Adventures in Homesteading 101: Quack Quack - Ducks!

Chickens not enough for you and you want to add ducks to your backyard livestock? Think twice about that! Ducks are wonderful and fun, don't get me wrong, but they are very different from chickens in many ways and require a lot more effort. We have Pekins and Mallards. On some days they wear me out! Here's the skinny on both if you want more info or are still deciding on which ones to get.

Pekin ducks: These are the white ducks you see in Aflac tv commercials. They are large, cannot fly, are very smart, very inquisitive, and prefer the company of people over other ducks. The females make great pets.

The males (Drakes), however, can be aggressive and will nip hard enough to tear through any exposed skin on your body when perturbed. It doesn't take much to get a Drake perturbed either, so I have found out the hard way. They are very demanding also and if they don't get their way they will resort to nipping.

Ducks are protectively territorial and will sound a loud quacking alarm when strangers or predators are near. Angry Drakes will chase a person even though the person can obviously run faster than it. The Drake doesn't care, it'll still go after you.

A female Pekin will lay up to 300 eggs per year. It's very difficult to distinguish a female Pekin between a Pekin Drake until they are about 6 months old when the male acquires his curled Drake tail feather. Females do not have this curled tail feather.

Mallard ducks: Mallards are a lot smaller than Pekins and the males are much less aggressive. They do not nip hard like Pekins do, mainly because they are so small to begin with. I prefer Mallards over Pekins myself, if I had to choose between the two, for this reason alone.

Male and female Mallards look identical up to around 6 months of age when the Mallard Drakes begin to change in appearance. The Drake's underbelly feathers will lose most of its markings and become a pale greyish white color. It's breast feathers will become a dark chestnut color and its head feathers will turn an irridescent dark green. This is when they will also begin to develop the white ring around their neck. The bill also changes color, going from a yellow hue to a green color.

Female Mallards will also lay up to 300 eggs in a year's time. Their eggs are much smaller than Pekin duck eggs.

Mallards can and will fly. They are also intuitively programmed to migrate in the fall and if you don't take steps to prevent this you'll lose your birds because they will fly away to head south for the winter.

One way to keep your Mallards grounded is to clip their wings. Another way is to raise your Mallard ducklings with your Pekin ducklings as a single flock, thereby bonding them to the Pekins. Pekins cannot fly, their bodies are too large for their wingspan leaving them unable to get very far off the ground. Mallards are born to fly, but will stay with the flock. If half of your flock is grounded, your Mallards will voluntarily stay grounded and won't leave. This is how we raise ours because I don't like the idea of clipping their wings.

Hey, I'm Not A Chicken!

Ducks need more space, indoors (barn) or out, than chickens do. Their poop is stinkier and messier, so their living quarters need more frequent cleaning than chicken coops do, too. They also need a lot of water, not just for drinking but for bathing, swimming, and playing in.

Don't Mess With The Backyard King!

Drake Pekins are so territorially aggressive, they will chase and pick fights with pet cats and with any Cochrel or Rooster you might have if those animals should stray too close to or perturb the Drake. Mallards aren't like that, but they do prefer to keep a safe distance from them.

It's A Bird! No, It's A Plane!

Ducks are very keen on watching the sky for predatory birds. If one should happen to be in the vicinity, they will either run for cover if they aren't bobbing around in water, or when in water they will freeze and remain motionless until the threat has passed. Passing airplanes will also cause this behavior. Ducks don't know the difference between an airplane or a hawk. All they know (I'm assuming) is that it's big and it's in the sky, so as far as they are concerned it might try to attack and eat them.

If It Looks Good, Eat It!

Ducks love to forage. They also love to eat flowers in flowerbeds and can destroy an entire flowerbed within minutes. I had a beautiful flowerbed once. Key word there: "Had". What used to be a flowerbed is now an herb garden. Thankfully my ducks don't like my herb garden! Their foraging includes digging into wet soil with their bills in search for worms and insects. If there is no wet, muddy soil available, they will fill their mouths with water and spit it onto the ground, and will keep doing this until the ground is wet enough for them to dig into. This leaves little holes in your yard everywhere they've foraged in this manner.

I Think I'm Sexy, You Really Turn Me On

Pekins can and will mate with Mallards. Drake Pekins are so aggressive, they will even mate with Drake Mallards if there is no available female Pekin around. Drake Mallards do not resort to homosexual duck sex like Pekins do, in my experience.

Where's The Pool?

One mandatory thing you need with ducks is a body of water where they can bathe, swim, and play. Unless you are wealthy and can afford to install a pond, a large, cheap plastic wading pool will do the trick. It's easy to clean, too. And clean it you will! lol They will poop in the water while doing their thing. I clean ours regularly with a long handled car wash type scrub brush, some Dawn dishwashing soap, and rinsing extremely well with water to get all of the soap residue off. Once a month it gets disinfected with bleach prior to cleaning. When using bleach, make sure to scrub with soapy water and rinse exceptionally well after.

Do not leave baby ducklings unattended in the water!! I cannot stress this enough! Baby Pekin ducklings do not instinctively know how to swim and must learn how. They are prone to drowning if left unattended! Mallard ducklings are the opposite and will take to water like fish. They still need supervision though because if they try to do water acrobatics like a backflip in order to wash their backs off, they might not be able to flip themselves right-side-up yet and could drown if you are not there to help them!

Cold Or Hot?

Pekins have loads of down that keeps them insulated from the cold. Mallards do not and this is why they normally fly south for the winter. Therefore, you have to provide Mallards with a heat source in their living quarters during freezing weather.
Mallards do well in warm weather. Pekins will shed a lot of their down when it starts getting hot outside in order to adjust to the temp change. If it gets too hot out though, try provide plenty of shade, and cool pool and drinking water.

Until next time...Happy Homesteading!