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How to shift planning from chickens to ducks

 
E Skov
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Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
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I've been considering having a small egg-laying flock for my city lot. The backyard area I can devote to the chicken or ducks and my food forest is about 1200 square feet on a partially shaded slope with a depleted silty clay loam soil that I am only beginning to get into condition to actually grow anything well (the lawn struggles). I had been thinking mostly about chickens, and had some ideas for how to incorporate them into my designs. These included letting chickens do compost work, starting bulk materials on the top of the backyard slope and letting them work it downhill to where I could collect it and spread it on the garden. I wanted to let them range (either paddocks or freely) this 1200 square foot run planted with shrubs and small trees to provide berries (serviceberry, currant, goji, etc) and seeds (redbuds and/or siberian pea shrub), as well as weedy forage plants (polyculture of clover, purslane, chickweed, some comfrey and whatever else I toss in or volunteers). The main planning challenge here is how to mitigate the bad side of the chickens scratching behavior. This would probably mean subdividing the run into paddocks and protecting individual plant bases with wire so they don't dig up shrub roots. Due to limited space and noise considerations I think I would need to limit the flock to 6 birds at maximum, but maybe more wouldn't be a problem, I'd like to hear what people think on that.

Recently I've been considering a change to ducks, but this means planning for duck behaviors rather than chicken. Advantages: easier to fence in, less destructive scratching, less shelter needs. Disadvantages: no scratching to take advantage of, messy with water and feed. The changes I see to my previous ideas include less need to paddock or fence off individual shrubs, putting water basins in my swales (and moving them around periodically) to put waste water to good use, making their shelter easier to access or portable to mitigate their inability to fluff litter, and doing all the compost chores myself. So, am I off base on the assumptions I've made here? What elements am I missing? I also don't know what the difference in noise would be between a flock of hens and a mixed duck flock of the same size (another advantage of ducks, the males are quiet, so I can let them breed their own replacements ) Buying any birds are at least a year into the future, I would like to plan out and begin establishing a system to support them before introducing them.
 
Landon Sunrich
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So the destructiveness. Both birds can be destructive based on circumstances and that same behavior can be manipulated for your advantage as well. Ducks (and geese) will 'flatten' the heck out of a soil if you let them. especially if its bare. They will remove all the aggregates and turn it to mud. THat said this only happens in certain circumstances and if you are careless enough to let them. Just another thing to consider. Ducks are awesome. Chickens rocks. Fresh eggs are the best. Don't get discouraged and go for it. There is some learning curve but it's not likely to be disastrous either way you choose.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Have you considered a mixed flock?

Are you looking to produce just enough eggs for your consumption or are you hoping for some to sell/barter? If the latter, then you need to factor in the benefits of duck eggs over chicken eggs (nutritional, taste, etc).
 
E Skov
Posts: 23
Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
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I just want enough eggs for home use, with some to give away or barter during the peak season, but not as a serious pursuit.

I had thought of doing ducks and chickens, but my concern is the possibility of getting the worst of both worlds rather than the best of both, if you know what I mean. (Have to fence for a chicken flock but provide water as for a duck flock) The additional consideration is that level areas to put shelters on are limited, so I may have to do a combined chicken and duck coop. This might not be a real issue...I just haven't looked into it too much. I could see advantages if over a deep litter (chickens scratch up the litter so the ducks don't mat it down) but I would have to keep the area dry for the chickens and exclude ducks from the area under the chicken roosts so they don't get pooped on. To keep the coop dry would it be okay to only provide water outside the coop? Maybe predator-proof a small run and don't close the coop up... would the chickens roost all night while the ducks go in and out and do their thing? The idea of combined housing may be a separate thread of itself. I will go through Harvey Ussery's site (http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Home.html) again and see if he mentions much about housing, I know he has integrated chicken/duck/goose flocks.

Landon --> The points you raise seem to further support the idea of a mixed flock. It may be that the balance is more on the "best of both worlds" side.

