As a farm market-seller, I have met many people looking for duck eggs because they can’t eat/digest chicken eggs. This lack of digestibility is because of the protein makeup of the chicken egg. Chicken eggs contain enzymes to which people are allergic that often aren’t present in duck eggs.
(Different people can be allergic to different enzymes, so it isn’t necessarily true.)
Duck eggs are also desirable for those who don’t eat them out of necessity. They have a somewhat larger yolk-to-white ratio and are nutritionally denser than chicken eggs.
Many people put duck eggs in baked goods. This yields a higher moisture content and adds richness to baked items.
They aren’t generally suggested for any use that requires separating yolk and white. Their firmer texture can make this difficult. Also, overcooking can make duck eggs rubbery, but when overcooking is avoided, they are quite wonderful. The first duck eggs I ever ate were deviled eggs at a potluck, and they were impressive to see. They tasted great, too.
The most surprising quality of duck eggs is that they are alkaline-producing in the body. Human bodies have an ideal pH of 7.4 (slightly basic). Dietary factors—including the overconsumption of sugar and trans-fatty acids—will lead to a pH that is too acidic and a body that can no longer function properly.
The human body will correct its pH through mechanisms like pulling calcium from its bones. This will re-alkalize the body and correct the pH, at the same time contributing to bone loss.
An acidic body, a very common condition in Western society, can contribute to the occurrence of many ailments. These include fatigue, joint pain, poor circulation, chronic colds, even cancer. In addition to abstaining from or reducing the consumption of acid-producing foods, you can avoid this condition by eating alkalizing foods. This includes many vegetables, spices and, yes, duck eggs.
Still, why are the alkalizing effects of duck eggs surprising? It’s because chicken eggs are acidifying. Talk about incredible!
Get Your Ducks in a Row
Before you can get that first coveted duck egg, you need to choose your breed. Different breeds have different looks and different advantages. Note that ducks are referred to in terms of breed and variety. (Variety essentially means color.)
A single breed (Indian Runner, for example) comes in any of several varieties, such as White Penciled, White and Fawn. There can be differences between the different varieties of a single breed beyond color, as well as specific attributes maintained within a breeding line. So the source of your flock is important.
Make sure you want eggs, too. If you want a meaty fowl, there are breeds specially for that. But if you are certain you want deliciously rich eggs, “get female White Golden or Golden 300,” says Marc Metzer. He’s the general manager at Metzer Farms in Gonzales, California, a waterfowl hatchery business started by his grand-father in 1972.
The business includes 19 breeds of ducks and 16 breeds of geese. “We bred these strains for maximum egg production.”
Want to grow and process for meat with maximum efficiency? There is no better strain of duck than the Pekin, according to Metzer.
“Males and females grow quickly and healthy to a processing age at 7 to 8 weeks,” he says. Personally, Metzer enjoys the beauty of Buff ducks.
“Not only do they have a beautiful golden sheen to them, but they are hardy, calm and have good egg production,” he says.
In the breed descriptions in this article, I describe egg quantities and colors. Also, I’ve included general appearance notes, as well as average weights. (Ducks are at the lower end of the weight spectrum, and drakes—aka males—at the upper.)
The five breeds in the main text that follows (as well as the dual-purpose breeds listed separately, below) are heritage breeds and are listed more or less consistently as being in need of breed conservation. These two designations are important.
By and large, heritage breeds were bred on and for homestead settings. These breeds tend to have docile natures that help maintain a happy farmyard.
They also actively forage pests and weeds, which helps to control these perennial problems and supplements their own feeding program.
And, of course, breed conservation is important because the work and care that produced these animals shouldn’t be lost. If we don’t help these breeds to survive now, they won’t be around to help us in the future.
Lastly, keep in mind that the egg quantity numbers listed in this article represent “potential” yield. The realized rate of laying (as well as the seasonality) depends on the duck breed, yes, as well as:
- weather conditions
- the specific strain of the breed
- age of each bird
- general care (including shelter and artificial lighting) of the flock
The Breeds You Need
Here are five good beginner breeds for small farms and homesteads.
