Introducing and housing chickens and ducks together

“Getting Along” Q&A with Jordanne

Jordanne’s answer to a reader about chickens and ducks getting along. Jordanne continually amazes us and others she meets with her immense knowledge of animals. She’s not the type to let on how much she knows but she feels that she should share her knowledge because as she says “I wish someone had done that for me.” I really think she should consider charging for “Citified Animal” consultations because she’s certainly a walking encyclopedia on health, living and behavioral aspects of ducks, chickens, rabbits and now goats.

Q. How did you introduce them?

A. Well, we definitely didn’t want to introduce the ducks when they were too young. I think we waited until they were about 6 weeks old before we let them into the chicken coop. And, when we did, I think I spent several days out there monitoring the situation. Oh, and prior to that, we caged the ducklings just outside the chicken coop so they saw each other every day but were separated by a mesh fence.

Q. Are they housed together?

A. They are caged together in a common “run,” but sleep in different houses. Chickens like to roost at the highest spot but ducks are more ground dwelling (excluding muscovies). We have a ground level house for the ducks, and a raised house for the chickens. I suppose the ducks could sleep on the floor of a chicken house, but then they would get a lot of chicken poop in their feathers.

I looked at your journal and spent a little time reading about the drama that’s going on with your ducks and chicken. Wow, what a little mini war!

Our ducks and chickens do have little spats every once in awhile, but for the most part, I suppose it’s generally peaceful. The “top” chicken of the pecking order does like to boss the ducks around and chase them away from the choice feeding spots. She can get a little nasty. But then, she also picks on the “lower” chickens too. So, just to keep things peaceful, I make sure that any food I put out is in two pans far away from each other so she can’t guard two pans at once and just has to accept things as they are. She’s a little witchy-woman.

The other chickens also boss the ducks around, but it’s usually, a “get-out-of-my-space” kind of peck and the ducks move on. Generally, they do hang out together, roam around the yard together and sleep in the sun together, so I’m pretty happy with how things are. Actually, they are sort of buddies – until food becomes an issue – then it’s a free-for-all. 🙂

I do have to say, the first thing I would strongly recommend is that you get at least another chicken or two (three is always a better number). I believe the reason why things are okay in my coop is that the numbers are evenly matched. For instance, when I had five chickens, I introduced six ducks. Then I sold four ducks and kept two. But I think the important thing was that they had been integrated with numbers pretty evenly matched. Three of my chickens died of old age so now it’s two and two. I’ll be getting some young ducks and chickens this spring and I’m going to have four ducks (not including one “borrowed” male) and six chickens.

I hate to be one of those people that get all preachy and know it all, but I think your problem stems from the fact there is only one chicken. (I didn’t ready deep enough into your journal to see if you are considering getting more – so, if you are, great! – and ignore anything else I say in this email. J )

To the ducks, she’s a strange creature and, thus, they have to get rid of her. It’s the way animals “cull” the weak or ill ones. Different = bad. I think they really think she’s a duck with a physical difference – to their little ducky pea-brains, she shouldn’t live and pass on those “physical differences.”

I’m sure your little hen is feeling really left out and lonely. She’s probably very stressed too which can take a toll on her egg-laying capacities. Chickens love having companions they can boss around or be bossed by — the whole pecking order thing. A single chicken might just get really miserable.

A single animal will know he/she is different in a flock of others and it can really be a problem for them. For instance, I had one Black Cochin in a flock of four Rhode Island Reds and she knew she was different. The others knew she was too. She got picked on by three of the four Rhode Island Reds. Sometimes, she would sit off by herself and be excluded from the flock. If I had to do it differently, I would have made sure she had another chicken of “her kind” so she wouldn’t feel so “different.” It’s really amazing these poultry-relationships. It’s just like human ones in a sense.

If there were more chickens around, I think the ducks would just view them with disgust and generally ignore them until their paths crossed. For instance, when my ducks do get bossed around by the chickens, the ducks would just go off by themselves and everyone would ignore each other or just trade dirty glances. But they each have their own friends, so no one is being excluded.

Getting a few more chickens is probably my best advice at this point. The other advice I would suggest is that you introduce any new chickens at night. That way, when everyone wakes up in the morning, it’s a good chance they are dumb enough to believe that chicken(s) had been around all along. A lot of people have success that way.

Or you can just pen them side by side until they get used to one another and no one is “murdered” before then.

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