The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Deppe on ducks

Ancona ducksMy favorite part of The Resilient Gardener, by far, was Deppe's chapter on ducks.  She keeps her ducks the way we keep our chickens --- on pasture as part of a diverse homestead.  By the time you read her duck chapter, you'll want some waterfowl too.

Why the focus on ducks?  Deppe considers ducks to be the perfect livestock for the Pacific Northwest, and sings their praises in great depth.  She believes ducks forage better than chickens, lay better at an older age and in the winter, are easier to keep out of the garden with two-foot fences, and are happy even during cold, wet winters.  On the other hand, Deppe warns that ducks aren't for everyone.  Ducks are more vulnerable to predators than chickens are, the ducklings cost more and usually can't be sexed at hatching, they need water to dabble in, they don't do well in confinement and can't live in tractors, they can't stand frozen winters, and they require more coop space since they roost on the ground.  But if you have a larger homestead with plenty of room for the ducks to forage, Deppe believes ducks are the way to go.

I won't go into depth about Deppe's duck advice since you'll really want to read the whole chapter if you're interested in following her lead.  However, I did want to end with a few of her tips on making duck-care more sustainable.  During the proper seasons, Deppe feeds her ducks cooked potatoes and winter squash, the former of which cuts feed costs by 67%  if ducks are also given lots of space to forage.  (Winter squash is lower in protein, so Deppe finds that addition doesn't cut feed costs nearly as much.)  Deppe's ducks get the cull squash Feeding ducksthat are small or were harvested not quite ripe, and the ducks seem to enjoy Delicata and Sweet Meat especially.

Another hint Deppe gave for making your ducks homestead-worthy pertains to ducklings.  She notes that if you let ducklings swim in warm water during their first few days of life (carefully drying them in their brooder afterwards), the activity turns on the ducklings' wax glands so they quickly become waterproofed and able to forage in damp conditions.  On the other hand, if you skip that early swim, the wax glands won't activate until the ducks are eight weeks old, and you'll have to baby your ducklings that whole time so they don't get wet and chilled.

I love how passionate Deppe is on the subject of ducks, but Mark and I are equally passionate about chickens.  So even though we're trying ducks this spring on her advice, we'll be keeping careful records of which type of bird does best on our homestead.  Stay tuned for lots of number crunching (and cute photos) all season!

This post is part of our The Resilient Gardener lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Why this breed over Khaki Campbells, which have much higher egg production?
Comment by Anonymous Fri Apr 25 16:57:46 2014

Anonymous --- Carol Deppe made two excellent points in favor of this breed (which is her favorite). First, Anconas are equivalent to a dual-purpose chicken, so the males have enough meat on their bones to be worth slaughtering, while Campbells are more like hybrid egg-layers (scrawny). Second, Anconas are much less skittish than the major egg-laying breeds, which seemed like a plus since Leghorns have taught us that extremely skittish fowl are no fun.

It also looks like Anconas aren't really much worse egg-layers than the average Khaki Campbell. Anconas are reported to lay 210 to 280 eggs per year, and unless you find high-production strains of Khaki Campbells, those tend to average about 240 eggs per year.

This post has some more useful duck-choosing advice. Although we ended up ordering from Cackle Hatchery because Murray McMurray wanted to charge us an exorbitant amount of shipping since ducks and chicks ship from different facilities for them.

Comment by anna Fri Apr 25 18:29:44 2014

One other drawback of ducks vs chickens is that ducks take more effort to process after slaughtering. They're harder to get a good scald (because the oil/wax and feathers are designed to keep the water away from their skin!), harder to pluck, and give less meat than good dual-purpose chicken breeds. Some people love duck meat, and that makes up for the extra effort, but I find chicken equally tasty and less finicky to cook.

That said, we do still keep a few ducks for eggs. And because we breed them to replenish the flock, there's always a few we have to cull every year, so we do end up eating them.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Tue Jun 10 19:42:17 2014

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