How to Keep Ducks and Chickens Together

If you already have chickens but you want to branch out, you might have considered adding some webbed footed friends to your flock. Opinions are divided on whether you should do this, so we put together some tips for happy mixed species poultry keeping…

ducks_chickensFor some people the idea of keeping ducks and chickens together brings them out in a cold sweat, and even if they keep both species, they are kept in separate enclosures.

Both species are social animals and many people keep ducks and chickens together, usually in perfect harmony. However, they do have different care needs so it isn’t always plain sailing.

Here are some things you’ll need to consider if you’re thinking about having a mixed species flock:

Keeping the peace                                                    

Chickens and ducks will squabble both with their own species and with each other. This behaviour is normal and as long as this doesn’t turn into bullying you won’t need to worry about the occasional ruffled feather.

It’s important to provide your flock with enough room for them to be able to avoid a fight. You may find that they need separate poultry houses within the same enclosure and ensure there are plenty of water and food sources so everyone gets their fill.

However, if there is a squabble damage can sometimes be done by chickens’ beaks, which are far sharper than ducks. Fights are more common between drakes and cockerels during the breeding season than between female birds.

Having bachelor groups and removing overly aggressive birds should help to resolve this problem.

Feeding time

As said above, having plenty of food and water stations will mean that the entire flock doesn’t crowd around one place at the same time.

Chickens and ducks also have different nutritional needs, especially when they’re young. Generally speaking it’s not advisable to keep young chickens and ducks together as they should be fed on different food.

Adult birds can both be fed chicken layers pellets/mash but care needs to be taken to ensure the ducks are getting enough Niacin (Vitamin B3) in their diet. This can be done by adding Brewer’s Yeast to their feed or a Niacin supplement.

Here’s a great post that explains more about Niacin and Niacin Deficiency in ducks.

If you keep drakes you’ll also need to be aware that chicken feed has too much calcium in it for drakes. You’ll need to provide your drakes with wheat to keep their protein levels up and they’ll regulate their intake between wheat and layers’ feed themselves.

Keeping water clean

Of course, both species need water to drink but ducks also need water to wash in and this can lead to water sources becoming dirty quickly. There are a number of ways to combat this.

One common solution is to put a drinker higher up and provide perches for your chickens to access it. Nipple style drinkers, such as these, in addition to a trough or small pond, ensure that your flock can stay hydrated without your ducks making a mess of the only available water source.

 

Top 5 Duck Breeds to Keep as Pets

There are so many different breeds of duck it can be difficult to know which breed would be best for you, especially if you’re new to the world of duck keeping. Ducks come in all different sizes, shapes, and weights and they all have a different purpose.

For example, the Pekin breed is a popular choice for meat production as well as making good pets. On the other hand Indian Runners are prolific egg layers and make great pets, but don’t expect to get much meat from them!

Ducks are also grouped into different weight categories – Heavy, Medium, Light, and Bantam. Examples of the weight categories would be:

  • Heavy – Pekin
  • Medium – Cayuga
  • Light – Indian Runner
  • Bantam – Call

Of course, you can keep any breed of duck as a pet, but some are easier to care for than others. Here’s a look at our choice of top duck breeds to keep as pets:

Call Ducks

White Call Duck Drake

White Call Duck Drake

This tiny bantam breed is a popular choice if you’d like to have ducks but don’t have a lot of space. The breed originates from the Mallard duck and is thought to have come from The Netherlands.

Call Ducks are lively, friendly, and can be very noisy so if you live in a urban area they might not be right for you.

You can expect to your ducks to lay around 100 small eggs per year. Call Ducks are available in a wide range of colours including: White, Mallard, Yellow belly, Chocolate, Magpie, Bibbed, Apricot, and Khaki.

Pekin Ducks

Pekin Duck

Pekin Duck

95% of duck meat consumed in America comes from this breed but they also make fantastic pets and are good layers. Often confused with the Aylesbury breed because of their similar “Jemima Puddle-duck” looks the Pekin is fantastic if you have a larger garden.

