Ducks vs. Chickens (aka I want to try something different)
I’ve had ducks for almost 10 years, but it never occurred to me to try raising them for meat. But, when Carol asked me what I wanted to add to Akyla Farms’ offerings, ducks seemed like a natural choice. So, I read a book. That’s what you do when you’re learning something new, right? I had a little experience raising chickens in a portable pasture pen and figured I could do the same with ducks, with only a few differences. I knew ducks needed a different watering system than chickens, since they need to be able to immerse their heads, so I decided to provide them with regular bucket instead of a nipple waterer. I also knew they might be a bit messier than chickens because they love to splash that water around quite a bit. Otherwise, they eat the same diet. I was ready to give them a try. Akyla Farms runs up to 200 chickens in a single batch, normally, but I didn’t want to get in over my head on my first attempt, so I ordered a modest number of 32 Pekin ducklings from the hatchery. I didn’t want to invest in a lot of infrastructure until I knew exactly what they would need over time. Therefore, they started out life in a stock tank inside our tomato greenhouse. It was protected and warmed with a couple heat lamps. They grow FAST! Within a week, they had to move into one of those large kiddie pools. That was a bit harder to clean because of the textured bottom, so after a few days, I just removed the pool and let them have the whole greenhouse floor. Since it’s ten by twenty feet, it gave them lots of room to run around but they could still snuggle under the lamps.
Our spring weather can be unpredictable with some chilly days and some warm ones. We had a very nice streak of warm weather, so I let those 3-week-old duckies out of the greenhouse into a small area I’d temporarily fenced off with plastic netting. I thought they’d like to have something to splash around in, but they were far too small for the kiddie pool. Luckily, I had one of those giant dog igloos for my goats and the base of it made a perfect wading pool for tiny ducks. They had their first taste of grass and used the pool as a slip and slide.
I knew the greenhouse was going to be too warm, and too small, for them to stay in any longer so I commandeered a large homemade dog kennel to be their next house. We covered it with a tarp to give them a little protection from bad weather and fenced in a nice area for them to roam and graze. When I said before that ducks are messier than chickens, I was understating the matter. Ducks make a colossal mess!! It only took two days for me to realize that their new house was going to have to become mobile for them to have a clean place to sleep at night. That meant attaching wheels to a heavy structure that was never meant to move and dragging it around with a hand truck.
By this time, the ducks were getting so big, they were trashing their water bucket in just a couple hours and they really had no way of cleaning their bodies off. The kiddie pool they had spent their second week in had a large hole and wouldn’t hold water, so I stole the pool my geese use (they had a few choice words for me about that). Now the duckies had a nice big pool to bathe/drink out of, a mobile (barely) house and access to fresh grass and bugs every day. They had predator protection from some enormous fir trees and a scarecrow made from a sasquatch Halloween costume that I could move around the yard so hawks wouldn’t hang around.
As I write this, the duckies have one week left before processing. They are nearly feathered out and I am stunned at how fast they have grown. I have learned what I needed to know for next year and will be more efficient in their care. Overall, I guess the biggest difference between ducks and chickens has turned out to be their water needs. I can’t confine them to a mobile pen 24 hours a day for that reason; they need access to lots of water. A huge plus (and a big difference from chickens) is that ducks are super easy to herd. They learn very quickly where “home” is and are a cinch to put away at night. I would like to look at livestock guardian dogs for protection for them, as well as the rest of my animals, so I don’t need to constantly worry about predators. I have really enjoyed raising these ducks and giving them the best life I could. I hope you enjoy the products of these efforts and let us know if you would like more next year!