Duck Breeds for Eggs and Meat
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Curious about keeping ducks? Read this guide by Carla Emery to the duck breeds available, from those primarily for laying or meat to dual-purpose breeds.
Indian Runner. There are many varieties of Indian Runner ducks of which the White Penciled, Fawn, and White are said to be the best egg producers (225–325 eggs per year). The Indian Runner originated in Asia (as did the rarer Bali to which it is related). Runners are a nervous, light breed (drakes are 4 lb. at butchering age, ducks are 3-1⁄2 lb.) that stand quite erect, nearly perpendicular to the ground. They can move quickly, which helps protect them against predators. Their feed-consumption-to-egg-production ratio is very good, and they lay equally as well as the other best duck layers—the Khaki-Campbell. And their eggs are larger. They are exceptionally good foragers but make poor mothers.
Khaki-Campbell. This duck is a quiet, healthy, good foraging, hardy breed that will continue laying in cold weather—as many as 300–325 eggs a year. The Khaki-Campbell duck is khaki with bronze highlights, has a green bill, and weighs only about 41⁄2 lb. They don’t go broody, and they are the least interested duck when it comes to swimming. Their eggs are creamy white and large, considering that this is one of the smaller breeds of duck—smaller than Pekins or Rouen. Khaki-Campbells were developed by an English- woman (Mrs. Campbell) out of Mallards, Indian Runners, and Rouen ducks. Crossbreeding has diluted many strains. To get a good egg-laying bird, be sure you get a Khaki- Campbell selected for high egg production. Authentic Khaki-Campbells are said to lay well 3–4 years and do well in winter, as long as they’re sheltered from extreme cold. Butcher young Khaki-Campbells at 4 lb. to get meat that is lower in fat than most ducks.
Welsh Harlequin. These ducks are said to have laid as many as 300 eggs annually. Duck egg production of these egg-specialist breeds is right up there with the best chicken layers. It’s interesting to note that, like the egg-specialist chicken breeds, the egg-specialist ducks are also lighter in weight, more high-strung in temperament, slower growing, and non-brooding.
Aylesbury. These ducks are a British strain considered by the English to be the prime meat breed of duck. They are noted for being less nervous than Pekins and exceptionally friendly toward humans. They are also less hardy. They have white feathers and skin and light orange legs and feet. Aylesburys eat grass quite well and will be ready for slaughter at 7 lb. at around 8 weeks. The males will grow to 9 lb., the females to 8. For breeding, use a single drake to 2 ducks and provide water for a mating surface. Aylesbury ducks are not the best egg-layers. You may get anywhere from 35 to 125 eggs a year. In pre-incubator England, broody hens were used to raise the Aylesbury young.
Chinese White Pekin. This is the most popular meat duck. The White Pekin is a blocky, extra-heavy duck, disease- and stress-resistant. The Pekin is probably the best bird to raise if your main interests are efficient meat production for home or market and white pin feathers. They are an extra-large duck and grow very fast with an efficient growth-per-pound-of-food ratio (21⁄2 lb. of feed required per pound of gain). The White Pekin can be ready to eat at only 7 weeks of age, weighing 61⁄2–7 lb. The bird is then perfect for roasting (although fairly high in fat content) and is technically called a “duckling.” Adult Pekin drakes weigh 10 lb., hens, 9. The Pekins come in numerous different genetic strains, as developed by different competing breeders. In general, Pekin drakes are very fertile; the Pekins’ large, white eggs are quite hatchable; and 1 Pekin drake can handle 3–5 ducks.
Although they are high-strung and poor setters, free-ranging pairs have been known to raise up to 20 ducklings a year. Don’t mate a younger drake to older ducks. Pekins are a poor choice for a foraging duck, and the females are noisy. The Pekin is considered a good layer—between 125 to 175 eggs per year, if they are well-managed, and so could be used as a meat–eggs breed. When Pekin ducklings are being raised on a commercial scale for meat (and not being kept for breeders), they are referred to as “green ducklings.” Green ducklings are kept confined to limit their exercise and kept under continuous light because that stimulates growth. Feed-conversion efficiency drops off after 7 weeks, and green ducklings are butchered shortly after, when their wing feathers develop. That’s pure agribusiness for you.
