A Good Egg
Consider adding resilient, low-maintenance, and delicious egg-laying ducks to your flock
By Jeannette Beranger
When people start their own backyard egg production, often their first thought is to get some chickens. But you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket—there’s another great option: ducks.
Duck eggs are much larger and have an undeniably richer taste than chicken eggs, making them an exciting ingredient for home cooks. In addition, duck eggs are an especially helpful option for people with chicken egg allergies.
In the early 1900s, duck farming was a booming business, but as American tastes evolved toward more refined poultry meats and eggs, chickens quickly took over the marketplace. Today, however, duck eggs are on the rise once again, according to father-and-son team John and Marc Metzer of Metzer Farms in Gonzales, California. A leading hatchery of waterfowl, Metzer Farms has watched the duck egg market grow in the past eight to 10 years, with players ranging from backyard enthusiasts to small businesses selling eggs at farmers markets to larger operations supplying grocery stores.
Prior to joining the family business, Marc spent time in Southeast Asia, where he tasted many local dishes that featured the intense flavors of duck eggs. This inspired him to come home and expand the business by adding a second facility, Olinday Farm. Olinday sells sustainably produced cage-free duck eggs to restaurants and markets in California and other states.
It Doesn’t Take Much To Keep Ducks Happy
Ducks are among the easiest fowl to raise because they’re typically resilient animals, resistant to many diseases. Ducklings are easy to brood, so long as they have a draft-free enclosure with good footing to prevent their legs from splaying. As adults, ducks need minimal housing, just enough to protect them from four-legged and winged predators more so than the elements.
Ducks are happiest when ranging on fresh grass and forage. The enclosure should provide your ducks ample room for wandering and be well-drained to avoid puddles, which can invite unwelcome pathogens.
Shade within the enclosure is particularly important for the warmer months of the year. As for the winter, ducks famously handle cold well, but icy conditions call for extra caution: Make sure ducks have good footing and can get off ice to avoid frostbitten toes. A layer of straw can do the trick.
Surround your duck yard with four- to six-foot tall fencing to ensure the ducks stay where you want them. Portable electric poultry mesh is a versatile and popular option.
You can have a permanent or mobile coop depending on the amount of land available. Line the coop with pine shavings or straw, which can eventually be turned into valuable compost for your garden.
Ducks do not necessarily need a pond, but they are, after all, waterfowl. They need enough clean, fresh water to dip their head into and be able to wet their feathers to keep them in good condition. Baby pools are an inexpensive alternative to a pond that is easy to maintain and keeps ducks happy no matter their size. Make sure the pool is kept clean and water is changed regularly.
Nutritious feed is important to the health of the flock. Ducks need more protein than chickens, so be sure they are fed a diet appropriate for the species. A great bonus of keeping ducks is that they are voracious insect eaters, and they’ll quickly get to work on slugs, spiders, and other critters on your property.
Choosing A Duck Breed
There are many duck breeds to choose from, and some are better layers than others, depending on your needs. It’s important to keep in mind that although ducks can lay throughout their lives, their highest rate is going to be in their first laying season. After that, expect a 5 to 8 percent drop in production each year, John Metzer says.
- Hybrid Layers
These are common commercial-strain ducks that are bred for high rates of lay. You can easily find these online from larger hatcheries. Many hybrid layers are completely white, but some can be colored birds depending on the hatchery they come from. Under ideal conditions without added light in the coop, these ducks can lay upwards of 250 eggs in their first laying season. These are a good choice for producing eggs on a large scale.
Heritage Breed Ducks
- Khaki Campbell
This British breed was developed by Adele Campbell at the turn of the 20th century with the goal of providing a consistent supply of roast duckling. The ducks’ brown color reminded her of military khakis, hence the name. Khaki Campbells are among the most popular heritage breed ducks, and they’re known as very prolific layers.
- Indian Runner
This Asian variety of duck is easily recognized for its tall, thin profile, and often looking as if the duck is tiptoeing as it moves. Indian runners are some of the best foraging birds, lay numerous eggs, and come in a variety of colors. Beyond their role as egg layers, their tight flocking tendencies make them easy to herd and move as a group.
If you’re looking for a layer that’s also a good table bird, the Saxony is a great choice. This German breed is beautiful, with males sporting an attractive slate blue head. Saxonies lay ample eggs suitable for any family’s needs.
Are you interested in finding ducks? Visit The Livestock Conservancy’s website at www.livestockconservancy.org to search the hatcheries listings, or explore the online breeders directory to find heritage breeds.
Jeannette Beranger is the senior program manager for the Livestock Conservancy. She also maintains a breeding farm dedicated to endangered-breed poultry in North Carolina.