The remaining issue is the noise factor. As near as I can figure, ducks are somewhere between a hen and a rooster in noise level, and drakes are at or below hen noise levels. I know that roosters are too noisy, so the question is whether the ducks are nearer to that end of the scale. If only moderately louder than hens I could see this being mitigated through good design (place coop at back of property with solid walls and a plant screen towards my house and the neighbors, the back can be open to the highway).

 
jack spirko
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I have posted this thread specifically to address this and other issues with ducks. Hope it helps. http://www.permies.com/t/44225/ducks/Duck-Chronicles-Web-Series
 
E Skov
Posts: 23
Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
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Thanks Jack, I've been watching the Duck Chronicles but I do have a few to catch up on this weekend. Those and a few of the podcasts are actually why I started to give ducks a second look. (Somehow I got it into my head that they need at least a kiddie pool of water with daily changing, which just doesn't fit with my environment. However, a couple gallon dish so they can wet their heads is pretty feasible, especially if incorporated into a swale system.) In your videos it seems like the chickens have always been separated from the waterfowl... have you ever tried pasturing them together?
 
Peter Ellis
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On the noise front you might want to look at Muscovy ducks. Quieter than the mallard strains.
 
Galadriel Freden
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I wonder if you could consider starting with a few chickens (probably not your maximum number--say 3 or 4) and let them work the area for you for a while, maybe a year. And then as you observe, and learn about how the chickens affect your landscape, consider adding to them, or adding a few ducks, as your observations dictate. I suggest starting with the chickens because they will probably do the most good for you in your initial state, as you mentioned, with their scratching and composting abilities.

From my own observations, six chickens can be pretty destructive; you may want this kind of destruction at your phase of development, however. We have ten at the moment and they are a bit too much for our small space, and like you, we are considering ducks in addition to some number of chickens. For us, ducks would be for slug control, and crispy duck Right now we're considering how to integrate both kinds of fowl into our small space. Though of course, we will not add any ducks until the number of chickens is reduced!
 
Tina Paxton
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Peter Ellis wrote:On the noise front you might want to look at Muscovy ducks. Quieter than the mallard strains.


Definitely! About the only sounds heard from my muscies are when the girls have a pow-pow and make their twittering sounds while head bobbing. Oh, and hissing if they are on the nest or have ducklings and you get to close. All-in-all they are very much stealth livestock--especially if you get black ones like I have.
 
Nicole Alderman
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E Skov wrote:

Landon --> The points you raise seem to further support the idea of a mixed flock. It may be that the balance is more on the "best of both worlds" side.



Beware, I've been reading that drakes like to rape chickens, which can be quite damaging, so if you’re planning on having ducks naturally replenish themselves, housing chickens might not work out too well (http://www.nwedible.com/2015/02/aggressive-duck-sex.html). I only have ducks, and love them, so my vote is for getting ducks
 
Tina Paxton
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
Beware, I've been reading that drakes like to rape chickens, which can be quite damaging, so if you’re planning on having ducks naturally replenish themselves, housing chickens might not work out too well (http://www.nwedible.com/2015/02/aggressive-duck-sex.html). I only have ducks, and love them, so my vote is for getting ducks


I have a mixed flock of chickens (no rooster) and ducks (muscovies, one drake currently; I've also had some juvenile --read horny--pekin and swedish drakes) and I've never seen any of the drakes go after the chickens. Even when the horny juveniles were gang raping every duck hen they could pin down, they never went after a chicken. (Much to the pleasure of the duck hens, I dispatched the rapists.)

 
Emily Wilson
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Location: Atherley, Ontario
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As far as the mixed flock goes, I find that ducks and chickens have incredibly different housing needs: Ducks make everything wet, including their bedding in a major way, while chickens need dry conditions with dust baths etc; chickens are healthiest when they roost, ducks don't roost; chickens lay eggs in boxes off the ground, ducks lay eggs on the ground (with the exception of 1 duck I have that flew up to and laid in the chickens' nesting boxes for a while!) So with only 6 animals, you would be best to go with just one or the other.

I also advocate for Muscovies as a nice quiet duck, be careful though, they can fly over fences and on top of outbuildings and cars unless their wings are clipped, and mine went through a phase of walking down the street, up to 10 houses down! They have far less need for water than other ducks, which can be an advantage on a smaller lot.

Never had a problem with drakes mating with chickens, and please reconsider the use of the word "rape" - this is anthropomorphism to the extreme and makes light of a real issue experienced by many humans. All duck and chicken mating looks aggressive or non-consensual to our eyes, but that is simply the way they mate. Sorry to get a bit off topic.

