Dabbling with Ducks

We have a large laying flock of chickens. We tried our hand at raising Thanksgiving turkeys. “Why not try ducks?” we asked ourselves. We’ve wanted to add ducks to our farm ever since we learned that they feast upon mosquito larvae. Since we are tormented by mosquitos and will not use any chemical controls, ducks sounded like our saviours. So last spring we tested the waters, so to speak, and became the owners of three ducklings. We did a bit of research into duck husbandry before we started, but mostly we learned as we went along.

First lesson to learn: ducks are not chickens. One cannot care for ducks as one would chickens. Chickens detest getting wet. Ducks love it! Chickens drink water by scooping water into their bills and tipping their heads back to pour it down their throats. Ducks put their entire bill into the water and shake it back and forth, splashing water all over. No dainty tea party manners for them! Chickens don’t need to get their food wet to eat it. Ducks do, and cause a slimy, soggy mess in and around their waterers. Chickens make a mess by scratching but ducks by splashing water everywhere.

Second lesson: chickens dust bathe, ducks bathe with water. Ducks love water, any sort of water, and are not turned off by mud or slime. I think they are happiest when they can splash around and dunk themselves under the water. As evidence or this, when I bring buckets of water to refill their mini plastic pond, they start quacking away and can’t stand still they are so excited. As soon as I leave it’s a shoving match to see who gets to go in first. And due to their propensity to get wet and grub about in the mud, the mini pond needs fresh water daily. Chickens, on the other hand, only like water to drink it. Their idea of keeping clean is to scratch themselves into a hole of dust and flick it all over their bodies. The sand particles work through the feathers and shed pesky fleas and mites. Flying sand from bathing chickens and splashing water from bathing ducks is a recipe for unhealthy 

Third lesson: you can herd ducks, you can’t herd chickens. Ducks have a strong instinct to stay in a flock. With chickens, it’s every girl for herself (unless there is a rooster to keep them under control). But even with a rooster, good luck getting them to go where you want! It is not a one person job. It takes forethought and strategy. Sticks help too. With the ducks, so long as you are behind them and driving them forward, (sticks helps here, too) they will waddle in a cluster and end up where you want them to be. If one gets separated, it makes every effort to get back to the others. We’ve even heard of people who can train ducks to obey voice commands.

Fourth lesson, ducks are creatures of habit and do not do well with change. When our ducklings were large enough to leave the brooder and heat lamp behind, we put them into the same run as our chickens in an effort to keep things simple. This was fine while the weather was warm and summery and the ducks spent their days free ranging outside. As winter descended upon us, it was evident that the chickens and ducks could not stay together. Chickens will do fine in cold weather, so long as they stay dry. That wasn’t going to happen with the ducks as roommates. As the ducks were outnumbered 80 to three, they had to move out. 

Within their new digs the ducks seemed to always be anxious as they paced along the fence and repeatedly tried to force their way out. If they did become free, they made a beeline for the chicken run, walked in through the open door and proceeded to make themselves comfortable and the chicken run a soggy mess. The ducks became increasingly adept at breaking out that we knew we needed to change something. After some thought, we determined that the ducks might just be lonely for the chickens’ company? When they did escape and the door into the chicken run was closed, they would settle down nearby where they could at least still hear the chickens. Letting them back into the chicken run was not an option, but what if we brought a couple chickens to them? We gave it a try and had instant success. Problem solved! Now our ducks are content to remain behind the fence with their chicken pals. 

Suffice it to say. We’ve been pleased with our duck trial. We learned some valuable lessons through our first year of owning ducks and are better prepared when more arrive. And more are coming, we’re planning on adding six more this spring. Our flock will spend its time in our orchard and earn their keep as lawn mowers and pest managers. They won’t scratch and make a mess like the chickens, but we will have to bring them fresh water daily for bathing. At least they’ll let us know how much they appreciate it.