Ducks fill a niche on the farm that no other animal can. Different breeds can give you either a lot of meat or a lot of eggs, but this article will focus on species that are (generally) classified as dual-purpose birds, meaning you get the best of both worlds. You will be disappointed if you hope for vomited know-how on raising Muscovy, Pekin or Campbells. There are better ducks, and we’ll talk about that now.
If you live in a climate with a tendency towards particularly nasty winter seasons, look no further than the Gothic Cayuga. These ducks have a lot to offer, the least of which is that they are stunningly beautiful. Considered by many to be a dual-purpose bird, they tend to grow large, and the drakes usually grow quite a bit in a relatively short period of time.
Males generally weigh between seven and eight pounds, and the hens, as with most double-purpose fowl, will be slightly smaller, usually between six and seven pounds, but there are exceptions to every rule. These ducks are also voracious foragers, and if you allow this particular breed to forage around your yard where dandelions may or may not grow, these ducks will do their best to eat the entire plant.
In my experience, Cayugas are generally quiet, gentle birds. In fact, their demeanor is about as docile as you’d hope. However, it should be mentioned that due to their hardiness, these ducks do not thrive in too high temperatures. Making sure they have plenty of fresh water and a cool, shady place to hide during the heat of summer will help them live a happy and healthy life.
The really great thing about the Cayuga duck is the meat. They are without a doubt some of the best tasting house ducks I have ever eaten. So much so that if I had to pick just one breed of duck to consume (both wild and domestic), it would be this duck. The downside of the breed is that they typically only lay 100 to 150 eggs per hen per year. The nice thing about that downside is that they range from charcoal black to grayish cream color. The bloom in the hen’s canal causes this, and as they lay more eggs during the year, the eggshell color will become lighter and lighter.
A personal favorite of mine, these ducks have a lot to offer. They are smart, incredible foragers, hardy and produce loads of eggs. One of the nice things about this breed is that if they are ducklings, they will never lose the down pattern they were born with, while other breeds do. It’s a hefty duck – enough to be considered a dual-purpose bird, but slender enough to fly short distances.
The average common magpie hen can lay up to 260 eggs per year, although there are exceptions to this. One of my magpies laid over 300 eggs last year, while another produced just 100 eggs. Mixed genes can cause this, but in general expect exceptional egg production, large size and color ranging from cream to robin blue. Magpies are also well mannered and have a lifespan of about 8 to 12 years in ideal conditions. Egg production usually slows down in those later years of life, but that is the case with most ducks and is common in the poultry and poultry world.
In my experience, magpie chickens don’t go broody that quickly, but it’s not completely impossible. I’ve read that some people who incubate the eggs found that they hatch after just 18 days, while others need 24. I’m not exactly sure what could be causing this, but from a general standpoint it may have something to do with whether the mother/father of the eggs was truly purebred or not.
Either way, this is a great duck breed that can be very beneficial to the modern homeowner. They are a hardy, gentle breed with great foraging behavior and are gentle by nature. Some cooks consider this breed to be the best duck to cook with, and I certainly can’t argue with that claim.
Welsh Harlequin Ducks
Set against the beautiful iridescent plumage of the Cayuga, the Welsh is one of the most beautiful breeds of domestic ducks a homeowner can have. This breed has become increasingly popular in North America.
To be fair, this breed probably shouldn’t be classified as a dual purpose bird if we base that classification on its size (not much larger than an adult mallard duck), but where it lacks mass it makes up for in egg production , which is typically somewhere in the range of 300 eggs per hen per year. The only duck to top that is the Khaki Campbell, the breed from which the Welsh Harlequin originated.
While the egg production factor is certainly beneficial to any farm, another reason I’ve decided to add this breed to the list is because the hens are known to go broody. So if you stop collecting eggs for a while, especially in the spring, chances are one or more hens will lay an egg and hatch. This is a trait many breeds just can’t count on, so if you’re hoping to have fresh duck meat in the freezer every season and do everything on-site at your home, this breed is a great value to have around.
This duck can be hard to find, but it’s definitely worth finding. In fact, just a decade ago, these birds were on their way to extinction, and in 2015 they were listed as “critically endangered” by The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Through continued breeding practices by dedicated keepers, this species of domestic duck was brought back from the brink.
It’s also a damn good thing. The average Ancona duck lives about 10 years, lays a ton of quality eggs (about 220 to 260 per hen per year) and is one of the most climate-resistant birds you can find. As if that weren’t enough, they are also some of the calmest birds.
Because of their size when fully grown, bird predators are not much of a threat to the Ancona. Known as one of the most efficient foragers, Ancona ducks have no problem making a meal from a wide variety of critters that could be considered farm pests. They become quite adept at hunting bigger things like frogs, night crawlers and anything else they can fit on their bill. For this reason alone, they are great to have around if snails and other insects are a problem in your home. As an added bonus, this bird ranks 9 out of 10 on the edibility scale and is sizable enough to feed three people well.
Silver Appleyard Ducks
If ever there was a duck made for both the barnyard and the freezer, it’s the Silver Appleyard. This duck grows quickly, produces large white eggs (up to 270 eggs per hen per year) and can top ten pounds. It’s not uncommon for a bird fully clothed to weigh over six pounds, which is impressive.
This duck came on the scene sometime in the 1960s, but it took almost 20 years before it was available to the public. They are known for their laid back behavior which makes them easy to tame. Their size offers them protection from some predators that would otherwise make short work of a smaller breed.
There are many reasons I love this breed, but among all the reasons, the fact that they have retained their instinct to go broody and hatch eggs puts them high on my favorites list. That said, this breed of housekeepers tend to live a little shorter, with a life expectancy of around 5 to 9 years being the norm.
The Silver Appleyard duck is just as easygoing as domestic ducks. They present the very best qualities in a large, dual purpose fowl that does nothing but benefit the house and the heir. The only problem I have with this breed is that they can be terribly hard to find. If you can get your hands on them I would take full advantage of their natural broodiness to ensure I had a well stocked supply of fertilized eggs not only to hatch your own but to sell to those who might find this race is as beneficial as most who own them.
Those who have had the pleasure of raising any or all of the above ducks know that they offer the best of both worlds in terms of meat and egg production, along with several benefits that sometimes go unnoticed by those who hold onto to the standard easy – look for varieties such as Muscovy.
Ultimately, the breeds listed above may not be right for everyone. There are other options worth exploring! As mentioned, some of these can be hard to find. If you’re considering investing, I highly recommend finding where you get them from a year in advance. Do your research, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to shop in places like domestic poultry or poultry groups on Facebook.