Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Raising ducks for eggs and meat; pros and cons

This is our fourth year raising ducks for eggs and meat. I love ducks. I love their bills and their webbed feet. I love their waddle and their quack. We enjoy their eggs, mostly in baked goods (not fried). The meat is good eating, if you put the time and attention into preparing it right. Nothing better ever happened to a potato than to be cubed and fried in duck fat. And I'm not sure if any other farm animal is cuter than a day old duckling. That being said, I am planning on fazing out the ducks on this small homestead until a day when we have property with a pond or a creek. It comes down to economics and amount of labor. As much as I love having a diversity of meat and animal products, it just seems like we get more from the chickens for less work. Keeping costs and labor down is a priority. I've been thinking a lot lately about ducks and the reasons for and against keeping them and thought I'd share.

We started off with four Khaki Campbell ducklings and have had as many as twenty-seven ducklings; Welsh Harlequins (beautiful), Saxony's (big, lovely, heritage), Pekings (meat), Runners (small eggs/little meat -fun), and this past spring we hatched our own random crosses which was interesting. They are all beautiful. The Pekings and Saxony are our dual purpose breeds, the rest are good for laying but are hardly worth eating. The Pekings are known for being a meat breed but they also are good layers.

General Duck facts/needs/care requirements:
  1. While ducks might not need a pond or a pool, they will be much happier for it. And they do need water that they can dunk and clean their heads in. So a chicken waterer will not suffice. We keep a small insulated cooler with a hole cut out in the top and in the winter we put a heater in it and change out the water daily. The ducks can duck their heads in but cannot climb in it, or spill it all onto the ground. I haul four times as much water for our ten ducks than for twenty chickens - and that is in the winter. In months where the water does not freeze solid, the ducks have a baby pool to play in.
  2. You only want one male duck for up to ten to twelve maybe fifteen females - I haven't looked it up but I think that is about right. We have a problem every year of waiting to long to butcher the extra males. Male ducks are very aggressive and dominating with the females and males. The lower ranking males will be humiliated, disgraced and picked on. The females will be bothered too much and will not lay.
  3. Ducks do not roost. They lay their eggs on the ground. If you want clean eggs you must put down fresh bedding daily and even then, the eggs get soiled. You can build boxes or put kennels on the ground, but the ducks will sleep and live in there as well, so it will not stay as clean as a chicken box off the ground would.  ( I really hate poopy eggs! big con for me)
  4. Ducks are messy. Partly because they do not roost, partly because they are waterfowl; they need more water to stay clean. If you do not put down fresh bedding and provide water for bathing, they will have a harder time staying clean. This is not their fault. It is a care consideration. Ideally ducks have year round access to fresh water. This makes them less ideal for places with long cold winters, and homestead's without excess water.
  5. Ducks mature later than chickens. So they start laying eggs later, the males take longer to raise for meat - more feeding, later reward.
  6. Pro, once ducks do start laying eggs, they lay well. We've had females lay almost an egg a day for a few months or more. However their seasons do seem to be shorter, so they take a longer break from laying.
  7. Ducks need more indoor space than chickens. They take up more space because of their size, they don't roost. If they are overcrowded they won't lay well.
  8. Pro, ducks are hardy. They are outside almost all year during the daylight hours. They tolerate the cold, the snow and the rain much better than the chickens. 
  9. Pro, ducks are just hardy in general, they don't die from mysterious internal ailments as often as chickens do.
  10. Con, ducks don't eat scraps as well as chickens. We do fed them a small amount of scraps, but they waste a lot more than the chickens. 
  11. Pro, duck fat is awesome, save the fat!
  12. Ducks are good eating, but a duck carcass is very different than a chickens. Ducks generally have less meat on their frame, but the meat that is there is dark and very good.
  13. Don't roast a duck like you would a chicken. Look up a duck recipe!
  14. Ducks are harder to kill. My husband does all the poultry killing - but we both agree that the ducks are cuter and more personable than the chickens but that is just our opinion.
 Which brings us to why we raise ducks; meat and eggs. We have found that we prefer chicken eggs fried for breakfast. We like the taste and texture better. I use duck eggs in egg salad and for baking. We can sell chicken eggs to the local meat market for $4.50 and duck eggs for $5.50 (I think - it has been a while since I've taken eggs in). 

The first several times we ate duck, I roasted the duck whole. There are two different recommended ways of doing this. One way is to steam the duck first, which allows a lot of the fat to come out of the duck into the water. Then you salt and season the duck and roast it for a shorter amount of time in the oven. When I cooked the duck this way, I actually got the skin crispy - (which I pick off and enjoy right away before it softens.) Another way to roast a duck is to set it above the roasting pan, and slice shallow slits all over the duck to allow the fat to drain out. You don't want to cut too deeply or the fat can soak back into the meat. And you want the duck above the pan so that it is not cooking in its own fat which leads to soggy, oily or greasy duck. To go above and beyond, either a salt water brine overnight before roasting the duck, and then letting it sit and dry out before seasoning. Or, rubbing the duck with salt and seasonings then allowing it to sit uncovered overnight in the fridge which will help make for crispy duck skin. Roast duck is more challenging to cut up then a chicken, so don't do it at the table. Also, remember that there will be less meat than you think there will be, don't try and feed a crowd with one duck! Finally use a thermometer and don't overcook your duck!  

Duck legs are often a bit tough or chewy. Which is why I think even a better idea than roasting a whole duck is to cook the breast and legs separately. I recommend making a meal with duck breasts. Then season the the legs and carcass and slow cooking it in the oven. Then pull all the meat off and pack it in the fat and store it for a while. Then you have something like duck confit which is awesome for salads or bean dishes. Or you could make soup with the legs and carcass. If you are trying to impress your friends with their first taste of duck, just serve breasts as they are the most tender and simplest to cook.