Muscovy. This is a large white or colored (depending on the variety) lean 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 of Mallard derivation. They originated in South America, come in White or Colored, are slower growing than Pekins or Rouens, but are a first-class forager. Muscovies are also different from other ducks in the nature of their feathers, which are not as downy, are harder, and don’t oil as well as those of other ducks. They can actually drown, if unable to get out of the water for too long—especially heavy, long-winged males. The good news about Muscovy feathers is that they’re easier to pick than those of other ducks. An adult male can weigh 16 lb. but is more likely to be around 12. The much smaller females weigh 7 lb. Their meat is best if they are slaughtered before 17 weeks. The big ones can get quite fat if confined and overfed.
The Muscovy is said to be resistant to diseases that the Pekin and the Runner (when kept in large numbers) are subject to. It is noiseless, which your neighbors might appreciate, but hens fly quite well when fully grown. Unlike the other ducks, the Muscovy roosts at night like a chicken, preferring a fence or tree so they’re safer from predators. But the flying can be a problem; for example, they might get into your orchard—or your neighbor’s. But if you put Muscovies in your deep freeze shortly before full adulthood, the flying problem won’t come up. Or you can clip 1 wing.
Muscovies have sharper claws on their feet than other ducks, and the big drakes can become temperamental, so be cautious when handling them. The Muscovy hen may lay as many as 100 eggs a year. It is probably the best for reproducing itself, as the hens are excellent layers and brooders, with excellent fertility and hatchability. The hen will lay 20–25 eggs and then brood them. She may produce and care admirably for 2 broods each season. She’ll even face and drive off dogs and foxes. The ducklings are hardy, but they take a month more than other ducks to grow full feathers. Most duck eggs hatch at 28 days, but Muscovy eggs require 35 days.
Rouen. This duck breed is large, like the White Pekins, which makes it a good roaster, and colored as prettily as the wild mallard from which it was adapted several centuries ago. Fly-tyers say that Rouen feathers make good trout flies and streamers. The Rouen doesn’t y, and it has a quiet, friendly nature, which is nice if you have small children. They lay 35–150 eggs a year, some blue-green as Easter eggs, some creamy white. Rouens are slower growing than Pekins. They can be butchered anywhere between 2½ and 6 months. Rouens tend to stay very near home. Genetic Rouen lines vary in egg-laying powers—some are excellent, some poor. A reasonably light drake can take care of 4 or 5 ducks. Look for the trait of continuing to produce fertile hatching eggs past 3 laying years. Rouens do well on farm ponds and near wooded areas where a rugged duck with good survival instincts is required. A 3–foot-high fence will keep Rouens (and most other non-flying ducks) in.
Dual-Purpose Duck Varieties
Blue and Black Swedish. This duck is rare in the United States (but more popular in Europe). It’s a good insect- eater lays 100–150 bluish to grayish-white eggs a year, and has been said to be less prone to predator attacks because of its protective coloration. Crested drakes weigh around 7 lb., the ducks, 6 lb. They make good mothers and forage well.
Buff Orpington. These ducks are another rare dual-purpose (eggs and meat) breed. Drakes weigh 8 lb., hens 7. They may lay up to 250 eggs a year.
Cayuga. In the same weight class as the Swedish, Cayugas are a rare, rugged black American duck that can stand extreme cold very well, are good foragers, and lay 100–175 eggs a year. They are very quiet, but to avoid an unattractive carcass, it’s necessary to remove the skin and pinfeathers.
Bantam Duck Breeds: There are also the bantam duck breeds—the Call, the Australian Spotted, and the East Indie, all of which are excellent foragers and brooders. Most people keep them as novelties, as they do not produce eggs in great quantities (not more than 125 a year) and are comparatively small (usually under 2-1⁄2 lb.) for a good meat source. But their meat is of very ne quality, and they do lay well in the spring, if the eggs are gathered daily.
Call. These are the best-known of the bantams. They are noisy little birds, either gray or white, favored as live decoys in England, where they originated. You’ll need some patience to raise Call ducklings. They may do well on a diet of rolled oats and ground greens mixed in with their 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 lb.; female, 2.4 lb.) ducks that can fly. They prefer living where there’s water to y from and alight on, and they frequently dive and swim underwater. They are a wild species (believed to be the progenitors of many domestic ducks), are perhaps the best duck foragers, and are natural mothers. The Mallard does not fatten as well or ship as well as the Pekin, and they have gamey-tasting meat. The drake has dramatic feathers, while the female is a demure brown. Check with your state game regulatory agency before ordering Mallards—you might need a permit.
(c)2012 by Carla Emery. All rights reserved. Excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Country Living by permission of Sasquatch Books.