Keeping ducks for meat has been on the rise in the United States for several years. While factory farms have long supplied gourmet chefs with duck meat, more folks are starting to raise these fabulous birds not only for the large and creamy eggs they produce, but for their tender meat on small farms and homesteads, as well.
While any duck can be kept and harvested for its meat, certain breeds offer not just more meat, but additional flavor and less grease, than others. It is always best to choose a duck breed from the “heavy weight” class when raising these poultry birds specifically for their meat.
A large breed tends to develop better muscle tone, which is also beneficial when breeding and raising ducks for meat. Some duck breeds have been deemed multi-purpose or dual-purpose. This means they are generally equally adept at producing both meat and eggs. Raising dual-purpose duck breeds on your homestead gives you the best of both worlds.
Purchasing a duck breed that is prone to maturing quickly will also cut down on the cost associated with meat duck husbandry. The sooner the birds are ready to butcher, the less time and money you will have in raising them. My favorite duck breed to raise is the Pekin, it is one of the prime breeds that fits all of the above categories – it grows quickly and produces excellent quality meat and a high egg yield.
What Does Duck Meat Taste Like?
If you have never eaten duck meat or consumed it prepared by a novice and not a chef in an upscale restaurant, the initial taste might be surprising. Duck meat is often described as having a “gamey” taste.
Duck meat can taste a good bit closer to red meat than it does from its fellow barnyard poultry bird – the common chicken. When cooked properly, duck meat will taste tender and moist with a flavorful fat. If you make a mistake during the cooking process, the thick fat on many meat duck breeds will not be packed with flavor and crispy but thick, rubbery, and entirely nasty.
The skin on duck meat is substantially more thick than the skin on chicken and other poultry birds. It can be difficult at first to get the hang of cooking a bird with such a thick skin or removing it during the preparation stage.
What Age Do You Butcher Ducks?
The best age to butcher a meat duck will depend at least somewhat on the breed being raised. Some duck breeds mature far more quickly than others. Ideally, at least from an ease of plucking perspective, 7 to 8 weeks of age is recommended for meat duck butchering.
You can pluck a duck’s feathers as you would a chicken during the butchering process, or dunk the entire carcass in water that is truly scalding hot – between 145 and 150 degrees. The duck carcass must remain submerged for a full minute for the feather removal to take place.
5 Best Meat Duck Breeds Facts
- Also known as: American Pekins, Peking Ducks, White Pekin Ducks, German Pekins, and Long Island Ducklings.
- Mild flavored meat is the most popular commercially raised breed in the United States.
- Dual-purpose duck breed
- Heavy weight class
- Matures quickly
- Produces mostly dark meat
- Pekin ducks mature to butcher weight by the time they are six weeks old when they weigh roughly six pounds.
- Jumbo Pekins – a variation on the breed, weigh between 9 ½ to 11 pounds at 12 weeks old.
- Pekin duck meat has a lot of fat to the surface that can then be rendered and used in other recipes.
- Pekin ducks lay between 225 and 300 extra large eggs per year, definitely earning them a solid dual purpose duck breed ranking.
- Pekin hens are excellent layers but lousy sitters. To keep producing more meat birds and sustain flock levels you will need to invest in an incubator.
- Ducks of this breed are superb foragers and should supply at least half of their daily dietary needs during all but the winter months – when they will still forage for some of their food.
- Also known as: Moulard Ducks, Magret Ducks, and Mule Ducks..
- Meat may boast more robust flavor than Pekin.
- Moulard duck meat offers large cuts.
- More surface fat from Moulard than Muscovry ducks.
- Moulard ducks are the sterile offspring resulting from the mating of a Pekin hen and a Muscovy drake.
- Moulard ducks are second in meat duck popularity only to the Pekin in the United States and are often the meat duck of choice in Canada and France.
- Since these ducks will not reproduce, you will be forced to carefully breed only Pekin hens with Muscovy drakes – separating out ducklings of the wrong breeding sex as soon as you can destinguish their gender.
- Also known as: Barbary Ducks
- Muscovy meat has less fat than Pekin and boasts a strong flavor. Breast meat from a Muscovy duck has roughly 50 percent less surface fat than Pekin breast meat.
- Large cuts of meat can be harvested from this popular meat duck breed.
- This Mexico duck breed is the most popular meat duck in its home country and throughout both Central and South America.
- Muscovy meat is about 99 percent lean, making it a very healthy choice of protein.
- This meat duck breed cannot quack. They make oly a low hissing type sound, making them an exceptionally quiet breed to keep.
- Muscovy ducks are not dual purpose like Pekin because they are poor egg layers.
- This meat duck breed will forage when free ranging but does not typically succeed at finding enough food on their own to fulfill half of their daily dietary needs.
- Popular backyard and small homestead meat duck in the United Kingdom
- Aylesbury ducks produce a white meat that is both packed with flavor and tender.
- The Aylesbury duck breed have population numbers in “vulnerable” levels so finding breeders or ducklings of this quality meat duck breed may be difficult.
- It takes roughly 7 to 9 weeks for members of this duck breed to mature to butcher weight.
- Once fully mature, a drake usually weighs around 10 pounds and a mature hens weight approximately nine pounds.
- Aylesbury ducks are decent egg layers and below average sitters. They should not be considered a dual purpose bird.
- Members of this duck breed are excellent foragers and can find about two thirds of their daily dietary needs while free ranging.
- Rouen are not a dual purpose duck breed, but they are close. The hens are above average layers and fairly decent sitters.
- Members of this French duck breed are similar in color to Mallard ducks and are often mistaken for them. Rouen ducks are actually a bit larger than their wild counterparts.
- Rouen duck meat has a high fat percentage that floats to the surface and can be used to make some very delicious noodles or rendered for other culinary uses.
- Rouen ducks are good foragers and highly regarded for their hardy disposition.
- Mature Rouen hens typically weigh 5 to 7 pounds once they reach maturity.
- A mature Rouen drake commonly weighs between 8 and a half to 10 pounds.
- It takes about 14 to 21 days longer for a Rouen duck to hit butcher weight than it does Pekin ducks.
- Ducks of this breed are known to be fairly quiet and docile.
When raising meat ducks it is essential that the poultry birds garner enough protein in their diet to meat or exceed the anticipated butcher weight in the desired time frame.
Feeding some type of waterfowl or poultry bird feed to supplement the natural protein garnered when foraging for food while free ranging is going to be essential to healthy and proper weight gain in most circumstances. Poultry bird feed commonly found at agricultural retailers like Rural King and Tractor Supply are fine to feed to duck meat birds – with the exception of ducklings. Always ONLY feed ducklings non-medicated chick starter and not medicated – components in this type of feed can be harmful to ducks.
I strongly recommend using a game bird feed when supplementing foraging due to its high protein percentage. If the meat birds are being wintered over, which will need to happen with your breeders to continue the flock (unless you want to buy all new birds in the spring) increasing protein take when foraging opportunities are at their lowest is also important.
The only additional work that keeping ducks for meat, eggs, or both could entail in reference to chicken husbandry, is the need for a water feature if the birds are not going to be butchered at six weeks old. Keeping the ducks healthy so they produce meat and eggs you want to feed your family requires the same coop cleaning and disinfecting routine. I have never had a problem keeping ducks, chickens, and guineas together. But, I would highly recommend against adding turkeys or pheasants into the same coop and run due to the size and hardiness differences between the various types of poultry birds.