Ducks

A fowl battle: ducks vs chickens

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Ducks vs chickens: which are the best poultry to get for your backyard flock? Knowing the pros and cons of both ducks and chickens BEFORE you decide which to get can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.


One day years ago, The Tyrant proclaimed that 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 birds 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: the 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… 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.”

As it turned out, Andrea had a backyard duck that produced one big, beautiful egg every day that summer.

Duck eggs? You can eat them? Do they taste good? “Yes” is the answer to all three questions.

Our belief that chickens were the only viable option for producing healthy, delicious eggs had been shattered. Thankfully, the nearby SwampRabbit Cafe & Grocery also carried healthy, local duck eggs so we were able to continue feeding our newfound duck egg addiction.

Ducks vs Chickens: Which Are Better?

Soon after our duck egg crème brûlée experience, we started reading up on ducks. After all, we had to make a decision: chickens or ducks? Which fowl species would be the better option for us at Tyrant Farms?

Beyond online resources, we also read books such as Dave Holderread’s Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks and The Ultimate Pet Duck Guide Book.

To be clear, it’s impossible to make a sweeping generalization about either chickens or ducks, 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 breeds are bred for meat production, some for egg production, and some for sociability or beauty.

We wanted prolific-laying, hardy, disease & parasite-resistant, low maintenance, long-lived birds that wouldn’t destroy our garden when foraging. After doing some research, spending time with our friends’ chickens, and (now) having raised multiple generations of heritage breed Welsh Harlequin ducks, we’ve come to realize that we’re decidedly in the “ducks are better than chickens” camp — at least for our backyard system here in rainy, humid South Carolina.

Diagram: ducks vs chickens

 

After seeing the basic differences between duck and chickens in a single chart, you might see why we decided to get ducks vs chickens:

backyard ducks vs chickens comparison chart, by Tyrant Farms

What about duck eggs vs chicken eggs?

Yes, there are significant differences between duck eggs and chicken eggs in size, flavor, nutrition, and other factors.

We’ve written about all the differences between duck and chicken eggs plus interesting duck egg facts in another article.Scared chicken

One More Reason To Get Ducks…

Have you ever seen cuddly chickens? No? Neither have we. Although a few people have told us they occasionally have a friendly, lovable chicken.

If you raise certain breeds of sociable ducks from day one, you won’t just have great egglayers, you’ll also have loving pets too! (Here’s how to get your ducks to like you.)

Here are some adorable duck photos that are 100% guaranteed to make you smile and yearn for your own backyard (or farmyard) ducks:

Two day old ducklings at Tyrant Farms.

Two day old ducklings at Tyrant Farms.

Duckling's first outdoor adventure at Tyrant Farms.

Duckling’s first outdoor adventure at Tyrant Farms.

Ducklings sleeping on their makeshift nest (a thyme plant).

Ducklings sleeping on their makeshift nest (a thyme plant).

Month old ducklings getting ready for movie night on the sofa at Tyrant Farms.

Month-old ducklings getting ready for movie night on the sofa at Tyrant Farms.

Six week old duckling enjoying a nap and belly rub.

Six week old duckling enjoying a nap and belly rub on The Tyrant’s lap.

Ducks vs chickens: what do you think?

If you’ve tried both chicken and duck eggs, which do you like better? If you’ve raised both types of birds, which do you prefer? We’d love to hear what you think about ducks vs chickens!

Please make sure your comments are fowl-mouthed. 😉

KIGI,



white-duck-featured-image

Be sure to check out our other posts about raising ducks!

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Brent Arrowitz
    July 24, 2020 at 10:22 am

    I got ducks for the first time this year and I have to say I enjoy them far more than chickens. I have one friendly chicken but all my ducks are sociable and some even affectionate. I have decided from now on to focus on raising ducks and I plan on starting a small farm in the next year in Vermont. I had no clue how intelligent and social they are, it’s really been an eye opener for me and I love watching them grow and I truly look forward to raising more.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 24, 2020 at 6:01 pm

      Thank for the info, Brent! Do you mind sharing what duck breeds you have? Best of luck on your new farm in Vermont – gorgeous area of the country up there. The Tyrant and I accidentally wrecked a boat on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain last summer, but that was our fault, not Vermont’s.

