Raising Meat Ducks
Raising ducks for meat can be very rewarding. I prefer to raise my own because it is hard to find in grocery stores, is usually not very fresh, and is expensive. Duck meat is mostly dark meat, is quite fatty, and has a wonderful flavor.
When you raise ducks in your backyard, you are producing a very healthy protein and fat source. Ducks living in a natural environment, where they have access to sunlight and can eat grasses and greens and insects, produce meat (and eggs) with a natural balance of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids.
Raising ducks for meat is just as easy as raising chickens for meat. Ducks do need a water source for dipping their heads. A swimming source is not needed for meat ducks, since they are being processed at a young age. Ducks have a gland that produces a waterproofing oil. This gland is not fully functional until they are at least 6 weeks of age. If you are raising your ducks older than 6 weeks, a water source for swimming is desirable from that age on. Meat ducks can be fed the same broiler feed as you would feed meat chickens, but make sure that the feed doesn’t have any medications in it, as ducks may be sensitive to many medications meant for chickens.
The process for butchering and processing ducks is the same as for chickens. Ducks are a bit more difficult to pluck though as they have much denser feathering and down than chickens. Timing the slaughtering for a time when the pin feathers are not present can sometimes work, but it is really more important to time slaughtering for best meat quality and for weight. Waxing or burning the feathers off are options, but these are yet another step in the whole process. Because I am only raising ducks for my own use, I don’t worry too much about getting every feather out, and especially if the birds are white, you hardly notice them after it is roasted.
The larger breeds of duck are great for meat production. Pekins are probably the most popular as they grow large very fast. They have white feathers, so the carcass comes out very clean. Pekins have lots of nice, flavorful meat on them and are the most common commercial meat duck. Pekin’s can often be processed in 6 weeks and will weigh in about 7 pounds. The Jumbo Pekin males will grow to 11+ pounds and the females to 9.5+ pounds in a short 12 weeks. Pekins are also great egg layers.
My favorite meat duck is the Rouen. I really love the deep flavor of Rouen Ducks, so they are my first choice for meat. Rouen Ducks are a traditional French meat duck breed. Rouens look like big Mallard Ducks; their coloration and patterning is very similar to Mallards, but they are much larger and chunkier-looking than Mallards. Rouens have a lot of meat on them and a lot of high quality fat, which I also use for cooking. I usually buy Rouen Ducks as straight run, and butcher the males around four months old, weighing around 5 1/2 pounds, and keep the females for egg laying. In Spring and early summer, they lay at least one egg every other day making them a great dual-purpose duck. I also find that many restaurants and chefs are very interested in Rouen meat. Many people wait to process their Rouens until they are more flavorful and at the heavier weight of 8-9 pounds at a year to a year and a half.
Muscovy Duck is also a very sought-after type of meat duck. They grow very large and quite fast. Muscovy Ducks have a wonderful mild duck flavor. Muscovy males will weigh 10-14 pounds, females 5-7 pounds at maturity.
If you’re thinking about raising some different meats beyond chicken, consider ducks!