While everyone makes sure they have at least a few chickens on the farm, few people appreciate ducks as more than pond ornaments (even though ducks don't require a pond), not realizing how valuble they are for anyone interested in becoming more organic or self sufficient.
Like chickens, ducks come in four main varieties: egg layers, meat, dual purpose, and ornamental. Laying strains can match Leghorns in egg production, while dual purpose and meat types beat out chickens (in our opinion) due to having more breast meat than the average rooster without having to hear a dozen cockrels crowing before they are put in the pot.
Duck eggs start off large and become jumbos as the hen gets older. They are richer than a chicken egg in both flavor and texture, contain more protein, and the yolk is full of omega-3s. Plus the eggs are completely alkaline, which is recommended for cancer patients. People with allergies to chicken eggs often find that they are still able to eat duck eggs.
Like goose eggs, duck eggs are fantastic for baking, giving your pies, cookies, cakes, and breads more lift. The food will be lighter, and more porous, making it fluffier or more crispy/crunchy. The eggs last longer in the fridge than chicken eggs, allowing you to store them for longer periods of time.
Ducks make excellent parents and will hatch out duck, chicken, and turkey eggs if allowed. You don't have to worry about keeping track of incubators if you prefer to raise your own flock naturally. Even laying strains of ducks will still go broody as they get older if allowed, and virtually all older hens will happily set on a nest. Hatching a dozen ducklings out at a time isn't unusual for the larger breeds.
There is no need for vaccinations since ducks are more disease and parasite resistant than poultry, and the ducklings are more hardy, only needing to be in the brooder for half the time of a baby chick. This means you are over the critical period faster, leaving room for fewer accidents due to a power outage or a heat bulb that goes off in the middle of the night.
Ducks grow fast and even dual purpose breeds can be butchered at 8-12 weeks with a fair amount of meat.
The meat tastes a lot like beef. The breast meat can be cut into strips and grilled, tasting a lot like steak. By having ducks (or geese) around, it's almost like being able to raise miniature beef cattle. Very, very miniature beef cows.
A single meat hen can produce around 100-150 eggs per year: that's roughly 400-600lbs of meat each year if you incubate all of the eggs yourself (you'll be eating 2-3 ducks each week). If you don't need quite that much meat, allowing the hen to incubate her own eggs a few times a year will provide an average of 40lbs of meat to put in the freezer per clutch, and an average of around three clutches before the weather turns too bad for her to raise them outside.
Ducks love bugs and slugs. They will happily gobble down a snail or snatch up a Japanese beetle. They root out ticks in the yard, chomp on grasshoppers, and will strain mosquito larva out of pools of water. This is a great alternative to harsh, unnecessary pesticides while also cutting back on any feed costs.
Like geese, they can be live harvested for their down a few times per year. This down can be used to fill pillows, make quilts, or stuff dolls, among other things. Duck down is soft and insulates extremely well. Since ducks naturally shed their down at least twice a year this can be gathered in much the same way you comb out a cat's shedding hairs, then used for whatever you want.
They don't need a pond, but are thrilled when they have access to something in which to swim and bathe. Providing a tub or wading pool will keep them happy - and will give you a fantastic source of garden tea. When you clean out the tub, strain the dirty water onto your plants - it will do more than any expensive plant food could do and it's free. The easiest way to do this is to attach a hose to a wading pool to siphon out the water directly onto the garden. The water will dilute it enough to keep it from being "hot."