Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Ducks Versus Chickens

When you think of fresh eggs in the morning, what animal do you think of? The first animal that comes to mind is probably a chicken. But think again, this time think about ducks. They are great egg layers, exterminators, and portable garbage disposals. Ducks are a more effective alternative to the home flock than chickens. To come to a conclusion on this, I will look at several different factors: egg production, incubation, disease resistance, commercial factors, weather adjustment, and miscellaneous advantages.

Since most people think of keeping poultry for egg production, this will be the first factor I will look at. When talking about egg production I am talking about the amount of eggs a bird lays in a year. The best laying ducks lay more eggs than chickens, averaging 300 eggs a year. Duck eggs are also 20-35 percent larger than chicken eggs. Many bakers prefer duck eggs to chicken eggs because it results in a softer, fluffier, better rising baked good. The following table compares a few factors that can be looked at in egg production, for two different breeds of chickens and ducks. In the first column the breeds are listed. The second column compares the weight of a dozen eggs. The third column compares how many eggs are produced and how many pounds these eggs weigh. In the fourth column feed consumption of free roaming and confined birds are compared. In the fifth column the amount of feed to produce 1 pound of eggs is shown. The last column shows the efficient production life of hens.

Bird

Egg weight per dozen

Annual Egg Production

Annual Feed Consumption

Feed to produce 1 pound of eggs

Efficient production life of hens

 

Ounces

#

Pounds

Free Roam

Confined

pounds

years

Duck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campbell

31.0

285

46.5

110

140

2.4-3.0

2-3

Pekin

40.0

156

32.5

145

175

4.5-5.4

2-3

Chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leghorn

24.0

240

300

85

95

2.8-3.2

1-2

Broiler

25.0

144

18.8

125

130

6.6-6.9

1-2

Egg Production Factors

Incubating and breeding are also important considerations for the home flock. If a bird is hard to incubate, hatch and breed then it will be discouraging and frustrating to the owner. As a general rule ducks have a lower fertility rate than the chickens. This may be due to the fact that ducks, especially heavier breeds, prefer to mate on the water and most people do not provide adequate water for that activity. Duck eggs also take 7 days longer to hatch, making it 28 days. The longer time frame means more things can potentially go wrong in the incubator, such as, loss of heat or humidity. Even though chickens have a higher fertility rate, when ducks are actually hatched, they will have a lower mortality rate. This is because ducks don't have problems with all the diseases and lethal genes of many breeds of chickens.

Even in poor living conditions, sickness or parasites rarely bother small duck flocks, especially with free access to bathing water. This can be due to the fact that there are no major diseases that affect ducks. However, Chickens often have to be vaccinated for communicable diseases, such as Mereks. Here in the Pacific Northwest the most prominent poultry diseases are Mereks, Coccidiosis, Chronic Respiratory disease, and Newcastle. Chickens must also be treated regularly for worms, coccidiosis, mites, and lice.

Though ducks are more practical and economical to the backyard farmer, they are not more practical or economical for the commercial production plants. Poultry products you buy in the store are from commercial production plants. A commercial plant is concerned less with the happiness and health of the bird than they are with producing as many eggs and as much meat as possible. The Leghorn, which is the most popular bird for commercial egg production, only requires a 1.2 square foot area. All these birds have been debeaked and the small space requirements for these birds allow the plant to house thousands upon thousands in a very condensed area. A duck in the same type of environment, just enough space for it to adequately survive, would require 3 square feet. As you can see the commercial facilities would need facilities 3 times the size if they were to use ducks instead of chickens.

