you’re properly in the homesteading mentality, you’ll realize that
every problem is really an opportunity. In this case, a low hatch rate prompted us to consider adding ducks to our laying flock.
Why ducks? Even
though there can be some problems with mixing ducks in with chickens, I
suspect we can work around the issues and keep one complex flock, which
cuts down on Mark’s ambivalence about complicating our homestead.
(Extra flocks always mean more work.) On the plus side, ducks are
reputed to be better winter layers than chickens, and we can definitely
use some help in that department — we bought quite a few eggs this
winter despite having a dozen layers in the coop. In addition,
ducks may be able to forage more of their feed than chickens, they’re
not supposed to fly out of fences as often, and I’m always curious to
see how a different species interacts with our wet homestead.
The next question was — which variety to choose? If you just want eggs, Carol Deppe recommends
the Holderread strain of the Khaki Campbell, followed by Welsh
Harlequins, and Indian Runners (if you can find a line bred for egg
production). But she prefers dual-purpose birds for the homestead,
such as Magpies and Anconas. In fact, Anconas are Deppe’s
favorite breed since they lay 210 to 280 jumbo eggs per year, are
excellent foragers, and “are calmer, more sensible, and easier to work
with than the extreme-egg breeds.”
Heavier breeds have some positive points too. Harvey Ussery
prefers Appleyards for “the best combination of beauty,
egg laying, and fast growth to good slaughter size,” although Deppe
considers Appleyards to be too heavy to be economical layers.
Finally, if you’re looking for a meaty duck similar to the Cornish Cross
chicken, you’ll want to raise a Pekin or Aylesbury duck.
Since we’ll probably get
our ducks from Murray McMurray, Anconas and Appleyards aren’t an
option. I’m actually leaning toward trying out their hybrid Gold
Star duck, which is reputed to lay an average of 290 eggs per year
(compared to 240 for a Khaki Campbell) and to be a calmer bird than the
Campbells. We’ll have to make a decision fast since we want to get
the ducklings early enough so they’ll start laying this fall, so stay
tuned for cute duck photos at least by the end of April.