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Ducks and seriously underrated New Zealand. Most people only know about Mallard ducks – the variety that graces ponds in public spaces and comes up to people to beg for food. Mallard ducks fly very well and, guessing by their size, there is not much meat on them. Mallard ducks lay one or two clutches of eggs per year, which they hatch and then walk around with their ducklings in tow.
Domestic ducks are very different from these ubiquitous Mallards. Over centuries, domestic ducks have been bred to suit the need of humans. There are breeds most suitable for egg laying, breeds most suitable for meat production, and breeds that are suitable for both eggs and meat. Most importantly of all – domestic ducks can’t fly. They can’t even fly onto the top of a three-foot fence like most chooks can. That’s how easy it is to confine domestic ducks
Duck eggs are highly valued in East Asia and there is a reason for this: unlike chooks, who eat a few greens here and there but mainly source their calories from grains and bugs, ducks eat a lot of grass. Green grass can make up a significant proportion of a duck’s diet. This means eggs laid by free ranging ducks contain all the goodness derived from green grass, especially vitamin K2 which is essential for bone health and heart health. Vitamin K2 is the vitamin that has been removed from our diets by factory farming animals (cage eggs) and this has coincided with a rise in heart disease and osteoporosis.
Ducks also eat insects and slugs and snails. On a hot summer’s day, ducks can be observed resting in the shade, snapping at flies who fly past. They are usually successful and help keeping fly numbers low.
Ducks also forage at night if allowed to, eating grass grub beetles, slugs and snails. Supplement what free ranging ducks can find with a handful of grains per day per duck and your ducks will be well fed. In winter they may need a bit more supplementary food, especially in the cooler areas of the South Island.
In our mild New Zealand climate, ducks don’t even need shelter. They are water proof and will sleep under a bush. However, if you’d like to be able to find their eggs without having to go on a daily egg hunt, locking your ducks into an enclosure over night and only letting them out after 9am is a good plan. Ducks nearly always lay their eggs before 9am each day.
Domestic ducks are available in heavy and light breeds:
Light Duck breeds are bred to lay plenty of eggs. Khaki Campbells and Indian Runner ducks will outlay any chook as far as egg mass is concerned as duck eggs are quite a bit bigger than chook eggs. Khaki Campbell ducks from a good laying strain will start to lay at the tender age of seven months, lay through their first winter, and will continue to lay until the following autumn before they moult. For egg production, Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner are great choices. Orpington, Welsh Harlequin, Crested and Magpie ducks have occasionally been seen at shows. Little is known about their laying performance. The Elizabeth duck is unlikely to still exist in New Zealand.
Heavy duck breeds are bred for meat or as a dual purpose duck. Pekin ducks are the traditional meat breed duck and the speed with which young Pekin ducklings grow is impressive! If fed well they can be slaughtered at the age of three months. Pekin ducks are only fair layers and almost exclusively kept for meat.
Silver Appleyard and Cayuga ducks are reasonably common in New Zealand and are good dual purpose ducks but compared to Pekin (meat) and Khaki Campbell (eggs) they don’t excel in either category. Saxony, Blue Swedish, Rouen and Rouen Claire do exist but due to their small numbers any general assessment of their strengths and weaknesses is difficult to make. The Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand is not aware of the Aylesbury duck being available in New Zealand at present.
Ducks don’t crow, they don’t scratch, they are hardly ever affected by parasites or diseases, they are water tight and they can become very tame. Ducks don’t even need a pond. To keep ducks happy and healthy, all they need is clean water at all times, deep enough so they can clean their eyes and nostrils in it. A water container used by ducks needs more maintenance than a water container exclusively used by chooks. Ducks eat more than chooks, too, and produce watery droppings to match.
Whether you have a pond and would like to have ducks who can’t fly away, whether you have an orchard that needs some natural pest control, or whether you’d like to grow your own meat and/or eggs – there is a duck breed out there that fits the purpose!Thanks to Marina Steinke for the above the above text. Most of the main illustrations