Ducks vs chickens — what if you had to choose?
Or at least make a smart decision regarding the number of ducks and/or chickens to meet your needs.
That requires some more thought.
What if you want the most efficient animals for your homestead?
Ones that cost a minimum amount of money and time but give back in abundance?
With soaring inflation, food shortages, and the rising cost of living can you really afford to be lackadaisical about this topic?
What if you’re in the suburbs and have limits on how many chickens and ducks you can legally keep in your backyard?
If that’s the case, I’m going to have to say that regarding ducks versus chickens — the ducks will win in almost every aspect.
I’m going to start this off by saying — I think you should get both if you can (along with some geese) — but that’s not the point.
What gradually ended up happening as I raised both animals side by side?
I got more ducks.
Let me explain why.
(And feel free to share your opinions and experiences below too in the comments.)
And keep in mind — I still have and love both chickens and ducks. And I’m not getting rid of the chickens, I keep adding more if anything.
This isn’t a competition necessarily, just a list of pros and cons and my personal experiences.
Because as you start to raise these animals for real instead of just researching breeds online and dreaming of your perfect homestead, you start to develop preferences as you observe them and their habits.
Nothing beats experience.
If I had to make a choice between the two: duck eggs will win.
Don’t get me wrong — we eat both daily.
Not only are eggs easy and delicious, but they’re also nutrient-dense superfoods and one of the healthiest things around.
Duck eggs are larger, better for baking, and have larger yolks and thicker shells and membranes that are better for preserving.
The taste is similar but the larger yolks make for a ticker flavor from the duck eggs.
Some duck breeds like the Indian Runner also lay up to 350 eggs annually which will match or compete with even high-level production chicken breeds.
(See my article on the best egg-laying chickens.)
My Muscovy ducks lay up to 200 and my Welsh Harlequin lay as many as 300.
Other breeds like the rare Silver Appleyard lay as many as 240 eggs.
And the Indian Runner duck? Up to 350, which is insane.
Duck eggs are incredible.
Eggs in general are incredible.
Size & Weight Matters
Ducks are larger animals, especially dual-purpose breeds that can reach up to 8-9lbs.
Larger animals require more feed.
In the summer when everyone is pastured?
During winter when there is 4 feet of snow on the ground?
That can get expensive.
My 4 lbs Azure Blue chickens need WAY less feed while providing me with 295 large blue eggs annually.
I like a mix. And you may be the same — smaller egg-laying breeds and some larger heritage breeds alongside a batch or two of broilers like Red Rangers.
Concerning ducks I’m phasing out my lighter (and currently very trendy) Welsh Harlequins (technically dual-purpose but, whatever, there are just better choices out there) to focus on the heavier breeds like Saxonies, Cayugas, and Silver Appleyards for meat and eggs.
This is a matter of personal preference.
I prefer duck meat to chicken meat.
Yes, even over the famed Bresse chicken!
Even the pastured heritage breed chickens I raise still just taste like chicken — just very incredible chicken.
They may blow the bland mushy grocery store birds out of the water, but chicken meat is always just going to be chicken meat.
Duck meat on the other hand? Rich and complex flavor with an incredible layer of fat and skin.
The extra fat can be saved and used to roast potatoes and other vegetables too.
It’s more akin to red meat. And just like red meat it’s packed with so much nutritious stuff.
As far as processing the animals, they’re both easily slaughtered in the same way using a restraining cone and sharp knife.
But the part that comes afterwards is very different.
Chickens can be easily dunked in hot water and plucked relatively quickly either by hand or machine.
Ducks are harder to pluck, and for the best quality results, you may want to consider plucking dry which takes even more time.
Ducks also have pin feathers that can make plucking cleanly a nightmare. As such they should be processed at certain times only when the pin feathers are of least concern.
Down & Feathers
Ever heard of a luxurious chicken feather coat or duvet?
Me neither. Because it’s not a thing.
I’m not saying chicken feathers are useless — they’ve traditionally been used in many ways, including the making of quality feather dusters.
And they’re great compost regardless.
Duck down and feathers on the other hand are a premium, valuable, and incredible material that your ducks will provide you as a byproduct of their meat.
Duck down and feathers may not be as valuable as geese down and feathers when it comes to warmth and insulation, but they’re still pretty incredible.
