Raising Ducks and Geese: A Homesteader’s Guide to Waterfowl

Ducks and geese are low-maintenance birds that provide fresh eggs, homegrown meat, pest and weed control, and even poultry manure for your garden.

  • Ducks will gobble up emerging weeds, weed seeds, bugs, slugs and snails in the garden.
    Illustration by Elara Tanguy

Whether you raise them for fun or frugality, ducks and geese are great additions to a homestead. They forage for much of their own food, need only a simple shelter and fencing for protection, and convert insects and weeds into healthy proteins. So, aside from the charms of honking, waddling, quacking and splashing, what can ducks and geese offer your family?

Eggs. Some duck breeds will actually lay more eggs than chickens will. Duck eggs are not much different in flavor from chicken eggs. In general, small duck breeds, such as Campbells and Runners, lay more eggs than bigger breeds. (For help choosing waterfowl breeds, check out our breed profile charts: 14 Dapper Duck Breeds and 12 Gregarious Goose Breeds.) None of the goose breeds lays as prolifically as a duck, although a single goose egg can make a formidable omelet. Goose eggs are often kept for hatching or hollowed out by artists to create decorative jewelry boxes and other craft items.

Meat. Any waterfowl breed can be raised for meat, but some grow faster and larger than others while consuming less feed. Also, there is a trade-off between meat and egg production; larger, meatier breeds do not lay as prodigiously as the midsized or smaller breeds commonly kept for fresh eggs. Duck sold at the butcher counter is most likely Pekin, and a goose from a butcher is typically an Embden. The lean, tender meat of the midsized Muscovy duck is comparable to fine veal, and rendered goose fat provides terrific shortening for baking. Raising ducks for meat is a short-term project completed in two to four months depending on species. Geese are ready for butchering in about six months.

Weed and pest control. In the garden, ducks will scarf down emerging weeds, weed seeds, bugs, slugs and snails — just keep them fenced away from tender greens and ripening strawberries. Muscovies will clean out ticks, wasps, mosquitoes, flies, Japanese beetles and other pests. Geese are also excellent at weed control, especially young Chinese geese, which are light enough that they don’t compact the soil as they forage. One product of all this weed-eating and insect-munching is phosphorus-rich manure, which, along with soiled shelter bedding, is ready for composting.

Feathers. If you intend to roast a bird with the skin intact, white-feathered breeds look cleaner when plucked than breeds with darker plumage. On the other hand, waterfowl with colorful plumage are less visible to predators. No matter their color, the birds’ soft feathers and down can fill comforters, pillows and vests.

Fun and fancy. Waterfowl can also be kept for exhibition, to conserve a rare breed, or simply for the enjoyment of their silly antics and beauty. Sebastopol geese, for instance, have luxuriously long, soft feathers, and several breeds of both ducks and geese are available in versions with striking crests or tufts.

4/7/2014 9:14:23 PM

We started raising ducks. They are so easy to raise and some of the best meat we've ever had. But butchering them is a nightmare. Does anyone have any ideas to help make it easier? Everyone wants to quit ducks because of this one problem.But I don't want to give up the meat.

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