Author Topic: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications  (Read 5369 times)

Offline Darby Simpson

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Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« on: March 29, 2013, 11:06:53 AM »
So in order to not highjack the thread on sustainable chicken breeds for meat production, I decided to start a new topic.  We got into ducks in that thread, because Head Farm Steward believes that Pekin Ducks are the best poultry for pastured applications in terms of efficiency.  Here are some of the comments he made that sparred the discussion:

"I know you're discussing chickens but the best performance I have seen from a bird, raising it from chick to table, is a Pekin duck.  Out of the egg they are nearly indestructable, they breed true and are easy keepers.  I get a premium price for both egg and bird.  Any discussion of sustainability has to consider economics.  Economics just aren't in favor of a high-maintenance meat chicken of any stripe.  Eating chicken every day is not historically normal.  Eating eggs daily is much more sustainable.  If you want to play a chicken to its strong suit, use it for eggs."

Some follow up questions were:

"What is the feed conversion rate and time of growth required to get a dressed bird?  What dressed weight do you shoot for?"

"That's good stuff.  But I'm curious, why are Pekins "superior" to Muscovy or Rouen, Indian Runner, etc.?"

If anyone else has any experience with specific breeds of duck for meat production in a sustainable system such as tractoring or ranging, please chime in.
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Offline Head Farm Steward

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2013, 12:07:40 PM »
"What is the feed conversion rate and time of growth required to get a dressed bird?  What dressed weight do you shoot for?"

"That's good stuff.  But I'm curious, why are Pekins "superior" to Muscovy or Rouen, Indian Runner, etc.?"

Let me preface this by saying results may vary. 

Any discussion of sustainability has to concern itself with economics.  Jack shared similar thoughts on a recent podcast.  I sell my chicken eggs for $4/dozen.  That's a fairly normal price, maybe a little on the cheap side.  Farmer's markets near me have duck eggs priced at $9 for a half-dozen.  Our pekins lay an egg almost every day from mid-Feb through November and ask little of us along the way.  Now, we have to hunt the eggs every day but still...each duck lays $1.50 nearly every day.  Our chinese customers are the primary consumers but once you cook with a duck egg you'll have a hard time going back.  Brownies and cookies are very chewy, custard is very creamy.

Almost as good, faster than you can grow a radish you can raise and slaughter a duckling.  I don't have metrics on feed consumption as I brood my ducklings with my CX chicks but once on pasture they get a much larger portion of their feed from greens than chicks do.  Growth rate is very comparable to CX but they are dang-near indestructable, avoid predators well (I have a skunk that goes through the duck pen to get to my brooder this week) and, again, sell at a premium price.  Just hook up with the local Weston A. Price chapter and let them know you have pastured duck for sale....sold.  All that from a bird that breeds true.  The drawback is trying to pluck them.  Dear Lord!

In my prior response, I wasn't wanting to make a comparison of duck breeds, just sharing my experience with Pekins.  I'm sure other ducks offer similar advantages.  Finally, the real goal of the original response was to point out that a sustainable meat chicken breed is a nice goal but, in my experience, sustainable chickens lay eggs.  Sustainable meat comes from other sources...sources that are less vulnerable to predation and eat less grain.  Play to your strong suit.  Chickens lay eggs well. 

Offline Rutger

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2013, 07:14:42 PM »
Almost as good, faster than you can grow a radish you can raise and slaughter a duckling.  I don't have metrics on feed consumption as I brood my ducklings with my CX chicks but once on pasture they get a much larger portion of their feed from greens than chicks do.   

Do you raise them in tractors? Details man!

Offline JoshRonin

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2013, 12:49:39 AM »
I've never had duck but know it sells at a premium at the local health food stores.  I'm interested in learning more about this.
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Offline Head Farm Steward

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2013, 06:50:17 AM »
We just give them a simple hoop shelter and allow them an area surrounded by PermaNet and a 1 joule fence charger.  They could easily be tractored and I would suggest using a hoop-style tractor with a watering nipple bar fed from a 5-gallon bucket instead of something they can make a mess in.

