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Thoughts on developing a production flock

 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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I currently have a flock of Muscovies (one drake and 7 hens) and 1 Pekin drake and 2 Blue Swedish drakes. Those last three were rescues that I was hoping would turn out to be females but no such luck.

I am considering options for "adjusting" my flock to make it more productive and possible income. I'm looking at production of both meat and eggs.

Points of consideration:
1) I know that muscovy meat is delicious and it is a favorite with gourmet chefs. But, after trying to dispatch by myself, I have concluded they are not a duck for a lone person to dispatch. I'd either need help or be able to hand them off to a processor and I don't know of any processors in this area. I have been told that dispatching pekins is not as difficult and they are a popular duck for the dinner table. I've read that Pekins do not go broody but my Muscovies can do that job for them. Blue Swedish are a "dual purpose duck" but they are smaller than the other two breeds so I don't see keeping them for meat production.

2) I have a friend in the northern portion of the county who is getting $5 a dozen for her duck eggs (she has muscovy and K.Campbells). She just sells to her dog grooming clients and a few other contacts so far. I am thinking that I could use the Farmer's Market at my end of the county (leaving her the one on her end if she wants to go that route). If I could get 10 dozen duck eggs a week at $5 a dozen, that would be $50 a week. I would have to do some serious promoting to get that, I'm sure but I can work on that end while my flock is gearing up.

3) I have only a half acre so I can't have 100 ducks so I need to be selective about which breeds and numbers that I keep. We are very fond of the Muscovies and the bachelor drakes but I don't *think* I can keep peace among so many drakes on such a small property. My original batch of Muscovies had 3 drakes, 2 ended up disappearing --chased off by Big Daddy so I am not sure how long Big Daddy will continue to tolerate the bachelors....

That said:
How would you put together a productive flock -- which breeds, how many -- to work in a permaculture setting and achieve the desired goals?
 
Amy Woodhouse
Posts: 48
Location: NC, Zone 7
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Muscovy meat is amazing and I would stick with them. Pekin is more common and hard to get a premium price for. You could find a niche market for the Muscovy meat. We butchered about 50 last year for personal consumption. If you are going to sell eggs Khaki Cambells are the way to go. 5 dollars a dozen is cheap for organic or free range duck eggs though. You are producing a premium product, don't sell at commodity prices. Whole foods is getting $7 for pasture raised chicken eggs and they don't compare to duck eggs. I know people that get a dollar an egg for duck eggs. As far as making money, its tough on a half acre because you don't have enough forage for a lot of ducks (as you stated) so you are going to have to supplement a fair amount of food. Do the math with the feed before you jump into this and make sure it pencils out as your the only one who knows the feeding habits of ducks on your property. Good Luck!
 
Burra Maluca
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Tina Paxton wrote:
1) I know that muscovy meat is delicious and it is a favorite with gourmet chefs. But, after trying to dispatch by myself, I have concluded they are not a duck for a lone person to dispatch. I


This is my set up for single-handed dispatch of muscovies.



I have a small hand-axe, chosen so that it is very sharp, sturdy, and of a size that I can easily manage it with one hand.

I have a block of oak, cut along the grain so that it doesn't split.

I have a piece of baler-twine tied around the base of that tree with a 'noose' tied in the end to place around the neck of the bird so that the head is held in the correct position - they tend to lift their heads up and stare lovingly at you as you swing the axe. This is not only off-putting but means that it's impossible to do the job with one clean swipe. When I fist started I'd also put a sock over their head as I found the eyes were too distracting and I like to do the job with one clean swipe before they've figured out that their heads are restrained. These days I just get on with it as putting the sock on was by far the worst part of the operation from the duck's point of view. After the head is off, I hand them from the tree while I dispose of the head and clean the axe.

I manage that single handed as a not-very-strong middle aged female. It helps if the ducks are used to being handled and think you are just cuddling them, and you need to carry them in such a way that they don't scrabble around and claw you - their claws are very sharp!

As for numbers, we keep one breeding drake plus a spare, penned separately 'just in case'. As soon as the young drakes are big enough we start to dispatch them for the freezer. Keeping too many drakes around does eventually result in endless fighting.

 
Tina Paxton
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Burra Maluca wrote:
This is my set up for single-handed dispatch of muscovies.

I have a small hand-axe, chosen so that it is very sharp, sturdy, and of a size that I can easily manage it with one hand.

I have a block of oak, cut along the grain so that it doesn't split.

I have a piece of baler-twine tied around the base of that tree with a 'noose' tied in the end to place around the neck of the bird so that the head is held in the correct position - they tend to lift their heads up and stare lovingly at you as you swing the axe. This is not only off-putting but means that it's impossible to do the job with one clean swipe. When I fist started I'd also put a sock over their head as I found the eyes were too distracting and I like to do the job with one clean swipe before they've figured out that their heads are restrained. These days I just get on with it as putting the sock on was by far the worst part of the operation from the duck's point of view. After the head is off, I hand them from the tree while I dispose of the head and clean the axe.

I manage that single handed as a not-very-strong middle aged female. It helps if the ducks are used to being handled and think you are just cuddling them, and you need to carry them in such a way that they don't scrabble around and claw you - their claws are very sharp!

As for numbers, we keep one breeding drake plus a spare, penned separately 'just in case'. As soon as the young drakes are big enough we start to dispatch them for the freezer. Keeping too many drakes around does eventually result in endless fighting.



