Many folks these days are keeping backyard chickens in suburbs, on homesteads or even in city-based coops. If you don't have a few chickens of your own by now, you probably know someone who does. Many of us have a desire to reconnect with our food and the agricultural foundation of our country as well as to do nifty "green" things like keeping a few farm animals around. But have you ever considered ducks as an alternative to chickens to fulfill these duties? These fine feathered friends often have even more advantages than the now-common backyard chicken.
In general, duck eggs are larger than the average chicken egg. Some breeds of ducks can lay consistently for a longer period of time than chickens. Remember, you're feeding these birds that feed you, so you'll want to consider which is the better investment. Many people these days seem to be developing egg allergies; in some cases, duck eggs can be a viable alternative.
Ducks are a delicacy in most areas, commanding top dollar at fine restaurants. It takes about two to four months to raise ducks for meat, which is shorter than most meat chickens. The fat from ducks is wonderful for cooking and baking. In addition, you'll know that your meat was raised in healthy conditions with good feed and limited or no exposure to harmful chemicals or medications. Ducks also contain significant nutrients compared with other common meats.
Happily laying ducks that have plenty of food, water and friends are easy to keep together. Building a two-foot high inexpensive pallet fence is an easy and efficient way to keep them contained. If you let them free range in the daytime, ducks can be herded back to their coop quickly. Ducks also do not need any sort of perch or nest boxes. Simply give them plenty of clean straw, and they will happily make their nest in the corner and find a comfy spot to sleep at night.
Since ducks have an oil gland in their tail that produces waterproofing oils when they splash water on themselves, it is important for them to have some water to bathe. A kiddie pool is an easy and inexpensive way to provide a clean water source for bathing and preening.
Be sure to provide adequate ventilation for your ducks as they carry so much moisture on their bodies. You'll want to be sure that their homes are free from mold and mildew growth.
It is true that chickens gobble up certain insects and pests, but they don't get the large slugs and snails that ducks love. All laying ducks can eat up to eight inches of slug, like a child gobbing a candy bar. Some breeds like the Muscovy duck, can also control the fly, tick, wasp, mosquito and Japanese beetle population on your property.
A duck's webbed feet and curved bill don't tear, scratch up, and scatter plants or carefully-planted garden rows. A chicken's sharp beaks and feet love to scratch, which is great if they stay in their designated area, but terrible if they escape to your kitchen garden.
Ducks can also help you control weeds without harmful herbicides. While they are busy munching down your weeks, they will be producing phosphorous-rich manure for your garden, compost or property.
While many people do not like to keep roosters around because they can be aggressive, noisy or downright dangerous, male ducks are not particularly aggressive. Keeping a small breeding flock can help keep you supplied with an ongoing flock of ducklings year after year. If the flock gets too large, you can sell them or butcher them for meat.
A wet chicken is an unhappy chicken. A wet duck, however, is a very happy duck. Ducks are made for the cold and, and will continue (so long as it's not terribly bad) to lay. Chickens will use their resources and energy to keep warm. Also, ducks can free-range longer due to their weathering skills. Chickens cannot. Keep in mind, though, that in areas where the ground is frozen during the majority of the winter, you won't be able to free-range any sort of poultry.
Ducks are much better forager than chickens. The majority of a chicken's diet is grain, bugs, worms, and such, with a little green food as a supplement. Ducks also eat some grain and animal life, but they consume many more greens than chickens, even grass, if it is rich and growing. Be sure it's no longer than 4 inches so they don't get tangled up in the grass. Ducks also enjoy and use wetlands, ponds, swamps and so on, which chickens avoid or get stuck in.
Many people choose to have ducks because they are fun and beautiful to see each day. There is something peaceful about watching a family of ducks foraging around your property quietly going about their business. Spending time observing these lovely birds can be a way to reduce stress or a quiet way to spend time with your children.
As to diseases, ducks take the prize once more. A duckling is hardier than a chick because the duckling has more feathers, even at a young age, as well as a layer of subcutaneous fat. These enable the duckling to resist chill and therefore, more sicknesses than a chick. If waterproofed properly, (something you must leave up to them) ducklings can be out and about in their third week of life. Chicks are usually kept in during the first six to eight weeks.
Unlike chickens, ducks don’t need vaccinations, shots or worming treatments. They are not as vulnerable to things like ticks and lice like chickens tend to be as the daily bathing ritual keeps them cleaner.
In conclusion, if you want to free-range your birds, have eggs year-round, have happy, healthy birds, and deal with pesky insects and weeds, you may want to consider ducks instead of chickens for your backyard flock.
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