Ducks vs chickens: which is the best option for backyard poultry? What are the pros and cons of each? Can you raise ducks and chickens together? Our 12-point comparison will help you answer all your poultry questions so you can make the best choice for you!
Why we started producing our own eggs — and why you might also want to…
Many years ago (around 2009), The Tyrant proclaimed it was time for us to get some egg layers.
We love eggs and eat quite a few of them each week. However, since we’re pretty careful about what we eat, we don’t eat standard factory-farmed eggs.
Not surprisingly, truly free-ranging, foraging poultry living in sunlight produce eggs that have more Vitamin D and have much better levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. In our opinion, truly free-range eggs also taste better than standard factory-farmed eggs.
Sure, we care deeply about animal welfare issues as well, but you can be totally self-centered and still see how it makes sense to only eat eggs from healthy, outdoor-living animals.
Petunia the duck and her “secret” ingredient
Notice that we haven’t said “chicken eggs” yet? Well, there’s a reason for that…
Typically, when someone hears the word “egg” they immediately get a mental image of a chicken. We used to think egg = chicken too, at least until we went to our friend Andrea’s house and ate the best crème brûlée we’ve ever had in our lives.
“What’s the secret ingredient,” asked The Tyrant. “Petunia,” said Andrea. “Petunia, the duck. Her eggs, that is. The duck is still outside.”
As it turned out, Andrea had a backyard duck that produced one big, beautiful egg almost every day. She also had one female chicken, and the two animals were best friends.
Duck eggs? You can eat them? Do they taste good? “Yes” is the answer to all three questions, as we immediately discovered.
Our default belief that chickens were the only viable option for producing healthy, delicious backyard eggs was shattered, and we began doing a deep dive researching the various egg-laying poultry species, how they were different, and which type of backyard poultry would be best for us.
We’ve now been proud duck parents for over a decade, learning a ton in the process. That doesn’t mean that chickens, geese, guineas, or other fowl don’t have a place in your backyard or homestead. It simply means that ducks are the best match for us.
Below, we’ll share everything you need to know to determine whether ducks or chickens (or both) are right for you!
For clarity: species’ distinctions and definitions:
All chickens are the same species, Gallus gallus domesticus. They’re junglefowl who originated in the hot, tropical climates of Southeast Asia. (Fun fact: due to their popularity with humans, chickens are now by far the most populous bird species on earth, with a population approaching 25 billion!)
Domesticated ducks are not as easy to categorize because there are two distinct, popular species:
1. Mallard-derived ducks, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus. Mallards are native to subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world but were first domesticated in Southeast Asia.
2. Muscovy ducks, Cairina moschata domestica. Native to warm/tropical regions of the Americas. Muscovies are useful warm-climate ducks, but they’re actually considered an invasive species in the US.
From here on, when we say “ducks,” we’re specifically referring to mallard-derived domesticated breeds, NOT Muscovies or wild mallards.
Sweeping generalizations are impossible given breed variability
The next thing you should know when comparing chickens and ducks is that it’s difficult or impossible to make a sweeping generalization on some comparisons, just as it is impossible to say “cars are better than trucks.” It depends on your needs and it also depends on the specific breed of duck or chicken you’re referencing. Some are bred for meat production, egg production, sociability, beauty, etc.
However, after you read this article, you’ll have a good idea of the general pros and cons of ducks and chickens, and you can then take a deeper dive into specific breeds that might be best suited to your needs.
Chicken and duck breed comparisons for future reference:
- Chicken breed comparison chart via Michigan State University
- Our duck breed comparison with a breed “calculator” to help you numerically determine the best duck breed(s) for you
Ducks vs chickens: 12-point comparison of backyard poultry
Below is a comparison of ducks vs chickens across 12 different factors that are likely to be most important for backyard poultry enthusiasts, homesteaders, and small farmers:
1. Egg production – ducks vs chickens
Key takeaway: Ducks lay more and larger eggs than chickens, plus their eggs are richer-flavored and more nutritious than chicken eggs.
Since duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, it’s important to consider total egg yield based on weight rather than just total number of eggs. There is quite a bit of variability by breed, but you can expect 32-52 pounds of eggs per year from ducks versus 22-34 pounds of eggs per year from chickens.
Which breeds are the most productive egg layers?
- Ducks – Golden 300 Hybrid Layer and White Layer, which can lay 290-300 eggs/year.
- Chickens – Australorp and Golden Comets, which can lay 300 eggs/year.
Keep in mind that higher yearly egg production can also cause health problems in either ducks or chickens. That’s because it takes a lot of energy and nutrients to produce so many eggs, thus taxing their bodies and reproductive systems. Your feed and management approaches can reduce or increase yearly egg production.
Since our ducks are both pets AND production animals, we opt for fewer eggs and healthier, longer-lived birds. We take sick or injured ducks to our vet (for issues beyond our expertise), rather than culling them, so keeping them in good health is a financial investment for us as well.
