Adding chickens and ducks to your homestead is one way to increase your self reliance. Both chickens and ducks produce delicious fresh eggs. Both ducks and chickens can be raised as a source of meat, also. A third scenario is raising your chickens and ducks for egg production first and then using the livestock for meat as the egg production wanes. There are breeds of chickens and ducks that are primarily meat birds.
In chickens these would include the Cornish Cross and the Freedom Rangers. Dual purpose breeds that lay fairly large amounts of eggs and also put on weight for meat production purpose would include the New Hampshire Red, Delaware and White Rock to name a few. Raising meat birds is a fairly quick turnaround in time, anywhere from eight to twelve weeks. Duck breeds that are good for meat production include the Rouen and the Pekin.
Many people will tell you that there is no difference to raising chickens and ducks. While both are simply adorable as babies, there are differences in the care and raising of ducklings and chicks. Beginning with day old chicks or letting fertile eggs hatch in an incubator or under a broody hen, most people begin at this stage.
It is also possible to begin with a started pullet, an older, pre-laying hen, but they do cost more, since someone has cared for and fed them for a number of weeks. Knowing your reason why you want to raise ducks or chickens, should be the first step in your decision making process. Are you looking primarily for meat, eggs, something to eat bugs out of your yard, or a backyard pet?
When getting started with baby chicks or ducklings, there are some items you will need. A brooder is the bin or box where you will house the babies. It is also important to have a water fount, a feed container, and a heat lamp or heat source. Having the right equipment is important not only for convenience, but also for hygiene. Using a water fount keeps the water a bit cleaner than a shallow dish of water. Ducklings, however, will need a shallow dish of water, before long, because they will not be able to get their bills into the openings in the chicken style water fount soon.
What Bedding Material Works Best?
At first, I use pine shavings. This is easy for chicks to walk on with out slipping. Straw and newspaper can be slippery for the small weak legs of newly hatched chicks. After the first couple weeks it is fine to switch to using newspaper if you prefer.
How Much Heat Do They Need?
The heat lamp or brooder lamp is a must have item. No matter how warm you think your house is, newly hatched chicks and ducklings need to be kept at 95 degrees F for the first week. I doubt you keep your house this warm! The temperature in the brooder can be gradually decreased by about 5 degrees every week or few days. The ducklings will outgrown the need for supplemental heat before the chicks do. Ducks grow more rapidly and by four weeks of age will double their size and be feathered enough to go without supplemental heat unless the weather is very cold. Chicks will often need to be in a heated brooder for 6 to 10 weeks depending on the weather. I usually recommend a temperature of 50 or above inside the coop at night before moving the chicks to the chicken coop.
Chicks grow and develop at a slower rate than ducks, but the chicks will mature into egg laying hens earlier, at around 20 to 25 weeks as opposed to ducklings reaching egg laying maturity closer to 7 months of age.
Each requires its own special amount of cleanup, feeding and freshening the water and although larger chicks will start to be pretty messy, nothing really compares to the mess created by ducklings in a very short span of time. I usually move my ducklings into a child’s wading pool because it is easier to clean up the wet mess created every few hours! Its a good thing they are so cute!
Many people raise ducklings and chicks together using a non medicated chick starter feed. The method will work fine in most cases. The medication in medicated chick starter is only a coccidiastat, however, ducklings are sensitive to medications and do not usually need this so it is best to avoid feeding it to the ducklings.
Occasionally the protein level can be a little too high for ducklings during their high growth rate phase around 3 to 10 weeks of age and lead to some wing abnormalities. To avoid this, switch to a grower formula for the ducklings from 3 weeks to 10 weeks of age. Ducklings will be fully grown by 16 weeks of age where chicks have not reached full grown status until 25 to 30 weeks of age.
Moving the Chicks and Ducklings Outside
Both chicks and ducklings need to be kept warm during the crucial first weeks of life, although ducklings will outgrow the need for a heat lamp before the chicks. For this reason it is hard to give an exact amount of time that the babies must remain in the brooder. Instead, use these guidelines when deciding that the time is right for the move to the big coop.
- The nighttime temperature inside the coop should be above 50 degrees
- The chicks or ducklings should be almost fully feathered
- There is a safe place to house them in the coop so they are not bullied by the existing flock if there is one.
For chicks this moving day will most likely be after 8 weeks of age. Ducklings may be able to move after four weeks if the weather cooperates. Of course, the earlier in the spring you begin to get chicks or ducklings, the longer you will have to house them inside.
**These guidelines do not apply when the weather is already warm, such as mid summer. If that is the case you may only need the heat lamp at night if the day time temps are extremely high.
What Kind of Housing Do You Need?
It is fine to house ducks and chickens together. Since we have a large flock of each, we house ours separately. Our duck house is lower to the ground and is a large open space inside. Ducks do not roost so no roost bars are needed. They lay their eggs in nests on the ground so there is also no need for a nest box.
Clean straw is important and fresh water should be available to the ducks at all times. There are larger, screened windows at the top for adequate ventilation and air flow. Surrounding the duck house is a large chain link pen covered in chicken wire on the top to ward off predators. We do close the ducks in at night to ensure their safety.
There are many ways to appropriately house your flock of chickens. Many different types of coops are available or you can build your own from what you have on hand. Some people convert dog house, play houses, garden sheds and part of the garage as a chicken coop. Important features include:
- securely closing doors and latches
- ventilation and air flow
- nesting boxes, 1 box to every three or four hens
- roost bars
- 2 to 3 square feet of space per bird unless they will need to stay inside most of the time then the suggested space is 7 – 8 square feet per bird.
Effects on Your Yard From Chicken & Ducks
Both chickens and ducks like to roam about and eat insects, worms and green bits of grass and weeds. However, if you don’t watch them while they are roaming free, often called free ranging, there are two concerns. The first is predators. Everything from a raccoon, opossum, owl, hawk, fox, coyote and bobcat will want a free chicken or duck dinner. It’s the natural way of life and your chickens and ducks are at the bottom of the food chain. Domestic ducks and chickens are not very good at flying and most likely won’t get away from a predator with dinner on its mind.
The second concern will only be a problem if you prefer a nice manicured lawn. Ducks and chickens will dig up your yard and garden to find insects and will eat your garden if it is not fenced. This may not bother you but its good to know what to expect before getting any type of animal.
Duck Eggs vs. Chicken Eggs?
The chickens will be fully mature and should begin laying between 20 and 25 weeks of age. The feed should be changed to a layer formula by twenty weeks of age to start supplying enough calcium for egg production. Ducklings will mature into egg laying ducks around seven months of age. No rooster or drake is needed in order to have hens laying eggs. Roosters and drakes are needed to fertilize eggs which could lead to eggs that could be incubated or left under a broody hen.
There will be no difference in taste or quality in eggs that are fertilized vs non fertilized eggs as long as they are collected daily and stored correctly. Fertilized eggs will not develop embryos sitting on your kitchen counter. Unwashed eggs can sit out at room temperature for a few days. Rinse before using. Mildly soiled eggs can be washed off using warm water, and dried. Eggs that have been washed should be stored in the refrigerator.
Finding your first egg is an exciting (eggciting?) occasion! Celebrate! You have reached a new goal of food production on your homestead.