Muscovy Ducks: a great homesteading breed

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Why are muscovy ducks so awesome? Let me count the ways…

They’re quiet and friendly, they hunt flies (seriously), are hardy in all weathers, and produce fabulous eggs and the best duck meat ever. Convinced yet? 

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Muscovy ducks are the only domesticated duck which is not descended from the mallard. Instead, they’re South American in origin, and, depending on who you talk to, ‘not quite a real duck’.

I think this is mainly because they don’t quack (they chirp and hiss instead), they hunt flies and mosquitoes, and basically get around like a goose, with that same sense of ‘here I come, step aside y’all’.

I’ve heard it said often that Muscovies are tree birds, rather than water birds – what this means in a domestic context is that they don’t roost on the ground, but instead prefer to be up a bit – which is great from a predator point of view.

That said, they do like a bit of water – but this can be a basin, it doesn’t need to be a fully fledged duck pond (though they love those too).

Muscovies eat a bit of everything – grass, slugs, bugs, flies, grain…. whatever’s going. I wouldn’t put them in your vegetable garden as your lettuce might suffer a dreadful fate, but they are fine around less delicate and perennial crops.

The muscovies at Milkwood Farm have happily integrated into our poultry system with the chickens – where the hens go, they go too.

Last summer that was out on pasture in an egg mobile, surrounded by electric netting. This year it’s in the gravity chicken run.

They seem fine with either arrangement. They waddle, they forage, they have a splash, do a poop, then go hunt flies for a bit.

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Prodigious poopers

I tried to get a video of this bit bit but didn’t manage it, so take my word for it (and maybe be thankful i didn’t).

Muscovy ducks poop with such flamboyant squirts that they usually startle everyone around them in the process, including themselves. It’s quite funny actually.

But the good bit here is the fertiliser, delivered generously in liquid form. You can cell graze muscovies through your backyard or paddock or food forest and reap the benefits.

Why hunting flies is a big bonus

Firstly, of course, there’s the fly control factor. Nobody sits around saying ‘gee i wish we had more flies’ that i know of. And muscovies hunt them. Like, actually hunt them. With glee and relish.

But here’s the added bonus of fly hunting, other than fly (and apparently also mosquito) control – it’s wild protein inputs!

In a permaculture system, you’re always looking for ways that you can stack or combine things to reduce inputs – in the spirit of ‘every output is an input’.

Animals that harvest wild protein themselves to supplement feed are a gold-star winner in such a system.

And anything that eats flies, as well as produces fertilizer, eggs and meat prolifically, is welcome at my place.

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They are tough as… a tough thing

Our muscovies are a motley crew of possible siblings and cousins, inherited from some folks down the road when they moved away.

Beating sunlight or freezing temperatures worry them not. They are consistently healthy, cheerful and up for it. Whether that’s fly hunting or just waddling around.

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They make more Muscovies

From Spring to Autumn, they lay eggs. Somewhat randomly it seems. Sometimes in the henhouse laying boxes, and sometimes… just wherever they sit down that morning.

And every so often, one of the girls goes broody, and becomes, in the lingo, a sitting duck.

That’s the other thing about muscovy ducks – they are great ‘sitters’, and mothers too.

To my somewhat random observations, this sitting seems to start as a collaborative project – one duck starts sitting, then the next day you’ll find another duck sitting on that same clutch of eggs, and so on.

Eventually, one of the ducks stays there consistently and, 35 days-ish from when someone or other started sitting, its birthday time!

Our last clutch resulted in 7 live births, two ‘didnt-quite-make-it’s and 4 eggs that didn’t hatch at all, which were gingerly added to the humanure compost before they cracked and things got stinky.

The ducklings are just like their parents – sturdy, healthy, low-care poultry. Oh and they hunt flies too – from about 4 weeks of age!

Duck meat like no other

A note: Muscovies breed very easily, and before you know it you might have quite a few. If you do not want to eat them, then don’t let the girls go broody, and eat all the eggs instead. Simple.

If you are interested in ethical low-impact homegrown meat, then muscovies are for you. The hens grow out to about 4.5 kg and the drakes to about 6kg.

The ducklings grow out to a good size (but not full size) by 10-12 weeks, and it’s at this time, before they get their full set of adult feathers, that home harvest makes the most sense from both a practical (plucking) and a output-for-input point of view.

I’ll do another post on duck day as we call it – but essentially, it’s similar to chicken day – it’s messy but fruitful and has all the connotations and emotions and rewards of home-scale animal husbandry.

The result is a sizable bird with meat more reminiscent of red meat than duck meat.

Muscovies have very little fat, compared to other breeds – though for each bird you will still get a small jar of precious home-grown duck fat for your cooking.

