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Help me pick duck breeds for a layer flock

 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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I currently have muscovy ducks (for meat production). I've had a couple of rescued pekins but one did not recover from his previous owner's miscare and the other just paid the price for being as dumb as a box of rocks. Anyway, I want a flock of layers. While I love the idea of various colors of eggshells, that is not the critical selection criteria. The important criteria are:

egg production
temperament (calm is a plus)--bondability (I don't want a duck that freaks out when I try to guide it back into the gate and thus spends the night in the woods and becomes possum dinner.)
foraging ability
herding ability (willingness to be herded)

So, the candidates are (feel free to add other suggestions):

Indian Runners
Golden 300 Hybrid layer
Welsh Harlequin
Buff
Cayuga
Ancona

I am thinking I can manage about a dozen layer ducks in addition to my small group of muscovies.

So, what you get and why?
 
Guerric Kendall
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Location: zone 6a, NY
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Personally for a laying flock I would choose pekins or Khaki campbells. Pekins have a good temperament, decent foragers, and good herders, but the feed to egg ratio isn't as high as khakis. Khaki campbells are fantastic layers, and very good foragers, but like many other birds bred for laying, they're terribly flighty.


Out of your list, I would choose Welsh Harlequins or Golden 300 Hybrids. Welshes are good layers, but the prices most hatcheries ofter them at do not make them worth it for me. If you can get past that, then they are good layers, and fairly calm birds. Golden hybrids have the laying ability of Khakis, and are much calmer, but their egg color has greater chances of being dark. But it appears you're okay with that since cayugas were listed.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I actually really like white Pekins even though they can be dumber than a bag of rocks. There a great meat birds and an excellent layer and I have found them to be heartier as ducklings (with the exception of the wobbly neck ones - this is obvious when you are picking them out) than the other breeds I've tried. It is kinda boring to have an all white flock though. I don't know. Nothing to add. I just like talking about ducks.
 
R Ranson
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Ducks are awesome!

My neighbour has Runners and Cayuga for egg production, and loves them. They herd well and go to bed at night on their own (unlike my blasted muscovies). They both need quite a bit of water, an actual pond or mud hole instead of a bucket to splash in that the muscovies like. The neighbours ducks produce more eggs per year per duck than my muscovies, but for fewer months of the year. This could be a difference in management as much as the breed.

One thought is that if you have muscovy drakes, don't keep them with non-muscovy ducks. Muscovy drakes fall in love with anything that moves, be it your boot or even better, a female duck... and if you've seen what they do to the muscovy girls... well, imagine them doing that to a tiny normal sized duck. It's like an elephant trying to mate with a sheep... the girl duck doesn't always survive. Not always a problem, but it depends on the individual drake as to how susceptible he is to cupids arrows.

The biggest problem with duck egg production we have it is so seasonal. During the winter when the eggs trickle off customers complain bitterly. Then come spring and summer, we find a need to re-educated customers about how much they love duck eggs. By the time we have the customers trained, the season is half over and we can't keep up with demand.
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First babies of 2015
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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I had not thought about the issue of Muscovy drake on small duck hen...yeah, I'll need to keep the muscie drake focused on making babies with his muscie hens.
 
R Ranson
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Another thing to think about, I get more for my muscovy eggs than my neighbour for her 'normal' duck eggs. I get $6 a dozen and the shops bump it up to $8. She gets $4.5 and the shops bump hers up to $6.50. Apparently size (of eggs) does matter.
 
Tina Paxton
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My muscovies are not that prolific, sadly. I've heard others say that theirs are good egg layers but mine are not...they lay for setting but if I remove the eggs, they don't just keep laying...they lay so many and stop.
 
E Skov
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Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
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If it affects your choice, Cackle Hatchery has Welsh Harlequins for $4.35 each, which is only moderately more than their less-rare breeds. The disadvantage is that you can only order stright run for the Welsh Harlequins or any other 'rare' breed. They have most of the other varieties on your list as well. I haven't ordered from them (or anyone else, still considering adding some fowl) so I can't vouch for quality.

I have a similar list of requirements, and personally have tentatively arrived at Welsh Harlequin. That said, I have no experience with raising any livestock whatsoever. I'm just going off of what the guides say about them.
 
jack spirko
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If eggs are you number one get Metzer layers, either White or Golden or both.

If you want dual purpose, go with Cayugas or Swedish.

I know many other folks doing ducks for eggs and all of us agree that the Metzers are the best for that.
 