 
Shannon Sheridan
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Two more small factors I have noticed over the years: duck poop is grosser than chicken poop if they get in the yard...and white (Pekin) duck feathers look dirty on the ground, like when they collect along the fence. The ducks don't look dirty themselves but the feathers they shed are an eyesore.
Also, I have one old duck hen in a flock of about 15 assorted chickens, and that duck is the loudest thing out there!
 
alex Keenan
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There are many great breeds of ducks.
I will talk about Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata)

I raised them with chickens in that I feed them together and I locked them up at night in the same building.
Other than that they were very different.
As stated above chickens and turkeys roost. Muscovy find a spot and sit.
Both do not need water when they sleep. Both tend to sleep when it gets dark. Both can be trained to go into a building when it gets dark.
For the ducks I need mulch on the floor at least four inches deep. For the chickens I need roosts. The roosts must be places so the chickens do not crap on the ducks.
I use small kid pools to provide water for the chickens and ducks along with auto waterier that stay clean. These are outside in a spot I can dump them and hose them out before I refill them.

I have areas where I can dump the feed twice a day and let them eat. I have to watch for birds that do not eat enough. These, chickens or ducks, have to be isolated and feed. Generally this is not a issue.
Ducks do tend to mess up a yard in that they will try to feed in mud puddles and wet areas creating holes. Chickens just scratch around.

All in all I do not find ducks and chickens that hard to raise together. One thing about ducks is they tend to get fewer lice and mites than chickens due to the oils on their feathers.

 
Michelle Hernandez
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Location: Austin, TX, USA Zone 8b
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It's great you are planning the system in advance. My 2 cents from raising small flocks of a variety of chickens, Khaki Campbell ducks, and guinea fowl over nearly a decade follow. While all get to forage and sometimes together, I keep my duck housing separate from my chicken/guinea housing.

1. I think you could go either way with ducks or chickens. There are pros and cons to each. If you have never raised either, I'd agree with earlier advice to start with one and get accustomed to that animal's behavior before going with both.

2. I love my ducks, but the word "mess" comes to mind much more when I think of my ducks over my chickens. I think there is more non-automated interaction/maintenance with duck ponds and movement than with chickens for starting off. I'd say you are going to do more upfront prep for getting chickens (like potentially making wire cages around young trees and plants), but you'll have potentially more daily maintenance on ducks. However, if you have or will make the time and willingness to invest in moving the duck configuration regularly, then that is not perhaps as big a consideration.

3. For ducks, I recommend having some mechanism (mulch, other) to absorb duck water smell, depending on your kiddie pool cleaning routine. They make a mess really quickly - and it can have..."aroma", even with frequent water changes. I change my ducks' trough/drinking water really regularly and it smells quickly. (My setup keeps them from being able to get their butts in their drinking water trough). You don't want breezes announcing to any nearby neighbors that you have ducks as an unattractive duck advertisement. Of course, if you size your flock right for the 1200 sq. ft. you have, this may not be an issue. However, it is something I'd keep in mind.

For this potential smell issue, we have tested and plan to keep using wood chip layers as our mulch for ducks. I started by testing a small area first with them, and found they did not get injured feet, they pooped, I could water the chips to clean them, and that built a soil base. Seemed a good fit to me. We will be incorporating more wood chips and ducks in our set up to rebuild soil on a limestone bank with soil. I'l do a post on that separately in the near future.

4. Understand predator protection is key with either chickens or ducks. However, the terms, "lame duck" and "sitting duck" came about for a reason. They do have less housing needs, but make sure the predator protection is really top notch.

5. On noise, it can vary by breed with both ducks and chickens. And full disclaimer: you will get a wide variety of answers from chicken owners on best breeds and characteristics, even for the same breeds. I imagine the same may hold true for duck breeds. My Khaki Campbell ducks are....effective communicators on their needs. I get a vocal "letter to management" if they feel they should be out roaming around already or they are hungry. I have 9 ducks, and they can be pretty loud on occasions. I have heard consistent "loud" reports on Rhode Island Red chickens. I've always had good results with Australorp chickens being quieter in general.

All that said, I'd add that I love the ducks and plan to get more. They are easier to call from a distance. While chickens are entertaining, I think of my ducks as comedians. They forage better than my chickens and, aside from the mess-o-rama and potential issues that could come with that aspect, are pretty easy to raise.

Have fun with whatever you choose!
 