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In short, Muscovies are a great breed for anyone with a little space – they would not suit small backyards, but on 1/4 acre upwards, they’re an excellent option to consider.

They are not as reliable egg layers as khaki campbells or indian runners though so if you’re duck-egg-centric, have a look at those breeds.

But if you’re looking for a great addition to your system that combines insect control, companionship, some eggs, lots of great meat and fertiliser…. muscovies might just be for you.

Do you have a favourite duck breed? What works for your place?

We talk about integrated animal systems within backyard permaculture design at our Intro to Permaculture courses. Just by the way.

>> More posts about animals in permaculture systems

34 Comments

  1. Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink | Reply

    So i have two questions for you. The first is that “hearsay” about never mixing ducks and chickens because of disease. is this a wives tale or does it have more to do with breed? and too, hubby wants me to ask how do you stop them from flying away. we’ve recently FINALLY moved to our farm and have a huge springfed dam that already has wild ducks on it …. what is to stop ours (we do intend to get some) from flying off? do you clip wings regularly or ?????

    • Posted January 14, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink | Reply

      Smushing multiple groups of animals together at high densities is never a good idea, but in a backyard / small farm setting, I don’t see any problem with it, if your animals are all healthy and have access to clean water, air, open space, greenstuff etc…

      In the chicken run, all the ducks have stayed put without wing clipping – when they were out on pasture we used to clip their wings intermittently…

  2. Posted January 14, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink | Reply

    I like to Duck for cover in hail storms up here – always works for me! Nice article Kirsten – are they ok to handle? Placid? They look quite big.

  3. Robert Freeman
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good to see the chook dome still going strong.

  4. Amy, Blue Mountains
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great Post Kirsten! Muscovies rule!
    I used to have 3 lovely girls that kept my orchard clear of pests and beautifully fertilised . I found that my ladies mostly liked to poo in the water { like Hippos! } which was great because I would just move their water tub from tree to tree every couple of days and empty the contents on each tree, it was the only fertiliser i used and the trees were so healthy and laden with fruit.

    They’re such a great breed, I find them to be really friendly characters, easy to manage and much less timid than other breeds, especially if you’ve had them since they were ducklings. Some drakes can be a bit on the aggressive side though, which is good for dettering predators.. but i’d recommend people who had drakes to maybe keep them separated from ducklings until they’re a bit bigger.

  5. Posted January 14, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink | Reply

    And they are a goose in disguise, that give ducks a bad reputation

  6. Rosie
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the great article, ducks are a favourite around here, shh, don’t tell the chickens! I just love how they grow up, they are cuter for much longer than chickens! Our kids love watching and getting splashed by ours when they have their bath when we refresh their water pools. Good thing about ducks is that they are much easier, I find, to catch than chooks, if you need to. I’m still not quite ready to eat any of mine, I’m still making up for making my hubby do the last ‘chicken day’!

  7. Posted January 14, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Kirsten, I love ducks, we have Indian Runners and I think they have a lot of benefits over chickens, but the Muscovy are closer related to geese in their habits, thus they give ducks a bad name.

  8. Posted January 14, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    I keep Welsh Harlequin ducks and drakes and find them great backyard pets (but I have a big backyard) which also give great eggs and meat, as well as fertiliser, just like Amy. While these are a ‘quiet’ breed they do make a bit of noise (but no worse than a noisy dog, and my neighbours are fine with it) so it’s interesting to hear these don’t make much noise. I have them in a fully enclosed area months of the time to protect them from foxes, but let them out into the backyard for foraging. They are great fun and very easy to look after.

  9. nopalito
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for this insight, we’ve been pondering what could be an addition to our future livestock rotation, and Muscovy’s look like contenders. The tough bit, the eating-flies bit and the pooping bit are all especially appealing!

  10. Justine
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    Lovely to see ducks getting such a good review!! We had two muscovies who turned out to be very aggressive drakes that would chase our dogs around the yard and then start to chase the kids! LOL. I got to see one of them catch a mouse and gobble it up – love anything that keeps the rodent population in balance. Moved these boys on and switched to Indian Runners as we love the eggs & sell excess supply. Fantastic for mobile fertilising, less destructive than chooks, smarter and more entertaining; give me a duck any day!

  11. Posted January 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We had black and white muscovies, but changed to all white as they are sooooo much easier to pluck. I found the dark feathers a real pan and sometimes even skinned the ducks when they were too bad. Ours do fly out of the pen sometimes – but once they get older, I think they get too heavy. Their meat is delicious – try slow cooking in master stock (in pieces) – recipe here http://healthyfarminghealthyfood.blogspot.com.au/p/recipes.html
    Last time I cooked one I brined it first – it too was delicious! We run our ducks and chickens together and the only trouble we have is with our aussie game chickens going clucky and helping the duck sit! Not a good ending! Great post!

