If it walks like a duck…
Ducks! Colorful and varied, good producers, effective pest foragers, attractive. Some quack more than others – they call them Call ducks for a reason – but many owners enjoy that sociability. Husbandry is different from that for chickens, but once you have them set up, they are no trouble. Take a look at the possibilities:
Ducks divide into two main categories: the Muscovies and all the others, descended from Mallards.They are separate species and, although they can breed and produce offspring, the offspring aren’t fertile, like mules. The cross can be a good production bird, growing fast like the Mallard with the heavy body of the Muscovy.
Muscovies don’t quack, making them quieter than other ducks. The females have a soft quack they use occasionally when they have ducklings but more commonly chirp and tweet softly. Males have a raspy huff. They have the red carruncles, warty-looking red skin on their heads. Not everyone likes the appearance, but Muscovies can be even-tempered and make good companions. That’s not universal – they can also be territorial and aggressive, but when they are raised around people and other animals, can usually be counted on to be good neighbors.
Mallards are still common in the wild. They are the ancestors of the wide variety of domestic ducks recognized by the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association. They fall into four categories: Bantams, Light, Medium and Heavy. Many of them are also good egg producers and some have been bred as egg hybrids. Some people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs without having an allergic reaction.
Because of their warm and water-resistant plumage, ducks require less protection from the elements than chickens do. However, they are also subject to predation, so they need secure housing and fencing.
Duck droppings are watery and messy. Maintain them on gravel over sand that will drain well. Replace the top two or three inches of sand as needed with clean sand. The soiled sand makes a rich soil amendment. Runner ducks were developed in Asia as part of the rice production system. They would be herded from one paddy to another, where they would eat the insects and loose grains and fertilize the watery paddy. Then they’d be moved on to another. They are tall and slim, often described as having a ‘wine-bottle’ shape.
Duck breeds vary in their ability to brood and raise their own offspring. Muscovies lay large clutches and enjoy raising their own ducklings, but Runners, like egg breed chickens, are unlikely to brood.
Dave Holderread operates Holderread Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center in Corvallis Oregon. He wrote the book on Raising Ducks. I include a chapter on ducks in How to Raise Poultry, an overview of various poultry species.
The International Waterfowl Breeders Association is the collective breed organization. A sample newsletter from Summer 2009 is posted on the site.