Yes, you can keep ducks and chickens together is the short answer but there are some special considerations to be made if you plan to keep both of these beautiful poultry breeds side-by-side. Therefore, in this short article I’ve selected the most important areas to consider when keeping ducks and chickens together pointing out where these poultry breeds are the same and where they are different.
Before I get into the areas where ducks and chickens are same or different, I should state the following recommendations/points are aimed at the backyard poultry keeper and not necessarily meant for larger breeders etc. Many large and commercial breeders recommend not keeping ducks and chickens together for various reasons but often in a backyard or hobby farm environment separating ducks and chickens is impractical and I argue unnecessary.
I’ve been keeping ducks and chickens together now for several years without any issues – in fact, they’ve been great together! However, I have made a number of observations during this time which lead to the following pointers and recommendations.
Generally, if ducks and chickens are kept together they rarely get in each others way. Ducks like to all hang around together (like geese) whilst chickens are very independant and often like to go off on their own to hunt for a worm or bug to eat, or even have their own dust bath.
Chickens seem to be less flighty and can get all close and personal with their owners (particularly if we're handing out a few kitchen scraps) whereas ducks will keep their distance and be a little careful – but there are exceptions and it largly depends on how the birds are raised and how much contact they get with humans.
I've never seen a duck and chicken really fight or hurt each other but I do see the occasional light peck by a chook to a duck around a feeder to say, "go away I'm eating!"
Chickens seem to be smarter than ducks when it comes to just about everything (that's just my opinion) but one extra benefit for keeping chickens with ducks is how chickens are excellent early warning sentries for danger from predators (like hawks). Unlike domestic ducks, chickens will spot danger from a mile away and their warnings alert the ducks also which help to keep them safe.
Feed & feeders
Apart from ducklings, backyard ducks and chickens can be fed the same commercial feed. Ducks eat more food than chickens but if you have a nice grassed area for them to free-range ducks will eat a lot of it and this will mean they'll eat less of the purchased feed. Chicks can be fed a medicated feed as they grow to keep them healthy but ducklings should not be given medicated feed as they are very sensitive to this type of medication and it may even kill them. Good quality kitchen scraps and garden vegetables/salads are fine to feed to both chickens and ducks.
Ducks and chickens can use the same feeders but ducks need more space to eat because of their bills; therefore, open chicken feeders like: standard large brimmed feeders, troughs, buckets, and PVC type containers, are better than those small feeders with spines at the bottom.
Number of feed vessels are also important when keeping ducks and chickens together as chickens can be bossy and often hog a favourite feeder. Several feeders positioned around the pen will ensure everyone gets a turn.
Ducks and chickens sharing feeders and drinkers (image above)
Water & Drinkers
Ducks need a lot of fresh water and require a vessel like a large bucket, which enables them to dunk their head (at least) so they can clean their bills and nostrils. Chickens can have any type of drinker from nipple to cups and of course open containers. If ducks are given access to chicken cup drinkers they will make a heck of a mess and quickly clog the cups up with mud. A simple solution is to raise the cup drinkers up higher out of the ducks reach and provide a besser block (large brick) for the chickens to hop up on and get a drink – the ducks can't hop up and won't be bothered trying to if they have their own water bucket.
A small pond, or dam whilst not necessary for chickens should be strongly considered for keeping ducks in my opinion.
Most domestic ducks can't fly very well and can be rather clumsy, unlike chickens, which can fly up to perch or reach a high nesting box and are quite nimble on their feet. When keeping ducks it's a good idea to try and keep the pen areas as free from debris as possible to limit them from tripping over. Also, ducks generally spook easier than chickens (especially ones not hand raised) so take care not to scare the ducks into running too much as they could hurt themselves.
Space is always a consideration whether mixed poultry or the same so backyard poultry keepers should ensure there is enough space for the ducks to waddle together and hens to cluck. Chickens like to be pampered with a nice nesting area, and a dry place to roost at night. Ducks don't roost but still like a dry place to sit and preferably a comfortable floor (with straw, dirt, or litter) rather than concrete or hard surfaces due to their tender knees. Ducks may also happily sit out in the rain sometimes or on a good night sleep outside under the stars on a grassed area if they have access to one.
Ducks and chickens sharing housing – in my pen the chickens roost in their upper penthouses whilst the ducks happily sit on the floor (image above)
Chickens usually lay in a nesting box or favourite spot and often share a nest grouping eggs together. Most ducks have a bad habit of laying eggs anywhere and sometimes need to be coaxed into laying in a better spot by encouraging them to go on a nice straw nest which is easily accessed.
Ducks will often lay their eggs through the night or very early in the morning whilst chickens usually start laying in the morning between daybreak and about 11:00 AM. Therefore, it could be prudent to collect the duck eggs early in the morning and then come back for the chicken eggs later once they have finished laying (especially if your poultry pen is open or doesn’t have a roof as egg predators may see an opportunity to steal feed).
Ducks are hardier than chickens which means they're not as susceptible to diseases and illness. Backyard duck and chicken growers on a small scale don't usually have to worry too much about major diseases but if you are concerned for the health of any bird it's best to isolate them and seek professional advice for medications etc.
Basic worming – Ducks can be given worming medication at the same time as the chickens. Although there are some people who don't believe worming their ducks is necessary, I still worm my ducks with a basic poultry wormer. According to the Department of Primary Industries in Australia ducks should be routinely wormed for the most common internal parasite for ducks called Large Roundworm. Be sure to use poultry worming medication as directed.
Lice and mite control – Ducks seem to do better than chickens against lice and mites also but I still treat my ducks for these external parasites the same way I do my chickens. There are several effective powders, sprays, and skin treatments on the market to combat lice and mites in poultry.
Overall, ducks and chickens get along just fine mixed. Naturally, you may get the odd nasty bird that can’t get along but that would be rare and I haven’t seen it personally (if I did have a bird which couldn’t get along with their peers it might just end up on the dinner menu).
Ducks and chickens are amazing backyard animals and in my opinion the best poultry breeds to keep. Keeping ducks and chickens together is totally ok as long as proper considerations are taken and we understand where duck and chickens are the same and where their needs are different.
If you’d like to talk more about ducks and chickens why not join our forum and join in the conversation – we’d love to see you there.
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
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