Simple Farmâ€”a 4-acre spread in Southern Indiana run by my family, the Bellsâ€”has supplied fresh and delicious duck eggs to three grocery stores, a local-food buying club, a gourmet restaurant and a bustling farmers market.
With my husband Larry and our three sons, we raised a flock of 90 ducks after creating a market for their nutritious eggs. It was an exhilarating experience. As fresh duck-egg farmers, we have a lot to quack about!
Energetic white ducks dot the bright green landscape as you pull into our long driveway. If you arrive early, you might see my oldest son herding the ducks to pasture with a long, orange bicycle flagâ€”our familyâ€™s herding tool of choice.
Some ducks rest under a movable shade shelter, while others waddle about, actively searching for insects in the grass or going for a swim in one of the shallow kiddie pools refilled daily during the heat of summer.
The business of laying eggs usually happens in early morning while the ducks are still inside their coop. However, sometimes a few large eggs appear around the shade shelter and water pools, ready to be collected and added to the daily egg bucket.
A Ducky Side Hustle
We compare the labor required to tend our flock and the income we realistically make to having a side job. If you already have a nice outbuilding or barn and animals requiring daily care, adding a flock of ducks is an easy adjustment. It can pay for itself and provide a small supplemental income.
This all depends on whether or not you have a good market for duck eggs in your area! That was
a huge hurdle we had to jump: promoting and marketing the value of duck eggs to local businesses.
As the many benefits of duck eggsâ€”higher protein count, larger size, creamier tasteâ€”become better known, your prospects for profit will increase.
Ramping up our farm model was easy once we got the hang of raising ducks. If youâ€™re considering starting a duck-egg farm, start with a small flock to get an idea of the feed costs, daily routine and local demand.
Then you can easily double or triple your flock size for more income.
Duck & Cover
Our foray into farming began the same as for many homesteaders. We longed to move to a more rural setting and found a 4-acre piece of land with an outbuilding that seemed perfect for small farm animals.
We added a few ducklings from a nearby farm for pest control and became obsessed with the rich quality of duck eggs. Then, after discovering that no other local farms focused on small-scale duck-egg production, we jumped into duck-egg farming and ordered more ducklings.
The breed of duck you raise is of utmost importance. In our case, we were limited by the space of our outbuilding. So choosing ducks bred specifically for egg production was necessary.
We researched breeds and hardiness, and paid the hatchery the extra fee to purchase only females.
While it may be fun to order in a mix of duck breeds and genders, you need to decide the focus of your farm. Is your goal to conserve rare ducks, start a hatchery of your own or raise a flock for egg production?
Your goals should drive your choices. We eventually settled on White Layer Ducks.Â
Good on Grass
Pasturing our ducks with poultry netting makes our small-scale farm possible. Cooped only at night for protection, our flock enjoys a rotational pasture system, which provides them with fresh grassland weekly.
The netting is easy to move and set up once you get the hang of it, as long as your ground is not too rocky.
This style of fence netting is staked into the ground with pre-attached rods that must go down into the ground about 6 inches. It can be used merely to contain small animals, or it can also be electrified if protection from predators is the goal.
Diligence in moving this pasture weekly is crucial. Ducks will gradually cause soil erosion by creating mud holes with their bills as they search deep in the soil for worms and bugs.
Concerning cold or rainy weather, ducks are one of the hardiest animals. Clothed by a thick layer of down and covered in oil-coated feathers, ducks are literally built for staying warm and dry.
On cold and frosty mornings, itâ€™s not unusual to watch our ducks leave their coop and immediately head to the kiddie pool for a swim.
Having a windbreak where they can retreat is important. Simple windbreaks might utilize the side of a building or be constructed of a few hay bales stacked to form a short wall.
Deep bedding in the duck coop adds natural warmth during long winter months.
Clean out your coop in the fall, then add a few inches of shaved bedding or straw. Sprinkle a fine layer of bedding over the top of the coop floor each morning when you collect the eggs.