They are a Heavy breed of duck and originated in China before spreading around the world. They’ll give you between 80 – 140 large white eggs every year and their calm, friendly nature makes them a great option if you have children.

Pekins like to be active, so they’ll appreciate having a bigger area to explore and their orange bills and legs make them an attractive addition to any outdoor space.

Cayuga Ducks

Cayuga Duck

Cayuga Duck

This striking breed is unmistakable thanks to its iridescent green/black plumage and they are quiet, hardy, and easy to tame. They’ll produce 100 – 150 eggs per year that start with black shells at the beginning of the season and gradually lighten to a light grey/white.

The Cayuga Duck was developed in New York in 1809 after a pair of wild black ducks were caught and bred for their colour. These days they are a rare conservation breed and can be hard to find, but they make worthwhile pets if you’re prepared to search for them.

Indian Runner Ducks 

Indian Runner Drake and Ducks

Indian Runner Drake and Ducks

As well as being prolific egg layers, up to 200 per year, the Indian Runner is probably one of the most popular breeds of pet ducks in the world.

Originally from the East Indies (Malaya, Java, and Lombok) rather than India these ducks were first known as “Penguin Ducks” because of their upright stance. As they are taller you’ll need to consider a duck house with a higher roof if you want to include Indian Runners in your flock.

They don’t fly, choosing to run instead, and they love foraging and swimming. They are available in around two dozen colours including: White, Fawn, Apricot, Black, Mallard, and Silver.

Muscovy Ducks

This is a Heavy breed of duck and the Drakes are usually twice the size of females. Muscovy Ducks produce 60-140 eggs per year and are well known for going “broody” so if you’re looking to breed ducks this could be a good option for you.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

They are unique in that they are the only breed of duck not to originate from the wild Mallard. In fact, they are closely related to a sub group of perching ducks which is why they have sharp claws that allow them to perch comfortably.

Muscovy Ducks, or ‘Scovies as they are known by their fans, are available in nine different colours all of which have a red crest (called caruncles) around their eyes.

Do you keep ducks? We’d love to see pictures!

Duck Basics – What Do You Need to Know?

Ducks make great pets, although it can take them a while to trust you, and their funny, charming, individual characters will entertain you for hours.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at ducks in more detail including different breeds, how to ensure your ducks stay healthy and and happy, and why keeping ducks is a great idea.

In general ducks have fairly basic needs – as long as they’ve got food, fresh water, and a clean duck house they’ll be happy.

 

Ducks – the basics

As you’ll know ducks are mostly aquatic birds that can be found both on fresh and sea water. They are smaller than swans and geese although they are all part of the same species known as the Anatidae family.

The word “duck” is thought to come from the Old English word “duce” meaning “diver” or “to dive”. This is thought to be a reference to the way ducks upend in water to feed.

Almost all domestic ducks are descended from the Mallard, with the exception of the Muscovy breed.

Ducks eat a variety of foods and are actually omnivores. Grass, aquatic plants, insects, small fish, frogs, and worms will all make up a ducks diet if it has free access to them.

Most domestic duck breeds feed on land, on the surface of the water, or by upending and eating as deep as they can go without completely submerging.

The majority of domestic breeds of duck don’t need vast expanses of water to be happy and healthy. The absolute minimum amount a duck needs is a water source deep enough to submerge their whole head.

Not only does this help them swallow their food but also ensures their eyes stay clean as ducks lack tear ducts so cannot clean their own eyes.

Quack quack!

With domestic ducks the females of most breeds will make the classic “quack” sound. Ducks have a wide range of sounds including chattering, whistling, grunting, and squeaking.

Ducks use their range of calls to communicate everything from being scared or startled to informing other members of the flock that they’ve found a tasty treat.

Domestic ducks

Ducks have been domesticated for hundreds of years and have many economic uses including being farmed for their meat, eggs, and feathers.

Ducks are also common as pets, especially in recent years, where they are kept both alongside chickens and separately.

These days there are so many different breeds of domestic duck it would take pages to list them all. Some of the most common breeds of duck kept include Call, Aylesbury, Pekin, Indian Runner, Khaki Campbell, and Silver Appleyard.

