Backyard Poultry Chicken, Ducks, Geese, & More

Many municipalities have relaxed rules regarding having backyard poultry in the city.  Given that it is legal to own chickens and ducks in many places they make an excellent addition to any urban homestead.  Adding a flock to your food forest is a low-cost way to get access to regular protein in an urban setting.  Overall the costs of purchasing and caring for chickens or ducks is minimal and there are many ways to reduce the costs of their daily maintenance.  

Chickens and ducks while similar in what they provide to the homestead do differ in specific ways. 

  • Chickens can fly, while domesticated duck breeds can not. 
  • Ducks will not need a swimming pool to live in, they do have special water requirements that chickens do not. 
  • They both can be a benefit around your gardens or a hindrance depending on the plants that you are growing and their personal tastes. 
  • Overall adding a few birds adds diversity and resilience to your urban homestead.

Benefits of Backyard Birds

Chickens and ducks provide multiple benefits to the urban homesteader.  By raising your own birds you can provide the space, environment, care, and attention that you deem is ethically necessary.  This is next to impossible to accomplish with store-bought eggs and chickens even from the most reputable brands.    

Why Raise Backyard Poultry

Whether you are raising ducks or chickens, birds on a homestead is always good.

First, the females produce eggs on a consistent basis.  These eggs are a very excellent source of protein. Second, they can be harvested for meat and due to their size, they are not complicated to process for the first time harvester.  Third, chicken or duck manure is an excellent source of nitrogen for the compost pile.  Fourth, they can forage in your food forest reducing pests such as slugs or fly larva and eliminating the need for a more aggressive approach to control unwanted bugs.  And lastly, they bring joy and character to the urban garden.

Taking control of your egg supply by raising a backyard poultry flock is rewarding.  Ultimately, it is the quickest way to start to decouple yourself from the existing food system and control what you eat.   Homestead raised eggs are often more nutritious than an average supermarket egg and the chicken and ducks can be given great care and accommodations.

Chicken Basics

Raising backyard chickens is often the first foray an urban homesteader will have with livestock.  Chickens are a natural first option due to their egg-laying abilities.  A freshly laid chicken egg is a special treat.  After all, almost everyone eats eggs and is buying them from the supermarket.  Even eggs that are coming from supposedly good farms may be in less than ideal environments and at the worst are penned up in a cage all day long and fed mediocre food.  

raising backyard chickens

Chickens need feed which is generally a grain of some kind to supplement anything else that you are able to provide them.  A safe place to stay during the evenings.  Their coop and run if you choose to build one should be 100% secure so that animals such as raccoons or opossums can’t get in.  While less of a threat especially to adult birds keeping out rats and mice are also advisable in order to maintain clean and healthy living space.  They will also need access to water. 

A layer of wood chips for chicken run ground cover helps absorb their poop where they hang out.  Straw is an excellent option for the inside of their coop as it cleans easily and absorbs waste.  If the chickens are in an outdoor setting they will likely be able to get enough grit from the dirt, otherwise, it is important to give them access to a grit material to aid in digestion.

Duck Basics

Ducks are very similar to chickens in terms of their essential needs.  A duck needs food and a safe, secure house to sleep in at night.  While chickens enjoy sitting on a perch at night, ducks do not, they like flat ground with straw or other bedding material to sleep on. 

Many people think that they need to have a pond or a pool set up for ducks to thrive.  However, this is not the case.  While ducks do require a watering system that is deep enough for them to submerge their whole head under in order to clear the nostrils on their bill.  A deep pond or pool is not a requirement. A simple bucket filled with water daily is enough for a duck to be happy.  Aside from this water requirement, keeping ducks is much the same as chickens. 

mixed poultry flock with ducks

Both ducks and chickens will love foraging in your gardens and chickens will scratch the ground with their feet.  Ducks will use their bill to root around and find bucks versus scratching.  They both will harm some things in the garden and not be interested in other things.  It may take a little bit of experimenting to see what works best for your flock.  However, they both work very well in a food forest and will likely do no harm to your fruit tree and berry bushes.

We have raised both Pekins and Welsh Harlequin ducks from Metzer farms and can recommend the birds that they produce.

Poultry Run

A backyard poultry run is an outdoor area for chickens and ducks.  The typical run is fenced off and includes a secure roof.  Typically the run fence and roof will be made from hardwire cloth, chicken wire, or another type of permanent barrier.  The function of the run is to get your birds out of their coop to exercise and roam around while remaining safe.  The common urban predators that threaten chickens and ducks include raccoons, opossums, skunks, and even avian threats such as hawks and eagles.  Placing woodchips on the bottom of the run area or straw can help keep the smell down from the manure.  Woodchips for chicken run works perfectly.  It’s the lowest-cost option for a ground cover that will absorb a large amount of nitrogen from the chicken manure.  Wood chips also absorb the wet poop from ducks and the mess that they make while eating, drinking, and playing with the water in the run.

Poultry Coop

The coop or house should be placed inside of the larger run area.  Birds only need a few square feet for each animal in the flock sleeping in the coop.  The coop should be extra secure and impossible for predators to get into.  Even if the run is compromised at night the coop should be solid walls made of wood with fastened metal latches that close tightly shut.

The chicken house should have places for the birds to roost up above the ground and include a nest box for laying eggs.  When building a chicken coop it is wise to think about the egg collection process so that the nesting box is located in an easy to access location.  A duck house does not need roosts, but rather a level floor with straw or bedding materials.  Ducks are known to have excess moisture and need extra ventilation compared to chickens.  Drill a series of holes at the top of the duck house to allow air to flow.  Our duck coop has a series of holes in the bottom to help the exchange of air during the summer and then these get well covered with straw during the winter.