This breed averages 200 to 275 eggs annually, with shells that are blue, green, white, cream or spotted. Their feather design is irregular color patches on white, typically black but there are also varieties with blue, chocolate, lavender and silver patches. Small (5 to 6 1⁄2 pounds), hardy, active and with a mellow temperament, Anconas forage well and provide good weed control.
Ducks of this breed average 300 to 325 eggs annually, large in size and creamy white in color. Though this breed does have rarely seen dark and white varieties, the Khaki is by far the most prevalent with its complete khaki coloration. (Drakes have darkened heads, typically olive green.)
A small breed (4 to 41⁄2 pounds) with good pest-foraging skills, a hardiness in cold weather and generally quiet disposition, the Campbell doesn’t make a particularly broody breed.
Layers average 100 to 175 eggs annually, mostly light blue or gray in color.
Active and very interested in foraging for weeds and insects, the Cayuga bests the Campbell by being very cold-tolerant, quiet and docile. Unlike some ducks, Cayugas don’t wander off, and they’re also inclined to broodiness.
One of the few duck breeds developed in America, it’s named after Lake Cayuga, New York. Though their average weight of 6 to 8 pounds is on par with some ducks raised for meat (which Cayugas are by some people), their black/iridescent-green feathers mean they have a dark carcass that some find unappetizing.
These ducks average 275 to 350 eggs annually, large in size and largely green or blue-white in color. Nicknamed the “penguin” or “bowling pin” duck, this breed is incredibly distinct in its erect body, almost perpendicular to the ground. This carriage is also why it lacks the typical duck waddle and, instead, has the rapid gait for which it is named.
The Indian Runner comes in a number of varieties, including:
- White Penciled
Very light weight (3 to 5 pounds), its active nature, good foraging instinct, rapid speed and enhanced reach upward all combine to make the Indian Runner extraordinary at pest control. It also has a very good feed-consumption-to-egg-production ratio. IRs tend to lack broodiness and make poor mothers—bad news if you wish to hatch your own.
These gals average 300 eggs annually, which can be white, cream or tinted in color. Active yet calm and weighing around 5 pounds, the ducks of this breed tend toward a broody disposition and are good setters and ultimately make good mothers.
This breed strongly resembles Mallard coloration but with frosted white touches. It’s another good forager.
Contrasts, Parallels & Comparisons
Though the preceding descriptions might at times seem repetitious, the duck breeds are themselves quite distinct. Campbells, Indian Runners and Welsh Harlequins are the champion egg layers, occasionally known to lay eggs nearly year-around.
The Anconas and Cayugas top the list for pleasant dispositions, being particularly calm and quiet. These same two breeds, though no comparison with strictly meat breeds, are also the two that can provide a suitable carcass for the table. Cayuga eggs, though the scarcest, have the most reliably colorful shells.
All ducks love hunting the mud for bug larvae and will eat worms, slugs, grubs and beetles. But amongst these five foraging breeds, the Indian Runner really is the top performer.
And let us not forget the chickens! As they are in the business of producing eggs, comparisons also need to be made between ducks and chickens. The ducks do rather well.
Ducks don’t have the chickens’ hesitance about snow on the ground come cold weather, nor do they have combs or wattles that run the risk of being frostbit in extreme cold.
Adult ducks acclimate to northern and southern climates very well, according to Metzer. “For example, they will find the unfrozen part of a pond just to get their feet wet,” he says.
Ducklings do require warm and dry shelter for their first three weeks. After this, says Metzer, they can be slowly transitioned to the outdoors, though it’s wise to have nightly shelter to protect them from predators.
Ducks’ susceptibility to parasites such as mites and lice is much lower as compared to chickens due to all of the time they spend in the water. Though some breeds are rowdier than others, many duck breeds are very quiet (not so with chickens).
