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Have you ever wanted to try raising ducks? They are a fun little addition to the homestead, and can be dual purpose (producing eggs and meat) if you get the right breeds. We have had ducks for quite some time, and we love watching them waddle around the farm.
We’ve raised all kinds of birds here, but have found that ducks are by far the most efficient. Do you want to try raising ducks of your own? Let’s get to it!
Why would you want ducks?
Why, duck eggs, of course! Ducks lay an amazing amount of eggs! If you’ve never tried a duck egg, you definitely should. They are richer and more creamy than chicken eggs, and a lot bigger. Lots of bakers swear by using duck eggs, since they make cakes and pastries fluffier.
Duck eggs typically have higher nutrition values than chicken eggs. They have more Omega-3’s than chicken eggs, more iron and vitamins such as folate and B12, and they have more protein and good fats. The Free Range Life has a great article discussing the differences between chicken eggs and duck eggs.
Some ducks start laying eggs earlier in their lives than chickens. They mature more rapidly, and can start laying eggs as early as 17 weeks, depending on the breed. Chickens usually don’t lay until they are about 6 months old.
Ducks lay eggs year-round. They don’t take the winters “off” like chickens typically do. When we had no chicken eggs, we still had plenty of duck eggs! Duck eggs also stay fresh longer than chicken eggs, due to their thicker shell.
Ducks are very fast growing, and don’t need heat and light nearly as long as chicks do. We have put our ducklings outside as early as 2 weeks, if the weather is nice enough. Which is nice, because ducks make a horrible mess of the brooders! They constantly play in their water, so everything gets wet and soggy. The 2 weeks in the brooder is my least favorite time for raising ducks.
Ducks reach sexual maturity in as little as 17 weeks, and you can tell pretty early on if you have drakes or hens. Drakes (males) have brighter or darker beaks and feet, hens (females) have lighter, paler colored beaks and feet. I have been able to tell the sex of ducks as early as 2 weeks old. When ducks get just a little older, the drakes will have a curl at the tip of their tail, hens won’t.
If you are raising meat ducks, like Pekins or Muscovys, they are typically butcher-ready by 8 weeks. This makes them similar to Cornish Cross meat chickens in terms of growout time.
If you haven’t eaten duck, I would strongly suggest it! Duck meat is delicious. Roast duck tastes very similar to roast beef. And when you add a sauce, like orange or plum sauce, it’s out of this world!
The feed-to-meat conversion of ducks is outstanding. I have raised Cornish Cross meat chickens, and I have raised Pekin ducks for meat. The Cornish Cross were nasty, stinky, dirty birds. All they ever did was eat. The feed costs for the 50 I raised were extremely high. If you’d like to read more about our challenges with raising Cornish Cross, you can go here, here, and here.
For the Pekins, my feed costs are very minimal. Of course, I free-range all my ducks. I couldn’t do that with the Cornish Cross, and they aren’t good foragers so it probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway. The ducks free-range amazingly. They wander about the yard, 24/7.
They take baths in any water source (which can be less desirable if you have large animal water troughs), and eat as many bugs as they can find. Ducks are actually really good at keeping bug populations down on our property.
Cheap, efficient meat production
Raising ducks for meat is an easy, efficient way to raise your own meat. We had some Pekins that grew so fast, they were ready for butcher in 6 weeks. Most Cornish Cross chickens are butchered at 8. So it could be up to 2 weeks less of growout time for the ducks!
I have an estimate of the cost of the ducks we raised for butcher, in contrast with the Cornish Cross chickens we raised. The Cornish Cross averaged about $10 per bird, from time of purchase to butcher time. The ducks only cost about $8 per bird from start to finish.
This is quite impressive, considering some of the ducklings we bought were $5 each! We also bought a bunch at the end of Tractor Supply’s chick days for 50 cents per duckling, so those will be way cheaper to raise.
Ducks are easy keepers
Ducks have been such an easy addition to our little farm. They pretty much take care of themselves after about 4-6 weeks. We let them free-range as soon as they’re big enough to “hold their own”. The feed costs are cut drastically by letting them free-range.
Raising ducks on the homestead is so easy! Ducks really only need a pretty constant supply of water, and some supplemental feed. We just feed ours chicken layer feed. They do benefit from higher protein, so when they are little, we feed them higher protein chick starter. But when they are out free-ranging, the bugs they find give them enough protein to grow really well.
I have heard that there is sometimes an issue with ducks needing higher niacin. Chicken feed just doesn’t supply enough niacin for them, so it is recommended by the experts to supplement their feed with brewer’s yeast. We haven’t had this problem, so we haven’t messed with it.
We haven’t had many health issues with our ducks. While with other birds, we have had a few deaths from unknown health reasons, the only duckling we have lost is one that got trampled in the brooder box. They are very healthy, self-sufficient birds.
Ducks are very sustainable
When looking for a sustainable animal to add, it is important to consider how well they reproduce to add more to your homestead. Ducks are very good at this. They lay lots of eggs, and most do a good job at incubating their own young.
We had 2 ducks sitting on eggs this spring. One of them hatched out 8 babies, all on her own! The other one didn’t do so well, I think an animal got to her eggs so she gave up.
We have also put a lot of duck eggs in our incubator with pretty good results. Overall, I think our ducks have given us at least 15 new ducklings this year. That’s a pretty good reproduction rate, if you ask me!
Ducks are also pretty sustainable in that you don’t have to give them a lot of feed. Ours get maybe a cup or two a day of commercial feed between the 6 adults that we have roaming around. They are very efficient!
What do you need for raising ducks?
This, honestly, is debatable. We haven’t really had housing set up for our ducks. Most of the time, they won’t even go into a coop! I have attempted to put them in a coop or something similar, but they just won’t do it like chickens do. I keep thinking they may appreciate a open-front lean-to of some sort, but mine just don’t use it. So housing is debatable if you can free-range your ducks.
This is non-negotiable! Ducks need a constant supply of water. When ducks eat, they take a beakful of food, then a beakful of water to wash it down. I have heard that ducks can actually suffocate on their food if they don’t have water to wash it down with.
Ducks are very appreciative of a little pool or pond of some sort, but don’t think that you have to have a huge lake for them. Like I said, raising ducks is easy! We keep a small kiddie pool filled with water, and they love it. My ducks also enjoy getting into the irrigation ditch and floating down it.
Please note: ducks can be aggressive breeders! They typically like to breed in the water. I have heard of several instances where male ducks have actually drowned the females while trying to breed them in deep water. I personally think about a foot deep is plenty to avoid this.
Keep in mind that ducks are very messy in their water, so don’t think you can use the same pool that they do!!
Ducks usually do just fine on plain old chicken layer feed. Some experts suggest adding brewer’s yeast to their food to give them an added bump in Niacin, but none of my ducks have had an issue without it. If you can free-range, I would strongly suggest it. My ducks have thrived on layer feed and all the bugs they can take out of the yard.
And that’s it!
Ducks are easy! They are very self-sufficient. Ducks haven’t had their wild instincts bred out of them like lots of chickens have. Even “domesticated” ducks will take care of themselves completely without intervention from humans. If you have ever considered raising ducks, I definitely suggest trying it! You won’t be disappointed!
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