By Hong Chhuor, Communications Coordinator
Raising backyard chickens is all the rage these days here in Seattle, but did you know that when it comes to domesticated fowl, ducks are better adapted to our wet Pacific Northwest climate, are a natural form of pest control and will provide you with a steady supply of fresh egg breakfasts?
We recently caught up with Brian Genung, who teaches urban coop design classes for Seattle Farm Co-op and lives in the North Beach neighborhood of Ballard with his wife Ingela Wanerstrand. Each July, they welcome droves of visitors during Seattle Tilth’s annual Chicken Coop & Urban Farm Tour. Hundreds of people have visited and been treated to their impressive urban farm,which features organic veggie gardens, worm bins, a green roof, chickens, goats and bees. Until recently, they also kept a pair of ducks (more on this later), so we asked Brian all about his experience with our “other” feathered friends.
Why raise ducks?
Ducks can be more self-sufficient and have very different personalities when compared to your average chicken. They’re cooperative and generally coexist peacefully with other ducks because they don’t uphold a “pecking order.” A moderately sized flock also provides an extra layer of protection from predators since they are rarely all asleep at the same time and will rouse their companions when they sense danger.
You can let your ducks loose in your garden for short periods of time and see just how efficient they can be at ridding you of your slug problem. As a northwest gardener, we’re sure you’ve experienced the horror of finding your beautiful spring greens riddled with holes from these voracious pests.
They’re also great egg layers. It’s not unusual for a Khaki Campbell to provide you with over 300 eggs per year. This certainly gives several chicken breeds known for egg production like Leghorns, Sexlinks and Ameraucanas a run for their money! Duck eggs are larger, more nutritious and have a longer shelf-life than chicken eggs. When used for baking, their eggs will provide you with amazingly rich and fluffy cakes and pastries.
If I have chickens, can I also keep ducks?
Yes! Your ducks will get along fine with your chickens. However, ducks generally prefer a wetter environment whereas chickens prefer to be dry, so you’ll have to get creative when it comes to providing your birds with shelter if you’re limited on space.
What are some things I should consider when making a decision to keep ducks?
While it’s true that ducks can be messy, it depends on how you maintain and care for them. Ducks need a source of water that is ideally cleaned out every day. It needs to be deep enough for them to fully submerge their nostrils to clear out any food particles and dust, or they’ll get sick. Brian and Ingela used 8-gallon wash tubs with stacked bricks leading up to a podium so their ducks could access water. The duck manure that collects at the bottom can be added to your compost pile or worm bin.
Your average duck will live for 4-5 years, sometimes longer, depending on the breed and living conditions. Like chickens, they will only lay for a certain amount of time and stop laying to molt and grow new feathers. They can also be more sensitive to light change than chickens.
When it comes to predators, young ducks can be especially susceptible to cats, dogs, raccoons and birds of prey. Their primary strategy is to run away, but the best security in our urban environment is to provide sturdy shelter for them that would make it difficult for would-be predators to get at them. Brian lost one of his ducks to raccoons and had to give up the other one since they don’t do so well alone.
Where do I get ducks and supplies to care for them?
If you happen to be in Seattle, a great place to find ducks and supplies (feed, bedding and more) to care for them is Portage Bay Grange in the University District. Their friendly staff is more than happy to chat with you and help you select the right breed for your situation. When you pay a visit, don’t forget to check out their “duckaponics” pond system!
How can I learn more about raising ducks?
If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to raise ducks in the city, join us for our Raise City Ducks class. The class will cover basic physiology and behavior, housing, nutrition, city regulations, different breeds and egg laying — no pond required!
You’re also invited to our annual Chicken Coop & Urban Farm Tour on July 12. See how your neighbors are growing food and raising livestock in the city!
Raise City Ducks
Wednesday, July 16; 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Good Shepherd Center, Room 107
4649 Sunnyside Ave N
Advanced registration required