If you want to raise ducks as pets, to sell eggs, or even for meat raising ducks has its pros and cons, and it’s important to know the honest truth, especially the downsides to owning and caring for ducks before jumping into this venture.
With chick days right around the corner at many feed and farm stores, this is a topic that’s been weighing heavily on my mind. The fact is raising ducklings and keeping ducks can be more challenging than keeping chickens, and isn’t for all backyard flock keepers. Ducks grow fast and you can easily find yourself in a situation you may not be fully set up for, or find that you don’t actually enjoy.
I have been keeping ducks with my chickens for the past year, and while I love them and find a great deal of joy in having them. Raising domesticated ducks of any breed can be very enjoyable and rewarding, but it also has its drawbacks. It’s easy to find arguments for raising ducks, but oftentimes people are so smitten with their ducks they overlook the less desirable aspects. I feel, as with any new addition to the homestead or farm, the good and bad should be weighed up before making a decision. So today I thought I would share what I perceive as the downsides of duck raising.
Ducks are Messy
I think I underestimated exactly how messy ducks were when I first brought home ducklings! Ducks poop on average every 15 minutes, that’s an actual fact. Duck poop is liquid, and prolific, and they have no control over when they poop, and will poop everywhere. Even a small flock of ducks can generate a pretty large amount of manure.
Ducks love water, they will drink more of it than you think possible, play in it, swim in it, mate in it, clean themselves in it, and want to sleep right by it. They will get water everywhere, which makes mud. You will spend a good part of your time hauling or running clean water, cleaning pools, buckets, and waterers.
They are also messy eaters. Ducks eat by taking a few bite of feed and then getting a drink, and in the process they just fling food and water everywhere. The duck food turns mushy and the water gets loaded with food crumbs. So now you have food to go with your tons of water and poop, which happens to attract flies, and I don’t know about you, but flies buzzing around makes everything feel even nasier to me.
There are definitely ways to address the messiness of ducks, and to even minimize a lot of it, but don’t underestimate the level of mess a couple of ducks can make.
Ducks Can be Loud
One of the most endearing traits of ducks to me is how they form tight close knit relationships with their flock mates. My ducks are thick as thieves and there is constantly communication and chatter going on amoung my 4 girls.
A lot of your flocks noise level may depend on the ducks breeds. My Pekin is fairly quiet, but my Buff Orpingtons are very vocal, and very loud, they also sound surprisingly similar to Donald Duck. Disney may have gotten a few things wrong over the years, but they absolutely hit the nail on the head with the sound of a duck communicating.
If you have neighbors nearby, they may not be as entertained by the ducks yelling at each other across the yard as you are, the noise level of a duck may become a point of contention. It’s something to keep in mind.
Drakes Can be Aggressive Towards Humans
Drakes seem to be ruled by hormones, and the cause of drake aggression towards humans can usually be traced back to one of two reasons: he feels dominant and he’s attempting to be the boss, or he wants to mate you. Both of these scenarios are completely unacceptable in my book.
If your drake is displaying his perceived dominance over you, there are ways to handle the situation. For me personally though, I keep ducks because I enjoy having them around and taking care of them. If a drake thinks he is going to intimidate me or makes it difficult for me to enjoy being around my flock I won’t keep it.
If you get ducks, and plan on keeping a drake around for the long term you need to be prepared for the potential of aggressive behavior.
Duck Mating is Horrific
When I first heard that duck mating is unpleasant, I instantly brushed it off…I live on a farm afterall, I’ve seen a lot of natural behaviors that could classify as less than pleasant. But duck mating is extremely aggressive, and takes place several times a day.
Male ducks have very high sex drives, they also can be very rough on females. If you keep multiple drakes, mating can be down right horrific, because often when one male notices another male mating the others will want to join in while the female is restrained, resulting in her injury or even death. Missing feathers from the neck, head, and back, along with large to small cuts and sores from the drake’s claws or bill, or even death can happen when a female is over-mated.
The recommended ratio of drakes to ducks to prevent overmating is 5-8 ducks per drake! This gives you an idea of just how high of a sex drive male ducks have.
If you are also raising chickens and are planning on having a mixed flock you need to know that drakes may even attempt to mate with chickens, which can be highly problematic. Waterfowl are one of the few birds that actually have penises. Drakes have long corkscrew mating organs that stay tucked within the duck’s body until it’s time to mate.
Rooster’s on the other hand do not have penises, nor is the female chicken reproductive tract designed for penetration. A drake attempting to mate with a hen is very dangerous for the hen and can actually kill her.
After several weeks of my duck flock’s very active mating season, that left my Pekin battered, I culled my drake and replaced him with 3 female ducks. I have no regrets and don’t miss the aggressive mating that was frequently happening in my yard.
If you Purchase Your Ducks at a Feed Store Be Prepared to Cull Your Flock
Female ducks are generally pretty laid back, but drakes can be territorial, and aggressive to other male members of their flock. Problems within a duck flock typically tend to occur when you have two or more males or an equal number of females or less to males.
Male ducks fight and kill their offspring to free up the female duck’s time. Male ducks will fight other male ducks to establish alpha status in the flock, and male ducks will fight because of hormonal surges that make them aggressive and territorial. I think you can see why you don’t want a flock made up almost entirely of hormonal jerks.
There is a general consensus among duck enthusiasts that the ducklings the feed stores get and sell as straight runs are most likely the remaining birds after the ducklings have been sexed by the hatchery for orders, and therefore contain an unusually high amount of males.
I purchased my first batch of ducklings straight run at Tractor Supply, fully prepared to harvest the drakes, and keep the hens for egg layers. At the time I really wanted egg layers. What I was not prepared for was a drastically uneven ratio of drakes to ducks, which of course is what I ended up with, and would never work if I intended to keep the peace in my coop.
I was hoping for at least 2 females and I figured with a flock of 6, statistically my odds were pretty good. What I got was 1 female duck and 5 drakes. I decided that 4 of the drakes were to be harvested, and 1 drake would be left to be a companion to our girl. Eventually my one remaining drake was also harvested because of the aggressive mating situation I mentioned earlier. I purchased 3 sexed Buff Orpington ducks directly from a hatchery to keep my Pekin company. Lesson learned.
I am grateful to have the meat in the freezer, and I was happy to be able to share some with my neighbors who helped us with the processing of the birds. Honestly, raising the birds and putting the meat in the freezer gave me a sense of accomplishment I wasn’t anticipating, but before that sense of accomplishment was a whole host of emotions that included sadness, and quite a bit of introspection.
Of course you don’t have to harvest your drakes, you can attempt to rehome them, but rehoming drakes is much easier said than done, oftentimes even free drakes will have a difficult time finding a new home.
Ducks Aren’t Typically Affectionate
Ducks are a joy to be around, they have entertaining personalities, they are actually quite intelligent and can be trainable, but they aren’t likely to enjoy snuggles and cuddles. Ducks by nature are skittish and shy. My pekin tolerates handling and is much more friendly than my Buff Orpington ducks, but she definitely prefers to be near me on her own terms, which is at somewhat of a distance.
If you think about it ducks are super vulnerable to predator attacks, restraining them or taking away their ability to flee if they feel threatened probably goes against every natural survival instinct in their body.
Ducks are Defenseless
Fox, raccoon, weasels, skunks, coyotes, hawks are just a few predators who wouldn’t mind making dinner out of your backyard flock. As duck keepers the possibility of a predator attack is never far from our minds, because let’s face it, domesticated ducks are in fact sitting ducks, and defenseless to predators. Before you even bring ducks home you should be trying to figure out how you are going to keep them safe.
Ducks are highly vulnerable to predators in ways that chickens aren’t. Flightless ducks, with their big flippers and large bodies move cumbersomely on dry land and aren’t able to easily escape predators who will attack on ground level, such as fox, and coyotes. Physical barriers will be one of the most useful predator protection you can offer your mixed flock, but occasionally even those can be breached.
Foxes have been my single biggest threat. Sly and intelligent, they have stalked out my ducks without notice until they’re ready for a swift, clean attack.
Be Prepared for Foot Injuries
Duck feet are perfectly suited for paddling around in water, but on land their large webbed feet tend to get poked, scratched and can even tear. Even with the best of care and coop hygiene injuries are bound to happen. You should be prepared to provide basic wound care, and have a supply of first aid supplies for your flock on hand.
In my area there are very few avian veterinarians, so treatment of something like bumblefoot is usually a diy endeavor. Bumblefoot is a highly infectious bacterial infection that is common in ducks and requires someone to lance, and drain the abscess. If you are squeamish around blood or don’t like the idea of performing at home treatment like this, chickens who are less prone to developing bumblefoot, or foot injuries in general might be a better idea for you.
Water and Mud
When you get ducks a large part of your week will now be dedicated to cleaning tanks and pools, hauling water, draining water, and running water.
It’s true domesticated ducks don’t need a large body of water to thrive, but despite what I’ve read on some forums, and based on my experiences they do need more than a bucket to stick their head in.
Ducks need a water source for hygiene, mating, drinking, and hanging out in. In fact if your duck doesn’t have access to a water supply large enough for them to splash around in they can develop a condition known as wet feather. Wet feather happens when a duck can’t clean her feathers and maintain the natural oily coating that keeps waterproof feathers from soaking and getting waterlogged. A duck who hasn’t been able to swim and preen in water will soak right through her feathers and downy fluff and stay wet when she does get access to water, which may cause her to become chilled and unable to stay warm.
A kiddie pool is the perfect answer if your property doesn’t have a pond or creek, and will keep your ducks happy and healthy. A kiddie pool without any kind of filtration will likely have to be drained and refilled at least every other day. During the summer I use the water from my ducks pool to water my plants and flowers, but during the winter months I have a build-up of ice around the pool to contend with.
The increase in the amount of water around your property will definitely be noticeable, and it will attract mosquitoes and flies in the summer months and become slippery patches of ice during winter.
You Might Not Be Able to Tolerate Duck Eggs
This was one of the most surprising things I’ve learned this past year while raising my ducks. It is pretty widely known that if you are allergic to chicken eggs, you may be able to eat duck eggs. But the reverse can also be true.
The first time I scrambled up a duck egg to try it out, shortly after eating it I felt nauseous, sweaty, and later had stomach cramps and issues that sent me running to my bathroom. Since I can tolerate duck eggs in cooked or baked items, I assumed my experience had to do with the fact I had my gallbladder removed due to cholecystitis. I have since read many comments in Facebook duck raising groups, and homesteading forums where others have had very similar reactions to duck eggs.
I can’t find any statistics on duck egg intolerance, but I’ve run across the topic enough times to believe while it probably isn’t common, it can happen, regardless of how you react to chicken eggs.
Ducks are Higher Maintenance than Chickens
I have seen several posts claiming ducks are lower maintenance than chickens, and I wholeheartedly have to disagree.
If you were to compare the level of care backyard poultry requires to other farm animals chickens are like having barn cats, as long as they are clean, dry and fed, they will be fine. Ducks on the other hand are much more like actual small livestock, like goats or pigs. Owning a couple of ducks (or several ducks) is a commitment of time and energy as you accommodate their needs. Generally speaking the kind of maintenance ducks require isn’t difficult, but it can be messy and time consuming.
Consider the Commitment
I absolutely love my ducks, and enjoy spending time with them. I don’t want to discourage you from trying ducks if you have your heart set on them. Anytime you take an animal into your care you should do your due diligence, and research regardless of if you want to raise ducks as pets, to sell eggs, or even for meat make sure you are committed to seeing it through.
With all this said, ducks are amazingly entertaining, funny, sensitive and form deep bonds with their flockmates. They will provide you with endless joy if you properly accommodate their needs and are prepared for the hard work that comes with caring for them.