According to the USDA, it’s estimated that 13 million Americans (or about 5% of the population) raise chickens in their backyard.
But how did it all get started?
In the early 1900s, chickens in the U.S. were not considered necessary animals on farms. Chicken meat was a delicacy that was only eaten on special occasions.
Before the U.S. entered World War I, Americans were already sending support overseas. France was running out of food and famine was threatening.
With France running out of chickens, the Daughters of the American Revolution launched a fundraising campaign to provide food.
After the U.S. entered World War I, a government poster said, “Uncle Sam Expects You To Keep Hens and Raise Chickens.”
The USDA poster’s appeal was that it was your patriotic duty to have backyard chickens.
When average Americans raised chickens it allowed more food supply to be sent to U.S. troops in Europe.
This was critical since the U.S. was providing food to allies that were on the verge of starvation.
In 1941, the U.S. entered World War II and again food became a priority.
The U.S. Government encouraged Americans to garden, and raise chickens. The goal was to reduce the demand on national supplies needed for the war.
When the war ended in 1945 many Americans stopped growing and raising their food.
Chickens were being raised in such large numbers that production facilities took over.
And now today, raising chickens is growing again in popularity.
Chickens can provide eggs, insect control, fertilizer, and meat.
But along with raising chickens, some people are also raising ducks.
Chickens and ducks can provide some of the same benefits. But there are some key differences to be aware of.
So, if you are thinking about adding chickens or ducks to your backyard, here are a few factors to help make your decision.
Chickens and ducks require different types of food.
Chicken feed is more common and easier to find.
Also, with the chicken feed, you have choices such as non-GMO and corn/soy-free feed.
These feeds come in pellet, mash, or crumbed forms. They are made from a mixture of grains.
In addition to chicken feed, a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables can also be given daily to chickens.
One advantage to chickens is that they are more likely to eat household food scraps.
Ducks need more nutrition than what is typically in chicken feed. There is specific duck feed but it’s less common.
However, you can give ducks chicken layer feed.
Layer feeds contain more protein and calcium. You should also give ducks extra brewers yeast.
Both chickens and ducks will also eat bugs.
These birds can live off the land and garden without any commercial feed as long as there is enough free-range access to find food.
Depending on the specific breed of chicken they can produce around 300 eggs a year.
And the best-laying ducks will produce about 200 eggs a year.
Yet duck eggs have more nutrients and are larger than chicken eggs, and many people like to cook with duck eggs because they have a higher fat content.
So, chickens will produce more, but ducks produce bigger, better nutrient quality eggs.
As far as meat goes, both birds can be harvested around eight weeks old depending on their specific breed.
Chickens have some of the best ratios for the amount of feed needed to the amount of meat harvested.
Chicken is higher in protein, while duck meat is higher in fat. Both are good sources of vitamins and minerals.
The biggest advantage to these birds over other animals is that they are easy to house and don’t need a lot of space.
Both birds will do best if they can free-range during the day and put up at night.
Chickens usually establish their sleeping area and go roost in the same spot each night.
Chickens also like roosting bars to sleep on and nesting boxes to lay eggs.
Chickens will need a more complex coop. Yet they are easier to maintain and care for long-term compared to ducks.
But ducks will not put themselves in a coop, they need to be herded to bed each night.
Ducks don’t need to roost at night. And they will lay eggs anywhere they want.
One thing to keep in mind is that ducks have a desire for water to swim and clean themselves. A pond is also needed for mating.
So, a duck may require less housing but you will need a small pond.
Ducks and chickens are hardy animals. With a small enclosure, you can let them roam during the day and put them to bed at night.
Chickens are ideal for garden waste and food scraps. Ducks will eat greens but are pickier.
My wife and kids currently raise chickens in our backyard.
My opinion is that chickens are a better all-around choice for raising in your backyard.
But use this information to make the determination about which of these birds might be best for you.