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The Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Chickens and ducks are very different when it comes to feeding, housing and caring for them.

Although we have been raising both chickens and ducks for almost 15 years, and they have been sharing a coop and run for the majority of that time, they are actually very different in so many ways. 

While chickens and ducks can successfully live together in (relative) peace and harmony, it is important to understand all the ways that they differ in their dietary, living and other needs in order to provide them both optimal care.

The difference between chickens and ducks will become apparent very quickly, especially if you raise them side by side. I do absolutely encourage adding some ducks to your backyard flock, but be sure to read this first. 

The Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Brooding Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Although adult chickens and ducks can absolutely share a coop and run, I definitely don't recommend trying to raise baby chicks and ducklings together. Brooding chicks and ducklings is best done separately.

Ducklings require:

  • lower heat in the brooder (starting at 90 degrees and dropping it 7 degrees a week versus chicks that start at 95 degrees and drop 5 degrees a week)
  • only 2 weeks on chick starter feed before they switch to grower (versus the 8 weeks that baby chicks get starter feed)
  • deeper water dishes that they can dunk their entire heads into (that could pose a drowning risk for chicks)

If you brood chicks and ducklings together, you will end up with soggy, unhappy chicks that are susceptible to illness and even death if they get chilled. 

So do yourself a favor and brood them separately, and wait to put them all together once they're old enough to be outside. 

Housing Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Speaking of their outdoor living arrangements, chickens require both roosting bars and nesting boxes in their coop. Ducks on the other hand will be perfectly happy sleeping and laying their eggs on the floor in a nice, thick bed of straw. 

Both do need good ventilation in their house and need to be locked up at dusk to keep them safe from predators. 

However, ducks are far more cold-hardy and don't mind rain, sleet or snow (although they don't like wind), so they actually love to sleep outside in a 1000% predator-proof run with little more than a basic shelter. A small lean-to or doghouse out in the run is perfect for ducks to sleep in, almost year round. 

My ducks will head into the coop with the chickens when the temperatures dip into the teens. Other than that, they prefer sleeping outside. 

As for space requirements, while chickens need about 8 inches each minimum on the roosting bars, ducks each need about 4 square feet of floor space in the coop. 

Nocturnal Activity Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Unlike chickens who are definitely not nocturnal and virtually blind in the dark, ducks rarely sleep through the night, instead taking short naps throughout the day. 

I often wake up in the middle of the night hearing our ducks carrying on as if they're out nightclubbing.

While chickens will put themselves to bed each evening at dusk, ducks do have to be reminded to head back to the coop to be locked up. 

They don't seem to have that same sense of urgency to get to somewhere safe at night and would probably be just as happy to sleep out in the yard under a bush.

Predator Vulnerability Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Speaking of safety, since domestic ducks can't fly, they are actually more vulnerable than chickens to predator attacks. Chickens can generally flap and flutter themselves up into a tree if they are threatened. Ducks can't. Chickens also will scatter if they get spooked and run to hide. 

Ducks on the other hand act more like rabbits. If they see a hawk fly overhead or sense danger, they freeze in place, working under the (correct) assumption that aerial predators hunt by detecting movement. 

That might work for them when evading hawks or eagles, but doesn't work so well for ground predators. And even a pond isn't a safe place for ducks since they can easily be picked off by hawks, eagles or owls from above, or killed by turtles from below. And remember that fox and dogs can swim.

Ducks are extremely awkward and clumsy on land, so they are easy prey for all kinds of predators. So keep both your chickens and ducks safe.

Aquatic Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Domestic ducks, while not diving ducks but instead dabbling ducks so they don't necessarily need to swim, will absolutely love splashing around in a kiddie pool or large tub. 

Having access to water deep enough to dunk their heads in is essential to their well-being, so you will need to provide them with both water tubs to drink from and to hop into to bathe in (note that these will often be the same container!).

While incubator-hatched ducklings that don't hatch under a mother duck need about a month to acquire their waterproofing so they don't get chilled and possibly drown, chickens lack the oils to waterproof their feathers and of course don't have webbed feet designed for paddling in the water.

I have never had a chicken drown in our kiddie pool,  it's only 8" high or so, but I do take care with younger chickens to be sure they don't fall in accidentally. 

And I don't know if they learned it from the ducks or not, but our chickens will often stand in the kiddie pool or water tubs on a hot summer day to cool off.

Lawn Destruction Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Anyone who raises chickens knows that in no time your lawn will look like an Armageddon wasteland if you let your chickens free range.  

They'll dig holes to take dust baths in, they'll scratch up all your bulbs and flowers looking for worms, and they'll kick your mulch into your neighbor's yard if you let them. They'll scratch your lawn down to the dirt without a second thought or care in the world.

Ducks on the other hand are far easier on lawns and gardens. They do however tend to trample small-ish plants, so I like to cage some of my plants I really care about until they're a couple of inches tall.

And the ducks will occasionally yank a tulip or daffodil out of the ground, or munch on our hosta (they LOVE hosta, which are incidentally edible for humans as well), but for the most part, the ducks just waddle around eating mosquito larvae out of any puddles or standing water they can find, and drilling nickel-sized holes in the lawn (which, on the plus side, is GREAT aeration for your soil!) 