Buying Your Chickens: Which Breed is Best for Beginners?

Did you know there are well over 100 breeds of chicken being bred in the UK? Each breed has its’ own characteristics, attributes, purpose, and personality. The question is how do you choose a breed that suits your lifestyle and needs?

Chicken breeds break down into three categories – chickens for meat, chickens for eggs, and chickens that are dual purpose. The majority of beginners want chickens that will produce eggs and are easy to look after.

Here are the top things to look for in any breed of chicken:

  • Is your chosen breed friendly and easy to tame?
  • Is this breed easy to care for?
  • Is this breed quite common? You’ll find it easier to get help and advice if your breed is well known.
  • If you want to keep chickens for eggs – is this breed known for high egg production?
  • If you want to keep chickens for meat – is this breed known as a good table bird?
  • If you want to keep chickens as pets – is this breed known for being docile and having a good personality?

Our top chicken breeds for beginners

Wyandotte

This breed ticks all the boxes as they’re pretty, practical, and produce great eggs. Not only are they incredibly friendly and placid but they’re also great layers so you won’t be short of eggs.

If you’re looking for a chicken breed to enhance your outdoor space then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Wyandotte comes in 14 different possible plumage variations in the UK.

Orpington

Whether you choose the large fowl or the bantam Orpington you’ll find you’ve got a great pet – especially for children. They’re not always great layers so if you’re looking for high egg production then this breed isn’t for you.

You’ll also need to make sure that your chicken house pop hole is large enough for the large fowl variety and consider keeping them separately if you have mixed breeds as the Orpington can be subject to bullying.

Warren

This is the most common hybrid breed of chicken and people will recognise Warrens as a classic brown hen – seen here in the popular Mercedes-Benz advert.

They’re friendly, docile, and love human interaction making them the perfect pets for adults and children alike. Originally bred for battery egg production they really are laying machines so you’ll never need to buy eggs again!

Silkie bantam

If you’re not worried about egg production and you want a pretty pet then this breed is ideal. Silkies are small, incredibly tame, and have great personalities. They also have some unique features with black skin and bones and five toes rather than four.

They are also great mothers so if you’re looking to start breeding and want a broody hen to sit on eggs then get yourself a few Silkies.

Brahma

If the Orpington isn’t quite big enough then the Brahma is even bigger! They might not lay a lot of eggs but they are one of the friendliest breeds of chicken. They’re great if you have children but standing at up to 30 inches tall they might be a bit big to sit on your lap!

As with the Orpington you’ll need to make sure your chicken house can accommodate these gentle giants – you might even want to consider a bespoke design.

Top 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions about Keeping Chickens

ChickenEgg

Keeping chickens is a fantastic pastime, one that people have flocked to in recent years, and chickens could make a fantastic addition to your garden and your family.

Here are the most common questions people that are new to chicken keeping ask:

#1 – Do I need permission to keep chickens?

If you live in the UK then you shouldn’t need permission to keep chickens. However, some old houses have bans on keeping chickens so it’s important to check the deeds to your house first.

You might also want to phone your local Environmental Health Officer just to cover all bases. And of course, asking your neighbours if they might is the polite thing to do!

#2 – What do chickens eat?

Chickens are omnivorous which means that they’ll eat pretty much anything! The majority of your hens’ diet should be made up from a commercial pellet or layers mash such as this range from Allen & Page.

You’ll find your hens look for their own food including grass, worms, bugs, and they’ll also enjoy kitchen scraps.

#3 – How much do chickens eat?

The exact answer to this question depends entirely on the number of birds you keep and their age, sex, and breed but here’s a rough guide:

  • Laying hens = 4/6 ounces of food per day
  • Bantams = 2/3 ounces of food per day

Larger breeds, such as the Buff Orpington or Jersey Giant, need more feed and all chickens will need an increased food intake during the colder winter months. Chicken keepers usually make sure food is available at all times so that hens can help themselves throughout the day.

