come with their own list of difficulties and potential problems, and aren't for every family. They can be messier, require a lot of water, and may not be able to live in the same coop as your chickens. So, should you get ducks?

Some Negatives to Consider

While ducks can be very joyful, we will first go through the potential problems that may arise while raising them. Those cute little fuzzies grow to adult ducks someday! I am not in any way trying to discourage anyone from getting ducks, but I want to make sure that you are well-informed and prepared to deal with them!

They are very messy

Ducks are extremely messy animals. The same way that chickens scatter their food about, ducks do with water. Their poop is also mostly water, so bedding gets soaked and stinking very quickly! I normally use deep litter for my coop, especially in the winter, but I can't use it in the duck pen due to all of the moisture. I just have to clean it out every few days, or we get flies! My chicken pen, as far as I can tell, does not produce much of a smell, but my duck pen smells worse than a pigsty! They will also destroy your yard when it rains - they can take a puddle the size of a frying pan and somehow use it to turn 100 square feet into a mud pit!

You may not be able to keep them with chickens

You may or may not be able to. I have to keep mine separate for several reasons, one being that my ducks and chickens fight. On occasion, they free range together, but I won't put then in an enclosed space with each other. My ducks have gotten hurt from my roosters due to fighting with them. Most farm ducks are unable to fly, so they have no defense against sharp beaks and spurs! In addition to that, you will likely want a pool for your ducks, which a chicken may drown in if she can't get out. There is also a huge difference in anatomy between ducks and chickens, so if a drake tries to mate a chicken, it may hurt her or even kill her! Some people keep them together and it works just fine, but I prefer to keep mine away from each other.

Duck mating is more violent than chickens

The male-to-female ratio is even more important with ducks than it is chickens. If you accidentally get too many roosters, you may be able to make the lower ratio work. With ducks, it's putting your hens and other drakes in danger. Drakes are extremely aggressive maters, and several drakes may mate a duck to death trying to compete. When ducks mate, the male holds on the the females' head by the feathers, pushing her head under water. This is fine, because one mating only lasts a few seconds and she can lift her head back up. However, if she is mating by three or for drakes in a row, who is taking longer because the other drakes are trying to push him off, she may drown. In the wild where there are as many males as females, it isn't uncommon to see this. Due to their aggressive mating strategy, ducks have some peculiar organs. They are one of the few birds that have an actual penis, and the duck penis is shaped like a corkscrew. To make things more competitive, the female duck has a vagina that corkscrews in the opposite direction and even has multiple channels with dead ends! This, considering many people find the chickens "vent touch" to look violent, may be something to consider before getting ducks. Unless you get an auto-sexing hybrid from Metzer, or you buy adult female ducks, it is likely that you will end up with a drake, even if you don't want one. 

Ducks require a LOT of water

Ducks need access to at least enough water to cover their nostrils, preferably their whole head, so they can run water through their bill to wash food down. They must drink with almost every bite, especially with dry, dusty feed. Most of us let our ducks swim. After all, they are waterfowl! However, if you don't have a pond with plenty of aquatic plants or a stream of moving water, you'll need to empty and refill their water source every single day, sometimes twice a day. It gets very dirty, very fast! If you live in a place that often has droughts or water restrictions, or you are obsessive about your water usage, ducks are probably not for you. 

Some Positives to Consider

Of course, there are plenty of positives to owning ducks! Their eggs, meat (if you want them for that) and hardiness make them an excellent animal for many people to raise!

Duck eggs are huge, and pricey!

Most duck eggs are bigger than chicken eggs, and they sell for more money. Depending on where you live, you could sell your excess eggs for $5-$8 a dozen! If you have the space to let your ducks free range, that could be a lot of money in your pocket! Even if you give them exclusively feed, you can still sell the eggs to contribute to their cost to you! In addition to money, duck eggs are large and rich, and are great for baking! They make for amazing cakes and bread!

Ducks are full of character

If you're looking for a pet, ducks are very fun and generally have wonderful personalities. They are extremely vocal and have a wide variety of sounds that they use to communicate with each other. They greet each other with joyful chattering, signal their location to others with loud quacks, and bob their heads to signal the others to follow them. Males have a lovely deep voice in place of a quack, and arch their neck, whistling as a courtship display. When they swim, they splash and dive under water with joy, and often search for food with their tails sticking straight up in the air! I love watching my ducks follow me, one by one, almost always in the same order. If you get ducks, you'll see where the phrase "get your ducks in a row" came from - they walk everywhere in a single-file line! It may be just me, but I find all of these duck behaviors fun to watch! In addition to their comical behaviors, some ducks are very friendly. My drake, Chuck, walks right up to me and lets me pick him up!

They are significantly more weather hardy

Most farm ducks are derived from the common Mallard duck, which exists native all over the world. Because of this, Mallard-derived breeds, such as the Pekin, Rouen, and Khaki Campbell duck, are extremely tolerant of different weather conditions. While chickens need a well-ventilated, dry, draft-free, and sometimes even insulated coop, these ducks simply need a place to get out of direct wind and weather. This past winter, I provided my ducks with a straw-stuffed doghouse to get in when it was going get below zero. Two of them went in the dog house, one slept beside it, and two slept right in the middle of the pen, exposed to the weather. When I went to check on them that morning, they were fine! No frostbite on their feet or bills, and they weren't even shivering! Meanwhile, I had to bring some antibiotic ointment up to the winter-proofed chicken coop to treat two roosters for frostbitten combs, even though it was significantly warmer in the coop than it was outside. Mallard-derived ducks are simply much hardier than the chickens and it is less costly to set up a shelter for them. In the summer, as long as they are provided with a water source, they can handle the heat with ease as well!

Duck feathers are great for crafting

Ducks have a different type of feather than chickens. The feather is more curved and wider, and the quill is thinner and more flexible, making for softer down. If you keep ducks as pets or layers, you can collect plenty of feathers during a molt for crafting. The feathers can be dyed or left natural to make beautiful jewelry, decor, or even used for harmless pranks! If you choose to raise ducks for meat, don't let those feathers go to waste! You can make your own down pillows! As previously stated, duck or goose down is preferred over chicken down for pillows because it has a very soft quill. No one likes to be stabbed in the face by their down pillow while they're sleeping! So, if you're the crafty type, replace your normal fiberfill with the down from your ducks where possible. 

Still want ducks?

I have now provided you with four negative things and four positive things about ducks. My ducks are the joy of my flock, possibly my favorite birds of the ones I have. While they will always have a place in my flock, they may not be for everyone. Do you still think they are for you? Leave a comment! 
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