  12. Posted January 14, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I live on a quarter acre and had three Peking ducks, I had a pen built for them under the kids treehouse, they were lovely creatures. In the end I had to find them a new home, I just found I could not keep the straw up to them, even though I let them free range in the backyard I had a large tub in their pen to play in. I’d love to get ducks again but worry about having the same problem. My chickens currently time share the backyard with the dog, around 2 in the afternoon I put the dog away and let the chooks out until sundown. Everyone seems happy with this arrangement. Do you think the ducks would be happy with a tub outside their pen? I ask because I’d like to raise more of my own meat. I’d like to add rabbits and another kind of poultry this year, thanks!

  13. Posted January 14, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We decided to terminate our relationship with muscovies when we realized that BBQ duck confit had been the go to afternoon snack after school for our 7 & 9 yr old boys for over 6 months. They just seemed to have a love afair with salt and fat. Ha! Now they are on our case saying that we need to eat less bacon – what can you do?

    • Posted January 15, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

      7 years old and addicted to bbq duck confit… can’t see a big support group of ‘me-toos’ for that one :)

  14. Lucy
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi! Great post. Just wondering if you know of anyone selling Muscovy ducklings in Victoria? I’m keen to get some to come and help look after our orchard, but having trouble finding breeders.

  15. Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    If you want even better meat, then a cross between the muscovy and mallard is the secret. The result is the mulard or “mule duck.”

  16. Tammy
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for this article I have always wanted muscovies and feel inspired to now get them. Questions, can u mix them with Indian Runners? Also when mixing with chooks can they sleep together or so they need to be separated and esp when there is babies. Lastly would they attempt (or both ducks if u know) to get into the pool? Thanks again

  17. Posted January 17, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    Used to have a few when living in Iowa. As tough as they can be but we lived along the Raccoon River and the raccoons and foxes were a challenge.

  18. Alex
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Muscovies are great characters to have about and yes they can fly when they’re young. I’ve never forgotten the feeling of being watched while having a stroll in the yard only to look up and see one of these newly fledged youngsters atop the neighbour’s chimney. How on earth she managed to land on the chimney in what would have been an inaugural flight I’m not quite sure but it was impressive nonetheless.

  19. Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We have muscovies and although my hubbie hasn’t quite been able to kill one yet, there is a pressing need and I look forward to the taste. We have 3 drakes and 2 ducks,Yin and Yang from our ducks 2nd sitting. We’ve just emptied out our girls nest of the eggs they’d been hoarding in there for far too long and they’ve been composted too. The drakes have never shown any flying since they were able but Miss Mandy our older duck took off a few times. We clipped her wings only as our neighbour keeps racing greyhounds and we didn’t want her to fun afoul (pun intended) of the dogs.
    And I know EXACTLY what you mean abuout their toileting habits. Be wary of which end faces you shoud you ever need to pick them up. My husband has been caught twice that way and it’s stinky stuff.

  20. Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on The HealthSpring and commented:
    What a cool idea. I have been thinking about raising chickens. Ducks are much cuter and these sound like they are hardy in Michigan.

  21. Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on X_trous Notes.

  22. Greg Bell
    Posted May 18, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Our muscovies only eat flies while they (the ducks) are young. Great birds, still. QUIET birds, that makes them very special!

    We rarely can pluck ours – we probably let them get too old. So it feels a bit wasteful skinning them.

  23. Amber
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have 3hens and a drake, they keep our backyard grass lush and short.
    But I have a problem keeping my ducklings alive. after about two weeks, they start dying. What can I do to prevent that, I feed them and they stay with their mother.

    • Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

      What are you feeding them?

    • Posted May 19, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink | Reply

      We have a very low survival rate here too. Say 13 in a clutch, 2-4 will survive. A lot of the time it seems that the little guys aren’t getting enough wild food to eat or are getting too cold. The mums lead them everywhere, seemlingly unaware of the fragility of the little things. Occasionally we spot the trouble before it’s fatal and bring a few back from the brink with porrige and other food first aid.

  24. Sharon Hobbs
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Tammy our ducks love getting in the pool, which is disgusting as they do jet propelling with poo. They are right escape artists and are convinced the pool is just for them. Our drake did not do well with the chickens as he harassed them horribly. I do not recommend it. The drakes are apparently not great around ducklings and need 3 or more ducks/ females as partners. we love ours, they are beautiful and practical and quiet.

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