“Can chickens and ducks live together?” is one of the most common questions I get from readers. Since I’ve been raising my chickens and ducks in the same coop and run for years, my answer is always yes, but I do have a few cautions if you’re considering a mixed flock.
It’s been said that chickens are the gateway to homesteading today. They’re small, easy and fairly uncomplicated to raise. Well, if you like raising chickens, you’ll love raising ducks! They’re even easier – far hardier and healthier, better year-round layers and no pecking order issues to worry about. So if you’re ready to expand to a mixed flock, you might be wondering just how easy it is to integrate some ducks into your flock of chickens.
On the surface, keeping chickens and ducks together makes sense. They eat the same feed (there is waterfowl feed sold commercially specifically for ducks, but it’s often hard to find), enjoy many of the same treats, need the same predator protection day and night, and in the winter, the ducks’ added body heat can help keep the coop and chickens warmer.
However, there are some caveats to follow if you are considering keeping chickens and ducks together.
How to Raise Ducks
You’re wondering how to raise ducks, I’m sure. I find ducks extremely low-maintenance, in fact much easier than chickens. Duck shelters can be even more basic than chicken coops. Since ducks don’t roost on bars, a nice thick layer of straw on the floor of your coop will suffice for a couple of ducks. Ducks also don’t generally use nesting boxes, even those at floor level, so no need to add any boxes for your new flock members. You will find that your ducks will make their own nests in the straw on the floor in which to lay their eggs, usually in a quiet corner. So you will need to be sure you don’t step on the nest accidentally, but won’t need to make any special arrangements for your ducks in that regard.
Ducks do emit lots of moisture when they sleep, so if you plan on keeping chickens and ducks together, be sure that your coop has adequate ventilation. The air flow should be up high, not at floor level which can create drafts.
Ducks also tend to make a mess with their feed and water, so you probably won’t want to leave any inside your coop. Feeding first thing in the morning outside and then again just before dusk works best for me.
What to Feed Ducks
So now you’re wondering what to feed ducks. Ducks can eat chicken layer feed as mentioned at the beginning of this article, however they will benefit from added brewer’s yeast. I supplement my flock’s daily feed with brewer’s yeast to give the ducks the additional niacin they need for strong legs and bones. Regular chicken layer feed should contain niacin, but not at the levels the ducks require. And no worries, the chickens will also benefit from the supplement.
Ducks eat by gobbling up a mouthful of feed and then swishing their bills in water. So you always need to provide your ducks with water any time they have access to feed. And the water should be a bit deeper than you might provide for your chickens. A rubber or plastic tub a few inches deep will usually suffice.
Speaking of water, ducks also need to be able to bathe and splash around in water at least a few times a week. They keep their eyes and nostrils clear and healthy by dunking their heads in the water, and then roll water down their backs, preening at the same time. This helps keep their feathers waterproofed, as the preening activates oils in the preen gland located at the base of a duck’s tail. Waterproof feathers keep the ducks warm in the winter and from becoming waterlogged.
A pond or pool isn’t necessary if you keep ducks – a kiddie pool or large rubber tub is perfectly fine. Be sure to put some cement blocks or bricks in the pool to help the ducks get out, and also in case a chicken happens to fall into the pool. I have had readers say they’ve had chickens drown in their duck pool, but in nearly seven years, I’ve never had that problem – and we even use a horse trough as our duck pool, which is much deeper than a kiddie pool. I think the key is offering easy egress from whatever type of pool you decide to provide.
What About Having Drakes or Roosters? Can Male Chickens and Ducks Live Together?
So, now you’re probably wondering, can chickens and ducks live together if you have males in the mix since males of both breeds can be territorial and more aggressive than the females. I can tell you from personal experience, yes they can. At various times, I’ve had a rooster or two in our mixed flock, and have had a male duck (a drake) the entire time. In fact, right now I have two drakes and up until this past summer also had a rooster.
I’ve never had issues with the males fighting or trying to breed with the other species. I think the key to that is having enough females to go around. A good rule of thumb is at least 10-12 hens per rooster, and at least 2 female ducks for each drake. And when it comes to girls, the more the merrier to keep the peace between the boys!
If you do notice any infighting between the chickens and ducks, by all means separate them so no one gets injured. Until you can assess exactly what’s going on, and remove the bully permanently, or at least until you rebalance the male/female ratio, it’s best to keep a fence between the sparring parties.
Some people find that keeping chickens and ducks together in the same run during they day but providing separate sleeping quarters works. That way the (fairly nocturnal ducks) don’t keep the chickens up at night. Ducks are also far more cold hardy, so duck house windows can be kept open year round in most climates, something your chickens might not enjoy much.
What about Disease?
You might wonder if keeping chickens and ducks together would subject either to illness or disease. My answer to that is that like raising any animal, as long as you keep their environment (relatively) clean with clean bedding on a regular basis, fresh water and feed, you shouldn’t have any problems. Ducks are actually extremely healthy. They have a freakishly high body temperature that keeps most pathogens, bacteria and parasites at bay. Since they spend so much time in the water, they aren’t likely to suffer from mites, ticks or lice.
Ducklings don’t generally get coccidiosis or Mareks, both of which can be of concern to baby chicks. While wild ducks can (and do) carry the avian flu, your backyard ducks shouldn’t be any more a worry than your chickens. They would have to come in contact with it much the same as your chickens would in order to contract it.
The worst problem with ducks is the water mess they make, but I have found that by keeping their feed and water outside, and their pool in a far corner of the run, the chickens learn to avoid the muddy mess for the most part.
So, in summary, CAN chickens and ducks live together?
I can’t say that our chickens and ducks really enjoy each other’s company, and the two groups pretty much stick to themselves, but they certainly get along just fine. Although the ducks are clearly the top of the pecking order in the barnyard which is kind of ironic since ducks in general don’t really seem to adhere to much of a pecking order, quite unlike the rigid pecking order all chicken flocks establish.
I hope this answers the question “Can chickens and ducks live together?” for you, and that you consider adding a few ducks to your chicken flock. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Are thinking about adding ducks to your backyard flock? Do you already have ducks and chickens living together? Let us know in the comments below.