When I was a little girl growing up in suburban California, I learned about farm animals from one of my favorite books. It had pictures and descriptions of all the animals you would expect to see on a farm. I liked them all, but something about the ducks and their ducklings fascinated me. I must have spent hours reading the ducks section. I can still remember certain duck pictures from that book. So when we decided to start raising laying birds, ducks were the logical next step. I had just finished reading Elliot Coleman’s “Four Season Harvest,” and knew our rainy slug-ridden Pacific Northwest garden could use some help from those slug-loving ducks. When we tell people we have ducks, most say, “What do you do with them? Can you eat their eggs?” Of course you can.
It’s funny when you think about it. How disconnected people of my generation, many of our parents and all the generations that follow, are from the process of obtaining our food. I grew up in the Central Valley, a hugely agricultural area, but I READ about farm animals from books?! I grew up in a subdivision, like many Californians do. The only time I saw farms, was on my drive to gymnastics practice. And the farms I did see were mainly monoculture orchards, very few actually resembling a true family farm.
I moved to Portland, Oregon in middle school and from there to a little town outside of Tacoma, Washington and finally spent 7 years in Seattle. I probably would have lived my whole life without knowing the joys of raising ducks, if not for one thing. I met my husband. At that point, I always imagined living in a city. I mean what more could the country have to offer, right? I could get everything I needed from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, right? Well Mike had other ideas, and when we decided we were ready to get married and start a family, he convinced me I should give the country a try. Really, I was so in love with him, I probably would have given Antarctica a try. I was lucky though. He grew up just outside of Astoria, Oregon in the country. No trips to Antarctica for me.
Astoria has so much to offer. I love our restaurants and co-op, but mostly I love the down-to-earth community-minded people that live here. They make this place what it is. I love feeling safe with my kids and knowing that if something were to happen to me, there would be a whole community of people ready to help out. I also love what our life has allowed me to experience- gardening, raising animals and finally getting those ducks I read about all those years as a little girl.
Duck eggs are…
Higher in vitamins and minerals than chicken eggs. Especially high in B-vitamins!
Better for baking. Duck eggs are excellent at retaining moisture. So when you bake with them, you get a wonderfully moist bread, muffin or cookie.
Great for the garden. Last year we did not have a single slug in our garden after the ducks hungout in it all winter and spring. It is a good sized garden and to not find a single slug, especially here in the rainy Northwest, was quite an accomplishment. Thanks ducks for all your work.
Great for free manure. We used to compost a lot. Now we just give it all to our ducks and chickens and they compost it for us and then give us great manure. Much faster than waiting for a compost pile to decompose.
Entertaining to watch. I can only speak for Indian Runners, because we have never had anything else, but they seem to function with a collective mind or consciousness. They move together in unison. It’s kind of like watching a flock of birds, that all turn on a dime together. It is impressive. This may be a consequence of their breeding. Indian Runners were bred for cleaning, de-bugging, de-slugging and fertilizing rice paddies. So this collective mind may have been a protective mechanism against predators. I cannot say for certain. Just a theory.
Better foragers. SO you spend less money on feed. Our ducks forage all hours of the day into the evening when the chickens have been in bed for hours. Ducks thrive in our rainy climate. If anything they love it more when it rains because more worms, grubs and slugs come to the surface. The chickens hang out in their house during the rains, while the ducks are happy to be out and about.
Great at making you feel like a hero for collecting slugs. In our backyard raised beds (that they don’t have much access to) we still find a lot of slugs. I get to pick up slugs and toss them to the ducks who quack loudly and race around after each other trying to steal the other guys slug. You really feel like a hero, when you’ve got a handful of slugs for them.
Our Indian Runners are better layers than the chickens. With 12 ducks and 4 drakes vs 16 chickens and 1 rooster, we consistently get more eggs from the ducks. According to Encyclopedia of Country Living, Indian Runners lay on average 300-320 eggs per year, while the average chicken only lays 260 (according to the USDA).
Good at laying before 9 am. This makes it really nice when you let them range. They have laid all their eggs by the time we let them out, so nobody lays in the yard.
Less aggressive than chickens. I should say, drakes are less aggressive than roosters. After watching our rooster prance around the yard with all his machismo, I appreciate our drakes laid back attitudes. The four boys hang out together, cleaning and preening and never take issue with each other. They even seem to enjoy each other’s company. I know Puffster (our rooster) would not appreciate another rooster, but he doesn’t seem to be bothered by the drakes.
I want to keep this realistic, so I should mention the drawbacks of keeping ducks…
They are hugely MESSY. Because they need access to water at all times, even at night, they make a real mess in their house. The water vessel they have access to, needs to be deep enough for them to fully submerge their nostrils and clear any food particles or dust inside. This is key to keeping your ducks healthy.
They need moisture to incubate their eggs, so their eggs often end up much muddier than the nice dry chicken eggs. Making them harder to clean.
They are very nervous creatures. Even our hand raised ducklings are not down with being petted or handled at all. We have chickens that seek us out and follow us around the yard, but our ducks like to keep a safe distance. If you want duckie friends, you may want to go with a calmer breed like Khaki Campbells (who are also excellent layers).
All in all, I appreciate having both chickens and ducks. By keeping ducks and chickens, we get the best of both worlds. And we get to enjoy both types of eggs. They co-exist very well together. We house ours together and have not had any issues. The ducks and drakes stick to their world on the floor of the house. The chickens roost high above. I would not recommend this unless you have adequate space. Laying ducks need 3-4 square feet each in a well-ventilated house and 20 square feet each of outdoor space. They also need a pool or some place to clean themselves.
Ducks love water, so I don’t think it’s humane to raise them without some access to it. It could even be as simple as a plastic kiddie pool. But be prepared to dump it and refill it at least weekly.
The keys to keeping healthy birds are high-quality food (we use Scratch and Peck Soy Free Layer Feed) and adequate space in their house and outside. These factors are very important. Crowd your birds and feed them poorly and they WILL get sick.
The initial investment in ducklings is higher than that of chicks. Chicks usually sell for around $2-3, while ducklings are usually around $6-7.
Ducks lay well for an average of 3-4 years, so be ready for a commitment.
If you are interested in raising ducks, you can often find them on craigslist.org. Other options are hatcheries:
http://www.holderreadfarm.com is based out of Corvallis, OR
http://www.metzerfarms.com is based out of Gonzalez, CA
This post was included in Simple Lives Thursday at gnowfglins.com.