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Permaculture • Homesteading • Organic Gardening • Self Sufficiency • Sustainability

Find Out Why Ducks Are Good For A Homestead

If you’re wondering about adding some poultry to your homestead, you might be thinking chickens or turkeys, but how about some ducks? Provided you have a plentiful supply of water for duck bathing, like a borehole, or small pond, ducks can fulfill many of the same roles as chickens, and in many ways, they are easier to keep.

Homestead Ducks

Ducks are good for a homestead because they are prolific egg layers, and their meat is a healthy source of protein. They eat slugs, snails, insect pests, and weeds, and their manure is high in nutrients for crops and plants. They are hardier than other birds and more resistant to poultry diseases.

Ducks are generally healthier than chickens. They are more tolerant of cold and heat, quieter than roosters, geese, and turkeys, and more readily accept newcomers to the flock. Many people consider duck eggs superior to chicken eggs.

Ducks Are Stronger and Healthier Than Chickens

Ducklings stand a better chance of survival than baby chicks because they are larger and hardier. Mites and parasites are not an issue for ducks because they spend time in the water, drowning the pests. They have a naturally higher temperature and more robust immune systems, so they are resistant to many diseases that affect other poultry.

If you live in a colder climate, ducks are more likely to survive and thrive with their waterproof down and oily feathers providing natural protection from the elements. They also do well in hot weather, provided they have access to shade and water to bathe. You don’t need a pond to keep them happy as you can fill large pans with water for them.

The container can be a child’s plastic paddle pond or a human bath or animal drinking trough sunk into the ground. This is sufficient as long it is deep enough for them to submerge their heads and wash their eyes and nostrils.

Ducks splash a lot when washing, and all the mud and grit on their feet and feathers is transferred to the duck bath. They also poop in it. Ducks require less care than chickens, but they need a safe duck house to sleep in at night to protect them from predators.

Ducks Get Rid Of Garden Pests

Free-range ducks will happily snap up all the beetles, insect larvae, grubs, snails, slugs, and worms they find while foraging. They are also more environmentally friendly than pesticides and insecticides. Just think carefully before letting them loose in your vegetable garden, however, because the ducks can also eat your crop.

“You don’t have a snail (or slug) problem, you have a duck deficiency!”

Bill Mollison

A wine farm in South Africa employs two thousand Indian Runner ducks as natural pest control. Snails are a real problem in viticulture, but the ducks make short work of them. The ducks are given time off during the harvest season, so they don’t eat the grapes.

Indian Runner ducks have also been used for centuries by rice farmers in India and Asia to clear the paddy fields of snails and insects.  During a locust plague in China some twenty years ago, ducks were used to control locust swarms. Each duck can eat up to two hundred locusts a day.

However, ducks also eat grass and plants, so they should be kept away from seedlings and tender vegetables. In addition to eating them, they can cause damage by trampling on them. This said, chickens can destroy a lawn in a few days by scratching and digging for dust baths. Ducks don’t do this.

Duck Poop Naturally Fertilizes The Soil

Duck manure contains more liquid than chicken manure, making it less likely to burn your plants. It is chock full of plant nutrients, and ducks make more poop than chickens, so it can cover a larger area. Duck poop is high in potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen, conducive to healthy vegetables and other plants.

Permaculturists cover the floor of the duck yard with browns, i.e., straw, wood chips, dried leaves, and other organic materials from their homestead. The duck manure gets trampled into the browns together with mud generated by the ducks when they bathe and scratch the ground to form a natural compost. The compost can then be spread around the crops and garden.

This translates to less work for humans than other composting methods. You can fill a wheelbarrow with the compost made by the ducks, and if you’ve planted your vegetable garden downhill from the duck yard, it doesn’t take much effort to transport there.

You Can Use Duckwater For Fertigation

Since ducks often poop in their water while bathing, you can empty it onto vegetable gardens and crops as fertigation, i.e., irrigation plus fertilizer. If you strategically position the duck yard higher than the surrounding crops, gravity can do a lot of the work for you.

You can fill watering cans with the dirty duck water and apply it directly around your crops. If you build a permanent duck bath, you can attach a pipe to the bath drainage outlet and drain or pump the dirty water into irrigation pipes or tanks for later use. 

