Six Duck Breeds For Your Small Farm


Runner ducks
Photo credit: Wikipedia CC

If you are considering adding ducks to your small farm you will be making a wise choice, as they will be pleasant companions and entertain you daily while providing pest control, manure for your soil, meat, eggs, down and feathers, and left-over grease that can be used for cooking. Granted, they do make “messes” with water and mud, depending upon your tolerance for that sort of thing. If your land has water, adding ducks would be a perfect fit. Ducks can be herded to bed in a simple night time shelter and they are more cold hardy than chickens.

When I was growing up, my grandmothers raised ducks on their farms and always gave us their “extra” ducklings in the spring. Besides enjoying their company, in my opinion, there is no better holiday meat than home raised free range Mallard duck. We didn’t have a pond, but set out a large water container for them to swim in. They loved using it and we loved to watch them use it. When our small flock circled the place by wing in the fall, we sadly knew that harvesting time was upon us.

Duck husbandry is important around the world, especially in Asia, where ducks are sometimes integrated into the rice paddy cycle. In the United States in 2007, according to the USDA, 31.3 million ducks were raised and the top three duck raising states were Indiana, California, and Pennsylvania. Americans on average only consumed about 1/3 pound of duck per person that year. In Canada, the duck industry totaled $58 million in 2006, part of the $5 billion pountry industry. Commercial duck producers use 17-20 pounds of feed to raise 6-7 pound ducklings in 7 weeks, whereas small farmers let them graze and gather their own food.

Ducks don’t scratch up vegetables, like chickens do and they are efficient egg producers, too. They lay their eggs by 8 AM and the eggs are larger, richer and fatter than chicken eggs. Certain duck breeds are well-suited for egg-laying such as the Khaki Campbell which lays well over 300 eggs per year.

“You don’t have a snail problem. You have a duck deficiency!” —Bill Mollison

If you want an optimal permaculture use for ducks, keep them fenced in your orchard, away from vegetables and where these omnivores eat weeds, insect pests and the odd fallen fruit.

All domestic duck breeds originate from the wild Mallard except for the Muscovy. If heritage breeds are your thing, then you will want to consider raising Aylesbury, Crested, Black East Indian, Buff Orpington, Welsh Harlequin, Silver Appleyard or Rouen ducks.

The following chart is from a 1989 Mother Earth News. It shows which of “the duck breeds your grandparents raised are still best for small farmsteads,” listing the unique and important characteristics of each duck type.


These next two charts compare the efficiency of meat and egg production according to various poultry types, including how much feed is required to produce a pound of meat, or eggs. As you can see, ducks are quite efficient for both purposes when compared to other poultry, but choosing the appropriate breed for your needs is important. (source: permies.com)

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If you have a relative or neighbor who raises ducks, you just may find yourself with a brood of free give-a-ways when they discover they’ve hatched too many for the season.

Lucky you!

Soon thereafter it will be you giving away the ducks.

Next, please read about the six duck breeds that I have chosen to feature. If you raise ducks and have any observations you’d like to share, please leave a comment and tell us which are your favorites.

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White Pekin Duck

photo
White Pekin Ducks
Photo credit: flickrCC/northdevonfarmer

The most common duck in the U.S. is the White Pekin, also called the Long Island Duck. Ninty-five percent of the duck meat consumed in the U.S. is Pekin, and it is the most popular commercial breed. Bred from the Mallard in China many years ago, this breed marked the beginning of America’s domestic duck industry in 1873, when they were shipped here from England.

The White Pekin is a dual-purpose breed, with adults weighing 8-11 pounds, and females laying 140-200 eggs per year. The body type is large with pure white feathers and an orange beak and feet. The breed is nervous, generally too heavy to fly, and considered the easiest of all breeds to dress. Their average lifespan is 9 to 12 years.

Pekin ducks don’t always chooose to sit on their nests, so eggs should be incubated, or hens can be used to sit on their nests. Eggs hatch after 28 days.

As with other ducks, these can imprint on humans for pleasant and long-lasting companionship. They are excellent sentinels, like geese, and will warn the household or other animals in the yard of approaching strangers or danger.