#4 – How do I put my chickens to bed?

Chickens usually put themselves to bed at dusk, although this doesn’t always mean they’ll go to bed in their hen house!

For the first few weeks you may need to herd them in at “bedtime” or lay a trail of food to the chicken house door for them to follow. Chickens are creatures of habit and it shouldn’t take them long to get into a routine.

If you keep your chickens in a run then you could also try not letting them free range for a couple of weeks. After this point they should know where “home” is and put themselves to bed without you needing to get involved.

#5 – How long do chickens live?

This varies from breed to breed and of course depends on whether your chicken is injured or becomes ill. Generally a healthy bird will live for between eight to 15 years, although chickens have been known to live for as long as 20 years.

#6 – How many eggs will my chickens lay?

Again, this depends entirely on the breed and age of your chickens. Commercial hybrids, such as the Warren, could lay 320 in a year. Pure bred or rare breeds tend to lay fewer eggs.

You’ll also find that hens lay fewer eggs as they get older but most breeds are fairly productive layers during their first laying year.

#7 – Do I need a cockerel to get eggs?

No, and your neighbours would probably appreciate it if you didn’t! You’ll only need a cockerel if you want to start breeding your chickens and need fertilised eggs.

#8 –  What do I do if one of my chickens is ill?

Because chickens are prey animals they don’t usually start to look ill until it is quite serious. This means that if one of your flock does become ill you’ll need to act quite quickly.

Remove the ill bird from the flock, place it in a warm, quiet place with food and water, and watch for any changes. If your hen doesn’t improve then consult a chicken friendly vet – finding one can be a challenge, so it’s worth sourcing a good vet before you purchase your chickens.

#9 – What do I do with my hens if I go on holiday?

The easiest option is to make friends with another chicken keeper and take it in turns to look after each other’s flocks when you go away. Another option that is gaining popularity is to send your chickens on a “hen holiday” where they’ll be cared for until you return.

One company that offers this service is Feufield Farm and Trust who are based in South Lanarkshire. A quick internet search should turn up a company that is local to you.

#10 – How big does my chicken house need to be?

This is another question that entirely depends on the number of birds you have and their breed. As a general rule your run or enclosure should provide 2/3 square feet per bird. If your birds aren’t going to free range then you should look at an enclosure that gives them 10 square feet per bird.

The huge range of chicken house designs out there can make it confusing to know what is best to buy. Take a look at our article – “Buying a chicken house? Get it right the first time” for a more in depth answer to this question.

Eight Reasons Why Keeping Chickens is a Great Idea!

It’s pretty safe to say we love chickens and there are thousands of other people all over the world that love their chickens too. Today, we’re looking at the top reasons to start keeping chickens.

I love chickens

We love chickens!

  1. Fresh eggs!

This is probably the top reason that people start keeping chickens and having a daily supply of fresh eggs is certainly a good enough reason for us.

Not only will you get the satisfaction of collecting your own eggs but you’ll also know exactly what went into making them. You are what you eat after all!

Coloured_eggs

  1. Chickens are educational

Keeping chickens in your back garden is a great way to teach your children a little bit more about where their food comes from.

Having any pet is a valuable lesson in respecting and caring for animals but having a pet that gives you a tasty treat back in return for your love and dedication is even better.

  1. Your garden will be bug free

If you let your chickens free range you’ll be amazed how quickly they get rid of all the bugs in your garden.

Worms, slugs, beetles, flies, snails, and spiders all make a tasty snack for hens so you’ll be provided with free pest control all year around.

chicken-little-in-the-garden

  1. Chickens are low maintenance

Most common breeds of chicken are hardy, easy to care for, and low maintenance making them an ideal pet.

Usually as long as your flock has food, water, exercise, and a clean shelter they’ll be happy. Of course, how fancy you want to make your chicken house is up to you!

  1. You’ll get free fertiliser

Whether you let or hens free range or not you’ll still have an abundance of glorious free fertiliser that your plants will love.

The high nitrogen content of chicken poo means that it turns into brilliant compost so put it on your flower beds and wait for your plants to thrive.

