Raising Critical Breeds: Dutch Hookbill and Aylesbury Ducks
Dutch Hookbill Ducks are Great Foragers and Egg Layers
Just like wildlife, domestic livestock can become endangered and extinct. The Dutch Hookbill and Aylesbury ducks are both currently listed as critical by The Livestock Conservancy. Consider adding these unique birds to your homestead to help save a heritage breed. Both breeds are docile and offer unique white or blue-green eggs.
Dutch Hookbill Ducks
Nearly twenty years ago, I had been raising English call and Indian runner ducks for a few years. I was ready to branch out. With poultry magazines stacking up during the winter months, I had plenty of sources to choose from. As a teenager beginning the poultry show circuit, I had an idea. Why not raise rare breeds to improve my chances of winning a variety or class? Then I would be one step closer to show champion. I considered Cayuga ducks and Ancona ducks for their size. I then learned that Dave Holderread, author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks had just imported some rare ducks and was making his ducklings available for sale. The unique appearance of the Dutch Hookbill and their ability to lay white or blue-green eggs intrigued me. The other factor was that each duckling was only two or three dollars more than the other catalogs who were selling common backyard duck breeds.
I placed my order and in the spring received a peeping box of dusky and white-bibbed dusky Dutch Hookbills. I raised them for a few months and took them to a show. I learned that day that because they are rare, there is no standard and hence cannot compete against the other ducks or other poultry. My 13-year-old self, learned an important and in retrospect, funny lesson that day. Even though the ducks are not able to compete, showing rare breeds at the county or state fairs, or at poultry shows is a great way to inform the public about heritage breeds. Add signs, informational posters, or business cards near the show cages to promote your business and the breed.
Dutch Hookbill ducks originated back in the 1600s in the Netherlands. Their hooked bills may have been bred for hunters to easily distinguish them from the wild waterfowl. They are excellent foragers and back then were expected to forage for a majority of their diet. This makes them an excellent addition to any homestead. If duck egg color is of interest to you, their tinted blue-green eggs will not disappoint. They will lay between 100 to 225 eggs a year. The breed declined in the 20th century because the market for duck eggs was declining and because of the polluted waterways. By 1980, the ducks were nearly extinct. The Dutch collected the last 15 birds and started a conservation breeding program in the Netherlands. Holderread imported them to the United States in 2000. Holderread recommends them for their practical qualities and unique appearance. A half dozen breeders are listed on The Livestock Conservancy breeders page. Colin Davis of Apricot Valley Waterfowl in Ontario, Canada has obtained most of Holderread’s Dutch Hookbill stock and sells ducklings in the spring.
Dana Kee of Moose Manner Farms located Accokeek, Maryland also sells duckling and fertilized eggs in the spring.
“I love that Hookbills are such easy keepers. They have sweet personalities and the boys always treat the girls well. I seldom have to worry much about ratios of drakes to ducks with this breed. Hookbills are also great to keep in the garden to eat the bugs … they’re amazing foragers and a little easier on my plantings than other breeds.”
Kim Mower, a long time dairy farmer in Sedro Woolley, Washington, has been maintaining rare and endangered poultry breeds since 1979. For the past eight years, she has been raising Aylesbury ducks.
“The Aylesbury was originally developed to be table fowl, and was bred in large numbers for that purpose,” says Mower. “The duck has a large body and deep keel for heavy flesh, easily fattened. Modern breeds such as Pekin have replaced the Alesbury as a commercial meat bird. Aylesbury is now kept by few breeders. Some folks like to exhibit them at premier poultry shows.”
She says Aylesbury ducks have a place on the homestead farm or with the backyard fancier as a meat and feather provider, as well as for their large eggs.
“The ducks also excel as exhibition fowl. However, this breed should be considered by folks who have already honed their duck management skills. And have predator controls in place.”
She recommends Aylesbury ducks should be separated from other breeds, as they prefer quiet areas. Too much activity can be strenuous to their legs, and they can go lame.
“A quiet, steady, slow herding to move the flock to a new area is all that is needed,” she adds.
Aylesbury ducks were shown at the 1849 inaugural poultry show in Boston, Massachusetts. They were one of the first breeds to be brought over from Europe to America. Aylesbury ducks were included in the first publication of American Standard of Perfection published in 1874 by the American Poultry Association. In a year they can lay between 35 to 125 large eggs which are white or tinted green. Frank Reese, an Aylesbury breeder in Lindsborg, Kansas, says that his females lay close to the high end of the range. Pekin meat is preferred in the United States while Aylesbury duck meat is popular in England. Aylesbury skin is white, compared to many ducks that have yellow skin.
“For the poultry raiser that would like to take their management skills to the next level, maintain a very rare and endangered breed, and has a safe facility, they should consider Aylesbury ducks,” said Mower.
|Egg Color||White or Green Tinted||White to Blue-Green|
|Egg Size||Extra Large||Large|
|Rate of Lay
|35 to 125||100 to 225|
|Mothering Ability||Poor to Fair||Good|
|Experience Level||Intermediate||Novice, Intermediate|
|Climate||Hot and Cold||Hot and Cold|
|Notes||Good meat to bone ratio.
UV will turn pink bills to orange.
Traditional type can be challenging to breed.
Needs pool to mate properly.
|One of the best foraging ducks.