Growing up we had chickens, the familiar pets that simultaneously bring life to the yard and yield breakfast to the table. When my husband and I acquired our own little hobby farm, we knew poultry was a must.
We started with 12 pullets (young hens) of two different breeds. Half were Cream Legbar Cross, and the other half were Sussex cross. Both breeds made up a pretty, as well as friendly flock, of birds. Over time, we added a few odds and ends, including a white Silkie, who looks like a movie star, but stomps around like an angry neighbour, as well as some tried and true Hylines that would be sure to increase steady egg production.
Once we felt comfortable with our poultry, we decided that we should acquire some ducks. As it turned out, it wasn’t just any duck we wanted. We were after the small, but adorable Call Duck. We searched high and low and finally we found them. A lady who raised Call Ducks in Victoria was looking to sell a flock of seven and we most definitely wanted them. The ducks we purchased were wonderful, cute, funny and came in all kinds of colours. The one unfortunate thing about the Call Duck though is that, due to their size, they end up being an easy target for wild predators. A lesson we learned all too well when the crows and ravens realized they were something easily obtainable.
After some modifications to the coop and multiple scare tactics against the predators from the sky (such as disco balls and old CD’s) our flock was finally safe. It was nice to look out the kitchen window and watch the ducks splash in their pools and the chickens pecking away, living in harmony. They sleep in the same coop, chickens roost high while the ducks lay low. They eat the same food, and they drink the same water. Much to the chickens’ chagrin though, ducks would rather play in the water than drink it. Once settled, the chickens and ducks began producing a steady stream of eggs, and it was always fun to try and distinguish who laid what egg based on size, shape and colour. Nothing beats a fresh chicken egg for breakfast and the duck eggs add a wonderfully rich quality to home baking.
During our first spring with the flock, we initially did not imagine anything out of the ordinary to happen. However, we had never had a mix of chickens and ducks before. Because we had both hens and drakes with our ducklings – we didn’t have roosters with our chicken hens— we thought to ourselves “Wouldn’t that be interesting if by chance they had chicks?” Little did we know, this happened more easily than expected.
Our first duck hen to lay eggs was not in the least bit interested in sitting on them. We assumed the eggs would not be viable, until Marilyn Monroe – our fluffy white Hollywood chicken with a stare that could kill – decided that it would now be her duty to sit, hatch and mother the three abandoned duck eggs. And sit, hatch and mother she did! Approximately three and a half weeks later, we had three fluffy, peeping ducklings who were happy, healthy and fully in belief that their mother was a white Silkie chicken. All the while, as these three ducklings were growing, we realized one of our duck hens was missing. We worried something had perhaps made off with her, but we were not sure. To our amazement, a few weeks later she reappeared, proudly showing off her nine ducklings she had hatched in hiding.
Overall, raising poultry and waterfowl is entertaining, exciting, and rewarding…if not sometimes heartbreaking. Backyard birds add such a rustic feel to any home and, in general, are fairly easy to keep. If you can provide them with a safe and secure home, fresh fruits and veggies (great for a low waste kitchen), layer pellets, and clean water —they can be a wonderful addition to backyards of all sizes.