E Skov
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Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
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Many thanks to everyone for sharing advice! It's a lot of help to be able to bounce some ideas around. The plan I've worked up will have a traditional coop-and-run along the back fence as the hub, with three paddocks as radiating outward, divided by a wire-and-shrub hedge. By using ducks, it will be easy to get fences down to around 2 1/2 feet, which should be more aesthetically pleasing than a higher wire fence and let me simply step over them when I want to. I worked up a plan that can put some of these hedges on or near contour so I can pair them with a series of small swales. Those can be deeply mulched to absorb spilled water (and hopefully smell). I've put together a plants order I'm giving the final thoughts to that will consist of dogwood, aronia and buckbrush (also called coralberry) for the hedges, and I already have an order pending that includes some redbud trees, golden currants and serviceberries. I can get goji seeds to help fill in some spots with a good nitrogen fixer.

I looked through some videos of different breeds of ducks, especially where a couple breeds were present, and these seem to confirm the hatcheries' general consensus that the Welsh Harlequin are relatively quiet (probably quietest other than Muskovies). That makes them my top choice, at least for now... I'll probably go back and forth a few times.

All that said, it seems that there isn't much difference in planning for chickens or ducks at this stage of development. If I decide to go with chickens I'll just have to go with a fairly heavy, docile breed (Buff Orpingtons... maybe Barred Rocks) that aren't as interested in escaping, stretch some wire on poles above the hedges, and maybe clip a few wings if that doesn't work. It doesn't seem like it would require the 6' tall fencing I led myself to believe. Beyond that, I would have to modify the coop design, and I could move my compost pile into their run and let them work it over (instead of doing it all myself), then maybe fence off some more fragile plants within the paddocks. ...That's pretty much it.
Plan view.jpg
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Plan view of the house. This shows the general location paddocks and the coop and run would go. Longer hedges are more-or-less on contour.
 
Tina Paxton
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Sounds lovely!

A few observations on the chicken breed front from my own personal experience:

I started with a mixed flock of chickens: buff orps, barred rock, black sex-linked, and brown leghorn. Last Fall I added Easter-eggers and Rhode Island Reds (RIR). So:

#1 escape artist: brown leghorn ==nothing will keep her from her desired destination!
#1 broody hen: buff orp
Biggest eggs: RIR
Bossiest: Barred Rock
Prettiest: Black sex-linked...she is a beauty!
Personal favorite: Buff orp
The only one I'd never get again: leghorn.
Oh, and the absolute loudest about announcing that she has led an egg? RIR (of course, that could be because she is also laying the biggest eggs!)
 
elle sagenev
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I think people over think things. Or maybe I don't think anything through. That is up in the air.

Anyway, my chickens and ducks are all together. So were the turkeys I had, the guineas and the peacocks. Everything, all in one coop. The big problem with ducks is if you have a drake. You don't want a drake if you are doing a small flock. A drake may try to mate a chicken. Doing so is fatal for the chicken. So obviously you want to avoid that. Now I do have a drake but he has hens and I have roosters for the chickens. I've not had any issue with anyone getting roughed up. That is probably because I have sufficient space and numbers to prevent that.

Now the water issue, yes, ducks are gross. However, it doesn't have to be that big of a deal. I only provide one water source for all of my birds. During the summer that is a 1/2 dog kennel. Now that it is winter my water supply is an automatic waterer put in that 1/2 dog kennel. I just dump it out once a day, refill, easy. Really easy.

For me, I like both. I use duck eggs in baking and chicken eggs as my every day egg. The chickens are more reliable layers during the winter than the ducks, though I am getting about 1 egg every other day from 2 hens. Not too bad. I find the ducks to be funner. I enjoy them. They are more skittish though. The water requirement is the big definer for ducks. In the winter that can be quite hard for some people. I have had a few variations of winter water and so far the auto waterer is the BOMB!
waterer 2.jpg
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cute ducks.jpg
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Dog kennel works as kid entertaiment as well.
 
jack spirko
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Tina Paxton wrote:
Nicole Alderman wrote:
Beware, I've been reading that drakes like to rape chickens, which can be quite damaging, so if you’re planning on having ducks naturally replenish themselves, housing chickens might not work out too well (http://www.nwedible.com/2015/02/aggressive-duck-sex.html). I only have ducks, and love them, so my vote is for getting ducks


I have a mixed flock of chickens (no rooster) and ducks (muscovies, one drake currently; I've also had some juvenile --read horny--pekin and swedish drakes) and I've never seen any of the drakes go after the chickens. Even when the horny juveniles were gang raping every duck hen they could pin down, they never went after a chicken. (Much to the pleasure of the duck hens, I dispatched the rapists.)