You really can pretend they are broilers, just broilers that make water messy.


Offline Noah Darco

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2015, 12:00:24 PM »
I read somewhere that Rouens were the next-largest meat breed after Pekins. When we ordered our Golden 300s from Metzer Farms in the spring, they were out of Pekins for our ship date, so I ordered 10 straight-run Rouens instead. It's our first try at raising ducks for meat - or any ducks at all, for that matter.

The ducks have free-ranged/pastured on about 1/2 an acre, and have additionally had unrestricted access to grower ration crumbles as often as we can refill the feeder (so probably 90% of their daylight hours, and we also fill the feeder when we put them to bed).

We butchered two drakes on Wednesday. They're about 8 weeks old. We were aiming for 7 weeks, but life got in the way last week. Plucking went fine, although there were a lot of black roots visible in the skin where feathers came out (these black roots were not present on a 4-month-old we butchered later that day). What was disappointing was the dressed weight, of slightly under 3 pounds. These are pretty bony birds.

We then butchered a 4-month-old Rouen drake that we recently acquired. He weighed about a pound more than the 2-month-olds when plucked... but when dressed he came in at just under 3 pounds just like the younger drakes. That extra pound was in the guts, I guess.

So we are rethinking the 7-week butchering age recommended by Dave Holderread in Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks. We're leaning towards waiting until the rest are 6-8 months old. I'm not sure what this will do to our feed-to-weight-gain ratio, although I've had a hard time being terribly scientific with feed record keeping, since they are mixed in with our laying ducks, and they also free-range. The goal is to pasture/free-range them as much as possible, weather permitting.

We are keeping a breeding trio of Rouens, but may give Pekins a try next time. Meanwhile, two of the birds have been roasted, and will be the centerpiece of our dinner table this evening, so the jury is still out on flavor. Off the record, I will say that the cook snuck me a sample and it was pretty fabulous.

Has anyone else raised free-range Rouens for meat? Have you found an ideal time to butcher, to maximize their size and flavor while taking feed inputs into consideration?

I wrote more about this on my blog (not sure that I should post a direct link in my first post at this forum).
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Offline Noah Darco

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2015, 11:34:38 PM »
Dinner tonight was one of the 8-week-old Rouens, and the 4-month-old one. My wife roasted them. Both were tasty. The younger one was more juicy and had a better flavor to boot. It was, in fact, one of the yummiest birds I have ever had the privilege of eating. The older one was chewier, the meat was darker, and there was nothing wrong with it, flavor-wise. But the younger one took the cake.

We will probably butcher some more of ours at 12.5 weeks, or whenever we think the feathering has hit the next sweet spot for plucking, based on observation.
"So here is us, on the raggedy edge."

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Live the gourmet life... before AND after the Apocalypse.

Offline JLMissouri

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Re: Meat Duck Breeds For Pastured Applications
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2015, 07:12:12 AM »
I am very happy with my Muscovys, they have been allowed to free range for the last month without any feed, although I am sure they clean up feed left by other stock. On average I find a chicken superior to a duck, atleast for my system of real free range. Ducks don't return home at night reliably and that makes more work for me or tasty jiblets for the local predators. They make more of a mess and require much more time keeping their feed and water areas clean. You earn that premuim if you get it.

I find the muscovys to be good foragers but no better than a good chicken. I only have heritage breed chickens and they come home with a full crop every night. The advantages I see with my muscovys over chickens are better taste and a different personality. They don't lay as well as chickens and while larger than a chicken they are also slower and easier to catch. I think most ducks are easier for a predator to catch unless they have access to a large body of water or can fly.

The other ducks I have kept are Khaki Campbells and call ducks. I prefer Muscovys to these other breeds. I don't loose many chicks of any breed, so I have not noticed ducks to be any more durable than any other poultry I have reaised except maybe turkeys.
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