Ducks and chickens can provide many of the same benefits on the homestead, mainly egg and meat production. Both are small animals with similar needs, so you have to wonder what are the pros and cons of raising ducks vs chickens.
There are specialized duck feeds available, but a common back on the homestead is to just feed your ducks a chicken layer feed, and supplement with brewers yeast to reach the higher Niacin needs of ducks. Another consideration for the pros of raising ducks is the amount of food that they can forage for.
So which poultry bird should you choose? Let’s discuss what they have to offer, what they excel at, and the downfalls of each.
Some Quick Pros & Cons Of Both
Chickens and ducks have many similar benefits. Here are some of the pros that you’ll find with both species:
- ✅ Great meat production.
- ✅ Great egg production.
- ✅ Can work in a multi-species environment.
- ✅ Free-ranging can enable them to get a lot of their food needs from the land.
- ✅ Can be self-sufficient with breeding and hatching.
- ✅ Don’t require a lot of time or money investments.
- ✅ Their manure is fantastic fertilizer for your garden and trees once composted / aged.
- ✅ Neither requires a lot of space.
Some pros for ducks over chickens are:
- Higher fat content in the eggs, which makes them awesome for baked goods.
- Ducklings require a lot less care than baby chicks.
- No crowing roosters!
Some pros for chickens over ducks are:
- Can be put to work in the garden to remove weeds, and prepare new garden beds.
- Typically better at escaping predators.
- Can be put into a pasture to spread ruminant manure to improve pasture fertilization and remove fly larvae.
While it may seem like both ducks and chickens are great, they do have some cons:
- Egg and meat production can fall drastically without optimal feed.
- They can be messy and leave their waste everywhere.
- Only specialized breeds are best for meat or eggs, neither have breeds that are the best at both.
- Ducks want a pond, and chickens want to roost. The pond ends up very messy, and chickens leave the majority of their manure where they roost.
Housing Considerations For Ducks & Chickens
Ducks and chickens don’t require much in terms of housing. A covered space away from wind and precipitation is the basic requirement. They require a lot less infrastructure than larger animals, and don’t need much space either, making them an awesome choice for small homesteads.
Both species will do best if they are allowed to free-range during the day, and get put up at night.
Ducks will not put themselves in their coop, however. You’ll have to find them and herd them into their housing at night. Chickens tend to establish their sleeping grounds and go roost in the same spot every night, meaning less work for you each evening.
This isn’t an issue if the animals are put in a permanent pen. This won’t allow the animals to feel range for their food needs, but will make less work for you since you won’t be chasing stray chickens and ducks each night.
One thing that makes ducks better than chickens is that their housing needs to be less detailed. Chickens need roosting bars to sleep on and nesting boxes to lay their eggs.
Chickens also like to sleep high, so their housing must be taller. Ducks don’t roost at night, and will lay their eggs anywhere they want without the need for a nesting box.
While that’s a point for raising ducks, you have to consider their desire for a pond or pool to swim and clean themselves in. This is also necessary for mating. So, a duck’s sleeping house may be an easier task, but the maintenance of a small pool may not be worth it.
Both species can use the same coop for sleeping and even inhabit the same pen, which I will discuss later.
For now, we can settle this debate: chickens require more in their coop, which may cost more to build or buy, but ducks will require more maintenance, especially with their pool and nightly herding.
Feed Needs For Ducks & Chickens
Chickens and ducks require different types of feed for optimal egg and meat production. Since chickens are more common, it’s easier to find a variety of feed choices for them, including non-GMO, organic, and corn/soy-free.
A useful hack for homesteaders that have chickens and ducks is to feed the ducks with chicken layer feed and supplement extra brewers yeast to supply the ducks with the necessary Niacin they need.
Ducks that free-range will do just fine with chicken feed and brewers yeast, especially because they can get a large percentage of their daily food from the land in the form of greens and bugs.
Chickens are better than ducks for their relationship to the garden. They can thrive by feeding on garden waste and food scraps from the household. They can also feed on compost piles by stirring it and feeding on the bugs inside.
One of the pros of both birds is that they can live on the land and garden without any commercial feed. They will need free-range access to enough land to supply enough food.
They may drop egg production a bit and grow slower, but the nutritional quality of the eggs and meat will be higher, and more cost-effective. 5 free eggs are more cost-effective than 10 eggs that cost you $2!
Both ducks and chickens provide pest control in certain areas on the homestead. If you have chickens on pasture following behind ruminants, like cattle and sheep, they’ll spread the manure piles and eat fly larvae and parasites that could’ve later affected your ruminant animals.
