Welsh Harlequins Ducks
In America, ducks are not that popular. This might be due to the fact it is badly cooked by many and if you have ever had to sit through a bad duck dinner, you are probably not in a rush to eat it again.
In fact, for the person interested in self sufficiency or sustainable agriculture, ducks are probably the most reliable and productive form of poultry out there. Chickens get all the fame, but, as far as Im concerned, ducks are better.
Long ago man began domesticating ducks, for meat and for eggs. In Asia and in Europe, the wild duck was changed into a kaleidoscope of different breeds, each with its attributes. Keeping things brief, there are three types of ducks, egg ducks, meat ducks, and dual purpose ducks. Dual purpose are good for both meat and eggs. Whether you are producing eggs or meat, the duck is the most reliable grower and layer out there. A good laying duck will outlay any chicken out there, and, they eat the same amount of food, and the egg is at least 40% bigger. In terms of time, food, and energy, ducks reward the farmer with more food, and, they do so in the most eco-friendly manner.
Simply put, they convert weeds into eggs and meat and keep the insect population down at the same time.
If I was a survivalist, I would keep a flock of ducks. No doubt about it.
Here is what we have learned at the farm. While free range all natural organic chicken sounds great, when you actually raise it, its usually tough and dry. Its good for soup and stew. Telling the truth, chicken from the grocery store is easier to work with than farm raised chicken. (I fully admit we are probably doing something wrong, but, thats just the way its been.)
On the other hand, farm raised duck is more delicious than any duck you will buy at the grocery, and its much more adaptable. You can make ham, pastrami, sausages, roasts, pate, and whole lot more. The eggs are big and delicious and are produced in a much more reliable manner. Chickens get freaked out and just stop laying. Not ducks. They just keep those eggs rolling out.
And most importantly, if you have pasture available, and a good clean supply of water, you could actually raise them without buying any feed. I think they are an important piece of the sustainable agriculture picture and that is why we have the DUCK PROJECT under way.
The project is split into two categories, egg ducks and meat ducks.
People don't eat ducks eggs like they do in the rest of the world. In Europe and in Asia, duck eggs are probably as popular as chicken eggs, and for good reason. They are delicious and even more nutritious than chicken eggs. I really got accustomed to eating duck eggs when I lived in Europe and came to like them as much or more than chicken eggs. They are more rich, and certainly when it comes to baking, duck eggs add a level of richness that is beyond compare. Pastry chefs, even in America know this, and when they have access to them, prefer to use duck eggs. The fat level is higher and it makes for creamier and moister pastry. Delicious on every front.
I think the whole duck story is fascinating, and, its a dynamic example of Eco farming. Eco farming, you will discover, is actually nothing new. When people had to survive, and could not afford to waste anything, including time, they got real good at working with nature. As you will see….
In Asia, ducks were kept as a compliment to the rice business. When the rice was harvested, the ducks were put into the rice fields to clean out insects, left over rice, and weeds. So, rather than using herbicides and and insecticides, Asians used ducks to keep pests and weeds under control. And, there was an added benefit. The ducks produced meat and eggs! Now, that is smart farming, and very Eco friendly farming.
In Europe, it is a similar story. Ducks were kept in the orchard to keep the weeds and pests under control, and, they rewarded the farmer with meat and eggs. David Holderread and his wife Millie, have run Holderread Waterfowl Farm for decades and have done more to get ducks into American agriculture than anybody I know. David literally wrote the book on keeping ducks successfully. These are two of the best people on the planet. Millie told me that ducks keep Japanese beetles under control, which are a problem insect when you raise grapes. Since I put ducks into out two acre vineyard, not one Japanese beetle to be seen. Ducks just eat them gone! They go from pest to excellent source of protein.
In fact, one of the four breeds of duck we have at the Eco Farm, and a breed that we got from the Holderrheads, is the Dutch Hook Bill. Known for its odd beak, this fascinating little duck has a fantastic history. Holland is filled with canals and water ways, and the Dutch took advantage of this. They released the baby hook bills in the summer, let them spend their growing up time feasting in the waterways, and in the fall, harvested the ducks. The boys got sent to the meat market, and the girls were kept for egg production. So, for most of the year, the Hook Bill, collected its own food from the wild, costing the farmer nothing, and in the fall, the farmer reaped a rich reward.
We keep ducks in the orchard, in the vineyard, and use them to clean out the vegetable garden. We have springs on the property and next year I am going to establish a colony of ducks around the ponds. Apart from making them very happy, they will most efficiently eat mosquito larvae and all the weeds growing around the ponds.
There are two basic types of ducks, meat ducks and egg ducks. The egg breeds that we keep at them moment include:
Dutch Hook Bills
These breeds have been developed for centuries, and, are highly efficient layers. If anyone has any water, like a pond, or a stream, or an orchard, I would highly recommend keeping a flock of egg ducks. In my experience, they lay more eggs than chickens, they lay bigger eggs than chickens, and, are less likely to stop laying when it gets cold. Its a win win situation with the ducks.
Dutch Hook Bills Ducks
If you would like to know more about ducks, I suggest you visit three of my favorite sites. The first is Holderread's Waterfowl Farm, the second is feather site, and the third is the Livestock Conservancy. Between the three, you will learn more than enough about rare and useful duck breeds.
I have to admit the ugly truth, I love to eat ducks. I love to raise ducks and I love to eat them. Some ducks were developed as egg layers and some were developed for their delicious meat. We raise two classic meat ducks at the farm, the Aylesbury Duck and the Rouen Duck. As you will see, they are big, fat ducks and quite different in appearance from the egg laying ducks!