Ducks and Geese
My first efforts to raise waterfowl began because I loved the duck I got in expensive restaurants, but could not seem to produce an equivalent dish at home. I am a good cook, so I was sure it was not my failings. I finally decided it was the difference between what the restaurants could buy from suppliers and what I could get at the supermarket. When I read a book about the particular breeds and methods of rearing duck for the commercial market in the United States, versus France, for example, I figured it out. Americans like cheap food. The duck you can raise to a profitable market weight cheaply, is inclined to be fat and greasy when cooked, and to lack good flavor. The great tasting, lean stuff takes a little more time and money to raise. That is perfectly acceptable to an expensive restaurant. It is acceptable to me, too. I cannot compete with a supermarket chain when it comes to price. The commercial breeders and supermarket chains cannot compete with me when it comes to taste.
The same breeds can result in a radically different product when treated differently. Most of the duck available to you in the average store has been raised in a closed building, whether reared in summer or winter. They depend exclusively on grain-based feeds. Their living conditions are better than commercially raised broiler/roaster chickens, but not by much. When permitted, the waterfowl will forage all day long, at least when they are not engaged in preening their feathers or resting. They spend more time grooming themselves than my cats, which is saying something. Raised on range, both ducks and geese have better flavor and are leaner than those available in the supermarket, at least the ones I can find.
The Pekin ducks we raise are not much different in genetics from those raised commercially. What differs is the method. They have the advantage of white feathers, which means that they will look when they are cleaned like the absolutely white-skinned ducks you can get in the store.
The Rouen duck is one of the preferred breeds in France, where flavor is generally still more important than price. They have dark feathers and grow more slowly, but the flavor is wonderful and they are still leaner than our Pekins. This is my preferred bird.
We occasionally have a few ducks available of other breeds, including Cayugas, Buff Orpington Ducks, and Khaki Campbells. These are small, but tasty, little ducks. They are the perfect two-person duck, when neither of those persons is particularly concerned about leftovers.
Black Muscovy Ducks
Muscovy ducks merit separate discussion.
First, they are not strictly speaking, a duck. They are distinct from the duck breeds discussed above in that they are not descended from the wild Mallard duck. They originated in South America. They also forage for a much higher proportion of their feed than the average domestic duck. They are calm, quiet and comfortable with being close to humans, as other ducks are not. They can fly, and they sometimes roost on the pasture fence, in the barn rafters, in trees or on my back porch rail.
They come in many colors other than black, and a black Muscovy is not a separate breed. I have labeled them as such so that you remember that they are prone to visible dark pigmentation on the lower leg and occasionally the back.
They are very lean, and as they are constructed somewhat differently from the Pekin or Rouen, they have a higher proportion of breast meat. The females are about the size of a Pekin, or a little larger. The males attain a size that could be confused with a small turkey. They taste great. We have a limited supply as we rely on what our breeding stock produces.
Geese are among the most rewarding of creatures to raise. They forage for themselves and mow the lawn in the process. They raise a fuss when strangers come. Tales of geese attacking dogs, livestock, visitors, and their cars have been grossly exaggerated, although I would not go so far as to claim there was no kernel of truth buried in the folklore. I will say this; they are not mean. They are protective. As they are protective of their babies, as well as of many other things that do not need protecting, you can risk letting them nest where they please and then watch them trot their babies around the yard when they are no more than 12-24 hours of age. It is fun to watch the group parent the young, as they really are a village. All adults in the group combine efforts to protect and raise the goslings. They are pretty good at it.
I raise American Buff geese, which are a rare breed and what is rare as well, of American origin. (Hence the name). I selected American Buffs to keep as breeding stock because they are said to be the calmest and most friendly of all geese. This appears to be true. They hiss when you walk within three feet of them, but they do not bite, and visiting children do not have to be afraid of being chased.
They are indeed buff colored, but have white under-feathers, which make for an attractive carcass. I have also raised White Embden and Toulouse, each of which is fine in its own right. The Buffs are a little smaller than the commercial variety you see in the store, which is usually a White Embden, and a little slower to mature, but they taste heavenly. Personally, I appreciate having a goose of a size that you can cook for 4-6 people, instead of having to wait until you have assembled a small army. This is a product you should probably reserve in advance. If the ladies raise fewer than expected, or you would prefer an army-sized goose, I am more than willing to raise other breeds to fill an order. I will even raise what you specify, within reason and availability.