Have you ever wondered if ducks would be a good addition to your homestead?
In this guide to keeping ducks, we take a “deep dive” into all things duck, including caring for ducks, best breeds for egg and meat production, and using ducks as organic pest control.
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Let’s get quacking!
How to Care for Ducks
Provide Water for Your Ducks
It may seem obvious, but ducks are waterfowl. Water is everything.
It’s not just about splashing around, ducks need to submerge their faces in water for hygiene purposes. Ducks lack tear ducts and use water to flush their eyes to keep them clean. As such, the cleanliness of the water is very important.
It’s a common assumption that to keep ducks, you need a pond, but this isn’t necessarily true. A kiddie pool or two is sufficient. It’s important to provide your flock with clean water every day.
The result of this love affair ducks have with water is mud.
Lots of mud.
Your feathered friends are mud-making machines. So invest in some gumboots and be prepared for life to become a little mucky.
Keep Your Flock Safe
The phrase “sitting ducks” exists for reason. Ducks are next to defenseless. Most domestic varieties don’t fly well, and on land, they lack the necessary speed to escape danger.
Ducks also don’t have teeth, so they can’t truly bite you. Although they can administer a mighty big pinch if they’ve put their mind to it.
Mostly, ducks rely on their owners to keep them safe.
Depending on where you live, you may have to protect them from birds of prey, coyotes, or larger predators. A proper fence is important. Keeping your birds in a coop at night also helps.
Much like chickens, domestic ducks don’t fly well and can be contained by fences. You’ll want to use fences to keep your ducks contained to a safe space that you know predators can’t access.
Read more about ducks:
- Ducks vs Chickens on the Homestead
- Preventing Niacin Deficiency in Ducks With Brewers Yeast
- What to Feed Baby Ducks
- The Pros and Cons of Backyard Ducks
What Do Ducks Eat?
Most ducks are excellent foragers and will find a wide variety of insects, weeds, and greenery to supplement their diet, if they are allowed to roam.
Ducks do love to eat grass!
So, if you want to preserve your lawn, don’t leave your ducks in one spot for long. Instead, use temporary fencing so that you can continue to move them. As they move from one place to the next, they’ll leave a little fertilizer in their wake.
Roses, berries, leafy greens, and citrus are duck favorites. So you may need to do a little bit of fencing to keep certain plants in your yard safe.
Duck eggs have thicker shells than chickens, and the hens need quite a bit of calcium in their diet to produce good eggs. Feeding your ladies layers pellets is one way of ensuring enough calcium. (This is a great brand of feed that’s suitable for your ducks and chickens!)
Like chickens, ducks need grit to help them digest their food.
Free-range ducks will source this themselves by eating dirt and pebbles. If your birds are kept in an enclosure where they do not have access to natural grit, you’ll need to provide them with a store-bought grit (like these).
The Best Climate for Ducks
Ducks are very robust animals, and they can be found on every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica.
Some ducks are native to certain parts of the world and may perform better in certain areas. Wherever you may be, there are good odds ducks will thrive in your climate.
Choosing the Right Duck Variety
When selecting a variety of ducks, it’s important to consider why you want to keep ducks.
There are many reasons including:
There are dozens of duck varieties to choose from, and it’s important to do some research before you settle on one because there is such tremendous variety amongst breeds.
Below we dive into some of the best duck breeds for egg and meat production.
Best Egg Laying Ducks
Eggs per year: 210-280
For many years, Anconas were listed as an endangered breed. Yet, the efforts of conservation are working, and they have shifted from being endangered to rare birds.
These ducks are well worth preserving!
Among the friendliest breeds, Anconas are excellent pets, good layers, and decent meat birds as well.
2. Indian Runner Ducks
Eggs per year: 150-200
Indian Runners are easy to identify because of their slender body and their upright stance. Because of their unique body type, they have earned the nickname of “penguin ducks.”
They are exceptional foragers!
As the name suggests, they are fast birds that can effortlessly chase down bugs and slugs. Elegant on land, these birds are not good swimmers.
If you want a gardening companion that will lay a few eggs, look no further than Indian Runners.
3. Khaki Campbell Ducks
“Khaki Campbell duck at Morriston Park 30th May 2012” by Gareth Lovering Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Eggs per Year: 300-340
Bred by Adele Campbell in 1901, these ducks were named after the khaki color of the British troops’ uniforms in the Boer War.
Khaki Campbells are famous in the poultry world for being exceptionally prolific egg layers, laying one egg for almost every day of the year.
Khaki Campbells tend to be a bit loud and skittish compared to other breeds, but their high egg production and good foraging skills make them a favorite of many farmers.
4. Welsh Harlequin Ducks
Derived from Khaki Campbells, the Welsh Harlequins retain the excellent laying skills of their ancestors, but also have a calmer, quieter demeanor.
Like Khaki Campbells, Welsh Harlequins are good foragers to keep near the garden where they will police pests.
If you plan on breeding birds, it’s useful to know that Welsh Harlequins are some of the easiest to sex. The color of the hatchlings bill reveals the gender of the bird with a 75% accuracy rating. Females have lighter colored bills while males have darker ones.
Best Meat Ducks
1. Aylesbury Duck
Eggs per year: 35-125
Aylesbury ducks grow quickly, often reaching eight pounds in as little as eight weeks. They take their name from a small town in England, and their feathers were often used in quilts.
Some say that meat from an Aylesbury duck has better flavor than that of a Pekin!
