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Chickens or Indian Runners? & some planning advice

 
Posts: 67
Location: Limburg, Flanders, Belgium
33
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I would like to have some chickens or ducks in the garden and would like some of your ideas, opinions and experiences!

I have read Paul's article, by the way.

So first of all, should I have chickens, runner ducks or both? I don't need 20 birds. We don't eat a lot of eggs, but I could use about 10 a week (and any excess I could surely give away or sell). That said, the birds would mainly be there as assistant-fertilizers and pest control. We get mostly slugs in wet weather (although the population seems roughly under control these days) and chickens apparently don't like them as much and the ducks love them?

They will also be 'pets'. Meaning that my 7yo son loves chickens and would love their company. So kid-friendly temperament would be nice :-)

I don't have a pond, but I've heard say that runner ducks don't need to swim. Is that true? And how many eggs do the ducks produce?

Are chickens and runner ducks compatible? Could I keep say three of each in the same space?

Then, housing. Our entire plot is about 65' by 100'. There is a coop (see pic below) that was built by my father-in-law about 20 years ago - it was a sophisticated design with two levels and separate entrances for laying hens and meat roosters. You can see the location on the map I drew (it's in Dutch - kip means chicken). Where it says 'boom' (which means 'tree') there are two large conifers (see pic with coop), one of them dead and one of them dying. They will need to go soon, because the next storm could bring them down. It's a shame because they would have made excellent roosts! The 'kot' is a small shed with wheelbarrows and tools and such.

I really liked the multiple paddock idea but I'm not sure I can pull it off here. I won't be able to move the coop and would like to use it anyway, since it's there. The grass will need to stay grass (the land is not ours). Theoretically, they could free range at least part time because the whole plot is fenced off, but I don't want them messing up my hugels ('H') or the other beds. How many birds could I keep relatively free range without them doing much damage? Would it be okay if they had permanent access to the compost heap or would they mess it up? I could easily cover any veggies that would be too tempting.

Predator-wise, we don't get coyotes, raccoons or possums here (Belgium, semi-urban). Foxes have been known to venture out here sometimes and there are squirrels (will they get in the coop and steal eggs?), martens, buzzards, hawks and probably owls. So they'll need to be inside for the night. There are two cherry trees and the whole lower end is under trees (it's basically at the edge of a forest). There is also a large pile of branches and brush from trimming trees and hedges, and some hedges and bushes for them to hide in during the day. Oh, and a trampoline to hide under!

I was thinking about creating a little https://jaimejackson.com/products/paddock-paradise-a-guide-to-natural-horse-boarding-jaime-jackson kind of situation with tracks leading to smaller areas that I could close off when they become too bare. And just letting them free range when we're there (we do not live at the plot, it's about a 10 minute cycle away).

So to sum it up: chickens, ducks or both? And any thoughts on all the rest would be highly appreciated!
plan.jpg
[Thumbnail for plan.jpg]
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Coop to the left :-)
Coop to the left :-)
 
pollinator
Posts: 593
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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Hi Sanna, I have both chickens and ducks in my small garden here, they get along fine together, although there is an issue about cross species mating which should not happen between drakes and hens (it's fine between roosters and ducks, but drakes can seriously injure hens);  not a problem if you don't keep any drakes.

For the most part I prefer the ducks in a small setting like ours, as they are not destructive like chickens:  they don't scratch and are more interested in bugs and slugs than grass and vegetables--chickens prefer the vegetables.  While it's true that ducks can survive without a pond, it's really not fair to deny them something so central to their nature.  A small kid's paddling pool is a good substitute.  But they are very messy and their water will need to be changed daily.  They also seem to lay their eggs anywhere, unlike chickens who will stick to the nest box.

Chickens on the other hand are excellent for tidying up where it's overgrown with weeds, or at the end of the growing season;  and will take all your garden trimmings, weeds, and other organic matter and turn it into wonderful compost.  I prefer the taste of chicken eggs over duck eggs, but can eat them scrambled together, and duck eggs are very good in baking.  Chickens I think make better pets, at least in my experience, as they are more inquisitive and interested in people;  ducks are more independent, but both can be very friendly and trained to come when called.
 
Sanna Heijnis
Posts: 67
Location: Limburg, Flanders, Belgium
33
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Thank you! That was very helpful. The daily changing of water for the ducks could become a problem, since we don't have water in the garden except for what we can store (which is about 1000 gallons right now). I've never tasted duck eggs, so I never realized they could have a different taste to them!

