The Homestead Guide to Domesticated Ducks

Chickens are fine, but in many ways domesticated ducks are a whole lot better.

| September/October 1979

Domesticated ducks can be a delightful—and valuable—addition to your farm, homestead, or even urban/suburban back yard! The waterfowl require less initial care than do chickens, are susceptible to fewer diseases, and grow to eatin' size sooner, too. Furthermore—besides providing succulent meat for your table—these attractive feathered friends produce eggs that are more nutritious than (and just about as versatile as) hens' eggs. On top of that, ducks will forage much of their own food, do wonders for insect and weed control, give you pounds of fluffy down for pillows and comforters. And if you want companionship, they become devoted pets that can live as long as 20 years!

A Bit About Breeds

Most of the approximately 10 million ducks raised commercially in the U.S. each year are White Pekins. These large fowl—which reach a weight of seven delicious pounds in eight short weeks—are poor setters but fair egg producers. However, because of their nervous dispositions, Pekins require a calm environment to attain maximum egg production.

Another large white variety, the Aylesbury, is the most popular duck in England. Though birds of this breed produce few eggs and seldom show any interest in setting, they are very tasty and somewhat less nervous than are White Pekins.

If you like the unusual, the royal-looking Crested Duck with its fancy topknot is a good layer and grows to eating size very quickly, too. The Brown and Khaki Campbells (whose eggs have a very delicate, pleasing flavor) and three graceful Indian Runner varieties (White, Penciled, and Fawn) are also fine producers: They can usually be relied upon to lay an egg a day all year long. However, at eight to ten weeks—the prime, tenderest age for the table—members of these species weigh only 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds.

Rouens (they're colorful, quiet, and docile), Cayugas (a hardy breed of American origin), Swedish Blues (which are extremely hardy and easy to pluck), Buffs (a good general-purpose breed), and Calls (small, noisy, "single-serving" bantams) all produce excellent meat, but few eggs. However—because these species sport innumerable tiny, dark pinfeathers—some people find them less attractive than other ducks when "dressed" for the table. (Attempts to camouflage these "spots" have led to the creation of many delicious duck sauces!)

All of the above varieties were developed from the wild mallard, but the Muscovy duck is a different breed altogether. Almost as large as a goose, this South and Central American bird—domesticated since the time of the Incas—is decked out in plumage of white, blue, chocolate, buff, or silver. The Muscovy is a great forager, and one bird can quickly free a large garden of snails and slugs. It's also one of the best setting waterfowl a homestead duck raiser can choose to own. In fact, a single female can hatch and rear as many as 25 to 30 ducklings annually.

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