For meat production purposes a commercial fryer takes 6-8 weeks from hatch to butcher. A short time line allows the commercial grower to quickly overturn a profit. If they were to use meat ducks they would take 10-12 weeks to mature. A duck less than 10-12 weeks in age has not matured enough to be plucked. Rather, ducks less than ten weeks of age must be skinned. This process requires more labor, therefore having higher labor costs for the company. The following table compares 2 breeds of ducks and chickens for meat production. The first column shows the breed. In the second column the optimum butchering age is shown, it can be noted at the Pekin's optimum butchering age, it will have to be skinned. The third row of the table shows the Average live weight of the bird at butchering. In the fourth column the amount of feed it takes to have these birds to their potential weight is compared. Finally, the last column shows the amount of feed it takes to produce 1 pound of bird.

Bird

Optimum Butchering Age

Average Live wt. at Butchering

Feed Consumption

Feed to Produce 1 pound of bird

 

weeks

Pounds

Pounds

Pounds

Duck

 

 

 

 

Campbell

10-14

4.0

22.0

5.5

Pekin

7

7.0

19.0

2.7

Chicken

 

 

 

 

Leghorn

18-22

3.3

20.0

6.1

Broiler

8

4.0

8.5

2.1

Comparison of Meat Birds

For the backyard farmer the set up for the birds, as well as, how well the birds adapt to weather makes a large difference as to whether you raise ducks or chickens. Ducks more easily adapt to different weather conditions. Chickens are more susceptible to the adverse affects to cold. The face as well as the protruding combs and wattles on a chicken must be protected from frost bite as they release essential body heat. Because of ducks having heavily oily feathers completely covering their body, they are more able to deal with wet and cold weather. Even when temperatures fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit ducks are able to winter comfortable outdoors with only a windbreak.

There are also many other advantages to raising ducks over chickens. Some of these are in the following paragraph, but there are many more than can be listed here. Chickens can be used for their eggs, meat, natural mothering ability, and their ability to adapt to cages, houses, or range. Ducks are used for their eggs, meat, feathers, aquatic plant control, insect, snail, and slug extermination, and their ability to adapt to cold or wet climates. Ducks are also able to forage up to 25% of their diet, costing their owners less in feed bills. Chickens can only forage for 10% of their diet. Under most conditions 2-6 ducks per acre of land will rid it of most unwanted pests, as opposed to nearly 6 times that many chickens. Ducks will free bodies of water of mosquito pupae and larva. Unwanted plants can be cleared from ponds and lakes with ducks, which improves conditions for many types of fish. Farmers have learned what great natural exterminators' ducks are, since they enjoy eating insects, snails, and slugs. In the Midwest United States, ducks reduce plant and crop damage during severe grasshopper infestations. Along with all these great attributes that ducks have, their down or small feathers is a valuable filler for pillows and as lining for comforters and winter clothing.

Another important factor when comparing chickens and ducks is the noise. Many people find duck quacking to be acceptable if not pleasant. With a small flock consisting of one of the calmer breeds the noise is kept to a minimal, as long as they are not disturbed or frightened frequently. Male ducks, or drakes, are almost mute, while male chickens, or roosters, on the other hand, are known for their loud crowing. Ducks especially drakes are great for the control of slugs, snails, and insects in towns or suburbs.

This shows that for the backyard person, ducks are a more economical and practical choice than chickens. I hope that after reading this paper, you will agree with me, on the usefulness of ducks. Next time you think of eggs or having a home flock, give some consideration to ducks.

 

 

REFERENCES

Holderread, Dave. Raising the Home Duck Flock. Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, Inc., 1994

Mercia, Leonard S. Raising Poultry the Modern Way. Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, Inc.,1975

Faltwell, Ray. Small-Scale Poultry Keeping. Boston, Massechusetts: Faber and Faber, 1992

Damerow, Gail. The Chicken Health Handbook. Pownal, Vermont: Schoolhouse Road, 1994

Stillman, Matthew C. Personal interview. 12 June 2000

[Main Page] [My Horses] [Previous Horses] [Drawings] [My other Animals] [Horses I've Ridden] [My Idaho Experience] [Barn] [Experiences] [Ducks vs. Chickens] [Awards] [Links] [Contact Me]