I've been looking today and I think that I could make three permanent paddocks. If I can fix something like a tunnel leading from the coop to each paddock, it should work out. We have a lot of chicken wire fence lying around, I suppose I could try to make tunnels from that

And we could still let them roam about when we're there. I'm getting excited! My kid is all in, even after I told him we would have to go let the chickens out before school every day. Now we just need to get the husband on board (and check with the owner of the property) :-)


Any thoughts still much welcome! Anything I should keep in mind that I'm forgetting? Is it okay to start now (I want to find some mature chickens, not chicks) or should I wait until spring?
 
Posts: 35
Location: Southern NH
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I would also mention - although ducks can survive without a pond to swim in, they do need water in order to be able to dunk their heads and clean themselves out.  A bucket or something at least.  As has been said already, chickens are destructive.  Not only do they want to eat all your vegetables, they are going to want to dust bath.  If not provided for, they will solve that problem by digging a hole in your grass or garden to do so.  Similar to the kiddie pool for the ducks idea, we have a small sandbox setup for ours.  

Side note - I love your garden, great job!
 
Posts: 46
Location: British Columbia, Canada
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Hi Sanna,

I just wanted to very quickly say, thank you so much for making this post, it's so incredibly beautiful to see from another's perspective, reading this post really made my morning brighter.

I've kept Runner's for about a decade, they are a sound breed, though they are prone to foot problems, I always suggest Ancona's to people as they seem to be the best dual purpose breed, though it sounds like you're only after the eggs, they can make good pets, but HAVE to be socialized very young, like most poultry. If you are raising the ducks from ducklings, and they have no mother they will need to be shown what is "good" to eat, we usually would start by feeding our duckies millet, and then once they knew it was delicious, we would gather slugs and roll them in crushed millet, then after a few days of that we would slowly reduce the amount of millet until the duckies were eating just slug, this is how we train them to want that taste, and to actively hunt slugs :D

Keeping chickens and ducks together can work, though we had to seperate our chickens out because we have a pond and the ducks would run into the pond then run into the house, and then repeat the process all day... some kind of game for them?... this made the bedding in the chicken house sopping wet, which is okay for ducks, but the chickens did not seem to like it much, after they stopped going to bed at night on their own because of the wet floor, we decided to build them a raised house that the ducks couldn't get into. Your split level house Kip house may have already solved this problem though!

The last little piece of knowledge I should pass on is that Runner ducks love to sneak off and lay clutches of eggs in brush piles and bushes, we've lost several Mama ducks to Racoons here because of this habit :(


Best of Luck,


Kind Regards,


Dylan
 
Sanna Heijnis
Posts: 67
Location: Limburg, Flanders, Belgium
33
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Thank you Dylan, that was useful information! Based on everything I've read so far, I think I'll go with chickens for now. Mainly because of their pet-factor, and because of the water issue :-)

Brian Michael wrote:I would also mention - although ducks can survive without a pond to swim in, they do need water in order to be able to dunk their heads and clean themselves out.  A bucket or something at least.  As has been said already, chickens are destructive.  Not only do they want to eat all your vegetables, they are going to want to dust bath.  If not provided for, they will solve that problem by digging a hole in your grass or garden to do so.  Similar to the kiddie pool for the ducks idea, we have a small sandbox setup for ours.  

Side note - I love your garden, great job!



Thanks Brian! I'm very happy with it myself, this is the first year that things seem more or less 'under control' and I just never want to leave when I'm there now :-)

The coop is raised on poles about a foot high, and there is space underneath - dry sandy dirt. Even when it's raining they could have dust baths there! And the ground immediately surrounding the coop is sandy as well, so they'll be fine I think. Chickens have lived there for decades (and then two senior cats until about 2 years ago), it's only the last 10 years or so that there weren't any birds.

I'm so excited! Yay chickens!
 
gardener
Posts: 465
Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
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I've had both and I totally prefer runner or khaki campbell ducks.  Our main garden was about the size of yours and 4 ducks were enough to keep it pest free.  In my experience, ducks do far less damage to plants than chickens, so they could be in the garden all day unsupervised.  Whereas when I had chickens, they had to be watched in the garden because of their scratching and pecking.  My ducks rarely ate plants and the don't scratch.  Ducks liked slugs much more than chickens did. I still had slug problems when I only had chickens.  Also, ducks can be blocked from getting into an area with just a very short moveable fence (we used a 2 foot high one), whereas chickens will fly right over that.

Like mentioned above, ducks do like having water to clean up in. If they can swim in it they are so happy.

If ducks are in too small an area, they will make it terribly muddy, just like keeping any animal in too small a range.  As for the pet factor, both are nice, but I've found ducks to be much gentler animals overall.  Runners are quite meek.   Even when I've picked up a duck and had it's mate try to defend the other, they can't do much.  Whereas chickens have made me bleed on occasion.

I'm sure you'll enjoy whichever you choose.  If you have a chance, raising them from hatchlings is a precious and lovely experience.  Good luck!
 
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