Four Threatened Duck Breeds

Silver Appleyard, Saxony, Buff Orpington, and Magpie Duck

Four Threatened Duck Breeds

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I first became aware of rare duck breeds and endangered domestic animals when I was a teenager. I was gifted Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks from an acquaintance at a pet store that I frequented. This book, written by champion breeder Dave Holderread, made my passion for raising rare duck breeds into an obsession. My parents’ one-acre property which started off with a shed and three English call ducks, quickly grew into hundreds of ducks, geese, and chickens inhabiting multiple sheds. Many of which were rare and purchased directly from Dave Holderread.

In the 1920s, mechanization of farms led to the poultry industry narrowing their interest to a few specialized hybrids which could produce a lot of meat and eggs with the biggest ROI. This regrettably led to the demise of various rare duck breeds and other niche historical livestock.

How Are Rare Duck Breeds Calculated?

The Livestock Conservancy who creates the conservation lists contacts hatcheries, major breeders, and their members to calculate the status of domestic animals. The Livestock Conservancy also sends out surveys through the American Poultry Association, breed clubs, and the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. They advertise the poultry census in magazines and make the survey available on The Livestock Conservancy website. Only birds that will contribute to the next generation are counted. If farmers are keeping just one bird, or a few hens with no males, they are not be included. Below are the four threatened duck breeds that the Conservancy has listed. Consider adding these to your flock or devoting your farm to them to help increase biodiversity.

Buff or Orpington Duck

Status Use Egg Color Egg Size Market Weight Temperament
Threatened Meat, Eggs White, Tinted Large 6-7 lbs Docile, Active

In 20th century England, buff-colored plumage was in vogue. Poultry breeder, author, and lecturer William Cook, of Orpington, England, created several colors of Orpington duck varieties. His most popular was the Buff, which has a heritage that includes Aylesbury, Cayuga, Runner, and Rouen ducks. While promoting his breeds and birds, Cook would sell his 1890 book Ducks: and how to make them pay. In 1914 this breed was added to the American Standard of Perfection under the name “Buff.”

Katrina McNew, owner of Blue Bandit Farms in Benton Harbor, Michigan says it’s a simple standard to adhere to although she admits that getting the buff color to be the same shade throughout individuals is a task. The drakes’ heads being the correct greenish brown is also a challenge.

“I originally got them for their dual-purpose characteristics. I’m astounded at the fast growth rates,” McNew says. “The Buffs reach market rate and mature much faster than the other heritage duck breeds.”

She adds that they are perfect for eggs and meat and are calm and easy to handle for kids and adults. They’re quieter than other breeds she raised and would make great companions for someone living in the country or city.

“I got into them because I loved the dual-purpose qualities of Orpington chickens, and I’m not disappointed. They’re incredibly similar, just a different species”

Deborah Evans owner of Bagaduce Farm in West Brooksville, Maine has been raising Buff hens for three years. “They are very dedicated to going into the hen house for lockup at dusk (whether I’m there or not) for safe-keeping and they lay delicious eggs many mornings.”

She adds, “They are beautiful, friendly, egg-productive, and so easy to handle. My Magpies are a little flighty and standoffish by comparison.”

Buff ducks. Courtesy of Deborah Evans.
Courtesy of Katrina McNew.

Magpie Ducks

Status Use Egg Color Egg Size Market Weight Temperament
Threatened Meat, Eggs White Medium to Large 4-4.5 lbs Docile, Active, Can be high strung

Magpies were recognized by the APA in 1977. They are a light breed, with mostly white plumage with a few specific marks on their body (from shoulders to the tail) and crown. The standard includes two colors: Blacks and Blues, although some breeders have created nonstandard colors like Silvers and the elusive Chocolates. Duckling markings do not change when they mature, so breeders can choose utility birds and breeding stock when they are young. When choosing breeding stock select active, strong-legged birds that come from high-egg-production families. Laying ability and egg size are strongly influenced by genes on the male side so choose drakes from high-producing families. According to Holderread, Magpies are triple-duty: decorative, productive egg layers, and gourmet meat birds.