You can collect the down and feathers easily and make your own pillows, duvets, and even clothes.
On Pasture & Foraging Ability
Ducks win here.
I watch my ducks grazing grasses similarly to how my geese do.
They’re incredible at foraging.
They eat a much wider variety of plants, bugs, and other small animals — like mice.
Don’t believe me?
Check out my Muscovy ducklings in this short video as they inhale the mouse they hunted down.
They’re still young and not fully feathered here either.
This was not the first or last time I saw a scene like this occur.
Ducks Might Be Less Destructive To Your Gardens
Unlike chickens — ducks don’t dig and scratch and bury themselves into tidy mulched garden beds seeking a soothing dust bath.
Not that I’ve ever seen.
And ducks, just like geese, can be trained to go after certain weeds if you start giving the offending plants to them from the time they’re tiny baby ducklings in brooders.
Defense Against Predators
Chickens win here.
They can fly short distances and get up into trees easily.
See Also: Can Chickens Fly?
Ducks are pretty much bound to the ground and they’re not that fast.
Exceptions here are Muscovy ducks which can actually take flight — much to my surprise when I saw mine flying around like birds for the first time.
And something like an Indian Runner duck which lives up to its name as a fast runner.
Although multiple breeds of chickens are very cold hardy (like my Orpingtons) they are not as cold hardy as pretty much any breed of duck.
The same features that make duck down and feathers so insulating and warm and useful in products like duvets, sleeping bags, and clothing — make ducks thrive in the cold.
This past winter my chickens didn’t leave their run whereas my ducks would waddle through the snow and continue bathing in the ponds as long as they weren’t frozen over.
The ducks would sit outside with frozen feathers and barely a care in the world.
The other advantage that ducks have is that their lack of combs and wattles means they are less prone to getting frostbite.
Chickens can be very susceptible to frostbite, especially breeds with larger combs.
This is especially true if you do not practice proper coop management and the humidity in your chicken coop gets too high.
We avoid this by using the deep litter method for coop management.
This is breed specific when it comes to chickens.
Some chickens are especially prone to feeling the I’ll effects of heat and may slow down or stop laying.
Ducks are generally very tolerant of heat and if they have access to shady areas and fresh water to splash around in, you really don’t have to worry about them at all in the summer months.
Again this is breed specific as well as breeder-specific.
Great stock from high-quality genetics matters most.
That said, ducks are just generally hardier, healthier, and less prone to disease and illness.
Perhaps this is because there have been less terrible breeding practices within ducks than there have been with chickens.
The most common ailment I see in my duck groups are splay leg, bumblefoot, and wry neck, both of which can also affect chickens.
I also hear about, on occasion, botulism deaths in ducks.
In my chicken groups, there is a constant stream of mysterious deaths, illnesses, weird behaviors, infections, mites and lice, sour crop etc.
Granted this is way more prevalent in the commercial hybrid egg laying breeds versus the older heritage breeds, in birds coming from some large hatcheries, or just ones with terrible genetics from bad breeding practices.
This is why I prefer small, passionate breeders with long-standing reputations when it comes to both ducks and chickens.
I find ducks to have the funniest and sweetest personalities.
They also seem much more intelligent than chickens.
Chickens are kinda dumb if I’m being honest, and lack any kind of interesting or individualistic personality— but feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments.
My ducks are curious and playful and a lot of fun to watch waddling in a flock around the property.
It’s a tie!
There are SO many beautiful breeds of ducks and chickens.
Maybe some breeds of chickens with their colors and fluffiness have an edge.
My Orpingtons are stunning.
The list goes on.
But ducks are beautiful too!
From my striking pitch black Cayuga ducks with their iridescent beetle sheen, to the gentle and lovely fawn coloring of my Saxonies to my Welsh Harlequins and their stunning patterns.
As for the Muscovy? Ehhh they’re adorable as ducklings at least. And in that first year before those face wrinkle things pop out.
See my article on the most beautiful pure black chicken breeds!
Roosters & Drakes
Drakes (male ducks) can be very aggressive when it comes to their mating habits.
It can actually be disturbing and very bad news for your female ducks if you do not have the proper male-to-female ratio.
A male duck can also sometimes attempt to mate with a chicken. This can be fatal to the hen. Their anatomy does not match up.
