Saturday, 27 February 2016


Unless there is a significant change, we have managed to get through the winter only feeding three small bales of hay to the sheep. They get the occasional titbit too, but on the whole they have completely looked after themselves. The grass has kept on growing and as they are hardy Shetland sheep they seem quite able to survive on this, even though everyone says it has less goodness in it at this time of year.

But responding to a chance advert for eight free bags of sugar beet pellets (an extra treat, especially for the four ewes who are all beginning to look decidedly pregnant) led to more than I bargained for.

The advert continued... also home required for three pairs of Muscovy Ducks. The last time I came across Muscovy Ducks was when I stayed on a forest smallholding in Latvia. They had a sizeable flock free-ranging and their owner was full of praise for their merits as smallholding stock.
Muscovy Ducks are not related to all the other farmyard ducks which come from the humble Mallard. Instead they are tree-ducks, somewhere in fact between a duck and a small goose.
I quickly typed in 'rearing Muscovy Ducks' and found out that they are supposedly delightfully quiet and amiable birds to keep. They are polygamous, usually with one male looking after about five or six females (so not really pairing up as the advert said)  and they are very prolific. They also reportedly taste very nice indeed.

The ducks that we already have, five black Cayugas and one white duck, are not tremendously productive. We get eggs from them, but not a huge number. We have bred them, but if we let the ducks do the rearing we do well to get a couple of new birds in a year - not a great contribution to the table. In fact, two of the Cayugas need to 'go' soon as they are last year's offspring.

I made a phone call and it was agreed that we would take two 'pairs' of Muscovy Ducks, the older pair staying put to keep a peacock company!
We loaded the cat carriers into the car and made the journey across the fens to meet a delightful couple who have been smallholders for many, many years. We had arranged to arrive just as the ducks would be getting put to bed, as catching birds is far easier when they are penned and at roost.

I had read to beware of their claws, for being tree ducks they actually have clawed feet for clinging to branches. I had also read to beware of their other defence mechanism - a quick squirt from the back end!!!
As it was, these were not too much of a problem. The claws were certainly nothing compared to a cockerel's spurs.
But what the literature never alluded to was their Herculean strength and their ability to wriggle free! I guess because they are strong fliers, the Muscovies really were difficult to hold on to. You never want to use too much force but a very strong grip was certainly needed.

When we got the four birds home we put them straight into a couple of ducks houses. We didn't want them flying straight off.

I had spent the day extending the heras fencing compound in which we keep the trio of meat chickens. This would give the Muscovies a safe area in which to forage and get used to their new surroundings, but if they wanted they would easily be able to fence hop and go wandering (or flying) around the farm.

First contact.

The two drakes

The two ducks - stronger fliers than the drakes
So, a week later, the Muscovies seem to have settled in very well. They really are quiet and gentle creatures. They nod enthusiastically to greet each other and the males make a soft but not unfriendly hissing noise when approached. They pretty much ignore the three chickens. Three of them have taken to roosting up on the chicken fence, the heaviest male prefers for the moment to save the effort and go into one of the houses.

This morning, for the first time, I found three of them exploring a little further than the chicken pen - they were waddling around in with the sheep. They seem to have made friends with the female turkey too.
With a bit of luck, one or both of the females will start laying - there's a chance they'll disappear for a while and hopefully return with a gaggle of ducklings in tow. Although we took the four Muscovies on the understanding that they would not be for the pot, their offspring most certainly will be. I look forward to giving you my first cook's review.


  1. My Mum had a pet Muscovy Duck called Bill when she was young (she was very lucky to grow up on a smallholding), she said he was very intelligent and he thought he was a dog; she taught him to 'sit' and 'rollover', I thought she was pulling my leg but before my Grandad passed away a few years ago he told me about Bill too! I'll watch out for you teaching yours tricks haha! Emma

  2. What a lovely story, Emma. I've got more chance teaching the dogs to quack and fly!!

  3. Could happen John! I look forward to hearing more about your Muscovies :-)


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