Okay, so you have the noose for restraining the head...how do you restrain the feet? If I'm understanding your description correctly, you are not putting them in the cone until after you chop their head off, correct?

Yes, having them look at you while you are about to kill them is very disconcerting. But, what bothered me the most in the way I did it was that it took several minutes for them to bleed out (I cut the juggler) and so it was several minutes of watching them gasp and look at me for help. So, yes, I definitely need to be able to quickly chop their neck in two so neither they nor I suffer. Your system seems like a good one...all I need now is to figure out how you deal with the back end of the duck after putting the head in the noose. ...are you holding the feet..which is why you swing one-handed with the axe?
 
Tina Paxton
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Amy Woodhouse wrote:Muscovy meat is amazing and I would stick with them. Pekin is more common and hard to get a premium price for. You could find a niche market for the Muscovy meat. We butchered about 50 last year for personal consumption. If you are going to sell eggs Khaki Cambells are the way to go. 5 dollars a dozen is cheap for organic or free range duck eggs though. You are producing a premium product, don't sell at commodity prices. Whole foods is getting $7 for pasture raised chicken eggs and they don't compare to duck eggs. I know people that get a dollar an egg for duck eggs. As far as making money, its tough on a half acre because you don't have enough forage for a lot of ducks (as you stated) so you are going to have to supplement a fair amount of food. Do the math with the feed before you jump into this and make sure it pencils out as your the only one who knows the feeding habits of ducks on your property. Good Luck!


I live about an hour from the nearest Whole Foods. I need to do some recon and see what they are getting for organic pastured duck eggs. I don't want to sell myself short but I may need to start at $5 and bump up to $7 once I have a clientele...maybe?

The great thing about Muscovies, besides their gourmet meat, is they are excellent foragers -- they require much less feed than the pekin and Blue Swedish drakes I have.

So, you think I'd fetch more $$ for the muscovy meat than pekin? That's good to know! I wasn't sure what the market interest was and I'm not sure how to research this in my area...I guess more recon to specialty stores and such is in order...
 
Kris schulenburg
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Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
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on You-Tube, Kelly Klober mentioned ethnic markets loved muscovy's, might be an avenue to try
 
Tina Paxton
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Kris schulenburg wrote:on You-Tube, Kelly Klober mentioned ethnic markets loved muscovy's, might be an avenue to try


There is a little hole-in-the-wall Asian market I frequented a few years ago in Wilmington (NC) that had frozen packs of duck and quail amongst other stuff...I need to find out if it is still there and see if they would be interested in duck and if so, if they have a preference for Muscovy, Pekin, or other...

I also read something about Asians (Vietnamese?) eating partly incubated eggs....I can check on that too while I'm there...yep, I think the ethnic market could be a good one to tap into... I don't live near a major metro area with a ton of ethnic groups/populations to tap into but what there is, should be a good resource....
 
Burra Maluca
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Tina Paxton wrote:
Okay, so you have the noose for restraining the head...how do you restrain the feet? If I'm understanding your description correctly, you are not putting them in the cone until after you chop their head off, correct?

Yes, having them look at you while you are about to kill them is very disconcerting. But, what bothered me the most in the way I did it was that it took several minutes for them to bleed out (I cut the juggler) and so it was several minutes of watching them gasp and look at me for help. So, yes, I definitely need to be able to quickly chop their neck in two so neither they nor I suffer. Your system seems like a good one...all I need now is to figure out how you deal with the back end of the duck after putting the head in the noose. ...are you holding the feet..which is why you swing one-handed with the axe?


Yes - I'm holding the feet in the other hand. I basically cradle the duck in my arms, pop the noose over (not tight), take the feet gently in my left hand, lay the duck down on the block of wood in as close as I can get to the right place, hold the feet out to one side enough so that the neck is in the right place and at the right angle then take the head off with one clean swipe if at all possible.

The cone is for chickens - I should have taken it down before taking that photo. I did try cutting the jugular on a duck once but it took forever to bleed out and I really, really didn't like it. One swipe with the axe is much better.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Burra Maluca wrote:
Yes - I'm holding the feet in the other hand. I basically cradle the duck in my arms, pop the noose over (not tight), take the feet gently in my left hand, lay the duck down on the block of wood in as close as I can get to the right place, hold the feet out to one side enough so that the neck is in the right place and at the right angle then take the head off with one clean swipe if at all possible.

The cone is for chickens - I should have taken it down before taking that photo. I did try cutting the jugular on a duck once but it took forever to bleed out and I really, really didn't like it. One swipe with the axe is much better.


Gotcha! I see the process now. Thanks!

Yes, the "cutting the juggler" method was a most horrendous experience...I had been dispatching rabbits for a year at that point so I wasn't squimish about killing an animal...it was just how long it took and I didn't feel right walking off and leaving it to suffer alone so I stayed there and suffered with it...not something I'd ever ever do again... but your method sounds doable!
 
Amy Woodhouse
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It really is not a question of how well the ducks forage with the amount of acreage you have it's more of a question of how much forage you have and how many ducks can that sustain. As far as selling them, find out where the foodies hang out in the closest city to you. I had a guy tell me (that I would not have guessed ate heritage pork) he orders heritage pork off the internet!! After I told him we raised large black and osabaws he told me to name my price. It's hard to believe but there are people out there that want the best and will pay for it. Find those people.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
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Talk to the higher end caterers in your area. They tend to be foodies who know who the other foodies in the area are.
Duck eggs are well known for being great for baking so higher end bakeries is another idea.
 
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