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Muscovy Duck

Muscovy duck perched on a farm fence
photo credit: flickr CC/SubZeroConsciousness


Originally from Brazil, the “quackless” Muscovy duck is considered by some to be more goose-like. They are the only breed of duck that is not descended from the Mallard. Muscovy Ducks had been domesticated by various Native American cultures in the Americas when Columbus arrived. The first few were brought to Europe by the European explorers in the 16th century. In their natural range of South America, they are often referred to as “Musco ducks” as they eat many mosquitos.

The Muscovy Duck is sometimes crossed with mallards in captivity to produce hybrids, known as mulard ducks (“mule duck”) because they are sterile.

This is a dual purpose breed, desireable for both meat and egg-laying. Muscovy meat is unique in that it is stronger tasting, tender, less greasy, leaner, and sometimes compared to veal or roast beef. White breeds are most desireable for meat production due to skin color. They grow quickly and were once the choice of meat for European Christmas dinners. They are hardy and less prone to illnesses than other duck breeds.

Adult Muscovys weigh 7-12 pounds or more and are 25-34 inches long. The males are twice the size of the females. A unique characteristic of this duck is that it can perch due to feet with strong sharp claws. This earned them names of “perching duck” and “tree sitting duck.” The mature males have large red warty caruncles above the beak and around the eyes. They are intelligent, agile, and come in a wide variety of colors, although most are still the original color of glossy blackish/brown and white. The male has a breathy voice, and the female, a quiet croaking call.

These are very good egg layers, hatching 15-20 eggs up to three times a year. They lay eggs in tree holes or nesting boxes and incubate them for 35 days. The young stay with their mothers for 10-12 weeks and can fly in 5-8 weeks. The young feed on grains, grass and insects, and are good at keeping lawns trimmed. They eat mosquitoes, mosquito larvae, roaches, flies, spiders, and ants.

Males can be aggressive and observed to fight using their claws, wings and beaks, however, they are overall quite friendly to people. Muscovys swim less than other ducks. They prefer wooded areas with water, adapt well to extreme cold, and like to roost in trees at night. This breed is spreading, adaptable to both tropics and cold.

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Mallard Duck


Mallard Ducks having a dispute
photo credit: flickr CC/ellenm1


The Mallard duck is the ancestor of most all domestic ducks except for the Muscovy and American Black duck. This “Wild Duck” domesticated weighs 3-3.5 pounds at adulthood and reaches 26 inches in length. The biggest threat to its breed is hybridization with other ducks.

This small flying duck which is widely hunted is native to most countries in the Northern Hemisphere. The male, with its characteristic green head and white neckring is easily recognized.

The mother Mallard raises one or two broods per year often in the same spot year after year, with 8-13 eggs per nest which are incubated 27 days. By five weeks of age, the ducklings are hardy and ready for any type of weather. The ducklings fledge at 50-60 days and between three to four months of age, the young begin flying. Mallards mature at 14 months and can live 20 years in captivity, though in the wild, half of them die by two years of age.

If you choose to raise mallards, know that this breed is timid and somewhat shy of humans. They are social, so need a small flock to feel content. Mallard meat is darker than other breeds. Their diet consists of small water plants and animals as well as grains, weeds, and insects. Noisy by nature, this is a quacking breed. Allow them to forage, swim, and fly and they will be happy.

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Indian Runner Ducks


Runner ducks running instead of flying
Photo credit: FlickrCC/me’nthedogs

The Indian Runner duck is a “light duck,” egg-laying, nervous, general purpose breed which stands tall like a penguin. It is found in two dozen colors and does not fly, but runs instead. This breed originated in India or possibly China over 2,000 years ago and came to the United States from England in 1900.

These are prolific egg layers, laying anywhere from 150-300 eggs per year, depending upon the variety. The females rarely nest but drop eggs wherever they happen to be foraging. The adult drake weighs 3.5-5 pounds and the duck weighs 3-4.4 pounds with heights of 20-30 inches. This is a less noisy breed as only the females quack.

These ducks love to forage, swim, and run through grassy meadows, though they can be content confined to a garden area.

