Ducks are fast-growing, healthy birds that are a great alternative to chickens for both meat and eggs. Most ducks can be butchered around 8 or 12 weeks and yield a luxury dark meat that can be sold for premium prices.
If you’re a backyard farmer who can’t keep roosters then ducks may be a good, sustainable alternative if you want to breed your own meat flock rather than buying and shipping in meat birds from a commercial hatchery every year.
Selecting A Breed
There are many duck breeds that you can raise for meat. Any breed can be butchered, but you’ll have the highest meat yields from the heavy and medium weight ducks. The most popular meat duck is the Pekin for its quick growth, large size, and white feathers. Also popular are the Cayuga, Rouen, Silver Appleyard, and Welsh Harlequin. I personally love the Silver Appleyards (pictured is a juvenile trio I bred and hatched).
Unlike the Cornish Cross chickens, these duck breeds can be bred to maintain your own meat flock without having to buy new birds each year. They are also not known to have any issues with leg or heart failure due to rapid growth. Many breeds of duck are on the Livestock Conservancy list and are in need of quality breeders to improve and promote them.
If you’re looking to breed and maintain a flock of ducks year-round, select the breed that appeals to you most. If you just want to raise a batch to butcher out and aren’t interested in breeding, than take a look at the Grimaud Hybrid Pekins from Metzer’s.
Where to Purchase Ducks
Ideally, find a local breeder who has been breeding their ducks for meat production qualities. If you can’t find any local breeders, than my first recommendation would be Holderread’s; they literally wrote the book on ducks, have excellent quality stock, and also have very competitive (if not lower) pricing than most commercial hatcheries.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, than consider Metzer’s. They have good quality stock (much has come from the Holderread’s) and great service.
Happy Life, Healthy Meat
For general raising instructions, see my post here. You don’t need to raise meat ducks any differently than a laying breed, although they may grow to butcher size faster on a higher protein feed. Give your ducks access to lots of green grass, insects (worms, slugs, and snails, yum yum!), and water to bathe and play in. In turn, you’ll have happy ducks with healthy, nutritious meat when harvest time comes.
Ducks are ready to butcher when you can’t feel any (or many) pin feathers. This is around 7 – 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 18 – 19 weeks.
What does duck taste like?
Duck meat is a lean, dark meat that tastes similar to dark chicken meat, but richer. The fat, which is stored in a layer between the skin and muscle, is wonderful for making confit or for giving flavor to roasted vegetables.