These layers will gradually build up along with the decomposing duck manure, creating inexpensive winter warmth.
If you want to become a fresh duck-egg farmer, you first need to determine your local market.
Donâ€™t skip this step. Put in a call to some local health-food stores, specialty grocers, high-end restaurants and licensed allergists.
Donâ€™t underestimate the power of a smile and a good handshake. There is no shortcut to marketing your farm products. You must put the initial time and energy into forming face-to face relationships with potential customers and grocers.
Ask if they have a local supplier for fresh duck eggs, and tell them about your farm. Also, swing by your nearest farmers market, and inquire about other duck farms.
If you find a local demand for duck eggs that you can supply, go for it.
Next, create a farm name and logo that is easy to remember and identify. We expected this to be the easy part, but it was really stressful. We eventually decided on a name and hired a graphic designer to help create a professional logo.
The iconic white duck on our logo now shows up on every piece of our marketing materials, from grocery store invoices to farmers market produce labels.
Once you decide on a logo, stick with it and your brand will become memorable. Presentation is everything and can instill confidence in customers and potential commercial buyers.Â
Start with a surefire system. Our duck flock is cooped nightly and herded each morning to the pasture.
Having several pastures adjacent to your coop would be ideal. An attached run allows you to make use of automatic poultry doors, which eliminate the need to be present in the morning to let ducks out and in the evening to put them away.
Also, owning an egg-washing machine and creating an egg-processing areaâ€”where you clean, package and refrigerate your eggsâ€”adds to efficiency!
Your local health department may require these areas if you desire to sell commercially. Do your research and think through what your daily routine will be. Washing eggs by hand is definitely possible but wonâ€™t be sustainable for large quantities.
Surprisingly, our most loyal customers are people with intolerances or allergies to chicken eggs.
After speaking with multiple customers who are unable to eat chicken eggs yet have no reaction to our duck eggs, we became believers. The reason why some people with chicken egg allergies may tolerate duck eggs is due to differences in the way the proteins are configured.
However, according to Australiaâ€™s Department of Health & Human Services, â€śThe molecules that trigger allergic reaction can be either in egg whites or egg yolks, but allergies to egg whites are more common. The specific molecule in eggs that triggers your allergy may be present in both chicken eggs and duck eggs. Some people can therefore be allergic to both chicken and duck eggs. This is known as cross-reactivity.â€ť
As with any food allergy, always speak with your doctor before trying duck eggs if you have any type of egg allergy!
What Works for You
Ducks are an amazing addition to a farm, but discover what works best for your family.
Currently, we are transitioning our farm into a seasonal duck farm instead of a yearlong one. After several years of fresh duck-egg farming, we decided to carve out more time for our sonsâ€™ winter sports activities.
Not wanting to miss basketball games in order to put ducks in by dusk, Iâ€™m forming a new seasonal model for our farm.
Nonetheless, each spring we plan to order a new batch of ducklings, raise them on pasture to benefit from their bug control and nitrogen-rich manure, and then sell mature laying ducks each fall to local farmers.
This strategy will also allow the expansion of our seasonal flower and produce production.
We believe that each and every farm is unique. If you shape your farm to fit your family and lifestyle, it will become more sustainable and bring you much joy.
Sidebar: Breed Matters
Simple Farm’s favorite duck breed for duck egg production on the small farm is the White Layer Duck. White Layers are available by mail order from many hatcheries. Other hatcheries offer similar breeds.
This amazing duck can lay 230 eggs in 40 weeks (a normal laying season). Each egg weighs larger than other egg-laying breeds such as the Khaki Campbell or Runner.
White Layers are incredibly easy to herd and move together as a flock even when just several weeks old. They also adapt to change quicklyâ€”making them an ideal candidate for a rotational pasture system.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue ofÂ Hobby FarmsÂ magazine.