Our management approach may not be right for you though, and that’s ok.
2. Months to production, productive life, and lifespan
Key takeaway: Ducks and chickens start laying eggs at about the same age, but ducks maintain peak egg production for more years and live longer than chickens.
a. Months to production: how long until chickens or eggs lay their first eggs?
In general, chickens and ducks will start laying eggs at around the same age, with variability by species. Ranges: 16-24 weeks for first eggs in ducks versus 18-24 weeks for first eggs in chickens.
The season you get your poultry can also influence time to first egg production. For instance, if you get ducklings in the spring, you can expect to get your first eggs in late summer (usually around Week 20). However, if you get ducklings in the summer, you likely won’t get eggs until the following late winter-early spring, since low sunlight hours will cause hormonal shifts which impede egg production.
b. Productive life: how long can ducks and chickens lay eggs?
In general, ducks have a longer productive life than chickens. Ducks can maintain peak egg production for 2-3 years, whereas chickens will maintain peak production for 1-2 years.
c. Lifespan: how long can ducks and chickens live?
Ducks typically live longer than chickens. Well cared for domestic ducks can live well into their teens and even as long as 20 years old. A chicken’s average lifespan is somewhere between 5-7 years, with a maximum of around 10 years.
On average, males in both species live longer than females since their bodies are not taxed by egg production.
Our heritage breed Welsh harlequin ducks currently range from 7-10 years old. Our females still have fairly high egg production during the warm long daylight months, although we do not push them for maximum egg production.
3. Meat production
Key takeaway: There is a high degree of breed variability, but ducks and chickens bred for meat production generally finish at around the same weight within the same time frame. Duck meat is generally more gamey than chicken meat, and can even approximate red meat.
Meat ducks versus chickens
From hatching to butchering weight:
- meat ducks can finish in 6-9 weeks (ranging from 6-10 pounds), and
- meat chickens can take 8-20 weeks to finish (ranging from 10-12 pounds).
What are the best breeds of ducks and chickens for meat?
- Ducks – Pekins (and Pekin hybrids), Aylesbury, Rouen, Silver Appleyard. Mentioned earlier, but Muscovies and hybrid Mallard-Muscovy mules known as Moulards are also excellent meat ducks, albeit of a different species.
- Chickens – Cornish Cross, Jersey Giant, Red Broiler
4. Healthcare & illness susceptibility
Key takeaway: Ducks are generally less prone to diseases and illnesses (especially in wet climates) than chickens, but it’s harder to find veterinary care for ducks than it is for chickens.
Here again, these are general distinctions that may not apply to all breeds and all circumstances. For instance:
- Larger duck and chicken breeds are more prone to leg and joint injuries than smaller breeds.
- Breeds bred for maximum egg production are more likely to have reproductive injuries and illnesses (like egg binding) than breeds that produce fewer eggs per year.
If your aim is production-focused and you cull sick or injured birds, these issues may not matter to you. However, many backyard poultry owners like us also view their poultry as pets, and will provide or seek medical intervention for them when necessary.
If and when veterinary care is needed, it’s usually easier to find vets (including farm vets) credentialed and experienced in caring for chickens than for ducks. In the veterinary world, both species are considered “exotics” which means their care is also fairly expensive relative to cats and dogs.
- Duck health guide: first aid kit, common ailments, and more
- How to treat bumblefoot in ducks – safely, effectively, and humanely
- How to treat egg binding and make a duck go broody
- How to orally medicate a duck with pills or syringes (with video)
5. Climate adaptability
Key takeaway: Ducks can thrive in a wider range of climates than chickens — and they’re especially hardy in wetter, cooler climates.
If it’s wet and cold outside, your ducks will be in heaven, but your chickens will likely be taking shelter. If it’s warm and sunny, both ducks and chickens will be happy.
Wild mallards are migratory waterfowl suited to a wide range of environmental conditions, and domestic ducks have inherited this adaptability. There are chickens bred for more extreme environments, so no matter what type of fowl you get, consider breed characteristics when selecting for unusual/extreme environments. Likewise, duck breeds like Runners will do better in dryer and warmer climates than other ducks.
6. Housing & living areas
Key takeaway: Ducks and chickens both need safe coops and other infrastructure to protect them from predators. Chickens may need to have their wing feathers clipped to keep them contained whereas all domestic ducks are flightless.
Both ducks and chickens need to be put into a safe, predator-proof coop at night regardless of whether they’re in an urban or rural environment.
The differences between coop needs for ducks vs chickens:
- Ducks sleep on the ground whereas chickens roost on above-ground perches.
- Small flocks of ducks often form a single communal nest in a sheltered area of their coop whereas chickens generally like individual laying boxes close to their roosts.