Chad Gard
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Location: Culver, IN USA
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We have Khaki Campbells and Indiana Runners. Our ducks are working ducks - we use them to control Colorado Potato Beetles and several other insect pests, and along with the geese they do a bit of light weeding. We also grow a lot of salad greens - it's our most profitable crop - and ducks love tender young lettuce and spinach. So, to keep ours working where they're supposed to and not destroying where they shouldn't, we keep them inside portable electric netting, which we move regularly. They don't roost, but rather shelter underneath the nifty shelter I made for them, so herdability is important for us... So, following your criteria, based on our experience:

Egg production:
The Khakis lay about as regularly as chickens - an egg a day, like clockwork. They slow down less in the winter than the Indian Runners. Their eggs are slightly larger, and if you fill an egg carton with them, it won't close. Indian runners lay almost as regularly, but not quite. On a given day, about 1 our of every 14 won't lay an egg. They slow down more in the winter. The khakis lay white eggs. We've got three strains of Indian Runners: Fawn/White, Blue, and Chocolate. One strain lays turquoise eggs, the rest lay white. Our flock has always been mixed, so I don't know which does which, but it kinda makes sense that the blue feathered ones (it's really a cool-tone grey) might lay the blue toned eggs... The Indian Runner eggs are larger than chicken eggs, but if you put them in the carton pointy side down, you can usually just barely manage to squish it closed.

Temperament/Bondability:
they're all fairly even-tempered. They recognize me (as opposed to a guest or my wife) as the person who feeds them, and respond calmly to me, but it's clear they haven't bonded to me as a parental figure. However, they have bonded together, so a duck that gets separated will try very hard to get back with the rest.

Foraging ability:
They forage well, but not enough that you can stop feeding them altogether. We use about 25% as much feed for them in the summer when they can forage as in the winter when there's not much for them. I also feed them some hay chaff in the winter, which they seem to enjoy. Foraging for us blends with working. They all tear up the potato beetles without shredding the potatoes (though they do trample a few at the ends of rows), and will eat tender new weeds, but they're kinda slow with killing grass and won't do anything with mature lamb's quarter. The Indian Runners will also catch and eat mice. The khakis limit themselves to bugs...

Herding ability:
The Indian Runners have been bred for ages to be herded. They can't fly, and pack together in a tight bunch when being herded. The khaki's can't move as fast as the runners and tend to trip when they get excited, so we have to use two people if we're herding a long distance, one in front so slow the flock down.

A side note:
The Indiana Runners cannot fly. They don't ever get out the electric netting. The Khakis can sort of fly. They'll fly over the netting, freak out that the rest of the flock is inside it, then zap themselves repeatedly trying to get back in until you manage to catch the wayward one and put it back over. If your area is large enough (seems to need to be at least 20 feet wide and 80 feet long), they will occasionally successfully fly back in and land inside. Only seems to be a problem for the first 7 months or so of a given duck's life. Once they've been through it a few times, their flying tends to be all within the electric fencing.
 
Julia Winter
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I'm thinking about getting ducks as well! When you live in Portland, birds that like rain make sense.

My favorite NW garden/food/more blogger (and friend of permies) Erica Strauss got some Ancona ducks and blogged about her choice here.

She dug a pond and sealed it with kitty litter. That blog post has some nice pictures of her experimenting with different brand of kitty litter to find the one that would form gley for her.

Once she found her material, she figured out how to use it to seal her pond.

 
Craig Dobbelyu
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I've had a small flock of cayugas for about a year now. They were late to get started laying but now they are in full swing. Being a pretty heavy duck, they don't often make an effort to go over fences. In fact the fence height for my flock is only 18 inches high. Once in a while one will make a break for it and upon realizing that the rest of the flock isn't following, she'll spend all day pacing around the fence trying to figure out how to get back in. It's amusing to watch but also a little heartbreaking as you can tell they do stress out when they are separate from each other.

I have only four hens but they all lay an egg daily and sometimes one of them will lay two eggs. They did a good job sealing their pond and so far have proved to be very hardy during the winter. Snow, rain, ice... no bother to a Cayuga duck. Weather that costs a chicken it's comb and toes is no big deal to the Cayuga. I even had on get trapped under ice last fall and remained there for some time before being rescued. You can read about that here. duck rescue

They lay a black shelled egg at first and then as the season goes on the eggs become more olive green and eventually pale white. This can be a nice way to interest people in buying an assortment of colored eggs. That was a plus when I started a mixed flock of chickens. The people who buy our eggs enjoy the variety in the carton. White, blue, green, orange, pink, brown, speckled, spotted and all sort of odd shapes as well.
Ducks do way less damage than chickens though both fill a certain roll in the scheme of things.

The males are gentle and quiet. Of the four females I have ONE of them is a quacker. Loves QUACKING. Especially if she wants something. I usually get harrased as I walk pased them on my way to the garden. It like " hey, bring me back some sheep sorrel while you're down there".

 
Tina Paxton
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To update: I placed my order today with Metzer Farms. I started to go with the hybrid 300...had them in my cart...then decided to get Welsh Harlequins instead. So, first week of June I will receive a box of 15 female WH ducklings.
 
Ann Torrence
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Tina, I couldn't decide, so I ordered both, LOL. Mine come in a couple weeks.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Yeah, it was hard to decide....then I considered getting a hatchery choice mix....decided against that...and finally after several changes, went with the Welsh Harlequins. Too many choices sometimes!

Come June, I'm going to be in duckling overload though -- I've got 2 muscovies setting on nests and another starting one...oh, yeah....it's going to be a busy summer!
 
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