Fortunately, ducks seem to prefer to stick to their own kind.
Even ducks and chickens that were raised and brooded together and share the same coop tend to split up into species-specific groups as each day starts.
See my article on housing chickens and ducks together if you plan to raise and house both.
They can absolutely live and sleep together without issues.
Now, regarding aggression — I have never seen a drake exhibit anything remotely aggressive or threatening towards humans, my toddler included.
That’s an entirely different story.
In our first year we hatched out an insane amount of male Bresse chickens and as they approached sexual maturity, they made it their life mission to try and kill me and my whole family.
They were the meanest things I’ve ever come across and I had more than 20 roaming my property, each and every one
I couldn’t relax outside on my own property, especially with my baby, and carried a long stick everywhere which I had to frequently use as the roosters challenged me and came too close.
They would come at me from multiple angles.
It was wild.
Eventually, we got them into their bachelor pad/fattening shed and everything went back to normal with my well-behaved English Orpingtons.
Check out my article regarding raising Bresse chickens— reportedly the best tasting chicken meat in the world.
I much prefer my Orpington and Olive Egger rooster. They’re calm and gentlemanly.
Will roosters and drakes fight? Maybe. You will have to play it by ear.
Thankfully you don’t need either a rooster or drake for eggs. If you want to breed and replenish your stock yourself, you obviously will though.
Who is noisier? Chickens or ducks?
Depends on the breed.
Only roosters crow at dawn, and throughout the day though.
Muscovy ducks are probably the quietest. My Cayuga and Welsh Harlequin are minimal. My Saxony are absolutely the loudest, but only when excited so that means every time that food is involved. And I’ve noticed that they simmer down as they get older.
My Red Rangers are quite loud, but it’s again, generally related to food.
Oh and male ducks are considerably quieter than the females which is kinda interesting.
Ducks love water.
They need a water container that is deep enough for them to dunk their heads into so that they can clean out their bills.
And what they really want is a pool of some kind to swim around in.
Yes, you can raise ducks without a little pool, but it seems kinda mean to me.
Plastic kiddie pools are cheap and work great, you don’t need anything elaborate or expensive like a pond with a pump.
They’re very messy when it comes to water and you will need to frequently change the dirty water.
Chickens do not require this, just plenty of fresh water to drink. However, they do require a dust bath to keep clean.
Messiness, Upkeep & Care
Ducks are just messier.
They’re water creatures that are constantly spilling their drinking water and splashing around in it.
They submerge their heads into their water troughs and clean out their bills and nostrils.
They wade and dig through mud and mucky ditches looking for plants and bugs.
They also poop a lot.
There’s nothing you can do about it.
We use the deep litter method for every coop/duck shed we have and it works amazingly well through the seasons for both species.
Chickens are quite a bit neater and do not splash around in their water, although they can certainly flip it over.
Other than that both chickens and ducks require very similar setups.
Chickens do require roosts and nesting boxes whereas ducks do not as ducks sleep on the floor and prefer building nests into bedding like straw which they will then line with their own feathers.
See my article on Chicken Nesting Boxes and on Housing Chickens and Ducks Together for more information.
Ducks will be the last birds to go to bed though.
They stay out later seeking those insects that come out and become active at night.
If you’re keeping them alongside your chickens, your chickens will have gone home to roost long before.
This can be pretty annoying if you’re standing outside waiting for them to get back inside.
That said, I appreciate the mosquito and pest control enough to let it go.
If you have an automatic coop door opener and closer, it may be best to set it to a slightly late time.
If it’s becoming a problem you can always use food treats to lure them back inside at a more respectful hour.
With rising inflation comes an increased cost of living, including things like food — and livestock feed too. We purchased our bulk feed for the season about one week before the prices went up. And they are not coming back down.
Chickens, ducks, geese — all are wonderful. I recommend you keep them all as each animal has its pros and cons. But if you have to choose one, or if you have to choose one to raise a larger number of, when it comes to ducks versus chickens — I believe the ducks come out on top every time.
That said, I'm not getting rid of my chickens anytime soon, but I may be much more careful about the breeds that I keep in the coming years as times get tougher.
Let me know what you think in the comments, do you agree or disagree? Are you conflicted?