      • Reply
        Brent Arrowitz
        July 25, 2020 at 5:09 am

        Thank you! I have 3 pekins, a rouen and a cayuga duck. One of the pekins and the cayuga seem to be the most affectionate. Daffy, Donald, Daisy, Darkwing and Ping are their names. Vermont is gonna be a big experiment but I’m up for the challenge. Gonna do the whole farm and homestead thing (except my ducks will be strictly egg layers, fertilizer providers and most importantly, pets.)

  • Reply
    Alex Biswas
    August 29, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    I have been interested in getting chickens for egg laying purposes, but after reading your blog I want ducks now! I had always kind of wanted a duck just to have around as a pet because I love them. Is it possible to both have a duck pet that has imprinted on you that will also lay eggs? Or is it best to get them after they’re hatched so they aren’t as attached to you?

    • Reply
      susan von frank
      August 30, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Alex! Yes, it’s possible to have a pet that also makes you breakfast (or as you termed it, “a duck pet that has imprinted on you that will also lay eggs”)! A couple recommendations:

      1. Don’t ever just get one single duck. They’re highly social animals and they need another animal around in order to be comfortable and happy. Ideally, that other animal(s) is a duck, but we’ve had friends who had a duck and a chicken and both animals bonded to each other despite being different species. There are even people we’ve seen online who have a duck and a dog that grew up together, so it seems like anything that can provide 24-7 social/emotional support will do.

      2. In our opinion, you want your ducks to like you and not be too terrified of you regardless of whether you get them for egg-laying purposes or not. The reason for that is, like any animal or pet that you keep, your ducks may occasionally get sick or injured. If/when that happens, you need to be able to inspect them and care for them without giving them a heart attack. Here’s an article we wrote with 3 tips to get your ducks to like you: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/how-to-get-your-ducks-to-like-you-three-tips/

      Hope this info is helpful! Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Reply
    Aimee
    December 20, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Not sure how you consider ducks to be “birds that wouldn’t destroy our garden when foraging”. Ducks are just as bad as chickens from our experience – ours jumped into our 2′ tall raised beds and tried to eat all of our peas and cucumber plants, tops off the onions, carrots and garlic, and even the leaves from red bell peppers. On the ground during free ranging they also demolish marigolds, calendula, sage, fuschia, hydrangea and even nibbled at the base of the ferns so much so that they never grew back this year. Yes, we get almost an egg a day from each and they are really funny with very distinct personalities and we don’t regret having them,, but they are definitely not any easier on the plants, and next year we are definitely not letting them free range in the veggie garden!!!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      December 20, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Woah! That sounds pretty intense! What breed do you have? We do no-till organic gardening with mulch over our soils, so by “not destroy” we meant they don’t completely dig out the beds. If left in a veggie patch unattended, they can definitely wreak havoc on the plants – especially salad greens. However, we let them ours into certain garden beds every night (especially ones with taller perennial plants) and the mostly judge forage for insects, slugs, worms, etc and add fertilizer in the process. Sorry yours are little garden monsters!

  • Reply
    Tina Hua
    January 22, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Do you put heater or heat lamp in the duck pen in the winter? If yes, what kind of heater and at what temperature?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 15, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      No, we don’t. We live in a relatively mild area (Ag Zone 7B in upstate South Carolina). Ducks are very well adapted to cold weather so our coldest spells aren’t enough to be much of a bother to ducks. As long as they have dry bedding in their coop at night, they’re good to go. We will put down a heat mat or cable to keep their water from freezing at night though.

      • Reply
        Tina Hua
        February 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Thank you for your reply. I have a lot of questions that I would love to know about raising ducks, to make the life of my ducks better. I have a white layer and a Rouen, 10 months old. During the rainy days here in California, I’d like to keep their pen clean and hope I can get some tips. Are you still housing the ducks in the coup showing in the picture?

