Much has changed since I first started raising ducks and chronicled my experiences here in 2002. To close it out — for now, at least — I stage a brief interview with myself about the experience of raising ducks. There’s also a movie.
During their first year of laying, our seven Khaki Campbells laid 332 eggs each. That is 47 pounds (21 kilograms) of eggs per duck, in a single year.
When we were debating breeds of ducks, we read that Campbells typically lay about 300 eggs a year. (The record laying bird of any breed, any species, was a Campbell duck who laid more than 365 eggs in a year.) Several sources confirmed this figure, but we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to believe it. It just seemed fantastic. An egg a day, with only an occasional miss and time off for molting? Surely these ducks must be pushed to the limit of their genetic capacity.
But we never consciously pushed our birds. As far as I can tell, they’re just extremely happy and healthy ducks.
Never eaten duck eggs? Most people haven’t. The differences between chicken and duck eggs, while slight, are noticeable by people who aren’t used to the latter. Most of the people I know who have tried them prefer duck eggs, but not everyone likes them. In this primer I’ll set out the differences between the two, but you really will just have to try them for yourself.
Cooking with duck eggs doesn’t call for a major revision in technique. But there are differences: the yolks of duck eggs have more fat and the whites more protein than those of chicken eggs, and you need to take these differences into account when cooking. Somewhat gentler cooking is the key.
As the weather grows colder in the fall we make some minor adjustments to our housing and management. They do not seem to mind the cold; they do fluff up their feathers and huddle together to sleep on cold nights, but the first thing they do every morning is to jump into their pool—even if we have to break up floating ice first to let them in. They also eat more to keep warm (and because there aren’t any bugs to eat after a hard freeze).
Our adult ducks live in our backyard, in a secure house at night and in a movable grazing pen during the day. The grazing pen has a baby pool, which they use in lieu of a pond for bathing. When we’re home during the day, we also give them some "free range" time to roam the backyard. The grazing pen gives them enough room to move around comfortably while keeping them from tearing up the yard or the garden. (See my notes on backyard pasture.)
We manage their routine so that the bulk of the work is in the evening; all we have to do in the morning is move them, give them fresh food, and collect the eggs. This is much easier when you have to work off the homestead during the day. In total, managing the ducks takes less than ten minutes in the morning and ten to fifteen minutes in the evening, unless it’s time to clean out their pen.
Raising poultry in the suburbs or in a rural backyard requires some unconventional thinking, both about your backyard and about sustainable livestock management. Our goal was to develop a system of rotational grazing that wouldn’t destroy our backyard. It’s been a success, if not a complete one; we always have a few bare patches at the back of the yard waiting new growth, but the ducks do well, and most of the yard stays usable for us.
I designed this grazing pen with several things in mind. It had to keep the ducks safe and content, it had to be portable, and it had to be easy to take apart so we could move it to the “real farm” (which, to date, we haven’t bought). And it had to look good enough to sit in the middle of the backyard. And not cost too much.