Ducks, Again?

I tried having ducks in the urban farm – was it three years ago? Four? Five? – and it didn’t work out. They were the cutest thing ever:

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Even after they grew up. I love Indian Runners.

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But there were three major reasons why, after a year and a half, I ended up rehoming them on a farm with a pond and a garden that needed a slug patrol. They were a bit too noisy (especially before I added the drake – girl ducks are sex-crazy beasts!), way too messy, and hard to protect from predators.

The last two reasons were really the same issue. Their coop needed to be completely rat and raccoon proof, but such a coop means that it is stationary. Which means either you are out there cleaning it out all the time, or it very quickly gets stinky and messy. Ducks have very wet poop, and they are into water all the time. Stinky messy coops are not how I keep animals. I tried a few different methods (gravel, shavings, wood chips) and finally gave up and said ducks just aren’t for me, in this particular place.

But I miss having ducks. And I miss duck eggs, which are the best eggs in the world. Seriously. So good.  So I started looking into other kinds of duck-like critters, including having a single goose in with the chickens as a livestock guardian and producer of eggs.

But then I started coming back to Muscovy ducks. I had explored having them before, but I wasn’t sure how I’d keep them along with the chickens. People have different experiences, but I have heard a number of people say the Muscovy drake (which is a very large, goose-sized bird at 15lbs) killed or harmed their hens. I can’t risk that. I love my hens.

But the good points of Muscovy ducks balance out exactly the problems I had with regular ducks. Muscovies are nearly silent. The males hiss and females make a low whistling, trilling sound. They are much larger than other ducks, and although I’d still want to protect them from raccoons, they apparently actively look for rodents to eat. Yes, eat. I won’t have to worry about rats!

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Not worrying about rats means I won’t have to wire in the bottom of the pen with hardware cloth. Not wiring in the bottom means that I can build a light-weight moveable pen, similar to a chicken tractor. Being able to move the pen means that before it gets stinky, I can move it to different ground, and won’t have to clean it out.

My chicken run area is large, and I already have it divided off into different areas with fences and gates. To protect the hens from the Muscovy drake (at least until I know if he’s going to behave or not) I will let the Muscovies have the south end in the summer, and the north end in winter, the opposite of where the chickens are. Switching them back and forth will keep the chickens happy, because they’ll have new area to scratch around in every few months, and still the ducks plenty of room.

Plus, Muscovy ducks are famous for being fly-eaters. If you have these ducks on your farm, you’ll have around 80-90% less flies.

They are also a very sustainable source of backyard meat. Muscovy breast meat tastes very similar to a sirloin steak, and the females are wonderful and prolific mothers, willing to hatch and raise more than one clutch a year, if you let them.

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The biggest con with Muscovies is that they fly. Very well. They like to perch on house roofs. As I live in a urban area, I can’t have my ducks flying into my neighbors’ yards and perching on their roofs. But I found one mail order place that will ship day-old duckling with pinioned wings (the very tip of their wing clipped off, so that they will never be able to fly well as adults). Some people think this is cruel, but actually many states in the USA demand that domestic Muscovy ducks be pinioned, so they can’t escape into the wild and cause problems. Just-hatched ducklings have wings that are mostly cartilage, not bone, and the part they snip off is very tiny. I watched a video of it being done, and the ducklings didn’t even seem to notice. The wings didn’t bleed, and as soon as the man put them down, they ran right back to eating and drinking as if nothing had happened.

The minimum order is 15 ducklings, so if all 15 survive, I’ll either sell a few or stock the freezer. I plan to keep just three: a drake and two hens. If I like them, and don’t mind the process of butchering them, I’ll let them raise a clutch of ducklings every year for the freezer. I’ve never had Muscovy, but duck is my favorite meat, and I’m very intrigued by the idea that the breasts resemble steak in taste and texture.  I love the idea of adding more sustainable sources of meat and eggs to the farm, particularly when they come with advantages of fly and rodent control.

3 responses to “Ducks, Again?

  1. Where I lived in town, there was a condominium complex with a swimming pool at the south end of the block. When a duck moved into the swimming pool, one of the residents got very protective of it, and fed it cat food, as if there were not enough snails in the neighborhood. She had it so good there, that she invited a huge herd over from the nearby Vasona Lake! When they were all in the water, the water was barely visible.

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