        * How do you keep the floor clean? What materials you use for the bedding, what kind of floor is it? How often do you change the bedding ?

        * Do you leave food inside the coup for them? I leave some food inside because I don’t want to let them go outside when it rains. They tend to get totally soaked in the rain and I’m afraid they can get sick because of that. I only let them out when the rain is over, but sometimes it might rains for a couple straight days. What type of feeder you use? How often do you refill it?

        * What kind of heat pad you use for the water?

        * What type of container you use for water? Is there any tips in disposing leftover water? I dump it on the ground but it creates a mess in the raining season.

        * If possible, can you post some pictures of the coup interior, the floor, wall, bedding and feeding areas?
        Thank you so much Aaron!

        • Aaron von Frank
          February 27, 2017 at 10:57 am

          Tina, responses to your questions:

          Q. During the rainy days here in California, I’d like to keep their pen clean and hope I can get some tips. Are you still housing the ducks in the coup showing in the picture? How do you keep the floor clean? What materials you use for the bedding, what kind of floor is it? How often do you change the bedding ?

          A: Our ducks are in a fenced back yard and only go into their coops at night for protection from predators (possums, raccoons, etc). The coop rests on the ground on top of a hardware cloth strip – this prevent any predators from digging from underneath to get to them. We use pine shavings to keep their house dry and clean. Just a quick top up of the shavings each night before they go in. Once the shavings have built up to about 12″ deep, we remove and compost the shavings, and start over. (A complete bedding changeout happens about once every two months, I think.)

          Q. Do you leave food inside the coup for them? I leave some food inside because I don’t want to let them go outside when it rains. They tend to get totally soaked in the rain and I’m afraid they can get sick because of that. I only let them out when the rain is over, but sometimes it might rains for a couple straight days. What type of feeder you use? How often do you refill it?

          A: Yes, we have food and water inside for them. Nothing fancy: just ceramic bowls propped up off the floor a bit on a rock or piece of log to keep them from pooping in them or tipping them over. We top up their bowls each night before we “tuck them in.”

          As far as rain goes, ducks love rain and cool weather. If your ducks get totally soaked after a short rain, that might be an indication that their feather health isn’t as good as it should be. “Like water off of a duck’s back” is quite accurate – their feathers should be well-oiled and highly water-resistant. Good diet, adequate sunlight, and good water to clean/preen themselves in is the ideal recipe for healthy ducks and duck feathers. They will get wet after a long rain or a long swim (along their underbellies) but they’re dry again a few minutes after preening.

          Q. What kind of heat pad you use for the water? What type of container you use for water? Is there any tips in disposing leftover water? I dump it on the ground but it creates a mess in the raining season.

          A: It seldom gets cold enough here for us to have to resort to heating the water in their coop. When it does, we just use the seedling heat mats we have from seed starting. I believe there are heated bowls you can buy now where the heating elements are built into the dish, if that’s a problem for you. We use fallen leaves and triple ground wood chips in the areas where our ducks spend their day to prevent it from becoming a mud pit (and possibly a good site for parasites and anaerobic/pathogenic bacteria). We also have a lot of fruit and berry plants back there so we just dump the duck’s water on the mulch around the base of those trees.

        • Aimee
          December 20, 2017 at 3:26 am

          Ducks love the rain – they are water fowl, let them go out and have fun! They can stand temps down to 15 deg F. Get a heated bucket – we got one on Amazon for $40 and it works like a charm – and dump the old water in your garden – great fertilizer! Strongly recommend the book “Duck Eggs Daily” and the author’s blog as well, lots of common sense tips.