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Ancona Duck

Ancona ducks
Photo credit: Wikipedia


This excellent choice for a domestic egg-laying and meat producing duck is a rare breed which was introduced into the U.S. in 1984 from England. Anconas descended from the Indian Runner Duck and the Belgian Huttegem Duck, and are most closely related to the Magpie duck. This breed has a calm personality, they are excellent foragers, and prolific egg layers, laying 210-280 eggs per year. With a quick growth rate, adults weigh 6-6.5 pounds, and the meat is tasty and less fatty than the Pekin. Attractive in appearance, the most common color of the Ancona duck is black and white, though they come in a wide range of colors and mottlings.

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Buff Orpington Duck


Buff Orpington Duck
Photo credit: Sprout ‘n Wings Farm

This large dual purpose breed is an especially attractive good egg layer and table duck. The buff color found in both the male and female was created by crossing Indian Runners with Rouens, Aylesburys and Cayugas in England. They were introduced to the United States in 1908 but is rare today.

Buffs are a flock bird that lays 150-220 eggs per year and grows quickly. Their meat is considered tastier than the larger Pekins, and ready for harvest after the ducks are 8-10 weeks old. Light pin feathers make this breed easier to dress. Adult Buffs weigh 7 to 8 pounds.

As an added bonus for this duck’s attractiveness, it does not show dirt.

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FURTHER REFERENCES
Univ. of Minnesota: Raising Ducks (2008)
Univ. of California Extension Service: Raising Ducks in Small Flocks
Univ. of California Extension Service: Muscovy Duck Care Practices
Univ. of Minnesota: Farm Flock Poultry (2008)
Boondockers Farm on Raising Ducks

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ADDENDUM

1. Murray McMurray Hatchery sells the following ducklings (by mail order) which include several mixes: Homesteader’s Delight, White Crested Duck, Runner Duck Assortment, Gold Star Hybrid Duck, Jumbo Pekin Duck, Flying Mallard, Cayuga, Khaki Campbell, Runners Ducks, Blue Swedish, Buff Ducks, Ducks Deluxe Mix, Fancy Duck Package, White Pekin, Rouen, Barnyard Combinations, Welsh Harlequin Duck, Black Swedish Duck.

2. A list of the ducks which have been catalogued by the FAO from around the world include the following varieties: Belibis, Black East Indian, Hook Bill, Pommern, Rouen Clair, Swedish Blue, Belted, Jending, Dendermondse eend, forest, Huttegemse eend, Laplaigne, Merchtemse eend, Semois, Japanice Crioll, Grimao ermaô, Tea Anka, Canard du Cameroun, Azul, Mudo, Pato colorado, Brown Tsaiya, Caohu, Dayu, Enshi Partridge, Gaoyou, Jiangchang, Jinding, Linwu, Liancheng White, Putian Black, Quemoy, Sansui, Shaoxing, Weishan Partridge, Wendeng Black, Xingyi, Youxian Partridge, Yunnan Partridge, Zhongshan Partridge, Local Duck of Côte d’Ivoir, Barbary, Dsshed, Dwarf volant, Domiati, Shersheer, Sudani, Blanc De L’allie, D’estaire, De Bourbour, De Challan, Duclair ble, Duclair noir, Rouen fonc, Domestic Duck of Guam, Kunshan, Pekingase Duck of hortobág, Chemball, Kuttanadu Char, Kisara, Pegaga, Tondano, Maros, Magelang, Osaka Duck, Malian Duck, Bibbed, Kuifeend, Kwaker, Spreeuwkop, NoordHollandse witborsteend, Batakh, Pato Criollo Francé, Criollo, Philippine Duck , Tsaiya, Chunsoo, Blagovarsk, Medeo, Bantam duck (Slovenia), Hifh Fly, Annera Mallorquina, Petrock, Velovi, Vigro, Blekingeanka, Svensk Gul Anka, Ped Puen Muang Pak-Nam, Black White-Breasted, Appleyard Bantam, Baldwin, Bali, Crested Bantam, Gimbsheimer, Magpie, Penguin, Shetland, Silver Bantam Duck, Stanbridge White, Streicher, Whaylesbury, Anh Dao, Bau quy, Bauben, Ky Lua, Moc, Nang, Omon, Tiep, Madada.