Ducks are better for garden pests like snails and slugs. They also won’t scratch up your garden beds if you let them wander in the garden (supervised, of course).
If you have pastured animals and a large garden, both species will do great work for your homestead to control pests!
Baby Care For Ducklings & Chicks
On the homestead you have two options: buy day-old ducklings and chicks, or have your layers do the work for you and hatch the babies themselves.
If you are the type to buy day-old babies, you’ll find that ducklings and chicks require very similar brooding environments.
Ducklings require less time under heat lamps or hover brooders than chicks, and don’t need as high of heat either. They will be fully feathered around 5-7 weeks, and ready for the big world.
They probably won’t need heat during the day after the first 3-4 weeks. If your climate is warm, they can go out before this, sometimes as early as 2-3 weeks. They’ll still need heat at night most likely.
Chicks typically have to stay in a brooder with heat for 5-6 weeks as well. They’ll require higher temperatures in the beginning, but will be weaned off the heat just like the ducks over time.
They can be more of a hassle because they are tempted to fly out of the brooder any chance they can get. Opting for a covered brooder is a simple fix.
Both of them are messy, and will require regular brooder cleanings. Messy environments will lead to sickness, and maybe even death.
Both ducklings and chicks are some of the most labor-intensive baby animals you’ll have in the homestead.
When allowing the hatching to happen naturally on the homestead, you’ll see that ducks tend to be better. Ducklings grow faster than chicks, and will be learning how to forage and swim with their mother quickly.
Baby chicks, on the other hand, stay susceptible to accidents and predators for much longer. But, predators are more of an issue for ducks their entire life!
Predator Threats To Ducks & Chickens
Ducks and chickens will fall victim to all sorts of predators: foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and even dogs and cats that live on your homestead. The babies are the most vulnerable. Once they hit adulthood, chickens have a little more success avoiding predators than ducks.
Chickens roost at night, whether it be in a coop or up in a tree. They can typically flee before a predator can make it to them when they are sleeping. They can also fly a bit to dodge predators day and night.
Ducks, on the other hand, are slow and sleep close to the ground. Many domesticated laying and meat breeds don’t fly well at all. They don’t follow routine well either, so they may sleep in a different spot every night, making free-ranging ducks more susceptible to predator pressure.
Training Ducks And Chickens
Training both ducks and chickens can take some time. They both have some distinct traits that can ease the process, but you will probably struggle for a while.
Training them to come when you want them to can be difficult. Ducks respond well to voice commands over time if they are rewarded for coming. However, both do better when training to a bucket. Every time you bring a specific bucket around full of treats, they will follow you wherever you go.
As for training them to free-range and then go to bed in the coop at night, chickens are far easier.
Chickens are creatures of habit. Once they establish a comfortable sleeping area, they won’t change it, and will typically put themselves to bed each night in the coop.
Ducks aren’t this way at all. They’ll go to sleep in all sorts of places. However, herding them back to a pend isn’t too hard, as they are slow and like to stick together. Herding chickens is a lot harder!
Neither of these animals is great for training, however. Stay consistent and they’ll become manageable.
There are two main variables to judge when looking at egg production from ducks and chickens: quantity and quality.
For quantity, you won’t beat the specialized laying breeds of chickens. Some of the breeds, like Golden Comets and Rhode Island Reds, can lay up to 300-350 eggs per year. Even the best laying duck breeds will land somewhere around 200 eggs per year.
Duck eggs have more fat than chicken eggs, and they are larger. This is due to a higher ratio of yolk-to-white than chicken eggs. They are higher in virtually every vitamin and mineral as well.
For health purposes, duck eggs are better than chicken eggs. But, don’t be fooled. They are both very healthy!
Many people enjoy duck eggs for baked goods due to their higher fat content. It creates a richer food, with a better texture than chicken eggs.
To sum it up: chickens are best for quantity, and ducks are best for quality! Both are good choices, and including both on the homestead may be the best choice.
Meat Production From Ducks & Chickens
Meat production from chickens and ducks has been specialized with breeds chosen for their genetics to grow quickly. Some chicken and duck breeds are harvested at around 6-8 weeks old, and can pack a huge amount of meat in your freezer.
Chickens, especially Cornish Crossbreeds, are known as one of the best feed-efficient meat sources in the homestead.
Cornish Cross chickens can have a feed conversion ratio of 3.5 lbs of feed leading to 1 lb of processed meat. Not many other livestock choices can even come close to that!
