Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sheer Quackery

Are these not the cutest things ever?

They'd better be, because they're a bloody nuisance! I spent more time last week than I care to admit chasing loose ducklings around my master bathroom. The little buggers may be only a few days old, but they're quick -- and good heavens, can they scream when separated from their buddies!

As you might expect, I have a better reason for raising a flock of ducklings than cooing over their downy wings and teeny, duckbilled yawns, or even the adventure of midnight duckhunts involving reaching around one side of the toilet while attempting to block any escape route with a convenient trash can. No, Ironman and I have decided to raise ducks for eggs and meat.

Duck eggs are slightly larger and higher in cholesterol than chicken eggs, and their shells have a smoother, waxier appearance. (I know this because we bought a dozen from the local co-op to make sure we liked them before investing in duck housing and stock, which totaled about $300.) They taste quite similar -- perhaps a touch milder and richer -- but the difference is as subtle as that between the eggs of chickens on different diets.

As for the meat, well, I'm all for any option that will spare me conventionally raised products. Unfortunately, for reasons I discussed long ago in this post, our ducks will still eat a fair amount of grain, though I'll do my best to get some real food down their gullets as well. At least they won't be pumped full of antibiotics.

After doing some homework on duck husbandry and deciding to go ahead with the project, Ironman and I built a duck shelter and playground next to the chicken coop and chicken yard. (I think it turned out pretty well, myself!)


Next, we stopped by a local hatchery for a box of ducklings. Because ducks are only sold straight run (not sexed), we had to buy extras in order to ensure that we'd get enough females to keep for our breeding flock of 8 or10 ducks and 2 drakes. The extra drakes will make some lovely meals in 9-14 weeks. (Sorry, boys.)

I selected breeds based on the characteristics that were most important to us: egg production, meat quality, and mothering instinct. The yellow ducklings are Pekins. They'll grow into white-feathered adults that are large, quick-growing meat ducks. The brown ones are Khaki Campbells, which are renowned for their egg laying capacity -- up to 300 eggs per duck per year! The ones with striped faces are Rouens, which are good egg layers and reliable setters to boot. They'll be responsible for raising future broods.

We bought six of each breed, but two of the Rouens didn't make it. One died within hours of leaving the hatchery; the other held on for a few days but eventually succumbed. I'm not certain whether this is because Rouens are a more delicate breed, or because the Rouens we bought were a day (or even a half-day) younger than the others and couldn't quite compete. Thankfully, the remaining four are doing swimmingly.

Speaking of swimming, there's no question that these guys know they're waterfowl. They certainly love fouling their water! Ducks have no choice in the matter, actually; they require water-sloshing to clear their nostrils and throats of sticky food-mash. Nevertheless, this tendency was a bit of a problem during the few days they lived in (and sometime out of) a blue wading pool in my bathroom. Try as I might, I could not keep their pine-shaving bedding dry for more than an hour at a time.

So, they're outside now, in a 3x5 foot, cat-proof section of the duck pen. I put them out there yesterday after much internal debate regarding whether they'd be able to handle the lower temperatures and spring winds. They're only six days old, after all, and haven't the benefit of Mama's toasty underbelly to keep them warm.

The 250-watt heat lamp proved sufficient, however. I checked on them this morning, after a windy night in the low 30's, to find them yawning and preening, stretching their tiny, web-footed legs, and looking sweeter than any chocolate duck that ever found its way into my childhood Easter basket.

Betcha they'll be just as tasty, too.

(On the subject of tasty poultry... I finally have my desktop computer fixed, which means I can edit photos again, which means that I was able to upload a photo of my Hottie Hen with a Pig Pizza -- recipe and photo here.)

3 comments:

barb said...

They are so cute - love that downy fuzz...look forward to any posts you might do later on the confit process.

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Hi Barb -- it's bound to be an adventure! Good thing I like to experiment in the kitchen.

Mark Lee said...

Wonderful! I was referred to your adventures by someone who read about my humble start as a chicken farmer. It'll be fun to keep up with your larger duck operation as your journey unfolds. Your ducks certainly seem to be a cast of characters.