A pair of American Pekin ducks relax beak-to-beak on the grounds of the University of Scranton Retreat and Conference Center at Chapman Lake in Scott Township, Pennsylvania, July 27, 2018. Credit: Butch Comegys | AP

Ducks are a quirky, quacky, handy addition to any homestead. Once you’ve decided to keep ducks, you may be wondering which duck breed would be best for you.

According to John Metzer of Metzer Farms in Gonzales, California, domestic ducks essentially can be categorized by two key characteristics: nervous or calm. The characteristically nervous breeds include Runner, Khaki Campbell and White Crested ducks. Each of these ducks has its advantages. Runners are exemplary foragers, Khaki Campbells are highly productive egg layers and White Crested ducks have a charming tuft of feathers atop their heads. But for first-time duck owners, Metzer recommends breeds that are quieter and less skittish.

“There are some [ducks] that are more nervous than others, and you may want to shy away from those,” he explains. “Other than that, it’s sort of appearance and characteristics that you like.”

Credit: Kathleen Pierce

Luckily, most other domestic duck breeds can be classified as calm. Mallards, Rouens and tawny brown Buffs are all great options for new duck owners. The Welsh Harlequin, a relatively new breed that is a sort of speckled cousin to the Khaki Campbell, is an especially docile duck that is also great for first-time owners. Metzer and his colleagues have observed on their own farm that Welsh Harlequins are the calmest species of the bunch. “They are not as excitable,” Metzer explains, which is preferable for when you are picking up eggs or spreading bedding.

What ducks are best for meat?

Among the quieter breeds, Pekin ducks are the most common domestic duck and the best duck to raise for meat. Because they are bigger — about four times the size of a mallard — they will eat more food and produce a little more manure than other domestic ducks. Still, they are sweet ducks, with an added celebrity factor: “It’s the Aflac duck,” Metzer laughs.

What are the best laying ducks?

When it comes to eggs, some ducks are more productive than others. Metzer raises special hybrid breeds, like the Golden 300 and the White Layer for exactly this purpose. Bigger ducks, like the Pekin, will lay larger eggs. In general, though, all eggs will be similarly flavored. “The cayuga duck lays eggs that are grey or a very dark black, and some people like that characteristic,” Metzer says, “but they all taste about the same.”

Credit: Courtesy of Tom Walsh

Can ducks be kept with chickens?

Here is some good news for homesteaders who already have other feathered fowl: Ducks can live in harmony with chickens. “Ducks and chickens can live together in the same coop, and it’s usually no problem,” Metzer says. “At night, chickens roost up, and ducks stay on the ground.”

No matter the breed, ducks bring many benefits to homestead living. Besides being goofy and entertaining, ducks eat garden pests, lay tasty eggs, and are resilient against cold weather and disease. The decision ultimately comes down to which feathered fowl tickles your fancy.