  1. You’ll cut down your food wastage

Chickens are like compost bins and will happily guzzle down your left over kitchen scraps.

A squashed cauliflower, a handful of sweetcorn, or a few pieces of bacon rind will always be a welcome treat for your flock.

  1. Chickens enhance any garden

Even the plainest breed of chicken is beautiful and there are plenty of ornamental breeds if you want something really spectacular.

MJ_porcelain

  1. Chickens are entertaining

In return for as little as 15 minutes per day of your time you’ll get hours of entertainment back.

You’ll soon learn that each chicken has her own personality and all of the different breeds have their own character traits.

Boredom Busters for Hens

In the colder months your hens can spend more time in their run and less time free ranging in your garden, field, or orchard. This can lead to boredom and bad behaviour as chickens need something to occupy their time…

In many ways chickens can be like small children – they like shiny objects, they’re easily distracted, and they can cause mass destruction if they’re not kept entertained.

Luckily keeping your hens occupied doesn’t have to be difficult and unlike small children they won’t be clamouring for the latest toy or games console. In fact, a head of cauliflower could be the best present you could ever give them!

If you’re new to the world of chicken boredom busters or you’re looking for more inspiration here are our top tips for keeping your flock amused:

Fun and healthy!

Any treats that give your poultry something to do and ensure they get all their vitamins and minerals have to be a good thing, right?

Hanging a cabbage or cauliflower from the roof of their enclosure will keep them occupied for hours playing “piñata” and then they can forage for fallen bits of veg when they’re done.

Mirror mirror!

Now we’re not saying that chickens are vain but they do like to check out their reflection from time to time. Lightweight, shatterproof, and plastic mirrors are an inexpensive purchase that can be found in many bargain homeware shops.

Fix the mirror to your run using cable ties and watch your hens pamper and preen!

Chicken swing

Yes – chicken swings are a thing!

Another level

Chickens love to have a “bird’s eye view” of the world so providing them with outside perches, swings, or stumps to stand on will give them a better look at their surroundings.

Tree stumps, branches, old ladders, and broom handles can all be used to give your hens a multi-level environment.

For something fancy and ready to go you can purchase a chicken swing from the British Hen Welfare Trust shop, or if you fancy a bit of DIY, you could also make your hens a swing.

Piles of leaves

This is a great tip for the autumn months when you’ll have an abundance of fallen leaves in your garden. For reasons known only to themselves chickens hate piles so try putting a pile of leaves in their enclosure and see how quickly they start to destroy it!

Something new

Chickens love anything new that they can investigate – wooden crates, a plastic rake, an old broom head, or even a tub of mud – will be greatly appreciated by your flock.

As long as the item can’t injure or damage your hens in any way go ahead and let them check it out.

Move things around

If you can easily move your chicken house then try putting it in a new part of the garden. Not only will this give a bit of your garden a rest but it will also allow your hens to explore a new environment.

If you’ve got a permanent poultry enclosure then why not move your flock’s feeder and other accessories to new places? Your chickens will have fun looking for things that have moved and moving things might even reveal worms, bugs, and other edible goodies!

Added Extras for Your Chicken House

Once you get everything set up keeping chickens really is a walk in the park, which is possibly why they’re such a popular pet even with the urban crowd. All you need is the right coop and a little bit of green space and your chickens will be happy.

In the past we’ve discussed the things you should look for when buying your first chicken house. This week we’re going to be looking at the added extras you can get for your chicken house that will make keeping hens even easier!

Here are some chicken house accessories that make your hen’s home more luxurious and will definitely make keeping chickens easier:

Easy moving

If you’re looking for a chicken house that you can move around your garden then you’ll need something that is easy to move by yourself. Moveable chicken houses are very popular and there are a range of wheels and handles you can get to make moving your chicken house quick and simple.

SS100351

Let there be light

Lighting your hen house during the autumn and winter months is a proven method of extending your chicken’s egg production period.

Solar hen house lighting kits are easily set up and because they don’t need to be linked up to a mains electricity supply they are able to be used even in the most remote areas.

