BY: Julia Barnes
Ducks. When someone thinks of a duck, they usually picture one of two things. The fat, white, barnyard Pekin or the small, colorful wild Mallard. But in reality, there are so many other duck in many shapes and sizes. From the upright, bowling pin shaped Runner, to the pint sized Call, to the huge deep keeled exhibition Rouen; there are 17 breeds of duck recognized by the American Poultry Association divided into four classes – Heavy, Medium, Light, and Bantam. For someone new to ducks, the choice of what breed of duck to start with may seem overwhelming. I knew the choice was for me when I wanted to first get into ducks a little over a year ago, and after a lot of research, I decided to start with the Saxony duck.
The Saxony duck is a rare breed deriving in Germany. They are a true “triple duel” breed with their gorgeous unique plumage, are decent layers for their size laying 190- 260 eggs a year, and produce gourmet meat with more flavor and less fat. As well as being active foragers, they naturally have a calm and laid back temperament and can be easily tamed if handled when young. The hens average eight pounds while the drakes average ten pounds. I was drawn to them specifically because of their large size and their coloration, their other attributes were just icing on the cake.
In April 2013 I had my first official go at raising duck. I bought fourteen fertile Saxony eggs from two different sources off of ebay (who knew you could by duck eggs on ebay!) and set them in my incubator. Four weeks later, ten fuzzy Saxony ducklings popped out! After growing them out for four months I selected a pair (one duck one drake) to keep for breeding based on the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. I narrowed it down to the biggest drake and the female with the most prominent facial markings. True to what the books say, they are huge calm but inquisitive ducks that surprisingly for their weight lay large white eggs quite reliably. Now that same pair, known as Big Bug and Devony, are still with me and have produced lots of ducklings and Big Bug has taken many titles at the shows I’ve taken him to.
In November 2013 at a poultry show, I ran into someone selling a young pair of high quality Welsh Harlequin ducks. After talking to the seller, I decided to bring the pair home and I am so glad I did! Now named Tyke and Wren, the pair has produced numerous healthy ducklings and Tyke in particular has excelled at every show I’ve taken him to.As I realized that I really enjoyed ducks, I decided that I wanted to get into a second breed. The Welsh Harlequin was what I decided on. First developed in Wales in 1949 and imported to the US in 1968, the Welsh Harlequin is a small and colorful breed weighing five to seven pounds. As well as being an excellent forager they are outstanding layers producing 240-330 white eggs a year. I chose the Welsh Harlequin because of their bright colors, their amazing laying capabilities, and similarly to the Saxony ducks they are uncommon in the US.
Even though it may be overwhelming when choosing a breed of duck or any animal to start raising; it’s definitely worth the time, effort, and research in the end when you have an animal that fits your needs and wants.