Raising Chickens & Ducks Together

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They say that chickens are the “gateway” animal to further farming adventures.  When you are ready to skip through that gateway and expand your farm, lots of people look to adding different kinds of poultry.  Common backyard poultry include turkey, geese, guineas & ducks – turkeys are quite large and geese & guineas are quite loud so many will settle on ducks.

Ducks can be a great addition to a small farm.  They lay large eggs about as regularly as chickens (click here to read more about duck eggs).  Duck eggs are excellent for baking!  Ducks don’t require a tons of room, don’t make a ton of noise, and can often fit right in with your existing chicken set up.

But ducks are definitely not chickens.  While raising the two kinds of poultry together is certainly possible, each species has some different requirements.   How can you make sure your mixed flock is happy & healthy?  The key is making sure even though both flocks are living together, they each have what they need.

Water

Perhaps the biggest hurdle you will face when keeping ducks & chickens together is what to do with the water.  Chickens do great with nipple waterers or water fonts they can dip their beak in for a drink.  Ducks on the other hand need to have access to water that is deep enough for them to dip their head in.  They need to be able to dip their head in the water to clean & keep their nostrils moist, to clean their eyes, and to mix their food with their water for digestion.

Ducks can’t use traditional chicken water fonts because their bills won’t adequately fit in the small font opening.  They can use nipple water systems, but they will still need to have a bowl of fresh, clean water available for cleaning & eating.  Of course the ducks don’t just gently dip their bills in the water.  They splash.  They get in the bowl and try to swim.  They add dirt & feed to the water.  They make mud everywhere.  Chickens don’t care for mud and muck.  They don’t like when their water is dirty.  I have my chickens & ducks share a water bowl.  I scrub it out daily.  I keep it outside of the coop so that the shaving inside will stay dry.  I also move it around the run so I don’t have one area getting overly muddy.

While on the subject of water, let’s talk about swimming.  Ducks technically don’t *need* to have a pool for swimming as long as they have a deep water dish.  But they will be *super* happy if you give them a little kiddie pool to splash about in.  It also might make them less likely to try and swim in the water bowl (but don’t hold your breath!).  Don’t worry about your chickens around the pool.  For the most part, they will just stay away from it, or maybe will occasionally drink from it.  Adult chickens don’t like to swim, but they can naturally float so you don’t have to worry about them drowning if they accidentally fall in.  If the water is shallow enough, you might find your chickens like to stand in the water to cool off in the summer.  Young chicks could however drown if left unattended near a pool.  When you have chicks in your flock, consider gating off the pool, keeping it empty until they are grown, or only filling it up when you are around to supervise.

Feeding

This area is a lot easier than water.  Chickens & ducks can both eat the same quality layer feed.  The only caveat is when you have young ducklings in the flock, they will need to have access to extra niacin.  I like to mix brewer’s yeast into the feed to help the ducklings get what they need (click here to read more about raising ducklings).  I keep a hanging chicken feeder in the coop so the chickens can still use this at night, but everyone’s main feed is in an open bowl that both ducks and chickens can eat out of.  Ducks will have a hard time fitting their bills in many chicken feeder troughs, so open bowls work best.  Ducks & chickens like the same types of treats, both will go crazy for meal worms and both love table scraps like veggies & bread.  I have found that the ducks are a bit pickier about what they eat though.

Housing

Chickens and ducks can be housed together in the same coop or you can try to keep them separate.   Chickens like to roost at night, so they will need places to perch off the ground.   Ducks like to nest at night, so they will need some place at ground level to sleep.  When planning your coop, make sure your ducks have some place quiet to nest on the ground (and be sure it isn’t underneath the roosts or they will get pooped on all night!).  Be sure the ramp is not too steep to get into the coop.  Chickens can navigate a steep ramp, but ducks are not great at jumping and their big floppy feet can make them a little awkward on land.  Ducks actually prefer to sleep out in the open air.  If at all possible, providing a small door that stays open all night, leading to a completely secure small run is best.  If you do this, be sure it is totally predator proof on every side – consider lining the entire floor of the run with wire.  My ducks have their own separate coop that stays open all night, and my chickens have a coop that gets closed up at night.  They both share the same run.  The ducks pretty much never use their coop.  They sleep in the run, usually underneath the chicken coop every night.  Sometimes when I go out at night to check on them in the warmer months, they will be quietly floating in their little kiddie pool that is in the run.

Flock Dynamics

For the most part, your ducks & chickens are likely to just ignore each other.  If you have a really small flock of each type of bird they might integrate more, but generally ducks will prefer the company of other ducks, and chickens will prefer to hang out with chickens.  My birds free range together in the yard all day.  While they all come running to me for snacks and all enjoying lounging in the shade of the rhododendron bush, they keep to themselves.  I wouldn’t say one flock is dominate over the other and they all seem to get along together.

