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.
We started the ducks on Mazuri waterfowl starter formula, and then switched them to Mazuri waterfowl breeder formula. They did great on the Mazuri breeder for five years, and then we began having supply problems. In the spring of 2007 I started buying Southern States layer pellets, and the ducks have done fine on that. It’s about $12 per 50 pounds as opposed to $25 for the Mazuri, and since they’re not laying the way they used to, I appreciate the savings. I can’t say, though, whether they’d have laid as well on the Southern States feed in their prime.
As spring and the close of our second year with ducks approaches, I should offer an update on our experiences. I apologize for its somewhat random nature, but that’s life with poultry. Or with anything else, really. Covered here are molting, a hawk attack, duck first aid, and a new house.