Getting My Ducks in a Row

I am what you would call a “newbie” to waterfowl. I have raised chickens for many years and thoroughly enjoy them. This past summer, I felt the need to expand onto our feathered family. Cayuga ducks.

Cayugas interested me because I live in New York and the Cayuga originates and take their name from an area of New York west of me, Cayuga Lake. Well, actually the origination of this species is debated, but that is one of the histories. Another is that they came from an English duck breed that was brought to America. If you are at all interested, check out this and other facts and fables about breeds at The Livestock Conservancy site.

Requirements in New York are to purchase six chicks or ducklings at a time, so I ended up with six Cayuga ducklings through my local farm store. I raised them in a stall in my horse barn, which worked really well. Later in the summer, they moved outside to a large grassy, fenced area with a small lean-to shelter with a kiddie pool to drink from and swim in. This fall, we created the duck area, with a homemade duck house, kiddie pool, water and feed tubs. Please remember, from a biosecurity perspective, it’s important to not mix species.

The ducks are doing great and I enjoy them very much. Their feathers are gorgeous; black, oily green and so shiny. They have very different personalities than the chickens and their antics can be very comical. It is winter now, and they seem to enjoy the cold. They are outside when it’s the worst and even sleep outside overnight in the snow sometimes.

There are many great resources out there for raising ducks. Here are a few things I have learned in these past six months:

  • Believe the books when they say ducks are messy! They need water near their feed and will bathe, drink, splash, excrete and play in every container of water you give them. This makes for a sodden, messy area. Things that have worked for me: Put the kiddie pool and water tub on top of a well-drained area. I use landscape timbers (4×4 posts) made into a frame on the ground, filled with small stones. This allows the splashed water to drain. Next summer I want to try a more rigid pond and put a drain in it, making it easier to clean.
  • Cayuga males and females have the same coloring. If you want to tell their gender before the males develop their curly tail feathers at around 10 weeks, listen to their quack. Once they start quacking, pick them up one at a time and listen to the sound they make. If it quacks, it’s a she. If it make a raspy bark sound, it’s a he.
  • I use tough, flexible rubber tubs for their food and water. This makes it easy even in the winter to clean and dump old feed or ice. I give my ducks warm water 1-2 times per day in a 24” round tub that’s about 6” deep and their Feather Fixer pellets in a smaller, shallower tub.
  • I handled my ducklings every day, sat in the stall with them, talked to them…Sure, judge me! But my ducks are not what I would say, friendly. They are aware and make better watch dogs than my dogs, quacking at anyone who comes in the driveway. They are curious and fun to watch and when I pick them up they relax, but they don’t run over to hop in my lap. This may just be the Cayuga breed, however I have read other people who say they are easily gentled.
  • Be sure to make a wide entrance to your duck house or shelter. We built the cutest duck house with a ramp and door, but had to widen the door in order to get them to go in. To make sure they would choose shelter when needed, we also reused a cracked plastic 100 gallon stock tank from my horses. Flipped over, with an opening cut out with a sawsall, this is their preferred shelter.

This experience of owning ducks has been a fun and educational one, and I encourage those interested to do your research. One thing is for sure, these beautiful creatures have added enjoyment and entertainment to our home!

Why Keep Ducks?

Ducks add variety to your flock!

The backyard chicken keeping movement has been growing steadily over the past few years, invading residential neighborhoods, but what you may not realize is that backyard ducks are quietly growing in popularity as well. ‘Quietly’ is the key word – and may be a compelling reason why you might want to consider adding some ducks to your flock.

 Unlike a crowing rooster which can be annoying to neighbors, male ducks, known as drakes, make hardly any sound at all. The females do quack when frightened or excited, but don’t sing an ‘egg song’ like hens do.  Ducks adhere to a far less strict pecking order than chickens and noisy squabbles are rare.  On the whole, ducks are much quieter than chickens. 

Another benefit: ducks tend to be healthier than chickens, and are not not especially susceptible to Marek’s or coccidiosis, two common pathogens that target chickens. Ducks are also more cold-hardy due to an extra layer of fat and waterproof feathers, as well as more able to handle heat by splashing around in a pool or tub of water on hot days.

Ducks are excellent layers and will generally lay year round even without supplemental light in the winter.  Their eggs are higher in fat and protein but as a result are superior for baking, making baked goods richer and rise higher. Duck eggs also last longer than chicken eggs due to their thicker shells and membranes and are less apt to break, which can be a plus if you have small children help you collect eggs.  Ducks are less apt to go broody than chickens, which is nice if you are raising poultry purely to eat their eggs and aren’t interested in hatching any.

Ducks aren’t nearly as hard on lawns as are chickens. They don’t scratch up grass by the roots or nibble it down to the dirt. While they will trample your lawn a bit and dig quarter-sized holes looking for grubs, worms and bug larvae, you won’t be left with a dirt wasteland like you would raising chickens. Consider the holes beneficial lawn aeration.

Whether you raise chickens already and are thinking of expanding your flock or are new to backyard poultry keeping, why not consider ducks? 

This article shared with us by Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily. Lisa gives advice on raising backyard chickens and ducks on Facebook.com/FreshEggsDaily and Facebook.com/DucksToo as well as her blog Fresh-eggs-daily.com.