The Case for Ducks

January 17, 2012


raising ducks as part of prepping

Long time readers are no doubt very familiar with my series on backyard chickens.  I think the meat and eggs that can be produced by a flock of birds is very valuable for the preparedness minded person. This time, however, I want to make an argument about how you should give serious consideration to the much less appreciated duck.

Only for those with ponds?

Typically, we think of ducks as water-borne animals only and figure if we don’t have a good-sized pond, we can’t keep ducks.  Not so.  They most certainly do love water, but I am here to tell you that they can be raised quite contentedly on grass with buckets of water to splash their heads in.

As I mentioned last spring, we decided to branch out and try waterfowl for the first time last year.  We got shipments of day old ducklings and goslings (more about the geese in another piece) and put them in a brooder under a lamp.

Ducklings are REALLY cute if you’ve never seen them at that age.  Quite possibly cuter than chicks, but you don’t have to tell the chickens I said that.

We got Khaki Campbells, Gold Stars, Welsh Harlequins, black Runners, and Rouens.  All but the last ones are primarily egg layers.  Rouens look like extra large Mallards and are considered meat birds.

They did well in the brooder.  They absolutely loved snacks of shredded lettuce and spinach floated in their water.  Before long, they had feathered out enough to go outside into a protected “chicken tractor” with a heat lamp on one end for cool evenings.

like ducks in waterEverything I had read told me that ducks loved nothing better than swimming, splashing, diving, and playing in ponds.  Perfect, I thought.  That’s where we want them to live.  We’ll build them nesting boxes by the ponds and we can watch them frolic from up here at the house.  They will proliferate down there with all that wonderful untouched food.  It’ll be great.  I began moving there pen closer and closer to the water.  Then, one day, I opened the door up and sprinkled their food on the banks instead of inside the tractor.

They tentatively ventured out, casting looks back over their shoulders, but tempted by the beautiful water and their hunger.  In no time, they had all gone right into the pond like they had been doing this all along.  There was a great show of “dabbling” in the mud as they like to do.  It was going so well that I started back up the hill to the house.

In less than 5 minutes, they were all in the yard.  What?!

I herded them back down there and we started over.  I tiptoed off, but before long, they were back.  This went on for several days before I gave up and put them back in a pen up near the house.

Start them where you want them to live

I suspect that they are fearful of the pond because they feel so exposed after being in a safe pen.  I also suspect that they had a run in with a snapping turtle, though none showed any injuries.

Anyway, they are obviously quite content without a pond, but they do require more than twice as much water as an equal number of chickens.  They drink a lot, but they splash even more and then “dabble” (scoop and filter) mud through their bills for nutrients.

When they are loose, they are fun to watch, especially the Runners.  They tend to waddle in a single file on their own.  If you try to herd them, they bunch up and weave back and forth as a unit.

But here are my actual reasons for why I think you should give thought to starting a small flock of ducks this year:

1.  They lay a LOT of eggs.

Our ducks consistently outlay our chickens even though there are more chickens.  I’m talking about the ones that were bred to be good egg layers, especially the  Gold Star hybrids, Khaki Campbells, and Welsh Harlequins.  Some lay over 300 eggs a year.

2.  They don’t mind poor weather.

While chickens are huddled up dodging the rain, ducks are delighted with puddles and rain.  They don’t have combs that will freeze either.  While our chickens are hardly laying at all right now, we get eggs from at least 75% of our ducks each day.  That is very nice.  Some winters we have had to BUY eggs while simultaneously feeding chickens!

ducks make good prepping for TEOTWAWKI3.  They forage a lot so that will help minimize the feed you have to provide.

The first thing the ducks eat each time we move the pens forward a space is what they find on the ground.  They eat insects, slugs, and the like, but they love their greens.

4.  Some breeds are particularly quiet, so they don’t draw attention to themselves.  

Our Welsh Harlequins seem to have somewhat muted voices.  Cayugas (beetle green birds) are also considered to be very quiet.  The latter especially would be good in a neighborhood settings since they will not disturb anyone.

Do NOT get Rouens if you need quiet birds.  They are frequent noisy quackers.

The Caveat

The only word of warning, so to speak, about ducks is that they are very messy.  They like to dunk their heads under water and they like to “dabble.”  If they don’t live on a pond, they try to make a small one wherever the water source is.  You will need to choose carefully where you put their low buckets of water because they will create a mudhole around them.

Have you ever raised ducks?  What breed?  Would you recommend them over chickens?  Please comment.

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8 Comments on “The Case for Ducks”

  1. Evie Says:

    We had chickens when I was growing up in Brazil but I want to become more familiar with ducks and geese. Thanks for this post!


  2. Sentient American Says:

    Great article! I’d rather eat duck than chicken ANY DAY. Just curious, but where would be a good place to start gathering information about duck ‘ranching’? And how fast do they grow?


    • Laura Says:

      I would liken ducks to chickens in brooding considerations, grow out, etc. The only down side we’ve come to find about them is that they have thin, fragile leg bones by comparison. You can’t handle them by the legs at all and they will surely break if the trailing edge of a “tractor” catches them.

      Another plus to them is that we have never had a problem with them eating their own eggs, which is a frequent problem with laying hens in our tractors. They don’t seem inclined, but the shape of their bills isn’t conducive to pecking eggs either. Also, the shells are tougher to break than chicken eggs, making them easier for us to get back to the house with intact.

      I think the only book I have for ducks is the Storey’s Guide by Holderread. You might try message boards on,, and some other farming sites too.



  3. Devon Says:

    Thanks for the post. I never thought of getting ducks but i am considering it now. We have had a problem with chickens not laying eggs. However are they as hard to breed as chickens. Every time we get a thunderstorm our chicken’s eggs all die and we don’t get any chicks.



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