The grass around your duck pool (we just use a kiddie pool) will be the nicest-looking grass in your entire yard from all the nitrogen-rich duck poop in the water when you empty the pool - and that dirty duck water makes an EXCELLENT liquid fertilizer for your flowers and shrubs (just don't pour it over edibles since it is, you know, manure).

Poop Differences between Chickens and Ducks (and geese)

Both chickens and ducks produce copious amounts of poop. And it's one of the best fertilizers to use in your garden. Just make sure you let it age for at least 6 months to allow any pathogens to die and for the nitrogen levels to drop a bit so you don't burn your plants.

Like chickens, ducks don't actually urinate, but it all comes out at once, with the "pee" appearing as whitecaps on the brown manure. And like chickens, there's a wide range of normal when it comes to poop. The color will vary depending on what your flock has been eating.

Duck poop is also far more watery, just by virtue of how much water they drink. Ducks also produce more manure since they eat more, pound for pound, than chickens. Another reason to encourage your ducks to sleep outside in a secure pen or run instead of inside the coop. 

However, ducks poop throughout the day, unlike chickens. For the most part, chickens eat all day, store what they eat in their crop, then all that food gets slowly digested as the chickens sleep, so they're pooping all night while they're up on the roosts. Not ducks. Most of their poop ends up in the run - or the yard.

Goose poop is a whole 'nother level, and entirely different than chicken and duck poop. Since our geese eat a diet almost 100% consisting of grass and weeds, our geese poop dark green chopped greens "cigars". Sure, they poop every 12 minutes, but's far less gross.

And that also means that once you put them in for the night, they'll likely poop just once more and that's it for the night. They don't hold it all in all day like the chickens do.

Between eating all of our weeds and fertilizing our lawn, getting geese was the best lawn care we could ever ask for! 

Corralling Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Going back to preserving your lawn, flowers and gardens, ducks are far easier to keep confined than chickens. Your average duck will have trouble getting over a fence that's much higher than a foot or so, while some determined chickens can get over a 6-foot fence. 

Although chickens can't technically fly, they can flutter, flop, jump and hop and manage to get some pretty decent "air". They'll go up and over most garden fences. (Note, domestic ducks other than mallards and call ducks can't fly either.)

I find my chickens in our window boxes, wooden planters, raised bed gardens, and on our deck and back steps, etc. Our ducks, not so much. The most they can do is hop up a few inches. 

So keeping ducks where you want them is pretty easy. Plus, they are so water-focused, if you fill a kiddie pool for them, they likely won't stray far from that.

Feed Differences between Chickens and Ducks

If you only raise ducks, you can feed them waterfowl feed. It usually floats and contains added niacin that ducks need to grow strong legs and bones. 

If you raise chickens and ducks together, ducks can be fed chicken feed, but you do need to add additional niacin. This is the product I add to my flock's chicken layer feed to be sure my ducks are getting the nutrition they need. The brewer's yeast and garlic won't hurt the chickens and is, in fact, extremely beneficial for them as well. 

Chickens eat about 1/2 cup of feed per hen per day. Ducks go through more feed, but mostly because they go back and forth from the feed to the water when they eat, and in fact can easily choke, especially when they're young if they don't have water available at all times when they're eating. 

Since so much feed ends up in the water when ducks eat, I will just skim off the extra water at the end of the day and both the chickens and ducks love eating the wet feed at the bottom. 

Because ducks alternate back and forth between their feed and water, the feed ends up getting wet, so standard chicken feeders are just going to get clogged up with wet, moldy feed. 

And  because ducks quickly learn how to drain gravity waterers to make a nice big mud puddle to play in, I don't use hanging feeders or gravity waterers for my flock. Instead I just fill old enamelware basins and roasting pans (yes, I see the irony!) for their water, and casserole dishes and trays for their feed. 

They're inexpensive (I scour ebay and yard sales), easy to clean and refill and don't crack or rust. 

But the biggest difference in feeding chickens and ducks is when they are young.

For Chicks:

  • Hatch through 8 weeks: chick starter feed  (18% protein)
  • 8 weeks through 18 or 20 weeks: chicken grower feed (15-16% protein)
  • 18 or 20 weeks on: chicken layer feed (15-16% protein plus 3% calcium)

For Ducklings:

  • Hatch through 2 weeks: chick starter feed  (18% protein)
  • 2 weeks through 18 or 20 weeks: chicken grower feed (15-16% protein)
  • 18 or 20 weeks on: chicken layer feed (15-16% protein plus 3% calcium)

*I also add oats to my duckling's feed - up to 25% - to cut the protein even more for them. Ducklings grow extremely fast anyway, and too much protein increases that growth which can lead to a condition called angel wing as well as leg issues.

Treat Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Another big difference between chickens and ducks is the types of treats they enjoy. It actually works out pretty well to raise both chickens and ducks, because what one won't eat, the other will. There's very little as far as kitchen scraps and leftovers that I don't feed to my flock.