Sunshine Solar_kit

Shutting the door behind you

Whilst getting up early to let them out is part and parcel of having chickens everyone likes a lie in sometimes.

This is where automatic doors for chicken houses become a really useful accessory. They are set on a timer to open in the morning and then safely lock your hens in at night. This is a good idea if you don’t get home from work until after dark during the winter to keep predators out of your chicken house.

Autodoorunitslide-600x600

Keep them where you want them

If your flock is free-range but there are parts of your garden you’d rather they stayed away from then you can invest in some electric fencing to keep them where you want them.

The poultry netting style of electric fencing for chickens is also a good deterrent for predators including, foxes, dogs, cats, and rodents.

BatteryFencingKit600x600

 

Do you own a Jim Vyse ark? Would you like to see it in a national magazine?

JimVyse+ChickenHouse

I’m busy planning the Jim Vyse autumn publicity campaign and I’d love to use pictures of our houses and their residents in situ.

If you fancy yourself as a prize winning photographer and you’d like to see your poultry palace in the media please send your pictures in. Your pictures may appear in the likes of  Practical Poultry, Hampshire Life, Smallholder, and Country Living!

Ideally I’d like stylish pictures that feature your chickens or ducks and my poultry houses in the style you’d see in a lifestyle magazine, in a garden or orchard setting – but it would be great to see any Jim Vyse ark or house in action.

Your photos may be featured in some of the most stylish lifestyle magazines on the newsagents’ shelves!

I’ll be giving away a gorgeous pair of Emma Bridgewater hen mugs to the person that sends in the best photo.

Please email your pictures to jimvysearks@aol.com preferably before the end of June.

So… on your marks, get set, and snap those pictures!
JimVyse_SwissChaletChickenHouse_Collage

The great debate: plastic vs. wooden chicken houses

You’ll see from our website which type we’re fonder of but this is an important debate in the poultry keeping world so we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of each material.

Bespoke wooden chicken house

Fantastic plastic or wonderful wood – the debate between poultry keepers continues on a yearly basis and there are strong supporters on both sides. Of course, our website makes it pretty clear which side of the chicken houses fence we’re on but we thought it was important to show both sides of the story.

Remember, which ever style of house you choose it’s important to make sure you buy a good quality house that gives your chickens the space, comfort, and security that they need to stay happy and healthy.

Let’s take a look at wooden chicken houses first:

Wooden chicken houses

Wooden houses are obviously more traditional and some poultry keepers would say prettier too. A high quality wooden chicken house will robust, practical, and less likely to blow away in a storm than a plastic coop.

One of the most common complaints about plastic chicken houses is that they aren’t breathable and reports of condensation are common. You won’t get this problem with a wooden design as wood is naturally breathable.

If you have specific needs you’ll also find that a wooden house is more flexible as they can be built to order. In fact, our own bespoke order service is very popular with our customers!

Customisation in terms of colour is also easier when you have a wooden house. You can paint them any colour you like and if you change your mind you can sand the paint off and start again, or simply paint over the original colour.

Goose House_JimVyse

And now for the plastic chicken houses:

Plastic chicken houses

In recent years plastic houses have become increasingly popular, especially with urban chicken keepers and school or college poultry projects. The bright colours make them popular with children and removable lids make it quick and simple to collect your delicious eggs.

They’re also easy to clean, give a contemporary look to your outdoor space, and can be cheaper to buy and maintain than their wooden counterparts.

Plastic coop fans often tell you that the biggest plus point of having a plastic chicken house is that the risk of pesky red mite is removed.

However, if you think that a plastic hen house will make your flock red mite proof, unfortunately you’re wrong. Red mite can not only live on the bird but it can also live in the cracks of the house, hiding from prying human eyes.

Lurking in the cracks allows the red mite to sneak out at night and feast on your flocks’ blood whilst they sleep so the truth of the matter is that a plastic house isn’t always a red mite free house.

Plastic or wooden? We’d love to hear your opinion on which material you prefer for your chicken houses.