Lastly, while chickens can also aid in weed seed and insect pest control, we all know how closely they much be watched and moved to prevent damage to garden crops. As long as plants have passed the seedling stage, ducks won’t destroy the garden they are foraging in.
By now, you might already be convinced that you should be acquiring ducks for your homestead, but questions linger about what they’ll require. You will be pleased to know that their needs are straightforward.
Firstly, ducks need balanced rations and clean drinking water. Even ducks with ample foraging space should be offered dry feed, though they’ll likely consume less.
Also, the precise formula of the feed will vary depending on if you are raising ducks simply for eggs and/or meat production, or if you intend to allow them to hatch a clutch of eggs.
Water that is intended for drinking must be in a container that ducks can’t attempt to swim in. Also, though food and water should be available at the same time and share the same proximity, they shouldn’t be so close that water gets into the feed. This could cause mold to grow.
Ducks need shelter and fencing as protection from weather extremes, predators and the danger of wandering off! Shelter that keeps ducks warmer in winter will result in more eggs being laid, as will supplemental lighting. Closing ducks inside at night will help to protect them from predators and make your job of gathering eggs easier.
Ducks tend to lay their eggs first thing in the morning, and inviting nesting areas in their shelter means no hunting for you.
Lastly, fencing helps to keep unwanted animals out and your ducks penned in when they need to be. A pair of ducks require a 13-square-foot pen area. They would prefer more space to forage in, and if they spend most of their time out of the pen itself, it need not be quite so large.
But what about the pond? At the very least, ducks need to be able to submerge their heads in water to clean their eyes and nostrils and to submerge their bodies to facilitate preening. At the very best, they need a pond to be overly healthy, productive and happy.
Ducks do enjoy bathing, but it’s not a daily requirement.
“There are varying amounts of water access you can give your ducks. You choose your preference,” Metzer says. “Nipple drinkers, head-dunking water, kiddie pools and open ponds are different options.”
Warning: Ducks are fascinating. “They are energetic, have personality and are enjoyable to watch,” Metzer says. “Once you go quack, you won’t go back!”
Sidebar: Twice as Nice
Life is about compromise. That is true with ducks as well. You won’t get top egg production from a duck that will also produce a nice body of meat. But you can get a decent amount of eggs from a number of breeds that can also adorn your table.
Have a look at the following dual-purpose duck breeds.
Orpingtons average 235 white eggs annually, and weigh 7 to 8 pounds. Though Blond and Brown varieties exsist, the buff-colored plumage is so dominant that this duck is often called simply the Buff.
Orpingtons are an amiable breed with nonbroody ducks.
Saxony ducks average 90 white eggs annually, and weigh 7 to 9 pounds (including prominent breast). Ducks and drakes have roughly the same patterning as their Mallard counterparts, but their general coloration is buff/blue.
Saxonies are all very active foragers, and the ducks are broody.
Silver Appleyards average 235 white eggs annually, and weighing 7 to 9 pounds (including prominent breast). This breed is said to have some of the most flavorful duck meat there is. Appearance is similar to the Welsh Harlequins.
Silver Appleyards have calm dispositions and are very active foragers.
Swedish ducks average 125 white or tinted eggs annually, and weigh 6 to 8 pounds. Blue and Black are the most prevalent varieties. Their respective plumage colorations are fairly uniform (drakes are darker), plus a white bib.
This breed is a good insect-eater and forager, and ducks make good mothers.
Muscovies average 150 large, white eggs annually, though laying is increased in warm climates. Ducks weigh roughly 7 pounds while drakes come in at a whopping 10 to 15 pounds. Though often grouped with ducks in discussion, the Muscovy is not descended from Mallards like all other domestic duck breeds and is in actuality a perching waterfowl.
Plumage is typically white with portions of dark brown or black (iridescent in males), though there are rarer varieties whose colors are white with chocolate, bronze or green. There is also an all-white.
The Muscovy has a distinct appearance due to pink-to-red caruncles (wattles) on its face, and it’s renowned for its tender meat that is tasty and lean (more flavorful and lower in fat than other duck meat).
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.