There’s not much difference between ducks and chickens when it comes to coop space needs. While there is some variance based on breed size, duck coops should provide 2-6 square feet of space per duck whereas chicken coops should provide 3-5 square feet per chicken.
Both ducks and chickens can be trained to go into their coops before dark with a sound/call associated with their favorite treats. Ducks also group-herd very well with sticks, whereas chickens do not. Herding sticks are how we get our ducks into their coops at night!
To completely eliminate predation, many backyard poultry owners keep their birds in protected runs during the day. This is where they’ll spend their entire lives, so if you go this route, the more space and entertainment you can provide the better.
When it comes to space requirements for runs, chickens have the advantage because they can do better with less square footage. There’s no hard-and-fast rule on run square footage, but we recommend 125 sq ft for two ducks for a high quality of life. Even then, we also recommend letting your ducks out of their run with adult human supervision for additional exploration and foraging.
c. Fencing and flight
If not kept in a run or mobile tractor, both ducks and chickens need to be confined to a fenced area. Fencing helps provide some protection from ground predators but less so for aerial predators. Fencing also keeps your poultry from running away or getting lost.
Our ducks spend their days in a backyard filled with edible perennial plants that is surrounded by a 6’ tall fence. This setup makes it very difficult for aerial predators to swoop in. And most mammalian predators are nocturnal. Thus, knock on wood, we’ve never lost a duck to a predator after more than a decade.
Domestic ducks are not good flyers so there’s no chance of them flying off or over a fence. Depending on the breed, chickens can be good flyers and may need to have their wings regularly clipped to keep them flightless and contained within a fenced area.
- How to build a long-lasting predator-proof duck coop and run
- How to herd ducks, aka get your ducks in a row
- What’s the best bedding/litter for your duck coop or run?
7. Water needs
Key takeaway: Ducks have greater water needs than chickens in order to maintain ideal health and happiness.
Minimum water requirements for ducks and chickens
At a minimum, ducks need to be able to dip their heads underwater to clean out their nares/nostrils. If not, they’ll become clogged and infected. This means you’ll at least need to have a deep water bowl(s) if you get ducks.
Chickens can do just fine with only a water nipple dripper.
Do ducks need a pool?
Chickens don’t need a pool. They take dust baths in sand/soil.
However, ducks clean themselves in water, which helps them maintain ideal feather health and remove mites. We can attest that ducks also derive a great deal of joy and happiness by playing and splashing in water. We could insert a “duck out of water” joke here, but that’s too obvious!
Thus, while ducks don’t have to have a swimming pool, they’ll be much healthier and happier if they do.
Most new duck owners opt for a small baby pool, but things tend to get messy quick. This issue helps explain why ducks get a reputation as being foul fowl, but it doesn’t have to be that way…
8. Feed needs & costs
Key takeaway: Chickens eat less than ducks. It’s also harder to find pre-blended, species-appropriate feed for ducklings and mature ducks than it is for chickens. Duck feed is generally more expensive and more difficult to find organically than chicken feed.
Ducks need more niacin than chickens
One of the biggest differences between species is that ducks need much higher levels of niacin than chickens. Niacin is not something found in chicken feed at levels that ducklings and ducks require.
How much does a duck eat?
A domestic duck eats about 5-7 ounces of feed per day (about 3 pounds per week) depending on their breed size and whether they’re laying eggs. When laying, they’ll eat more to compensate for egg production.
A popular duck/waterfowl feed we use based on our avian vet’s recommendation is Mazuri Waterfowl, which can now be purchased via online vendors like Chewy. Mazuri comes in breeder, maintainer, and starter formulations.
Mazuri costs about $50 per 50 lb bag or about $1 per pound, meaning it costs us about $3 per week to feed each duck during laying season. Our ducks also forage and we give them lots of garden greens, so this is probably a high cost estimate.
How much does a chicken eat?
A laying chicken eats about 4 ounces of feed per day; a little less for roosters and non-laying hens. Given the popularity/demand for chickens, it’s fairly easy to find chicken feed for less than $1/pound, e.g. it usually costs less to feed chickens than ducks with a comparable quality of feed.
However, as detailed previously, duck eggs are larger, more nutritious, and (in our opinion) better flavored than chicken eggs. Thus, you should also make a qualitative comparison here, not just a quantitative comparison.
- Complete guide: How to raise ducklings (and what to feed them)
- What to feed ducks to maximize their health and longevity
9. Foraging ability / pest control
Key takeaway: Both ducks and chickens are excellent foragers and pest control animals, but chickens can do more damage to a landscape than ducks since they scratch and dig while foraging.
Foraging differences and commonalities between ducks and chickens:
- Ducks use their bills (not their flippers) to forage and find prey, whereas chickens scratch and dig with their feet when foraging.
- Both ducks and chickens can cause considerable damage to lawns, gardens, and landscapes left unchecked, but chickens can cause more damage due to their foraging practices.
