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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.