It comes down to this. Chickens can and will eat almost anything. They are omnivores and will gobble up everything from leftover hamburgers to vegetable soup, cereals and grains and everything in between. There is very little that chickens won't eat (carrots being one thing, but our geese love those, so that works out too!) 

Chickens are junk food junkies, love their carbs, and will go for the most unhealthy things in the pile of scraps on "refrigerator clean-out day". Of course, they get treats in moderation, and I especially try to limit super unhealthy stuff (too salty, sweet or fried, etc).

Ducks, on the other hand, are far more picky. They love anything green, especially peas. which incidentally are a great source of niacin. Ducks love spinach, cabbage, kale, and lettuce. They also love watermelon, corn and spaghetti. 

Ducks tend to enjoy more healthy treats. Great duck treats also include cucumbers, berries and dried grubs. They're not so big on seeds or meat, although technically they aren't vegetarians, and do enjoy shrimp shells and fish skin/scraps. 

Health Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Unlike chickens who are susceptible to any number of respiratory and other health issues from Coccidiosis and Marek's Disease to Avian Flu (although they can be carriers), ducks are far more hardy and rarely get sick. 

Botulism would be my biggest worry with ducks, so making sure they aren't exposed to stagnant water or moldy feed or bedding is really important.

Hardware Disease is another thing to watch for - both chickens and ducks love to eat shiny things and the metal can be fatal to them if they eat washers, screws, pieces of wire or coins.

As long as ducks have regular access to water, they shouldn't have issues with external parasites like mites or lice, and shouldn't get debilitating conditions like becoming egg bound, contracting wet feather or foamy eye issues that can occur during mating season.

Molting Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Both chickens and ducks molt, i.e. drop their feathers and grow in new ones. Chickens molt annually in the fall to get ready for winter. Both hens and roosters molt.

On the other hand, ducks molt at various times throughout the year and molt differently depending on if they're male or female. 

Egg Laying Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Both chickens and ducks lay eggs about once a day. And generally spring through fall, taking the winter off unless they are provided supplemental light. However, younger ducks especially tend to lay through the winter. 

Ducks also lay longer in life than chickens. While chickens tend to peak around two years of age before egg production starts to drop off, ducks will lay well for three or four years. Ducks also lay larger eggs. Two duck eggs are equivalent to three chicken eggs.

As an added bonus, ducks won't eat their own eggs, but also don't tend to go broody as frequently as chickens do. 

Personality Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Here's where chickens and ducks differ the most, I think. 

Here it is in a nutshell. 

Chickens are like uptight Victorian ladies. They're unhappy if it's too hot, too cold, rainy, snowing, there's a new flock member, or you move something in the coop or run. 

They pretend to like each other, but would turn on each other in an instant if it meant getting a better spot on the roost or more treats. And by "turn on", I literally mean peck each other to death.

Ducks, on the other hand, act like they're perpetually on vacation sitting by the pool with an umbrella drink listening to Bob Marley. 

They love newcomers - the more the merrier - because they don't adhere to a strict pecking order. They always travel together and honestly love each other. 

If one duck gets left behind by accident, they play Marco Polo, quacking back and forth, to guide the lone duck back into the fold.  Ducks live by the motto "no duck left behind". 

For example, the younger ducks will slow down to wait for the older or heavier ducks when they go on secret missions. 

Although young ducks tend to be a bit skittish and suspicious of everyone and everything, once they get older, ducks are extremely friendly. To humans and to each other.

They aren't going to peck holes in each other like chickens will if they see blood or just don't like another flock member. And drakes aren't generally people-aggressive like many roosters can tend to be. 

Although ducks don't imprint quite as strongly as geese do, in the absence of a mother duck or goose, ducklings and goslings will become quite co-dependent on their human "mom" or "dad" and are very easy to train to eat out of your hand and will follow you around if you spend lots of time with them during the first few hours of their life.

Herding Differences between Chickens and Ducks

Although ducks aren't as fastidious about putting themselves to bed as chickens are, they are much easier to herd back to their coop or house. 

The saying about getting your ducks in a row definitely came from duck farmers. Ducks love to play "follow the leader" and that makes them extremely easy to herd. Our ducks are always together and don't scatter during free range time like the chickens do.

While you might call to your chickens to round them up and then lead them from the front and have them follow you, ducks are more easily herded from behind. 

As long as you can get one duck heading in the right direction, using your arms out to the sides to keep that duck on track, the others will follow. And you won't need to worry about any stragglers. They'll catch up, so as not to be left behind. 

All in all, I've immensely enjoyed raising my mixed flock for more than a decade, and both chickens and ducks offer delicious fresh eggs and plenty of entertainment. 

And they do tolerate each other very well, no one has ever been sick. Although I'm pretty sure neither group would mind terribly if the other group just up and disappeared one day, never to be seen again! There's no love lost between them. 

Oh, and speaking of which, it's an urban legend that a drake will try to mate with your hens and kill them.  We've kept drakes and roosters, hens and female ducks together for almost 15 years without any problems.  

This information was partially adapted and/or excerpted from my books Fresh Eggs Daily and Duck Eggs Daily. Available anywhere you buy your books.

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