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Curious about raising ducks? Read this guide written by Carla Emery to learn about the duck breeds available, from those primarily used for laying eggs or meat to dual-purpose breeds.
Indian runner. There are many species of Indian ducks of which white, faun and white are said to be the best egg producers (225-325 eggs per year). Indian runner originated in Asia (as did the rare Bali, with which it is associated). Runners are a light, nervous breed (ducks are 4 pounds butcher-age, ducks 3-1⁄2 pounds) that stand upright, almost vertical to the ground. They can move quickly, which helps protect them from predators. The ratio of forage consumption to egg production is very good, and is on par with the other best of the Khaki-Campbell duck layers. And their eggs are larger. They are exceptionally good foragers but make poor mothers.
Khaki Campbell. This duck is a calm, healthy, well-foraged, hardy breed that will continue to lay in cold weather–up to 300-325 eggs per year. A khaki-Campbell duck is khaki with bronze accents, has a green bill, and weighs only about 4½ pounds. They do not feed, and are the ducks that care less when it comes to swimming. Their eggs are creamy white and large, considering this is one of the smallest breeds of ducks – smaller than Pekins or Roans. Khaki-Campbells was developed by an Englishwoman (Mrs. Campbell) from mallards, an Indian runner, and a rowan duck. Crossbreeding diluted many strains. For a good egg-laying bird, be sure to choose a Campbell Khaki for high-volume egg production. The original Khaki-Campbells are said to lie well for 3-4 years and do well in the winter, as long as they are protected from extreme cold. Young butcher Khaki Campbells at 4 pounds for leaner meat than most ducks.
Welsh Harlequin. It is said that these ducks laid up to 300 eggs per year. The duck egg production of these specialized egg breeds is right up there with the best chicken layers. It is interesting to note that, like breeds of chicken that specialize in eggs, ducks that specialize in eggs are lighter in weight, more coherent in temperament, slower growing, and non-brooding.
Aylesbury. These ducks are a British breed that the English consider the main meat breed of ducks. It is noted that they are less nervous than Pekins and exceptionally friendly towards humans. They are also less powerful. They have white plumage and light orange skin, legs and feet. Aylesburys eat grass well and will be ready to butcher at 7 pounds in about 8 weeks. Males will grow to 9 pounds, and females to 8. To breed, use one pheasant for two ducks and provide water for the mating surface. Aylesbury ducks are not the best egg layers. You may get 35 to 125 eggs per year. In pre-breeding England, broody hens were used to raise Aylesbury pups.
Chinese white Pekin. This is the most popular duck meat. The White Pekin is a stocky duck that is heavyweight and resistant to disease and stress. The Pekin is probably the best bird to breed if your main interests are efficient meat production for the home or market and white pin feathers. They are very large ducks and grow very quickly with an effective growth rate per pound of feed (2½ pounds of feed required per pound of gain). A White Pekin can be ready to eat at just 7 weeks old, weighing 6½-7 lbs. And then the bird is perfect for grilling (although it’s fairly high in fat) and technically called a “duck.” Adult Pekingese snakes weigh 10 pounds, hens, 9. Pekingese come in many different genetic lines and were also developed by different competing breeders. In general, Pekin ducks are very fertile; Pekins’ large white eggs are fully hatchable; And 1 Drak Pekin can handle 3-5 ducks.
Although they are strung and poor, free-range pairs have been known to raise up to 20 chicks a year. Younger drake do not mate with older ducks. The Pekingese is a poor choice for foraging ducks, and females are noisy. The Pekin is a good layer – 125 to 175 eggs per year, if well managed, and can therefore be used as a meat-egg breed. When Beijing ducklings are raised on a commercial scale for meat (and not kept for breeders), they are referred to as “green ducklings”. Green ducklings are kept confined to limit exercise and kept under constant light as this stimulates growth. Feed conversion efficiency declines after 7 weeks, and green ducklings are slaughtered soon after, when their wing feathers have developed. This is a pure farming business for you.
Muscovy. This is a large white or colored (depending on the variety) duck with well-muscled breasts. They often have a darkening, like a mask, around the eyes. The muscovy duck is the only domestic breed not derived from the mallard. Originating in South America, they come in white or variegated, and are slower growing than Pekins or Rouens, but are a number one forage. Muscovy also differs from other ducks in the nature of their plumage, which is not as soft as it is more firm and not as oily as those of other ducks. They can actually drown, if they can’t get out of the water for a long time – especially the males with the long, heavy wings. The good news about muscovy feathers is that they are easier to pick than other duck feathers. An adult male can weigh as much as 16 pounds, but is more likely to be around 12 pounds. The much smaller female weighs 7 pounds, and meat is best if slaughtered before 17 weeks of age. Adults can become obese if they are confined and overeat.
