Delightful Ducks

Reader Contribution by Lisa Richards
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One of my favorite chores of the day is bringing water to our flock of Saxony ducks.

It really doesn’t matter what else is going on that day, but there’s going to be a few minutes of absolute pleasure when the ducks get fresh water, no matter what the weather.

When the weather is nice, I fill up a little wading pool for them every morning. We have other spots for them to swim, but I guess because this is the pool I used when they were ducklings, they like this one the best. They are so funny. They love to get right into the stream of water, and much merriment is had by all. Quack quack quack! We have both geese and dogs that would also like to play the game, but I make sure the ducks get some uninterrupted pool time of their very own. They are pretty wimpy, and easily scared away. I often turn over a bucket and sit with them for a few minutes. It’s such a lovely way to start my day.

Ducks are fantastic at foraging for their own food. I love to watch them strip the seed heads off of grasses and weeds. They love bugs best of all, though. Every new puddle that appears is going to have ducks looking for bugs in it. When the weather is warm, we put out solar lights in their paddock. The bugs flock to the lights and the ducks gorge themselves on the feast. In the evening, they start to congregate around the lights, giddy with anticipation. They’ll tap tap tap on the lights — can we get some service here please?! We sit out in our gazebo on warm summer nights and laugh at their impatience. It really cuts down on our grain bill.

Ducks are great egg layers. They lay early in the morning, very reliably. Duck eggs are fantastic for baking, making things rise higher than you can imagine, with a great texture. I also like to make maple custard with duck eggs and our very own maple syrup. Yum! I use duck eggs in homemade pasta, and because they are bigger than chicken eggs, I tend to use them for lunch rather than breakfast. A poached duck egg on left-over brown rice is the perfect fast lunch when I’m really busy.

Duck meat is just plain delicious. For special occasions, I will roast the whole duck, very simple and easy. But for a regular meal, I often split the duck into quarters and do something different with each part. There’s a lot of dark meat on a duck, which I love. I make stock with the carcass and make all sorts of Asian-inspired soups. Every year on our wedding anniversary, we take a couple of our ducks (one for us, one for the chef) to our favorite Chinese restaurant, where they prepare Peking Duck for us. That crispy skin is something I look forward to all year long!

Let’s not forget the duck fat! Duck fat is something quite special. It’s so easy to render. I do mine in a slow cooker, on low, overnight. I just strain it in the morning into a glass jar. Liquid gold! It gets pure white after it’s cooled off. My very favorite thing to do with duck fat is to simply fry potatoes in it. It’s so tasty. I keep meaning to do other more fancy things with it, but once I have a batch and do some potatoes, we just keep wanting to do it that way until it’s all gone. Freshly dug potatoes and duck fat is a marriage made in heaven.

We first tried Pekins because we were attracted to how quickly they would reach slaughter weight. But we turned out not to like them at all. The ducks laid their eggs any old place and searching for eggs every day got old really quickly. The only two duckling that hatched were two that got stuck under one of my turkey hens. The drakes were horrid – mean and nasty. They actually killed many girls by opening up wounds on their necks during mating. I had one who would rape a goose sitting on her eggs. We quickly got rid of all of them.

So we looked for a better breed, ones with good broodiness and mothering, a calmer disposition, drakes who were nice, reliable egg producer and tasty meat. Saxony ducks fit the bill! As an added bonus, they are also gorgeous. I like that you can tell the boys from the girls by color at a fairly young age. (Trying to find a drake feather on a young Pekin duck was almost impossible, and the ideal slaughter age is about 7 weeks.) The Saxony ducks are quite hardy, not bothered by the cold or the heat. They are listed as critical on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and we are happy to help preserve this fantastic breed. We got our ducklings originally from Holderread Waterfowl Farm.

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