- In spacious, rich foraging grounds, ducks and chickens can get a high percentage of their nutritional needs met exclusively through foraging, but free-ranging makes them more susceptible to diurnal (daytime) predators.
What do ducks forage?
When foraging in our yard/gardens, our ducks eat insects, mollusks (snails and slugs are a favorite), arachnids, worms (another favorite), lizards, small snakes, small frogs and toads (which we try to hinder), and pretty much anything that moves and can fit into their bills. They also love foraging greens and have developed an informed intuition about what greens are edible versus not in our landscape.
- Top 11 garden plants for ducks and chickens
- 5 tips to keep your ducks from destroying your lawn or garden
10. Susceptibility to predators
Key takeaway: Ducks and chickens are both highly susceptible to predation in both rural and urban environments. Predator pressure in urban environments is usually worse than in rural environments due to higher population densities of certain predators like raccoons.
Is bigger better when it comes to reducing poultry predation?
Larger breeds of ducks such as Pekins are less susceptible to some aerial predators than smaller duck breeds (or chickens). By “some” we mean smaller birds of prey like hawks, not larger aerial predators like eagles.
In short, larger size does not buy your poultry predator-proofing abilities. For instance, we’ve had multiple friends whose geese were killed by predators, including one by a raccoon. This is where coops, runs, and other predator-proofing practices come in to play…
11. Sociability as pets
Key takeaway: With regular handling and treats starting at a young age, both ducks and chickens can become quite comfortable with humans — even to the point of being considered pets.
Poultry: pets that make you breakfast
If you want a pet that produces your breakfast, both chickens and ducks have great potential. Here again, there is wide variability by breed. There is also wide variability by individual personality when it comes to poultry pet potential.
For instance, Saxony, Silver Appleyard, Welsh Harlequin, and Black Swedish round out the list of the most calm and social duck breeds, whereas White Crested and Khaki Campbell rank at the bottom. However, you still might have individual Khakis who are much calmer and more sociable than one of your Saxonies. Likewise, some of our Welsh Harlequins are more amenable to handling even though they’re all the same breed.
Of course, how you raise your poultry and how dedicated you are to continuously reinforcing pro-social behaviors with their humans makes a huge difference if you want to cultivate pet poultry!
- How to get your ducks to like you: 3 tips
- 9 tips & tricks for keeping indoor pet ducks
- Is it safe to raise human babies and kids around ducks?
- How to diaper a duck w/ instructional video
Key takeaway: Female ducks are much louder than female chickens, but male chickens are much louder than male ducks.
Backyard duck noise
Throughout the day our female ducks are mostly quiet, albeit chatty with each other. When they’re in normal mode, our next door neighbors can’t hear a thing.
However, when our ducks want to get our attention, our neighbors three doors down will know about it. That’s because ducks are basically feathered bagpipes.
When are our ducks loudest? When we’re not on schedule, ergo when we’re late letting them out of the coops in the morning or we’re late letting them out of their backyard for their nightly foraging adventures. They’re also loud when there’s a snake around or when something startles them.
Not so for any drake (male duck) we’ve ever had. Even when Sir Winston Duckbill (our sole drake) is most animated, he can only summon the sounds of a raspy frog, not something that would raise the ire of a neighbor.
Backyard chicken noise
Chickens are the opposite of ducks when it comes to noise… Everyone is familiar with how loud a rooster’s morning crow can be. And that sound won’t make you popular with urban neighbors despite the fact that they’re tolerant of leaf blowers, mowers, dog barks, etc.
On the other hand, female chickens are comparatively quiet. They regularly chat and cluck with each other throughout the day, but generally don’t make vocalizations that will irritate neighbors — even when they’re loudest during morning egg laying.
Ducks vs chickens: which is best… for you?
If you’ve read our 12-point comparison between ducks and chickens above, hopefully you now realize that there is no universal answer to the question: which is best? The better question is: which poultry species is best for YOU?
And if you’re wondering whether you can raise ducks and chickens together (or even other species like guineas and geese) the answer is: yes! However, raising multiple poultry species together that have different nutritional needs, sleeping arrangements, etc requires more thought, planning, and effort.
To take a deeper dive into that topic, check out Raising mixed species poultry together: tips & advice.
We hope this ducks vs chickens comparison has been helpful for you! Now you have a clearer picture of the pros and cons of both species and which one(s) is right for you! And for a quick visual summary, check out the Google Web Story video version of ducks vs chickens!
Think you’re ready to get ducks? Additional recommended reading:
- 10 things you should know before you get ducks
- Dave Holderread’s Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks
- Kimberly Link’s The Ultimate Pet Duck Guide Book
Diagram: ducks vs chickens
P.S. Here’s a popular ducks vs chickens diagram we created from the original version of this article: