So while I have raised chickens and enjoyed it immensely, I keep hearing that ducks are the new chickens / there are several advantages to raising ducks versus chickens. First, I want to give credit to Rick Austin the author of the Secret Garden of Survival (and Secret Livestock of Survival) for prompting this idea, at least for me. But there are plenty of other advocates of the duck versus the chicken out there and plenty of references both on line and in print. Of course, chicks are cute but ducklings seem to be just as adorable and remain so even as adults.
► Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs: Larger equals more calories but they also provide more protein and some essential minerals like calcium, iron and potassium. For people that are allergic to chicken eggs, they may tolerate duck eggs (check with your doctor first).
► Many duck breeds lay more eggs than chickens: ducks will continue to lay eggs through the winter so you will have a steady supply of eggs year-round. The Khaki Campbell duck may lay 320-340 eggs a year. Other breeds like the Runner, the Welsh Harlequin, and the Magpie can lay 300 a year (source: http://www.hobbyfarms.com/6-duck-breeds-to-raise-for-eggs-4/). A hen producing that many eggs is worth more in the nest than she is on the platter.
► Ducks are hardier than chickens and require less care: while it can be a hoot to watch your ducks, in general they are less prone to disease and parasites than chickens, you don’t have to tend to them as much. They also tolerate warm weather better (they will just take a dip in the water!) and cold weather also (their down and feathers make great insulation). You should plan on a shelter for them but it doesn’t need insulation or power to fool them into laying during the winter.
During the day, your ducks can free range through your garden where they will eat pests, slugs and worms and leave behind fertilizer for your garden plants. Place some feed near your duck “house” in the evening and they will march inside – ducks are also easier to herd than chickens if you need to get them from one area to another. While chickens will scratch the ground and inevitably turn it into a dirt patch (if they don’t have enough room), ducks are not so destructive.
Ducks need a lot of water as it helps them spread oil over their feathers but you shouldn’t have to augment their food with store bought feed. You can give them some starter yeast as a source of niacin and some grit to help them digest their food but otherwise, let them free range in your garden and they will spend the day, eating, drinking and wetting themselves down in the kiddie pool.
If you do have a kiddie pool instead of a pond, you should change the water frequently to keep it clean. I saw one set up where they installed a sink drain in the kiddie pool to make this easier, they even shunted the dirty water to their garden to fertilize and water their plants. Likewise, keep food dry and remove it if it gets damp so the ducks are not eating moldy food.
► Ducks are quieter than chickens: if you don’t like to be woken up early by a crowing rooster, you will be much happier with a drake in your backyard. A rooster crow alerts others that there is a source of food in the area. Ducks are much less obvious. But your ducks will raise a ruckus if disturbed. They can be a natural “intruder alarm”.
Taking care of your ducks: larger breeds are too heavy to fly but you might have to trim some wing feathers on one side of smaller breeds to keep them from flying away. Of course, ducks are vulnerable to predators so you should keep them in a fenced in area just as you do for chickens. Their duck house should be well ventilated but keep them out of the harsher elements (rain, snow, sleet). A simple pole barn with plywood sides is sufficient. Ducks need about four-foot square area inside the shelter per duck. They don’t need nesting boxes as they will build their own nest usually in the corner. Straw is preferably to hay or pine shavings. Windows should be screened and you may wish to put chicken wire extending from the bottom of the sides to prevent a predator from digging under the shelter (or you can elevate the floor and tie it into the walls). You can lay some vinyl on the floor to make cleaning easier and prevent build-up of moisture. Lay down some straw on the floor and change it out frequently (it makes a ready compost starter).
I wasn’t considering raising ducks since I don’t have a pond on my property but while ducks are a no brainer if you are raising tilapia or catfish in a pond, they will be content to take a quick dip in a kiddie pool. Just keep the water clean as mentioned above.
You only want one drake to 3-6 hens, so any excess drakes you hatch should be ready for the pot in about ten weeks. Ducks are social animals, they need a companion – which could be you. If you are just starting out, get three to four ducks (one male and the rest hens) so they have their own duck support group for those times when the pressure of life is just too much for them. If you raise them from ducklings, try to handle them every day while they are in the brooder after hatching so they get used to you. Once they are grown they will not be skittish around you. Your breeding stock only needs to be changed out every two to three years although they can continue to lay after this.
Again, there are a lot of resources on the net and books that go into a lot of detail on raising ducks. You should pick up at least one of these to add to your survival reference library. If you already have chickens, they can share the same run but just avoid overcrowding as that can lead to stress and disease. Add a kiddie pool and you are pretty much ready to start augmenting your food supply with duck!