How to Choose Between Ducks and Chickens for Your First Backyard Flock

201

Once you feel comfortable caring for domestic pets like cats and dogs, taking the leap to farm animals usually starts with poultry. And for good reason: they’re relatively easy to keep in suburban areas, and with a little flexibility, they can thrive in urban areas, too.

The most obvious benefit to caring for poultry comes in the form of those tasty eggs, but poultry can also can become an integral part of your garden as both a way to recycle yard and kitchen waste (food for the poultry) and fertilizer (composted bird poop). While most people immediately think of chickens as their first choice, ducks (not to mention turkey, geese, quail, and pigeons) are also a great choice.

While you could, of course, have both, people generally start with one or the other. I spoke with Jordan Barnes, founder of the The Smart Coop, which sells coops with smart features for both chickens and ducks, about how to choose between the two.

Startup costs (for both) may surprise you

You might think that chickens and ducks are cheap to own (with chicks costing $US3 to $US5 and ducklings at $US5 to $US10) but there are ongoing costs, especially when they’re babies, that can rack up quickly.

For the first six weeks of their lives, you’ll need to shell out money for a brooder, which is like a mini coop with a more controlled temperature setup. I was sure a simple plastic tote or box would do the trick, but the birds grow fantastically fast, and within a week or two, my flock of four needed bigger digs. You can get fancy brooders for about $US100, but you can also source a scrappier one for under $US40. The brooder will also need bedding (most people use pine shavings) which will cost about $US20 for approximately four cubic feet. For my four chickens, this amount only lasted a few weeks.

Your baby birds will also need a heat source. While many people use heat lamps, a more modern method is a heat plate that the birds can nest under, and that will cost another $US30 or so. You will also need a device so the birds can access water ($US20) and food ($US10). Then, add on the actual food and grit, both of which ducklings and chicks need.

With both chickens and ducks, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to minimize the mess the birds make with their water, but it’s easier with chickens. Ducks actually need to be able to submerge their beaks in the water, which requires a different kind of water device that makes it easier to splash around. Otherwise, there isn’t much cost difference between having ducks or chickens at this stage; both require (sometimes surprisingly) expensive stuff for the first six weeks of their lives that they won’t really need moving forward.

When it comes to food and housing, ducks cost more

Between six and eight weeks, your baby birds will be ready to move to their coop. Pinterest loves a fancy coop, but your birds won’t care how the coop looks, which can help you save some money. You can buy commercially made coops for anywhere from $US150 to thousands of dollars, or build one yourself for a few hundred dollars. You might make some extra considerations for ducks, in that they like to have access to water; there are fanciful plans for duck coops with moats or ponds and sunpads, for example.

“Chickens need secure housing with roosting bars and nesting boxes,” Barnes said, describing each animal’s needs. “Ducks, being ground dwellers, need secure, ground-level housing and access to water for swimming and drinking.”

In either case, you’ll still need to account for bedding and feed. “On average, a laying hen eats about a quarter pound of feed per day or 1.5 pounds of feed per week,” Barnes said. Ducks at this age require twice as much food, about a half pound per day, and benefit from food that includes Niacin, which chickens don’t require. Niacin (vitamin B3) ensures ducks get the bone growth they need to support their body—but since this water soluble vitamin is eliminated daily and not stored in the body, it needs to be replenished.

In short, chickens may run $US30 to $US50 per month for food and bedding, but for ducks it will be closer to $US70 to $US100.

Ducks are a longer commitment, but lay larger eggs

Chickens generally live five to 10 years, but they lay consistently until they’re about five years old. Domesticated ducks can live to their twenties. They, too, will lay eggs consistently for about five years, but all egg production will taper off by the time they turn nine.

The eggs that chickens and ducks produce are markedly different in volume and substance, Barnes noted. “Chickens are prolific layers, with high-production breeds giving you around 250 to 300 eggs per year,” he said. While some duck breeds, like khaki runners, can produce as many as 300 eggs a year, most duck breeds produce slightly less. Ducks, while laying fewer eggs, offer larger eggs. And while taste is subjective, duck eggs are often considered more luxurious, with a richer taste.

Both are social animals, but ducks are “social butterflies”

Though I was determined not to attach myself to my own small flock, it’s hard to ignore how charming backyard birds are. My chickens have distinct personalities that are easily observed, and though cautious and easily startled, they’re are also curious and friendly. They also have a pecking order, Barnes pointed out. My small flock is being managed by a Machiavellian silkie named Cacciatore.

“Ducks are the social butterflies of the backyard,” Barnes said. “They’re more sentient and form stronger bonds, especially if you hand-raise them. Ducks are known for their quirky, playful personalities and are often less skittish than chickens. They enjoy being in flocks and can be quite affectionate with their human caregivers.”

How your birds will interact with your yard

Backyard birds are a double-edged sword when it comes to the impact they’ll have on your yard. On the one hand, they can provide fertilizer, bug control, and an ideal composting system for your kitchen scraps. On the other, both birds can be rough on landscaping. Chickens scratch up the ground to uncover edible bugs and create dirt baths, and ducks just consume whatever they can reach. However, these problems only exist if you free range your birds.

The benefits to free ranging extends beyond the happiness of the birds themselves, though, so I think it’s likely worth it. Free ranging your birds has an immense benefit to the birds, obviously, as they can forage and explore their surroundings, but it also means free pest control. Chickens eat bugs, and ducks love snails and slugs. You just have to balance that with the possible damage to the landscaping they can cause. You also have to remember that wherever birds go, they poop, which is a lot of cleanup.

The good news is that this abundance of poop is fantastic for your garden. A notable difference is that chicken poop needs to go through a composting period before it can be applied to your garden so it won’t burn your plants, but duck poop does not. It’s considered “cold” compost and can be applied directly. Since your ducks are going to produce a lot of wet waste if you have a pool for them, a plan for how you’ll use that water in your garden is necessary.

Source: Lifehacker.com.au