Ducks splash out a lot of the water when they bathe, leaving a gloopy sludge at the bottom. You can scoop out this sludge and apply it directly around fruit trees or other fertilizer-hungry plants or mix it with water for fertigation.

Ducks Provide More Eggs More Regularly Than Chickens

Female ducks explicitly bred for egg-laying can produce some three hundred and sixty eggs a year. Duck lay their eggs at night, unlike chickens that lay in the day. This leaves the ducks free to forage for food all day which is more efficient.

Duck eggs are significantly bigger than chicken eggs. The yolk of a duck egg is golden orange and brighter than the yoke of a chicken egg. Many people say duck eggs taste creamier and pastry chefs agree, saying they make baked goods fluffier.

Duck Egg

Duck eggs contain more iron, folate, and Vitamin B12 than chicken eggs, and they stay fresher for longer because the shells are thicker. However, the nutritional composition in duck eggs is not that dissimilar to chicken eggs and can be put to the same uses in cooking and baking. People who are allergic to chicken eggs can usually still eat duck eggs.

Ducks lay eggs for longer than chickens during their lives. If you supplement the food your ducks forage from the garden with healthy balanced duck pellets, their eggs won’t taste much different from chicken eggs.

Although ducks need more food than chickens due to their larger size, they produce eggs in greater numbers and are better foragers, which outweighs the added costs of feeding them. Some people think that duck eggs have a stronger, less appealing flavor than chicken eggs, but this can be managed by diet.

Egg-laying ducks should be given food supplements that don’t contain marine products or cottonseed meal. The latter contains a toxin that can produce strangely colored eggs and reduce the chances of hatching. The ducks should always have food available and be given supplementary food that they can consume in fifteen minutes, twice a day.

Egg-laying ducks must also never be allowed to go thirsty because this adversely affects the size and number of eggs. They need at least thirteen or fourteen daily hours of light. Light intensity does not have to be very high, but it should be consistent. In winter, a timer can be used in the duck house to turn on the light before dawn and after sunset.

If they are not fed with supplements containing fish or allowed to forage where they can eat pungent plants, the taste of their eggs is almost indistinguishable from those of chickens. The eggs can be fried, scrambled, boiled, or deviled, just like chicken eggs. 

Ducks Are Virtually Weatherproof

Ducks are hardy birds and not fussy about their accommodation, unlike chickens. As long as they have a duck house to shelter from the elements, their feathers and down do the rest, keeping them warm and dry. They love to snuggle in straw bedding, and you can stack straw bales around the walls of the duck house for further insulation.

Chickens need an ambient temperature of forty-five degrees Fahrenheit or more, while ducks can tolerate temperatures as low as twenty degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures go lower, they can get frostbite in their feet, so they need a duck house spread with straw for insulation.

Feeding ducks high-energy foods before bed, such as peanuts or warm oatmeal, helps keep them warm in cold overnight conditions. You should also provide a head of cabbage or some kale or spinach in the winter to ensure they are getting sufficient leafy greens.

The duck house should be well ventilated at the top to allow the moisture they breathe out to escape. Heating a duck house is a bad idea as it creates a fire hazard, and the extra warmth will increase moisture levels to the point where the ducks can get frostbite.

In winter, a warm bath will also be most welcome as they need to keep their eyes and bills clean to prevent infections. However, they don’t always swim in winter. You can ensure they have daily fresh drinking water by providing them with inexpensive, heated dog water bowls.

Ducks In Winter

Ducks don’t like howling winter winds, so you should construct a windbreak in the corner of the duck yard using tarps or plywood. The duck house needs a door that can be securely locked at night and a wooden or concrete floor to stop predators from getting in. Ducks seldom use nesting boxes.

The windows of a duck house should have hinged shutters that can be opened in hot weather and locked closed at night. Raccoons can lift latches and slide bolts, so bear this in mind when installing a lock on the duck house door.

The duck house floor must be cleaned regularly to prevent mildew and mold from growing and ensure the ducks are dry at night. Never use cardboard, newspaper, or plastic as duck bedding as the smooth surfaces can lead to leg problems.

Ducks Don’t Need Perches To Sleep On

Chicken coops are more complicated than duck houses because chickens need perches to sleep on. Ducks will happily sit on chopped tree stumps to get their feet off the floor in cold weather but spreading a thick layer of straw on the floor is usually enough.

