I’ve kept poultry for most of my life and waterfowl have always been an important inclusion. Our farm currently has both ducks and geese, and both species are serving the farm in their own unique ways with their own special attributes.
Ducks are year round layers and are much more regular producers than chickens. Their large eggs are prized for high nutritional content and are the equivalent to about two chicken eggs. Creamy, rich, and delicious, duck eggs are great for baking.
A female duck will lay consistently throughout the winter months when hens typically slow production, and they average around 180 eggs in a year.
Goose eggs are more unusual than duck eggs, and unlike ducks geese are very much seasonal layers. They typically lay from May through September, but if you have a goose go broody during this time egg production will sometimes stop early. Their eggs are huge, equal to three chicken eggs, and like the eggs from ducks they have higher nutritional value than chicken eggs and create a much fluffier mix when baking.
Because goose eggs are so unique, if you have a good supply of them, you can often sell a single egg for $2-$5.
One reason a lot of gardeners keep ducks is because of their never-ending appetite for slugs and other creepy crawlies. Ducks are some of the only birds I’ve known that will devour a tomato hornworm. Unfortunately, they can often show the same enthusiasm for fresh veggies, but you can help to curb that by keeping them out of the garden until the plants are large enough to withstand their eager bills.
You can also just use your ducks to dispose of bugs, picking them off the plants and later feeding them to the eager flock. With larger crops and vineyards, ducks are often used as chemical free pest control.
Geese are weeding machines, but they won’t touch bugs. Unlike the omnivorous duck, geese are pretty strict vegetarians. Similar to ducks, though, they will chow down on green, leafy veggies and their size means they can trample young seedlings.
Geese are most effective at weeding orchards and around small fruit trees and bushes. Their long necks mean they can snag weeds that we might not notice when gardening, and their perfectly serrated beaks are ideal for the job.
One of the reasons many farmers enjoy ducks instead of chickens in their backyard flock is that they are much quieter. A quacking duck can make a racket, but nothing compared to a rooster’s crow or a goose’s honk.
Muscovy ducks, with their unusual facial skin, barely make any sound at all. A duckling may imprint on a person but usually won’t care for other types of poultry particularly. Our ducks neither mind nor like the chickens, simply tolerating their shared run space. For these reasons, and because they are small and plump, ducks are ineffective as an alarm or guarding system.
Geese aren’t a guarding cure-all, since they can be carried away by a larger predator. However, a single goose will bond with a flock of small birds, such as chickens or ducks, and will protect them from predators like weasels and foxes with a passion. Against larger predators you can consider a full flock of geese — though they will not imprint on a flock of chickens, a large group of geese will be intimidating to any potential threat.
Geese also are extremely loud when threatened, and their raucous honking is sure to attract your attention. One more animal geese are great at protecting against: unexpected human company.
Many duck breeds have been developed so that they are delicious dual-purpose birds. They can supply you with an abundance of eggs, but their full bellies will also make tasty eating at the end of their lives. Ducks are a low-maintenance meat bird, they’ll forage for themselves and grow round if crumble is supplied for them. They reach a good eating weight in a swift eight weeks, though left to their own devices they’ll live for ten or more years. Pekin ducks, a breed often raised for meat, will mature at almost ten pounds. Duck meat is delicious and gamey, and an easy alternative to chicken.
Like their eggs, goose meat is a delicacy. A Christmas goose can sell for nearly a hundred dollars, and the cost to raise geese for meat is minimal. Once they are a few weeks old, as long as they have ample pasture with green grass, they barely need any additional crumble for feeding.
Geese, who will share your farm for up to twenty years if left to themselves, are usually butchered at about twelve weeks of age. Heavy goose breeds will top out at twenty or thirty pounds, and not only is their meat rich and tasty but they can also be used to make the exquisite foie gras.
I’ve spent a lot of time on the farm watching our ducks and geese behavior. Geese have always amazed me with their intense emotions, clearly mourning when one goose dies or leaves the farm and showing excitement when they see an old friend, human or goose. I have never had a problem with imprinting goslings, who quickly become attached to me. Geese are very curious and they do maintain a strict pecking order, but whenever I have introduced new goslings they’ve been adopted by a female goose in the flock.
While they have their downsides, including loud voices and occasional aggressive behavior, geese are a delightful bird for the farm and ones that will show you emotion back when you care for them.
Ducks aren’t as emotional as geese, and don’t express as much feeling for their flock members or people as a goose will. They are, however, much smarter and learn new routines with a day or two. They are always on alert for the signal for a treat, and seem to be genuinely happy almost all of the time. Quiet, prolific layers, ducks are a wonderful introduction to poultry for any farmer.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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