I have however seen roosters rape young DRAKE ducks. It resulted in a Buddy the Goose beat down however and only ever happened once!
 
D Cooper
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I had a one year old drake that lost his mate to a predator. He imprinted with the chickens and even flew into the coop at night with the chickens. I eventually had to end his existence as he kept trying to mount hens and pulled lots of their feather while trying to catch them, leaving several of them with major bald patches. He would also attack my rooster in the coop at night. I now have both my chickens and 10 metzler white egg layers which are kept separate at night and most the day. During the evenings I often allow the chickens to free range and there is no conflict between them. The chickens always head straight for the duck area to clean up any feed that they may have left behind for the day. Search Metzler white egg layer, on you tube and you will find a couple videos i've posted of the ducks.

Side note. if i had limited space and was trying to pick one over the other, I'd go with just chickens. You can automate the door (limiting yourself to one visit a day to collect eggs), they don't make a mess of their water, and you can leave enough food for multiple days. Ducks don't put themselves up at night, but can be trained to go back to a pen as mine do each evening with some gentle coaxing. Don't get me wrong i really enjoy my ducks but i have 3+ acres for them to free range on each day. Chickens however, as Jack has said. like to get into garden beds and make a mess, especially if you use the deep mulch. You will have to focus more on how to keep them out of certain areas if you intend to free range at all.
 
Debra Russell
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Since your rural I thought you might be interested in my duck yard and garden design. http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/ducks-in-the-garden I use 2 Indian Runner Ducks for my garden pest control. I had chicken for 10 + years. This was my first year with ducks and WOW I am a duck fan. I am a dog /horse trainer and I found ways to manage and encourage the ducks to work in the garden areas I wanted them in. That information can be found here http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/successfully-managing-ducks-in-the-garden
 
Nicole Alderman
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Debra, welcome to permies! I really enjoyed your articles and seeing your beautiful garden! I also try to observe my ducks and modify their behavior by changing their environment. I have to say, though, that even when ducks have choices and room to roam and buckets of water to lure them to certain areas, they do sometimes still destroy plants and eat things they're not supposed to. I used to have my ducks out of their large run for 2-5 hours a day for them to do slug and insect patrol, as well as for their health and for better eggs. They still located and destroyed my potato plants. I'd let them out and they would still make their way straight there to consume the potato leaves that were bad for them, even though this was on the other side of the property and probably 30 yards away from the house and 15 yards from the closest source of water. There was still plenty of insects, worms and delicious greens for them to consume, they all just seem to have decided that potato leaves were the best thing ever!

I'm really glad it's working in your system and hope that it will continue to, and you have a lot of great tips on how to manage ducks. I just thought I'd just warn others that it doesn't always work out that ideally .
 
Debra Russell
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Sorry to hear that Nicole. How many ducks did you have? My ducks as a whole only ate potato bugs along with a few leaves with potato bug eggs. I noticed you had them shut up only allowing them limited access to the garden. Which is the common practice. But sometimes when vegetation isn't available at all times there is the forbidden fruit mentality. They never learn to make good decisions but instead try to eat every free plant in site because they are going to be returned to a pen without plants. As you pointed out potatoes leaves are not good for ducks. In my opinion my ducks tried the potatoes but didn't feel the greatest afterwards so they went back to their delicious Swiss chard and cherry tomatoes. The diverse plants were continuously available so they never built up this craving for plants waiting in a pen. Only having 2 ducks also allowed the ducks to learn where they wanted to graze without doing much damage when they made a bad decision. I am sorry your experience wasn't as enjoyable as what I have been able to experience. Check out this link at YouTube of ducks in a Potato patch
 
Katy Whitby-last
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We keep both chickens and ducks and in the winter they share accommodation. this is a very secure predator proof pen that they go into overnight then they free range during the day. the hen house we have is on wheels and props so is approx a foot off the ground. I have found that the ducks will go in the hen house to lay their eggs but will sleep underneath - they have never been keen on sleeping inside even in their own duck house. As the pen is predator proof I don't close the hen house at night so they can all choose where to go.
 
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