Ducks are heavy-bodied birds that can’t fly as well as chickens. Therefore, the fencing necessary to keep them in the duck yard doesn’t have to be as high. Ducks bred for egg-laying can be confined by two or three-foot-tall barriers.

Ducks Provide Meat

Ducks are easier to breed and raise on smaller properties than chickens and are a healthy source of protein compared to other types of meat. Duck meat is comparable to dark meat from chickens and turkeys, and its popularity is on the rise. It can be smoked or slow roasted to absorb the fat into the meat.

Large breed ducks are a more sustainable meat source than chickens. Ducks mature faster and yield more meat than chickens because they are larger birds. When raising them for meat, their feed should be supplemented with vitamin B3 (niacin) to ensure their skeletons form correctly.

They need food with at least twenty percent protein for the first few weeks when young. Ducks can be allowed to range free until fattening time when you confine them to shelters, but this is not strictly necessary. They can be slaughtered as young as eight weeks of age.

Best Duck Breeds For Homesteads.

Indian runner ducks are lighter than other duck breeds and less likely to damage plants by trampling them. Their lower body weight also means they require less food. Their weight ranges between three and five pounds, and they look taller than other ducks because of their upright posture and long slender necks.

Runner ducks also walk instead of waddling. There are several varieties of Indian Runner ducks, and they are all excellent egg layers. They come in different colors – Black, Chocolate, Blue, White, Fawn, and Gray. They generally make less noise than other ducks and are highly rated for efficiency and year-round production.

They hold themselves more upright than other ducks when standing and walking, similar to penguins. Only the females quack. The males make a hoarse, whispering sound. This is a good way to tell the difference when they are adults.

Other top breeds for egg-laying are Magpies, Anconas, Welsh Harlequins, and Campbells. The latter two are usually considered the best layers of all domestic poultry. The females can lay more than three hundred and sixty eggs per year.

Assorted Duck Breeds

Indian Runners, Magpies, and Anconas lay larger eggs than Campbells but only produce between two hundred and three hundred eggs a year. This is still more than many chickens.

Pekin ducks are the most popular for meat and lay around two hundred eggs a year. They should be butchered at about twelve weeks for a higher meat yield. Pekins come in jumbo and standard sizes. The standard size weighs around seven pounds, while the jumbos are a couple of pounds heavier.

Aylesbury ducks are not great egg layers, but they are prized for their meat. Males weigh around ten pounds and females around nine, and they can be butchered at eight weeks. Another popular meat duck is the Saxony.

Muscovies are not technically true ducks as they are perching waterfowl and not descended from Mallards. They weigh between ten and fifteen pounds and are valued for their meat. Muscovy meat is less fatty than that of true ducks.

The best ducks for pest control are the Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner, and Dutch Hookbill. The Magpie, Cayuga, or Ancona breeds are recommended for weed control.

Ducks Have Entertainment Value

As if all this wasn’t enough, ducklings are the cutest little feather balls. Each duck has its own personality, and if you raise ducklings yourself, they can imprint on you. Most ducks are cheerful, friendly birds with good temperaments, making them a pleasure to care for and have around.

Ducks are less likely to attack guests and small children than geese, turkeys, and roosters. They also get along better with each other than most other poultry. 

Ducks are highly social birds, so you should never have only one. For a small flock, you should get one drake and four or five hens.

Ducks like routine and can be herded into their shelter at night or trained to come when you call them. When you let them out in the mornings, you can enjoy a duck parade as they go off to their feeding area. To prevent them from decimating crops, you should use a rotational system where they only stay in a particular area for five to seven days before moving on to the next.

Conclusion

Ducks are perfect for a homestead because they can be kept in relatively small enclosures and provide more eggs and meat. They decimate slugs, snails, and insect pests and offer a rich and ready supply of manure for natural fertilizer. They are hardier than other poultry, more resistant to disease, and generally easier to keep.

Resources:

Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks, 2nd Edition: Breeds, Care, Health
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Holderread, Dave (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update on 2022-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers
  • Ussery, Harvey (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 10/07/2011 (Publication Date) - Chelsea Green Publishing (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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