The Pekin duck breed is the most popular meat duck breed. It can grow to around 7-8 lbs in 7 weeks. It typically requires around 2.8 lbs of feed to put on 1 lb of live weight.
An 8 lb live duck will dress to about 4.5-5 lbs. That equals out of around 4.4 lbs of feed for every one lb of meat produced.
In terms of nutrition, both types of meat have their merit. Just like with eggs, duck meat is higher in fat. Chicken is higher in protein. Both are good sources of vitamins and minerals, and both types of meat complement each other well in this regard.
Eating both regularly in your diet may be the best choice for optimal health benefits. Again, you see another reason that raising both on your homestead can be a great choice.
Hardiness Of Ducks & Chickens
Ducks and chickens are both relatively hardy, given the right environments. A small pen full of feces will get both species sick quickly. But, free-ranging during the day and keeping the night pen clean will ensure better health.
Ducks are more cold-hardy, and do well in the heat as long as they have a pool. Chickens can struggle in extreme cold and heat.
Keeping feeders and watering areas clean also keeps these animals healthier.
In the right environment, you shouldn’t have to worry about sickness or disease too much. You can immunize ducks and chickens against a certain disease, but I never have. I’ve never lost a chicken or duck to sickness or disease. It’s about keeping their living area clean!
Ducks and chickens can make a lot of noise. In general, a flock of ducks will make noise more often than a flock of chickens. However, everything changes if you add roosters to your chicken flock!
Roosters and very loud, and can be annoying. That’s why many cities don’t allow roosters in backyards.
Duck noises tend to be quiet and enjoyable for the most part. The same can be said for laying hens. It’s just the roosters that can be a nuisance.
Either way, be ready to hear some quacking and clucking!
Ducks & Chickens As Homestead Workers
While meat and eggs are the obvious reasons to have these birds on your homestead, it’s always good to know what else these animals can do for you.
Ducks are great for lawn maintenance. They will eat grass down to a respectable level, and give them quality nutrition. You can also forget about mowing if you have enough ducks! Chickens will do nothing but scratch and till your yard to smithereens.
Chickens are better for tilling in the garden and removing all plant material. This is great for preparing new planting areas. They also do great work on compost piles by stirring and eating bugs inside the pile.
The stirring of the compost and the manure they leave while they work in the pile will turn organic matter to compost quicker. Ducks can’t do this at all.
Chickens are great followers in rotational grazing to stir up ruminant manure and eat the fly larvae. This reduces pests and also spreads the fertilizing manure further, making for a healthier pasture in the future. Ducks won’t contribute to the pasture in this way.
Both ducks and chickens have rich manure that can be composted for garden amendments. Or, manure tea can be made for more immediate nutrient availability.
As mentioned earlier, chickens are great for garden waste and food scraps to turn waste into healthy eggs and meat. Ducks will eat greens but they are much pickier.
Chickens are the better choice for all-around workers on the homestead.
Raising Ducks & Chickens Together
Chickens and ducks can thrive together under the right conditions. You can use the same coop and pen space, and get more from the same land.
The first consideration is the housing. Chickens like to sleep high on roosts, and ducks just prefer some cover on the ground.
The obvious solution is to build or buy a two-story coop that will house the ducks on the bottom floor and chickens on top. The ducks will stay out of the chicken area, so that’s a good place to put their nesting boxes as well.
Next, you have to consider feed needs. Remember that ducks can eat layer feed but need more Niacin.
You can create a controlled free-range system where you put ducks in one tractor and chickens in the other. Feed the ducks in the tractor instead of the permanent pen where they all sleep.
The movable tractors will also provide new grazing grounds each day to provide more food from the land for the ducks and chickens, reducing your fees costs and raising the nutrition quality of the meat and eggs.
Also having a portable pool in the duck tractor will allow them to bathe and mate each day away from the chickens.
The permanent pen that will hold both of them each night will only be a small run area and the coop since the majority of their days will be spent in the tractors to simulate free-ranging.
Raising both ducks and chickens together allows you to reap all the pros from each of these animals on the same land!
Ducks and chickens are common on many homesteads. As you can see from this guide, they have a lot to offer, and don’t require much time or money investment.
You can even raise both and get eggs and meat from each to add variety to the homestead. Which do you prefer: ducks or chickens?
Milo was born and raised in a small town in N. California. Ever since he can remember, he has been involved in homesteading and farming, and now lives on a 7-acre homestead growing a garden and raising animals such as chickens. Self-sufficiency is his ultimate goal.