In general, a group of mixed ladies will get along.  Add in a drake or a rooster and the dynamics are bound to change.  They could get territorial.  The drake or rooster could be constantly trying to chase off the other birds to ensure his ladies get the best treats or foraging ground.  It all depends on the temperament of the male.  The one situation you want to take care with is having a drake (male duck) in a mixed flock without a rooster.  During breeding season (spring & early summer) drakes are in the mood for love and not much can stop them.  It’s best to have at least 2-3 female ducks per drake to keep him “occupied”.  What you don’t want is for your drake to try and mate with your female chickens.  Drakes have an external phallus where as roosters do not.  As such, female chickens are not designed for that type of action and can be seriously hurt or even killed by an overzealous drake.  If you have a rooster around, he will keep the hens safe.  If not, just keep an eye on your drake and be ready to separate him from the flock if he bothers the chickens.

I have had a drake and no rooster and he never went after any of the chickens.  He actually did a good job of keeping all the ladies (duck & chicken alike) safe when out free ranging.  The chickens all would take cover if they heard him quacking a warning about a potential predator.  I have also had a few drakes and a rooster in the flock at the same time.  The drakes left the chickens alone and all the boys got along just fine.

Final thoughts

I love my little mixed flock, they are all different and fun and bring so much joy to our backyard farm!


20 comments

  1. Jamie says:

    I currently have 2 drakes and 4 female ducks. Wanting to add more females to flock for additional eggs. Is it safe to add more females of different breed without adding anymore drakes?

    • Liz says:

      Yes, the breed does not matter. The drakes might have territorial issues when the new girls arrive but should settle down after a week or two

  2. Christina says:

    Hey Liz,

    We have raised 2 ducks and 6 chickens from babies together. They are getting big and growing their adult feathers. We have many ponds on the property, home to hundreds of wild ducks. We haven’t let our flock (or chickens and ducks) roam freely yet…. we plan to do so soon. Did you think the ducks will branch off or will they stay with the mixed flock they were raised and come back to their home?

    • Liz says:

      My ducks have lived with chickens since day 1 and they mostly keep to themselves. They all go out and free range in the yard but the ducks hang out with the ducks and the chickens with the chickens (for the most part). But they all still go back to the run when it starts to get dark. With all your wild ducks I would definitely be worried about your ducks taking off and not coming back

  3. KristAn says:

    We live in cold Michigan. Our chickens tend to just stay in their house all winter even though they could go out. We have had ducks since spring. We have just started housing them at night with the hens. How do you keep water out in the cold without freezing for the ducks or do you? Our ducks seem to pick on our chickens and corner them. Is hay best for them in winter or wood shavings?

    • Liz says:

      Our chickens don’t like to come out if there is snow on the ground, but the duck have zero issues with this. They like to dig around in the snow. We use a heated pet bowl for the ducks in the winter. It has a little heater that kicks in whenever the temp drops below freezing. We keep it out in the run though because the ducks would make a huge icy mess if it were in the coop. We use wood shavings year round, but hay also has great insulating values. I prefer the wood shavings because they break down neater for composting. Do you lock your ducks in the coop at night with the chickens? My ducks really prefer sleeping outside – even in the middle of winter, they often choose to just sleep under the coop (enclosed just on three sides, but faces the fully enclosed run). If you have chickens & ducks in the same coop where they are locked in and you have harsh winters, you will want to ensure you have LOTS of extra space so they don’t get snippy with each other. The bare minimum recommendation is 4 sq ft per bird, but I would say if they spend a lot of time in the coop you will want to double that

  4. stephen sheridan says:

    Hey 🙂 we have 10 Chickens and now my brother got us 2 ducks..however one of the chickens will not leave the ducks alone..they keep pecking her and i dont know what i should do..will it settle down or will i have to keep them sepreate?

    • Liz says:

      They should settle down once they get used to the ducks (unless your chicken is just a jerk lol). Individual personalities aside, most times chickens will keep to themselves and ducks to themselves. Give it some time! In a week if the chicken is still picking on the ducks, I would section off part of the run for the ducks to live safely in for a couple weeks. The chicken might just need more time than normal to get used to seeing them around (but this will keep the ducks safe while she adjusts)

  5. thuoc ga da says:

    Thanks for the great advice. I also love to give mine cold vegetables. When I have cucumbers that have grown too big in the garden, I put them in the fridge then share with the chicks.

  6. Sarah Walduck says:

    What age for the ducks can I add them to my chickens? They are only 5 weeks at the moment. Can I just put them straight in at night like when adding new chickens?

  7. Hadley says:

    Hello, I will shortly be receiving 6 chicks. 3 weeks later I will get 2 ducklings. How long should I wait before integrating the two species? Thank you
    Also, my sister is getting chicks too and wanted to just get 1 duckling, do you think that the chickens will keep her company or will she get dreadfully lonely?