        • Tina Hua
          December 22, 2017 at 6:04 pm

          Thanks for the suggestion. I checked out Amazon, there were so many heated buckets. Can you post a link to the one you’ve got? TY

        • Aaron von Frank
          December 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

          Sorry we missed your questions, Tina! Responses below:

          1. “During the rainy days here in California, I’d like to keep their pen clean and hope I can get some tips. Are you still housing the ducks in the coup showing in the picture?” Yes, we’re still using the same coup we built four years ago. We haven’t really moved it at all, so it’s sunken into the ground and is starting to get some wood rot. Our next coup will probably be constructed from a lightweight aluminum.

          2. “How do you keep the floor clean? What materials you use for the bedding, what kind of floor is it? How often do you change the bedding?” We put a think layer of pine shavings down each night before we put them up. We do this for about 6-8 weeks until it’s really built up, then we shovel out all the bedding and use it as a base for our compost.

          3. “Do you leave food inside the coup for them? I leave some food inside because I don’t want to let them go outside when it rains. They tend to get totally soaked in the rain and I’m afraid they can get sick because of that. I only let them out when the rain is over, but sometimes it might rains for a couple straight days. What type of feeder you use? How often do you refill it?” Yes, we put food and water (with fresh greens) in with them at night. We use metal no-tip bowls. Unlike chickens, ducks LOVE rain, so let your girls out to enjoy it! The wetter and colder the better, assuming they have good feather health and are generally healthy.

          4. “What kind of heat pad you use for the water?” In our area, it’s very seldom to get deep freezes that cause their water to freeze at night. When that happens, we use soil cables and/or heating mats that we have for seed starting.

          5. “What type of container you use for water? Is there any tips in disposing leftover water? I dump it on the ground but it creates a mess in the raining season.” We use no-tip metal bowls. We dump the water into our no-till garden beds that have heavy mulch on them, so it doesn’t ever create a mud pit.

  • Reply
    Aaron von Frank
    January 18, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Neat! Sounds like you’ve got some interesting chickens there. I’ve never heard of chickens fetching. That seems like a very intelligent chicken.

  • Reply
    Aaron von Frank
    January 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Did you guys end up getting ducks, Courtney?

  • Reply
    Aaron von Frank
    January 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Our comment system was broken for a while so our responses looked like they were posting but weren’t. Anyway, two years later, thanks for sharing! How is your duck flock doing? And your now-twelve year old? 🙂

  • Reply
    Sophia
    May 11, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I’d have to disagree with chickens not being cuddly. I love ducks too, but I love my 8 chickens more than even my cats. I raised my chickens from 4 weeks old, not day one, and the majority of them are all socialable and even cuddly. Daisy, a blue andalusian, loves to sit on my feet or hands when I go into the run. She will trample the others to get to me and then will follow me around while I do my chores. She jumps on my lamp when I sit down as well. Dixie, another andalusian, flies up to my shoulders to chill there like a parrot. Tater, an easter egger, climbs into my lap every afternoon for a nap while I stroke her. April, a salmon faverolle, loves her chest rubbed and will come up to my and nudge my hand like a dog until I do it. All of my chickens are very personable and I love them tons, even though they are just chickens. They will all eat out of my hand and my white marans, Elsa and Betty Lou will on occasion play fetch with their treat ball. After I throw the ball, Elsa will push it back to me with her beak and Betty will walk behind her, eating the treats as they come out. Not bashing ducks by any means, because I love my two ducks as well, but they aren’t near as cuddly as my chickens and they were raised from day one with hours of handling daily (one is a welsh harlequin, another is a giant pekin, and the other is a buff).

  • Reply
    Courtney
    August 26, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for this article! We recently bought some land and are building a house. My husband plans on getting some chickens and ducks, and the comparison chart was really useful.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    August 23, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I. JUST. LOVE. THE. DUCKS! We have layers (chickens) regularly, last year we got pekins for meat, this year, we are letting them live to see how we like the eggs. Ducks have so much personality, I just love them! My 10 yr old is always outside with them, loving them, and they snuggle up with her, nibbling on her neck and ear…it’s so darn cute! They have a special noise that sounds like a whistle when they call her and they start calling her around 7 am which is when she is typically up! How can you not love that?? Sadly, it’s time for the freezer for one of them (the odd female)….daughter can’t wait to make something with the down. Yeah, we’ll see how it goes….will definitely get more than 3 next year. Maybe get rid of the chickens.