Janet Farkas owner of Barnyard Buddies in Loveland, Colorado has been raising Magpie ducks for over 10 years. She says Magpie ducks are very family orientated.

“They do enjoy people and they love to swim or play in a sprinkler. Magpie ducks are very low maintenance. It does not take much to keep them happy. My Magpie ducks free range on the farm all day and then are locked up at night for their safety.”

magpie ducklings
Magpie ducklings. Courtesy of Janet Farkas.

Saxony Ducks

Status Use Egg Color Egg Size Market Weight Temperament
Threatened Meat, Eggs White, Blue-green Extra Large 6-8 lbs Docile

In Holderread’s 2001 book he says, “Saxonys are one of the best large all-purpose breeds of ducks and adapt well to a wide range of environments.”

“Saxony are a beautiful, hardy, easy-going breed,” Terrence Howell of Two Well Farms in Fabius, New York says. He has been raising Saxony ducks for three years. He says their best characteristic is that they are very calm.  

“They are truly a multipurpose farm duck. They are great for eggs, meat, and show. My husband and I also raise Myotonic goats on our little farm. Goats are prone to meningeal worm and it is very prevalent in our area. The intermediate host for this worm is slugs and snails. Saxony are great foragers and spend the day walking my goat pastures reducing the number of slugs and snails and in turn helping the goats.” 

Currently, Howell is working on balancing the color and markings with the standard appropriate size.

“My ducks tend to have beautiful color and marking but are on the smaller size for a heavy bird. I am working on improving that by introducing a second line.”

Silver Appleyard Ducks

Status Use Egg Color Egg Size Market Weight Temperament
Threatened Meat, Eggs White Large, Extra Large 6-8 lbs Docile

For Angel Stipetich, Vice President of Preserving Heritage Ducks, love of Silver Appleyards started when she purchased a trio of girls that originated from Dave Holderread back in 2016. She then decided on ordering a drake from him to start breeding.

“An enormous box arrived with my big 10-pound boy and I was in love,” she remembers. “The Silver Appleyard is a large, sturdily built duck that weighs between seven to 10 pounds. They tend to have a stockier conformation.”

She adds that they are excellent layers averaging 200-270 eggs a year.

Chris Dorsey, founder of Warrior Farms in North Georgia’s first Veteran Healing Farm, has also been raising Silver Appleyards since 2016.

Dorsey says that the hardest part of breeding to their standard is the correct color

“The darker color trait is not desired. We have had a lot of them over the years. For us, it’s not a big deal. We have a darker flock in a separate location. They can be used to breed back to ones that are too light in color and in our experience, the darker ones tend to be a little larger. This is great from the standpoint of meat birds.”

Dorsey concludes, “Silver Appleyards are an awesome dual-purpose breed. Early on we chose them to be able to show our kids and grandkids one day this amazing breed. Whether it’s for self-sustainability, conservation or a little of both Silver Appleyards should be on the top of your list.”

Silver Appleyard. Courtesy of Angel Stipetich.
silver appleyard
Courtesy of Chris Dorsey.
Parameters of Poultry Breeds on the Conservation Priority List
Critical Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the United States, with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and an estimated global population less than 1,000.
Threatened Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the United States, with seven or fewer primary breeding flocks, and an estimated global population less than 5,000.
Watch Fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the United States, with ten or fewer primary breeding flocks, estimated global population less than 10,000. Also included are breeds with genetic or numerical concerns or limited geographic distribution.
Recovering Breeds that were once listed in another category and have exceeded Watch category numbers but are still in need of monitoring.
Study Breeds that are of interest but either lack definition or lack genetic or historical documentation.

To learn about the most critical breeds visit my post about Dutch Hookbills and Aylesbury ducks.

Originally published in the April/May 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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