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Chickens vs. Ducks

 
Posts: 99
Location: rural West Virginia
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Wow, lots to say. I've had chickens for decades, had ducks as well for a few years when I lived in the "holler" and had a creek. Now I live on the ridge, and while I've heard you can satisfy ducks with a kiddie pool, and there is a small pond below the ridge...I do strictly free range, and I know what would happen: the ducks would find the pond, move in there and in short order the predators would get them. Actually, I lost my ducks twice when we had a drought--they'd swim downstream (our creek was a little headwater) and I never saw them again. I assume predators or dogs got them but maybe someone took them and penned them up.
I've had a lot of different chicken breeds but only Khaki Campbell ducks and there is an important thing to know about them--they can't hatch their own eggs. I could hardly believe this but I started with eggs someone gave me and put them under my chickens to hatch. It takes four weeks for duck eggs, so it took multiple setters to accomplish the deed (and I'd give the duck eggs a sprinkle of water daily) but both times it worked out fine, and--nice lesson in "instinct" for the kids. The hen would be followed by a few ducklings and a few chicks, and when she passed the creek all the ducklings would jump in. The mother would run around  clucking urgently: "Get out of there! You'll drown! What are you doing?!" while the ducklings happily sailed up and down the creek, and chicks stayed virtuously on the bank. That the Campbells can't hatch their own I saw proven the one time a hen sat right next to the house, was therefore not molested for the full four weeks, and...the eggs just rotted.
One nice thing about ducks is that they do all their laying by 8 a.m. so all I had to do was not let them out of the coop till then and I never had to hunt duck eggs. Yes, they went in the coop at night--they were raised by hens so that was habit. Actually it's NOW that I have lots of stupid chickens insisting on sleeping in the trees near the coop, instead of in it.
I don't have many slugs but I credit the chickens with all but eliminating ticks (if only they could see the chiggers!) They are not allowed in my gardens except sometimes in the off season.
I had both in the same coop; the ducks are more romantic in their mating--they'd swim circles around each other and bend their necks together, and THEN the drake would hop on like a rooster. I had drakes jump hens only when there were not enough duck-hens, too many drakes.
On chicken breeds--my least favorite, that I've had, are Orpingtons. They don't seem to lay as many eggs, and their lack of interest in setting has been a negative. My favorites are the green egg layers, just for aesthetics--Americaunas--and the best rooster I ever had was one of those. I had a Dominicker, maybe the same thing as Barred Rock (?) who laid eggs quite well till she was 8--she died in retirement at ten. Barred Rocks and Marans are good, The Black Sex-links and Golden Comets have done well for me. I don't like Leghorns because they're scrawny and nervous and lay white eggs, but they are prolific and I acknowledge this is prejudice. Rhode Island Reds are okay but the roosters are, I think, the most likely to be aggressive. For me the problem is easily solved--as soon as it's apparent he isn't gonna knock it off, I change his name to Dinner. Free roosters are easy to find.
Oh, and as with dogs, mutts are fine by me. I won't take a chicken with feathered feet--they're just gonna cake with mud, this is nuts!
 
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I raise both and feel they have very different strengths in some ways, and also a lot of overlap, so it depends on your goals which (or both) will be more appropriate. Both can be great for eggs and meat, but their differences really come out in applied management. They change succession in different ways. If you want a moist high OM area (think elderberry, mulberry, wet woodland crops,) ducks are great. Chickens tend to desiccate/dry an area with their constant scratching (oxidizing) and highly reducing manure. This is perfect for reducing and quickly processing compost. I prefer chickens for establishing an area (disturbance) and ducks for maintaining a large planting, especially in a forest garden scenario. I place the duck house in a sacrifice lot that is deeply mulched, and preferably uphill from planting blocks to trickle nutrition downhill. This area doubles as a holding pen for when a multi inch rain comes to prevent them from going on a rampage. You can either move the area eventually, add more mulch, or muck it out and put it in the compost pile/on perennial plantings.

Ducks:
-Pros
Excellent foragers, not picky about any bugs that I've seen. They will clear any area of any bug they can find.
Less destructive of yard/pasture (but still somewhat destructive if not managed.)
Hilarious - they always seem so upbeat. Entertainment value can't be overstated.
Easy to herd if you understand their flocking.
Reliable egg laying + reliable laying time. My Welsh Harlequins and Campbell are more productive than any chicken I have, including hybrid layers.
Cooler manure, much less likely to burn out grass and other plantings. Better for food forest/orchard settings in my experience

-Cons
Dabble any standing water, they will put ruts in your yard if you get much rain. I prefer this as it improves water infiltration.
Mallard types can be loud, possibly more so than chickens but I'd say it's comparable.
More difficult to process if you're looking for meat.
Mallard types are unreliable for brooding; muscovies are excellent.

Chickens:
-Pros
The best composters. I prefer to put mine on super deep wood chip mulch, innoculate it KNF style, and let them "prep" an area for future planting.
Highly rich manure, excellent for composting and using in vegetable gardens in my experience.
Much better in a confinement scenario (composting in my case,) I wouldn't confine ducks.
Some breeds brood prolifically.
Easy to process for meat.

-Cons
Can be difficult to round up if free ranging and not socialized. Best to train them to a call.
Can be damaging in too small of a yard/pasture.
Roosters can be dangerous if you don't assert your dominance early.
Much more aggressive flock dynamic - sick chickens will have to be removed and protected while they recover if they get too weak.
 
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I have had both and have come to the conclusion that if your after efficiency of work and money then coturnix Quail are the way to go. They lay the biggest eggs for their size, they start laying at 6 weeks and are fully mature and ready to butcher at 12 weeks. You can also keep them in a garage or apartment if needed. The Japanese keep them in a bird cage in their apartment so they also have eggs and meat handy
 
pollinator
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Location: Michigan - Zone 6a
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Mary Cook wrote:Actually it's NOW that I have lots of stupid chickens insisting on sleeping in the trees near the coop, instead of in it.

Do any of your breeds in particular seem to be tree-happy? Depending on how high they go up (and how well they do at surviving), I think this would be an interesting trait to have once I get my own place! It would be nice to have the chickens take care of themselves so I don't have to let them out/in every morning/night.
 
Mary Cook
Posts: 99
Location: rural West Virginia
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Logan--no, it doesn't seem to go by breed at all. Some of it is because the rooster (himself a mutt hatched here) leads them into the trees. Three sleep in the coop, one because the idiot thinks she's setting and I haven't been able to dissuade her. And I'd rather lock up and release the chickens than have them weakened by sleeping in trees on cold, wet, windy nights--so far no predation but now that the leaves are off the trees they're more visible
 
pollinator
Posts: 148
Location: Western MA, zone 6b
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I had Welsh Harlequin ducks and loved them.  They don't fly over fences and they don't dig and scratch like chickens.   Good egg producers from Feb. to Nov.   Hatched and raised their own ducklings when I let them.   Fairly docile, easily herded into their house at night by the dogs.   Winter hardy, no issues in an unheated coop.   I had sandy soil so drainage wasn't as big an issue making them cleaner for me to keep than some other people seem to find.   I'd have them again in a heartbeat.  
 
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