  • Reply
    Patricia Chandler Walker
    October 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks! If I ever get in a postion to get some I’ll take you along to do the sexing LOL

  • Reply
    Patricia Chandler Walker
    October 1, 2013 at 12:53 am

    one more question or two. How much do the Harlequins cost? On the chart iit had food cost, is that after foraging?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Sorry, Patricia. Comment system was broken for a long time and we didn’t realize it. Cost – it depends on where you get them and the quantity. Most breeders will give you a quantity discount, but if you just want a few birds, or you want them to be a sexed run (all females), it will cost a bit more. We got most of ours from Metzer Farms. It’s about $5-$6/duckling, but they’ll charge a “small order fee” of $40 if you just order a few birds.

  • Reply
    Patricia Chandler Walker
    October 1, 2013 at 12:49 am

    What is the threat by hawks once they get grown?

    • Reply
      Susan
      October 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

      There is a breeder in TR that sells Welsh Harlequins and other ducks for less than $10 each when they’re young. That’s where we got our first four. The problem with that approach was that we didn’t know how to sex the ducks (and neither did he) so we ended up with 3 males / 1 female. We know how to sex them now, so we’d be pretty confident picking them out in the future. Our second set (3 females) was ordered from a well-known breeder, Metzer Farms, on the west coast. As soon as they hatch, Metzer sexes them and puts them in the mail. Ours arrived a day later at 6am at the post office and they called us immediately to pick them up from the loading dock. Obviously, the second batch was a bit more expensive. Including shipping, the total price per bird was probably about $25 including the extra food we had included in their shipping box. If you buy more than 10 birds, they give you special pricing.

    • Reply
      Susan
      October 1, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Sorry, our replies are a bit out of order here. 🙂
      Q: What is the threat by hawks once they get grown?
      A: We’ve heard that hawks will still come after them when they’re older, but we haven’t had that problem. We have a lot of hawks around and our older birds are out foraging in the yard all day long.

      Q: On the chart it had food cost, is that after foraging?
      A: That stat comes from the Holderread book. We haven’t precisely measured our ducks food consumption by weight per bird. Our guess is that this stat refers to total food consumption, not just their feed. Ours probably get a lot higher percentage of their diet from “foraged” food since we also give them tons of fruit and veggie scraps each day. Basically, you can probably skew those feed to forage ratios depending on what you have in your yard/garden and/or what food scraps you’re willing to cut up and feed them (they can’t eat big pieces of stuff).

  • Reply
    Patricia Chandler Walker
    September 30, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Okay I am convinced. I want some. I love ducks anyway and don’t like chickens (my dislike has grown since I have someone who lives behind my house who raises roosters who are chained in their pens and who crow all day, multiply that sound by 30-50). But I need to taste some duck eggs. When I was growing up my Grandfather had a bird game farm in La. My grandmother would use duck and quail eggs frequently, but that’s been a long time ago. I hope I can get by the Swamp Rabbit and check it out as well as get some duck eggs.

    • Reply
      Susan
      September 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Ha! We remember you telling us about your chicken fiasco when you were over. Sorry to hear that it hasn’t improved. Neighbors should have more common sense than to have crowing roosters in a residential neighborhood. 🙁 Our male harlequins can’t even quack – they just make a raspy noise that sounds like a frog croaking. The females are the ones who can make some noise when they get excited, but it’s just an occasional honk. How interesting about your background with your grandparents! Since you don’t remember the taste of duck eggs, definitely stop by the Swamp Rabbit to give them a try to make sure you like them. We’d offer you some, but our oldest female is still 1-4 weeks from laying and the 3 other females are about 2 months away. We can’t wait until we get fresh eggs. We’re curious to see the taste considering how good their diet is here. They get quite pampered with all kinds of fresh organic produce and insects. 🙂

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