Muscovy is said to be resistant to diseases that Pekin and The Runner are susceptible to (when kept in large numbers). It’s silent, which your neighbors might appreciate, but chickens fly really well when they’re fully grown. Unlike other ducks, Muscovy roosts at night like chickens, preferring a fence or tree so that they are safer from predators. But flying can be a problem. For example, they might come to your orchard – or your neighbor’s. But if you put Muscovies into a deep freeze shortly before they reach full adulthood, the problem with flying won’t arise. Or you can cut 1 wing.
Muscovies have sharper claws on their feet than other ducks, and large ducks can get moody, so be careful when handling them. A muscovy hen may lay up to 100 eggs per year. It is probably the best for breeding, as the chickens are excellent layers and brooders, with excellent fertility and hatchability. The hen will lay 20-25 eggs and then incubate them. She may well produce and care for two broods per season. They will even confront dogs and foxes and drive them away. Ducklings are very hardy, but they take a month longer than other ducks to grow full plumage. Most duck eggs hatch in 28 days, but muscovy eggs require 35 days.
Rawan. This duck breed is large, like White Pekins, which makes for a good roast, and beautifully colored like the wild duck from which it was adapted many centuries ago. Fly fishermen say that roan feathers make trout and streamers fly. Rowan is not, and has a calm and friendly nature, which is nice if you have young children. They lay 35-150 eggs a year, some of which are teal-blue like Easter eggs, and some are creamy-white. Rouens are slower growing than Pekins. It can be slaughtered between two and a half to six months. Rouens tend to stay close to home. Rowan genetic strains differ in their egg-laying powers—some excellent, some poor. A reasonably light drake can take care of 4 or 5 ducks. Look for the trait of continuing to produce fertilized hatching eggs 3 years after laying. Rouens do well in farm ponds and near wooded areas where a rugged duck with good survival instincts is required. A 3-foot fence will keep ruins (and most non-flying ducks) inside.
Dual-purpose duck varieties
Swedish blue and black. This duck is rare in the United States (but more popular in Europe). It is a good insectivore that lays 100-150 bluish to greyish-white eggs per year, and is said to be less susceptible to predator attacks due to its protective coloration. Crested ducks weigh about 7 pounds, and ducks, 6 pounds.
Buff Orpington. These ducks are another rare dual-purpose (egg and meat) breed. Ducks weigh 8 pounds, chickens 7. They may lay up to 250 eggs a year.
Cayuga. In the same weight class as the Swedish, Cayugas is a rare rugged American black duck that can tolerate extreme cold well, is a good forager, and lays 100-175 eggs per year. They are very calm, but in order to avoid an unattractive carcass, it is necessary to remove the skin and feathers.
Bantam Duck Breeds: There are also breeds of bantam ducks – Call, Australian Spotted and East Indie ducks, all of which are excellent foragers and brooders. Most people keep them as novelties, as they do not produce eggs in large quantities (no more than 125 per year) and are relatively small (usually less than 2-½ pounds) as a good source of meat. but their meat is of very good quality, and lays well in the spring, if the eggs are collected daily.
communicate. This is the most famous type of bantam. They are noisy little birds, either gray or white, favored as live decoys in England, where they originated. You will need some patience to raise ducklings. They may do well on a diet of rolled oats and ground vegetables mixed with water. You can buy them from Shane Risner at Prickeree Pines Gamebird Farm: 616-897-1080; 2849 Gulliford, Lowell, MI 49331; X95risner@email.com.
Mallard. These are relatively small (male, 2.8 lbs; female, 2.4 lbs) ducks that can fly. They prefer to live where there is water to get out and go in, and they often dive and swim underwater. They are wild species (thought to be the ancestors of many domestic ducks), probably the best duck collectors, and natural mothers. Mallards don’t fatten as well or charge like a Pekingese, and they have game-tasting meat. The drake has dramatic plumage, while the female’s is a stoic brown. Check with your state’s game regulatory agency before ordering Mallards—you may need a permit.
(c) 2012 by Carla Emery. All rights reserved. Adapted from Encyclopedia of Country Living Courtesy of Sasquatch Books.