How We Care For Them
Pond and Pasture
Our ducks, geese and turkeys are unfenced and fancy-free, roaming among our pond, pasture and outbuildings. Thanks to our guardian dog Moon, they don’t have to worry about predators.
The ducks spend the day swimming their pond, sitting by the roadside or foraging with the geese and turkeys in the grass. When they’re ready to lay their eggs, they get to choose: either the tiny duck-sized A-frames overlooking the pond, or the bath house down by the blueberry patch. That’s a two-story shed we built on an old concrete pad, once the foundation for a farmhand’s outbuilding.
The geese are the real roamers of the farm. They hang out by the pond, visit the turkeys, wander down to the pasture to eat the new grass…
Our turkeys are also free. They don’t always think it through when they want to leave their paddock, though. A turkey tom will walk the fence, ruffling up his feathers at the goose on the other side, never seeming to get it through his tiny head that if he really wants to rumble, he’d have to go just a little… bit… farther… to that open gate over there.
At night, the whole crowd roosts in the poultry barn, an 18×8′ shed with a place for everyone. Turkeys climb a ramp and enter through an open window, where they have fresh air and a view, too. Ducks, geese and a few miscellaneous chickens prefer to sleep downstairs.
MEET OUR TURKEYS
The Bourbon Red is a heritage breed from Kentucky, originally called “Bourbon Butternut.” It’s a great table bird with lots of lean, tender meat and a rich, tasty flavor – but as the broad-breasted varieties began to dominate the commercial market, its popularity declined.
Still, there’s no question that the Bourbon Red is better adapted to forage, breed, set, brood and (in so doing) survive. Plus, it tastes better. And it’s handsome! As a result, Bourbon Reds have begun to make a comeback, especially in the Slow Food Movement: a great choice for the backyard as well as the dinner table.
Another heritage breed, this one from Rhode Island, Narragansetts descend from the wild American and domesticated European turkeys. Notable for their foraging abilities, these birds need very little food to supplement their diets when they have the space to roam. They’re also prolific breeders, and capable mothers. They have a calm disposition, and like Bourbon Reds, they’re also better tasting than your average commercially available Thanksgiving bird.
Narragansetts likewise faced a drop in popularity as the more modern, less adapted breeds became mainstream. Since then, though, they’ve happily carved a niche in the market for themselves once again. A sustainable, thoroughly American bird, Narragansetts are a wonderful “family farm” turkey.
MEET OUR GEESE
CHINESE WHITE, CHINESE BROWN
Chinese Geese are great foragers and good layers. When well socialized, they make good pets; they also make a lot of noise if anything suspicious is afoot – they’re excellent “watchdogs.” If you manage it right, you can even put them to work as weeders.
Fast-growing, graceful and blue-eyed, Embdens lay well, and they make a great table bird too. They’re tall, heavy geese with protective instincts, sometimes even able to fight off a predator.
Meet Our Ducks
Pekins are a great breed for both eggs and meat. Descended from China’s Mallards, they originally lived in the canals of Nanjing. Back then, they were small, black ducks, but when the capital of China relocated to Beijing, traffic in the canals increased, more grain spilled, the ducks grew bigger on their new diet, and over time they turned white, too.
Most of the time, if you’re eating duck in the US, you’re eating Pekin. They’re also popular pets, too, though. When a Pekin duckling is socialized for human companionship, it’ll get attached to you in much the same way as will a dog: a smart, loyal, lifelong friend.
Called after the black-and-white corvid of the same name, Magpie Ducks have starkly vivid, black and white plumage. They’re hardy, high-strung, highly motivated foragers – quite good at filling their bellies from the grass, bugs, seeds, slugs and pond life they can dig up.
More to the point, they lay big eggs. A lot of them. Blue ones.
They make gourmet-quality meat, too. Far less common than the Pekin, they’re also kind of rare: a unique addition to a duck flock.
Native to the wetlands and forests of Mexico, Central and South America, the Muscovy is a distinctly American duck – originally domesticated by indigenous peoples.
Black with white wings and a naked red face, Muscovies are pretty interesting to look at. They’re also surprisingly suited to frosty climes, given that they’re basically a tropical bird. Another surprising thing: “Muscovy” means “from Moscow” (not a shred of truth there). This may be a corruption of the word “Muisca,” a Native American nation in present-day Columbia, a place from which Muscovies do indeed come.
Their meat is lean, tender and very flavorful, they’re quiet (“quackless”) ducks, and they make good layers.
Here’s a hybrid duck introduced by Metzer Farms, attempting to combine the prolific egg-production of the Campbell duck with the calmness of other breeds. It worked. 300s are more easygoing than Campbells. Add to that, they’re more fertile, their eggs are bigger, and they lay more of them.
Speaking of which, the eggs are really tasty: definitely different than a chicken’s in flavor, but good. And they fluff up beautifully when baking.
Ah, the penguin of the duck world. Tall, upright and quick, you won’t catch these ducks waddling.
Runners love to swim, they love to run and they’re good foragers. They lay well too, but their mothering abilities are questionable: a Runner will drop her egg where it lands and simply move on.
The breed originated in Indonesia, and it comes in many colors. As for the quietness of this duck, interestingly, the females may quack, but the drakes only whisper.