Tractor Supply sells Pekin ducklings, by the way.
Aylesbury ducks are classified as endangered in the United States. If you are interested in conservation, keeping Aylesbury ducks is one way of increasing population numbers.
Eggs per year: 100-150
Cayuga is the only breed to originate from the United States.
These incredibly striking birds feature blue-green foliage and black eggs!
They are slow to grow, but they do end up being sizeable table birds. These birds are wonderful conversation starters and really beautiful additions to a farm.
3. Magpie Duck
Eggs per year: 220-290
Although small and good layers, Magpie ducks are usually used for meat production. Chefs consider them to be gourmet meat.
They are calm and gentle birds and are more likely to imprint deeply upon their human owners. Magpie eggs hatch almost a full week shorter than most duck varieties.
Eggs per year: 180-195
A favorite of chefs, Muscovy ducks are adored for their flavourful meat.
They are fast-growing and can become so large that they’ll eat frogs, mice, and snakes!
Despite their large size, Muscovy ducks are the quietest ducks because they hiss rather than quack.
They can live up to twenty years.
Muscovy ducks are one of the only breeds that will attack when they feel threatened, and they are one of the few domestic varieties that can fly relatively well. They can get over 8-foot fences.
To prevent this, one wing can be trimmed annually. If done correctly, this does not hurt the bird. Males are significantly larger and can’t get far off the ground, so may not need to be trimmed.
Have a read of our “How to Clip My Chicken’s Wings” article to learn how to trim a wing, and whether you should.
We inherited two Muscovy ducks with our property and they are a fiery bird! We have 4 big dogs and all four dogs were absolutely frightened of these ducks.
They’re a sight to behold when they defend themselves, with their flapping wings and funky face growth – no wonder the dogs took off running!
Both ducks have passed on now, and we only have a huge flock of wild ducks. I’ll always miss them though. It’s hard not to because they have such big personalities and a big presence.
Maybe, one day, I’ll get another pair 🙂
Eggs per year: 200
Although Pekin ducks originated in China, 90% of duck meat in North America comes from the Pekins, so if you live in North America, this is likely the flavor that you are most familiar with.
Being larger birds, they also tend to produce larger eggs. You can buy Pekin ducklings at Tractor Supply.
They are well known for their robust immune system and do not seem to be affected as often by illness and disease. Their friendly natures make them good pets.
If you plan on breeding these birds, note that Pekins are not good brooders, so an incubator (like these ones) is often needed to successfully hatch chicks.
An interesting tidbit of trivia…
Many people believe that Donald Duck is a Pekin.
Balancing Duck and Drake Populations
Male ducks are called drakes. Females are called ducks or hens.
When building your flock, you will want to limit the number of drakes. Drakes are famously enthusiastic breeders, and they can be dangerously rough with the females.
Typically, one drake for every five to six females will work well, although this can vary depending on the specific variety chosen. If you choose to have more than one drake, siblings tend to get along better.
Some owners even keep two separate flocks: a female flock and a male flock.
You might be wondering if you really need a drake.
If your main goal is to keep ducks as pets or for laying eggs, then probably not. Unlike a rooster, drakes won’t protect the flock from danger.
If your goal is to hatch more ducklings or raise birds for meat, then yes, a drake would be a very useful addition to your flock.
Most people accidentally encounter drakes when they purchase a “straight run” of chicks, which means that the gender of each duckling is undetermined at the time of sale. Those who hatch their own eggs are also likely to encounter drakes.
Extra drakes can be processed for the table or sold as pets.
Duck Egg Laying
In the cold winter months, many ducks will slow egg production.
Some stop laying completely.
Some farmers introduce artificial lights so that the ducks get seventeen hours of light per day, which encourages them to keep laying.
Ducks aren’t picky about where they lay their eggs.
In fact, they’ll lay them just about anywhere. So be prepared to do some egg hunting. If you have children, this can be a fun task for them to undertake.
Most of the children I know love a good scavenger hunt!
Hatching Duck Eggs
Most duck eggs hatch within 28 days, although there can be some exceptions. Muscovy duck eggs can take as long as 35 days.
If you plan to hatch your own eggs, it’s a good idea to choose a combination bird that can produce eggs and meat. That way, if ever you end up with an influx of drakes, they can be enjoyed as table birds.
Hatching duck eggs usually requires the help of an incubator as not all breeds are good brooders.
Incorporating Ducks into Farm Life
Ducks are fantastic foragers (Runner ducks in particular). In the garden, they can be used as an organic form of pest control. They’ll greedily snap up slugs, snails, and other damaging insects.
Yes, they might make a bit of mud and take a nibble of your lettuce here and there, but with adequate supervision, ducks are an incredible organic solution.
Vergenoegd Winery in South Africa uses ducks to combat harmful insects that plague their grapevines. Apricot Lane Farms in California uses ducks to keep their fruit orchard free from an army of snails.
In Asia, many farmers are reviving the ancient Chinese method of using young ducks to maintain rice patties. The ducks eat pests and weed, negating the need for pesticides and herbicides.
And of course, where ducks go, poop follows, so the soil is being enriched which reduces the need for man-made fertilizers.
They can be egg-laying aficionados, mammoth meat birds, organic gardening experts, or beloved family pets (often just as friendly as dogs!).
But are ducks right for you?
They can be hard work and require a good deal of water changing, but if you’re willing to do the work and get a little mucky, duck ownership can be a true delight.