30 thoughts on “Six Duck Breeds For Your Small Farm

    1. Ian

      Dear Ms Carr
      It depends on the age and breed.
      For day olds this normally done by checking the cloaca visually although Thai “sexers” can do this by touch, thus minimizing the risk of infection.
      Some cross breeds have a black spot on the head at hatching.
      As the duck becomes older you will know by size, behaviour and the sound, i.e. the female quacks.
      This is very general but I hope it helps.
      Regards
      Ian
      Thailand

      Reply
    2. Kelly

      How old Is your ducks ??? You can tell once they are grown up that the boys have curly tail feathers normally only one or two . Girls don’t have them

      Reply
  1. TD

    I’m curious why so many domestic duck breeds can’t fly. How do they get away from predators like coyotes?

    We’d love to have ducks for the eggs and the fun of having them in the barnyard, but we are hesitant because they are prey.

    Reply
    1. K. McDonald Post author

      Td
      I don’t know where you live, but from my experience with ducks on a farm, you keep them in an indoor shed where they are protected at night. They herd easily once they are used to the routine. We never lost any in the daytime from a predator, but this was in the Midwest. About the flying — we had mallards, and come fall they would circle the farm. That was when it was time to harvest ducks. sob. sob.

      Reply
      1. kelly

        I hear they herd easy and mine did at first but now they know to come in at different times for food. I pull their food in the morn and give it back in the evening. Could use some help. They are such fun do not want to loose any ( have 3 small pond )

        Reply
    2. Ian

      Dear TD
      Normally domestic ducks are too heavy to fly.
      I have occasionally seen housed commercial parent stock ducks fly over partitions when they are about 12 – 14 weeks of age otherwise this necissity is slowly becoming redundant as more commercialized breeding takes place.
      Regards
      Ian

      Reply
  2. fatgramps

    Thanks for the info.I am getting ducks for yard & my grandchildrens enjoyment.This was much apreciated.

    Reply
  3. robert shepherd

    i just got three young indiana runner ducks white and brown and the farmer said that they are good layer but also said that they set on there egg till hatch and a judge of duck said the same thing that he judge the indiana runnder ducks
    but in other thing i read said that they dont set well what is ture
    i want some thing that will set and rase there young please help

    Reply
    1. johno

      I have 5 muscovy ducks and they have all built a nest and hatched a clutch of eggs in their first year. 3 clutches are out now and 2 more are still under the ducks. They make excellent mothers, 1 of the ducks has been guarding her babies for the last 6 weeks and is showing no interest in abandoning them yet even though they are nearly as big as her now. Muscovies like to free range for some of their food so you should give them enough space to do that. The females can also fly and might bother your neighbours by flying into their gardens and eating whatever they fancy. You can stop that by clipping about 6-7 feathers near the end of one of their wings.

      Reply
  4. Anonymous

    I had 2 mallard ducks one female and one male they were always side by side and she started layen eggs in nest and he went missing during the day we think and she was very upset all day and night she stood out all night looking for him it broke my heart what is going on?

    Reply
  5. Jerry

    How are the Muscovy Peking crosses done? Is it by AI only? Or will they breed naturally? Other than commercial Foie Gras growers what are the advantages of the Mulards?

    Reply
  6. Windsong ranch

    We have an acre pond/tank. We have been given mallard ducks. Two female and 3males. We have one Peking duck. Also four Ancona ducks. Not sure, but they look like the picture. When eggs are laid they are snatched up by predators above and below. Is it best to watch where they lay and then incubate or try to catch the mother to sit on eggs? We feed these ducks,, but they also have plenty of plants and algae. Are these considered domestic or wild? Some we have had a couple of years. They seem to fight a lot there are three groups. Two groups of four and then a male/female mallord pair. Is it normal to have aggressive behavior?

    Reply
  7. Farmer Jane

    Someone just brought us a young duck which they said was about 4 months old–didn’t know what breed or sex. They got the duck at a feed store where there were lots of ducklings for sale. I’m trying to identify this duck. Coloring is white and dark charcoal (or black). The head is mostly white but does have some dark grey spots. I’ve been looking at photos online but can’t seem to find a fit for this duck. Any suggestions?
    Farmer Jane

    Reply
  8. Collette Tate

    We have a grey and white duck that showed up on our lake in North Carolina. It’s obviously domestic because it came right to me the first time I saw it. It has a pink beak. I would like to know what kind of a duck it is.

