2012 Harvest

2012 Harvest

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Raising Swedish Ducks

Swedish Duck Hens
When we first decided to get some farm animals we debated whether to start with Chickens or Ducks. Most families would probably start with chickens, but we decided to go with ducks for various reasons I will explain below. Our goal was to find an all purpose breed that would provide good egg production and a decent roast if need be. The two breeds we were interested in were Swedish Ducks and Saxony Ducks.  Fortunately we found some 1 year old Swedish Ducks on craigslist for $5 a bird. The farm we got our ducks from had a few drakes, so we decided to get two hens and one drake.

Egg Production   

After doing some initial research about ducks, I was surprised to hear how many eggs certain breeds can produce. Certain duck breeds can outproduce many chicken breeds. As for Swedish ducks, I found many articles stating they could lay anywhere from 100 to 150 eggs per year, but our two hens seem to produce much more than that. With the exception of a few months during the winter, each hen will typically give us an egg a day. During the winter months their production gets much more spaced out as does our willingness to gather the eggs.

Duck Egg Characteristics

Swedish Duck eggs have an off-white color and are almost twice the size of a typical store bought chicken egg. The shells are much harder than chicken eggs, which supposedly gives them a longer shelf life. Also, considering they are about twice the size of chicken eggs, they have twice the nutrition and twice the cholesterol. In general, duck eggs taste very similar to chicken eggs. The yolks are physically much larger and they have a thicker consistency, but overall very little difference can be noticed. To be honest though, we still prefer chicken eggs... for some reason we can't get used to eating duck eggs, so we tend to use them more for baking.

Swedish Duck Drake

Breeding

The main reason we decided to start with ducks instead of chickens is because many duck breeds, including Swedish ducks, are said to be better breeders. More specifically, the hens still have the natural instinct to sit on a nest until hatching. Many chicken breeds on the other hand, require artificial incubators and dealing with a rooster seemed more complicated than dealing with a drake. Throw in the fact that duck meat was two or three times more expensive than chicken meat and you begin to see why we decided to try ducks first.

There was no question our ducks were mating regularly and after a few weeks of recovering the eggs, we decided to try and let them produce some ducklings for us. The hens will not sit on the nest until there are around 12-15 eggs, so don't be alarmed if the hen appears disinterested in the nest initially. Duck eggs take around 28 days to incubate once the hens begin to sit on the nest full-time. You'll know when this happens, because the hens will only leave the nest to eat and drink and they act noticeably broody.

Last spring, our two hens each had around 15 eggs in their nests. After about a month and much anticipation, we were very disappointed to find that most of the eggs had been unfertilized and the few that were fertilized must have been immediately killed by the drake. Unfortunately for the drake, he had lost most value to us and ended up on the dinner table shortly thereafter.          

Sadie (my wife couldn't help but name them)

Duck Meat

Depending on who you talk to, the perception of duck meat can vary widely. Wild ducks taste considerably different than farm raised ducks, so if you've had wild duck and did not enjoy it, don't rule out ducks altogether. Unlike chickens, ducks have a very large layer of fat under their skin. While this may be a turn off to some folks, in our opinion this is a huge benefit to duck meat. When prepared properly, the entire layer of fat can be rendered out of the meat, leaving only a crispy layer of skin. Even better, one duck can produce 12 ounces of natural duck fat oil, perfect for frying or roasting. There is no better way to prepare potatoes than to roast them with some garlic, shallots, and of course duck oil.   

In hindsight, the apparent advantages to having ducks over chickens has yet to be proven and we have since added a chicken to our small flock of birds. I think both have a place in the family homestead, but the purposes for each are certainly different.