If you want an economical and steady supply of homegrown eggs that are nutritious and tasty, you’ll need a flock of chickens, right? Well, not necessarily.
No doubt about it, chickens have proven their worth as fine producers of savory eggs and should not be discredited.
However, during the last decade, a growing number of us North Americans have been discovering what many Asians and Europeans have known for a long time: under many circumstances, ducks have advantages over their cackling relatives as producers of eating eggs.
Some Facts & Figures
Relatively few people in the Americas realize that, on the whole, ducks are more proficient layers than chickens. While poultry researchers in North America have spent the last 100 years and countless millions of dollars on improving the productivity of chickens, ducks—for all practical purposes—have been ignored.
Despite all the attention chickens received, it’s unusual for a commercial flock of Leghorns to average over 250 to 280 eggs per hen in a year’s time. On the other hand, Campbell ducks of good strains often average 300 or more eggs per bird during the course of 12 months.
Duck eggs also weigh five to eight ounces per dozen more than chicken eggs.
In spite of the fact that some literature on the subject states otherwise, practical experience and tests conducted by institutions such as the University of Nebraska clearly show that duck eggs retain their freshness during storage considerably longer than those of chickens. On various occasions, we have refrigerated well-cleaned duck eggs for four months and longer with no detectible change in flavor.
It is true that, when raised in confinement, a 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 pound duck will consume 20 to 30 percent more feed than a similarly sized Leghorn. But, due to the larger size and greater number of eggs produced by ducks, trials have shown that with proper management, ducks are still more efficient when the quantity of feed to produce a pound of eggs is calculated.
Since ducks are considerably better foragers than chickens, the efficiency of ducks is further enhanced when they are allowed to rustle free foods in bodies of water, pastures or grassy yards.
Ducks are also incredibly resistant to disease and cold and wet weather. The average mortality rate in home flocks is significantly lower with ducks than with chickens. Due to their greater hardiness, ducks require less elaborate housing than chickens—yet another advantage.
And, because egg-type ducks are not accomplished high jumpers, they are easily confined with a two- or three-foot high barrier.
What About Disadvantages?
If you have never raised laying ducks, you’re probably asking, “Okay, what are their drawbacks?” After raising and comparing all species of domestic poultry over the course of the last 20 years, I’ve yet to run across a major disadvantage in ducks under most small flock conditions.
Waterfowl do like to wash their bills and heads frequently, so their drinking water should be changed at least several times weekly—and preferably daily. If crowded in a small pen with a dirt floor during wet weather, they will turn their quarters into a muddy mess. But, adequate bedding (such as sand, straw or wood shavings), larger pens or the use of wire floors takes care of this problem.
People who have close neighbors are sometimes concerned about noise. On the whole, ducks of the egg breeds are no noisier than chickens, especially when raised in small flocks consisting of six to eight birds.
“But aren’t duck eggs strong-flavored?” is a common question. The flavor of eggs is controlled by the diet of the producing birds. If ducks (or chickens) are fed a ration containing fish products or the birds are allowed to feed in bodies of water or pastures where they can pick up pungent natural foods, the eggs can be tainted.
When duck and chicken eggs are produced with similar feeding and management, the taste of the end product is virtually indistinguishable. Over the years, we have served thousands of scrambled, fried, poached, deviled, soft boiled, souffleed and creped duck eggs to meal guests and at potlucks, picnics, wedding buffets and youth camps. In my recollection, not once has anyone suspected they weren’t dining on chicken eggs until we told them otherwise. Interestingly, before being told that they were eating duck cuisine, we’ve had numerous people mention that the eggs were exceptionally good.
The shells of duck eggs are slightly more difficult to crack and are pearly white rather than chalk white as in chicken eggs—but I can’t see these as disadvantages. The albumen of duck eggs is somewhat firmer and usually takes slightly longer to whip up for meringues and angel food cakes than the white of chicken eggs.