    • Liz says:

      I tried last summer brooding chicks and ducklings at the same time in the same box. The duckling was about 2 weeks older than the chicks. It was a mess, the duckling & chicks for the most part got along fine at first, but the duckling grew so much faster than the chicks that soon he was towering over the chicks and started to grab the chicks by the feet and knock them down (I think maybe he thought their long toes were worms). So the duckling went outside with the older ducks much earlier than planned. I would suggest waiting until they are all at least 2 months and fully feathered to introduce them. As adults, my ducks and chickens get along just fine, I think it’s just the baby stage where it’s harder. Even my roosters and drakes get along fine. BUT they do pretty much just keep to themselves. The ducks and chickens tend to not really mix when free ranging and the ducks like to sleep in the run while the chickens are all in the coop. So as far as your sister goes, it might be tricky if her chickens shun the duck and she doesn’t have any other ducks to grow up with. I think the best chance that single duck would have is if she has a broody hen that you can give the day old duck too. Then the broody will raise it up as her own and it will be part of the chicken flock. But even then, as the duck becomes an adult the duck still might be an outcast.

  8. Tera says:

    I purchased 10 pullets and two ducks at Easter this year. One pullet turned into a rooster and one duck is a drake. My ducks at 14 weeks still follow the chickens into the hen house every night. We live in Carlsbad New Mexico so weather is hot in the summer and no real snow. I got so tired of cleaning the five gallon water everyday and recently got a kiddie pool for the ducks. After awhile I saw the chickens drinking the pool water and thought I am just going to pull the 5 gallon water because it was getting nasty every other day anyway. I have pump in the pool that I can turn on and quickly drain the pool and fill up with out breaking my back. Am I causing the chickens harm by allowing them to drink out of the what seems like dirty water all the time? Should I make a separate water solution with the chicken water cups just so the chickens can have fresher water? Any other advice for

    • Liz says:

      My chickens are always drinking out of the duck pool. I try to keep it clean, but as you know that can be an impossible chore. I would still recommend you have a waterer for them to drink from though. The algae and duck waste really isn’t great for them, so if you can encourage them to drink from another water source that is best. You might want to think about get a nipple waterer for the chickens. That way the ducks can’t hop into it and it will always stay nice and clean for drinking. I have a large water bowl that I dump and clean every day that is kept in the run and then have the duck pool which I usually dump every other day but it is out in the free range area.

  9. Jim says:

    Hi. I live in Northern Nevada Saturday i found 12 Mallard ducklings in my yard, Mom and Dad were no where to be found. These ducklings are only a week or so old and are now occupying my bathtub.
    How long is this going to go on? When can i move them outside?

    • Liz says:

      Wow! I wonder what happened to the parents? It’s so nice of you to give these guys a fighting chance! I usually keep my ducks inside for the first 3 weeks and then move them outside into an enclosed pen for a couple more weeks. In the wild, ducks will leave their parents around 6-8 weeks once they are fully feathered and self sufficient. I know keeping ducklings (especially that many!) inside can be a messy business. Because it’s the middle of the summer, they could be ok outside after around two weeks, but if you could provide them a safe place that is ideal. Especially at night, they will need somewhere sheltered from predators.

  10. Robyn says:

    I have had 7 hens, but recently, due to a friend’s rehoming need, added 8 more hens and 4 drakes. Since her flock had been raised together since babies, the integration into my coop went really smooth. Yesterday, a friend brought me two more drakes. Long story short, someone had dumped two domestics out at the game refuge near the lake and they wouldn’t have lived. They all stayed in the coop/barn last night and seemed to settle in alright after a while. I’m a little concerned I don’t have any female ducks. Right now, they are all free range during the day and closed in the barn at night (they all go in at dusk and find their spot). I am building a run off the barn to give them extra space, but wondering if I should plan for a second, separate run for the ducks or just see how things go. I don’t want my chickens being hurt next Spring. (Existing coop/barn is 8’x12′ – with plenty of roosting places as well as laying boxes & ground floor nesting area. The run will more than double the space.) Should the Drakes start being aggressive with my hens, I don’t want to just kick them out of the coop, because we have a fox in the area and they would not last. Suggestions?

    • Liz says:

      It is a definite possibility that the drakes will go after the hens. You said the original group from your friend have been raised together – did she ever have any issues with the drakes going after the hens (most likely to happen in the spring/early summer when mating season is in full swing)? If it were me, I would wait it out and just see how things go. But definitely have a backup plan. If the drakes are going after chickens, you need to take action to keep them separated. Your choices at that point are either to get them separate coops/runs or add female ducks to your flock. The drakes will naturally want to go after the female ducks, but if there are no female ducks, often they will think the chickens are “close enough”. Ideally you should have 2-3 females per drake, so you are looking at adding at least a dozen females. If that is too big a duck flock for you, then you might need to rehome some of the boys.

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