Summing it all up, I will raise ducks again. I love having them around, especially in the summer. When we fill their pool with fresh water they get so excited. We all stand around and enjoy watching them splash and play. I enjoy the diversity of meat, fat and eggs they provide. For now it comes down to how much more work it is hauling extra water and bedding in and effort to keep somewhat clean and healthy birds and get relatively clean eggs. Compared to chickens, you put more money into feeding ducks and get less eggs and meat in return. My plan is to butcher all of our males this spring as we don't plan on hatching any duck eggs this spring. Then keep the females until mid to late summer when we need the extra space. I'm going to trade the females to a friend who wants some layers, in exchange for some hair cuts for myself. Meanwhile, I'm researching chicken breeds in an attempt to get inspired about chickens again.


Ginger said...

I'm so thankful you shared this, I was considering ducks for summer but my hesitations were confirmed! I didn't think about the dirty eggs, and I have enough of those in winter! I'm excited for turkeys though and I know you enjoy them. We're venturing in to meat bird territory this summer! Happy spring!!

Sustainable Eats said...

Interesting take. I go back and forth with the ducks but I think I will always have a handful, if for nothing other than slug patrol in the garden. I do love the eggs for baked goods but we don't like them fried either. I'll never understand how they can taste just like chicken eggs when boiled yet so different when they are fried! I put a pond in for my ducks - and wow are they mad if they can't get to it for a day or two like when I am going to be home late and want to leave them in the netted pen.

Ashling said...

Sounds like you've really done a great job analyzing it. Things will be ducky again one day, but you've got a really sensible approach for now.

Lindsey at NW Backyard Veggies said...

I, too, had ducks - Khaki Campbells. I loved having them around and I agree that they are more personable and likeable than chickens.
A raccoon got them and I was devastated - much more than I have been when I lose a chicken.
That's when I knew I couldn't have Ducks again. I get too attached to them b/c of their personalities. (Also, lugging and filling a baby pool all the time was enough to drive me insane!)

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered muskovy ducks? They don't empty the water bucket with a passion like water ducks do. They roost with the chickens and lay in the nesting boxes because they are wood ducks and usually nest in trees. They also don't quack-they make low hissing crooning noises and are very sweet. The males grow out in about eight to ten weeks and my females that hatched out in the middle of last summer have been laying every day since the middle of January.

Emily said...

Haven't tried Muscovy ducks but I might have to someday. Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

I could have written your post! I have been going through this same thought process all winter. Over the past few years I started out with muscovys, then was given some pekins and bought khakis. I agree with the anonymous comment on muscovys-- they are by far my favorite and are much less wasteful of water. Muscovy ducks and chickens are a great combo. Thanks for some great posts!

Jennifer Wood said...

Thank you for sharing!! Very helpful as we build our little homestead...

Chris Wied said...

Thank you for taking the time to share this knowledge :)

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I'm very happy I stumbled upon your blog. Originally from Kentucky, my husband and I are living in North Pole, AK for the time being thanks to his job. I am intolerant to chicken eggs and had become accustomed to using duck eggs in my baking while in Kentucky. Raising ducks yourself, would you happen to be aware of anywhere I can purchase unfertilized duck eggs for cooking in Fairbanks or the close surrounding area? I've looked at ordering online, but the prices are a bit ridiculous.

Emily said...

Anonymous, why unfertilized? Sometimes Sunshine Health Food Store or Home Grown carry local duck eggs - as well as AK Feed and the Farmer's market. I'd try and and find a local farmer with ducks and make friends with them. You could also try an add on Craigslist seeking duck eggs. Often people just have a handful of females without a male - so just let people know what you are looking for- obviously the eggs at the store you won't know, but they usually have addresses and numbers on them so you could call the farmer and ask.

Dave said...

I love fried/poached duck eggs so much more taste than chicken eggs.

I plan on keeping 1/2 dozen ducks when I retire in a few months time
1/2 dozen chickens too

Might try for Muscovy



bestpreparedness.com said...

Some great information on raising Ducks, after reading this I might have to get a few

dUU said...

Gratitude for your honest post about this. Sounds like there is no way to have an egg purposed no-kill farm with ducks as the males will overrun the others. There is no way I could ever kill a duck. Just couldn't do it.

John Fox said...

YOU KNOW THAT THE ABILITY TO DISENGAGE FROM THE ANIMALS YOU RAISE AND KILL THEM IS DISTURBING AND PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL HELP IS SUGGESTED.I feel sorry for what baggage you are laying on your kids and I hope they do not take your lifestyle to heart. It is unfortunate psychopathy is innate but I am hopeful. good luck and look deeply into yourself and get help.

Anonymous said...

John Fox, your inability to cope with the natural order of life is more disturbing than anything. Everything that lives will die, the only thing that matters is that the life is well lived and the death is made as painless as possible. The author of this article shows a genuine desire to maintain a high standard of living for her animals. Any true psychiatric professional would dismiss your amateur diagnosis.

Anonymous said...

... said by someone who has no freaking clue where their food comes from.

Anonymous said...

John, most people on this planet eat meat. Would you rather these animals were farmed in factories and killed in slaughterhouses? I hope you realize that meat doesn't come from the grocery store. Also, animals eat each other, and if we don't eat animals disease or old age, or a predator will do them in and it will be a much more painful death. If you truly care about animals, you should encourage more people to raise their own food. When they do, they tend to respect the meat on their plate and are sure their meals had happy lives and stress-free deaths.