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. 😉



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

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  • 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
    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
    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
    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
      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
      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
      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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