Ducks can provide you with everything a chicken can so they are another option for the homesteader when choosing what kind of livestock they want to keep on their property.
For some people, ducks could act as a replacement for chickens, that is if one really enjoyed duck meat and eggs both of which different slightly from chicken meat and eggs.
Choosing a breed
There are only about 8 breeds of ducks that easily available from any old hatchery in the US. There are probably an additional 10 or 15 specialty or heritage breeds that can be acquired with a little bit of searching. In my opinion the breed you are looking for, is more aesthetics than production because a lot of ducks offer the same thing. Although there are still a few that are better at providing certain things than others.
If you are looking for meat, Pekins are the most popular meat breed and have been for over 100 years since they were brought here from China. They are fast growers and dress out to about 6 lbs at 8 to 12 weeks of age. The alternative meat duck is the Muscovy. These ducks originate from South America. They are the largest of the domestic ducks and they are their own breed, all other domestic ducks are derived from the Wild Mallard. These ducks take about 12 weeks to produce a 10b carcass. They have less fat and more breast meat than Pekins and the meat has a different flavor than mallard derived breeds. Cayugas are also an options for meat and perhaps eggs. They used to be the preferred meat breed in the US before the Pekins came along. The Pekins won out because they grew faster, larger and had cleaner carcasses due to their white feathers vs the black feathers of the Cayuga. If you are considering Cayugas for meat, it would be best to get them from someone that is serious about the breed if you want them to reach a good size. I ordered mine from a hatchery with the intention of butchering some and they ended up being so scrawny I sold most as pets.
If eggs are what you are looking for and you are looking for a pure breed than Indian Runners and Khaki Campbells can’t be beat. I’ve had both and both laid almost an egg a day for quite some. If you are looking for slightly more than that Metzer farms carries what they called White Layers and Gold Start Hybrids. I keep a few of the latter and they are laying machines, laying large white eggs everyday except during the coldest months of winter. Those last two breeds don’t breed true, so there is a trade off for the homestead looking to keep a self-sustaining breeding flock.
Ducks can be fed the same a chickens. A 16% layer feed will do just fine for a flock of ducks and an Oyster Shells supplement will provide added calcium for the layers. One thing that is essential for ducks, that is not quite essential for chickens and turkeys during feeding is water. All animals need water, but ducks must have water with their food because ducks use water to wash that dry grain down their gullet. If you watch a duck eat, from only a few days old they will grab a mouth full of food, swallow it then run over to the water to wash it all down and clean their bills. Because of the shape of their bills, ducks won’t eat the variety of scraps a chicken will but they will eat what they can. They enjoy leaves and sometimes bread. They will eat all the slugs off your property and also aerate your lawn will digging in the dirt for bugs. This can be a good thing and a bad that depending on how many ducks you have. Too many ducks will destroy any area where water collects, like a lawn with poor drainage…like my lawn with poor drainage.
As with chickens ducks also need shelter to keep them safe from predators and get out of the weather. It surprises me how many people think ducks can just be left out with no shelter. I’ve had people buy ducks from me who assumed that once they had them they would just sleep on the water of their pond at night. Yes ducks love water but they will come to roost in a shelter at night just like chickens. People are great at walking on the sidewalk, but would you sleep on the pavement just because you know how to walk on it? I don’t think so. I do consider ducks hardier than most other breeds of poultry though mainly because they do well in rain. The love it. All you have to do is watch one soaked chicken standing next to one happy duck in the rain to know which one would fair better in most kinds of weather. Although ducks are waterproof, they still need a place to go and dry off.