    Reply
  9. Gemma

    I have 12 female chickens and I’m thinking about getting 2 or 3 female pekin ducks. Ive never had ducks before but really want some.
    So I’m just wonderong..

    Is pekin the best breed for beginners?

    Reply
    1. Mark

      Gemma, unlike the author of this excellent article I’m no duck expert and have been wondering the exact same thing as you about which duck would be best suited to my backyard/situation and I ended up deciding on Pekin.

      I’ve been keeping chickens and quail for quite awhile and a few years back a friend asked if I would take his pair of khaki Campbell ducks as they didn’t want them anymore so I reluctantly accepted his offer. Almost immediately, I feel in love with my new breed of poultry! Ducks are so interesting to watch as they go about their business.

      Anyway, cut a long story short although I like my Khaki Campbell ducks and will keep them my initial duck experience spurred me to research other breeds and (because I already have lots of chicken eggs) I personally was looking for a duck breed which lays less eggs but could also be a good utility bird.

      I chose the Pekin over other breeds such as Muscovy because the Pekin don’t fly and unlike the Campbell they don’t lay as much plus I rather like the pure white colour. So, I now have two breeding pairs of Pekins (only a few weeks old ATM) and I think they’ll be a good start for my duck keeping and breeding.

      I came across this article whilst searching for “good duck breeds” – it was a great read and the comparisons in different duck breeds confirmed to myself I made the right choice to get the ducks best suited to my situation. Thanks.

      Reply
    2. Jaks

      I have 12 hens, 1 rooster and 3 pekin ducks and they all get on very well!
      Our rooster has been hand reared- he is very calm. They free range on our farm, and at night time they all go into their house which we built and are all locked up together.
      We haven’t had any problems at all… We simply call out “come on” where ever we are on the farm, and they all come running- even the house cows.
      We also have cats and dogs and they all get on! We got home one day and the dog, the 2 cats, 3 ducks and our rooster were all cuddled together on our front deck- snoozing in the sun.

      Reply
  10. Jack Speese

    I’ve been raising ducks most of my life. They are great, but it is important to remember that they aren’t “wild” anymore. Even a light breed like a Campbell or Runner is still twice as heavy as a mallard, so it’s no wonder most domestic ducks can’t fly. Also, many breeds no longer have the protective coloration of their wild mallard ancestors. And unlike chickens, ducks don’t have the instinct to run for cover at the sight of a hawk. So although they are about the easiest bird to raise in terms of cold hardiness, disease resistance, etc. they are also the most vulnerable to predators (in my opinion, anyway). And unfortunately things like hawks can be the worst because they attack from the air. A strong fence will keep them safe from dogs (the other predator I’ve had the worst experience with) but it’s hard to protect them from hawks, except confinement to a pen with a top.

    Reply
  11. ASHWANI

    I HAVE BUY NEW FARM HOUSE IN INDIA . I CARING A DUCK KHAKI CAMMBLE IN HARYANA IN KARNAL DISTIC , WHO INTERSTED IN SALE OF DUCK PLEASE CONTACT IN MOBILE NO:090341-58400 ASHWANI MOUDGIL , I AM INTERSTED IN RUNNER BRID . WHO SALE RUNNER BRID PLS CONTACT ME.
    REGARDS ,
    ASHWANI MOUDGIL,
    DISTIC KARNAL,HARYANA
    PINCODE :-132001

    Reply
  12. tony paras

    I have a small farm in the mountains of Cebu, Philippines. I am interested to raise ducks for meat & egg production. How do i start ? There is an abundance of water in my mountain since I have my own spring! Presently I am raising hogs, and, layers. How do I start raising ducks when there are no breeders here in this part of the country? HELP

    Reply
  13. sunny

    iam from afghanistan &presently working in dubai as production manager,iam interested to start raising moscovy ducks in my village in afghanistan ,i want to know is this breed will be suitable for our clmate
    thx every body

    Reply

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