By Dr. Dennis P. Smith – During the more than 40 years that we have been in business, I must confess that we have hatched and raised several duck breeds. However, absolutely none can compare with the uniqueness, the adaptability, the pure pleasure, and the usefulness of the Muscovy duck. Because many people think that this is a “strange” poultry specimen, I would like to set the record straight. Native to South America, their original name was “Musco duck” because they ate so many mosquitos. The Russian Muscovites were one of the first to import them to their country. Being very hardy, Muscovies are still roaming wild in the South American jungles today. Even here in North America, several states, such as Florida and Georgia, have wild Muscovies. These “wild” Muscovies are responsible for eating literally millions of pests every year. Were it not for them, these states would undoubtedly have more millions of “pests” that like to dine on people.
Muscovies come in several colors. Probably the most numerous is the White. Then there is the Pied (about half black and half white, but actually any Muscovy that has black and white coloring is called a Pied), buff, brown, chocolate, lilac and blue. There are also several other color combinations. We even have some Muscovies that have the feather pattern of a Barred Plymouth Rock. Dark-colored ducks have brown eyes. Whites, lilacs, and blues usually have grey colored eyes. Healthy ducks that have black coloring should have a greenish sheen in the right sunlight.
Muscovies have a “crest” on the top of their heads that they can raise at will. During the mating season, a male sill often raise this crest to fend off other males and claim his dominance. He will also raise this crest to impress the females and help to get them in the “mood” for mating. Muscovies communicate with one another by wagging their tails and raising and lowering their heads at one another.
Muscovies are excellent flying ducks. As a matter of fact, given their preference, they like to roost in trees. If you provide a house or duck shelter for them with “perches” or “roosts,” they will get on these at night. Be careful of the claws on the ducks. They have these to help them cling on to the roost. I have never seen them use these claws to scratch the coil. If you do not want your Muscovies to fly, you can clip off the third section of one wing before the ducklings are one week old. When we do this, we use “Blood Stop Powder,” even though they very seldom bleed very much. While this might seem a bit cruel, it is necessary for people in the commercial Muscovy duck business to do this, otherwise the ducks could all fly off.
Many individuals believe that Muscovies are more of a goose than a duck. For instance, they do not quack. Many people like this trait since they are “quiet” ducks. The males make a “hissing” sound while the females make a sound known as a “pip.” This “pip” is a very exotic sounding call. It is somewhat similar to a flute quickly alternating between the notes F and G. Also, their eggs take longer to hatch than other duck eggs — 35 days. Unlike all other breeds of ducks, Muscovies did not originate from the wild Mallard.
Mature drakes (males) will weigh anywhere from 12 to 15 pounds, while the females (ducks) actually weigh from 8 to 10 pounds. The females are much smaller than the males. Both sexes have what is known as a “caruncle” on their head.
Muscovy eggs are delicious and are used in many dishes prepared by individuals or by famous cooks. Their taste is rich and they are considered a delicacy. And Muscovy meat is one of the healthiest meats on the market today, being 98 percent or greater fat-free. Many people say that the breast meat of a Muscovy is hard to tell from a Sirloin steak. Famous chefs know this and use Muscovy meat in a number of ways. They have become experienced at cutting and preparing the meat for various delicacies. It is even ground up and used as hamburger in a variety of dishes. Individuals who are required to be on a low-fat diet know that the meat is not only great tasting but very nutritious. And, being so lean, meat from the Muscovy duck is not greasy as is the case with other ducks. Some say that the meat tastes a lot like expensive ham. Others say it is hard to tell from other expensive cuts of meat.
So, what do ducks eat … and more specifically, what do Muscovy ducks eat? Once people find out what Muscovies like to dine on, then this duck becomes a must for their farm or estate. Every year, our neighbors complain about the flies and mosquitos that they have to put up with. They purchase lots of chemicals and go to a lot of work to keep these pests down. However, we use nothing except the Muscovy duck itself. Muscovies love to eat flies, maggots, mosquitos, mosquito larva, slugs, bugs of all sorts, black widow spiders, the brown fiddleback spider and any thing else that creeps and crawls. As a matter of fact, they will search in, under, around and through places to find these tasty morsels. They will even eat ants and destroy ant dens. The Heifer Project Exchange of Africa quotes a development worker in Togo reporting that the local people were not bothered by flies because their Muscovy ducks killed them all. They even slaughtered some ducks, opened the crops, and found that the Muscovies had their crops filled with dead flies. The organization ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) has reported the same findings. In addition, a Canadian study of fly controls with dairy goats found that Muscovies caught 30 times more houseflies than commercial flytraps, baits or flypaper. The ducks also ate spilled feed and the flies that were in the feed, along with any maggots that happened to be there. In addition, Muscovy ducks love roaches and eat them like candy.
As for commercial feed, naturally, being a Hatchery, we want to feed a high protein feed. We start babies on a 28 percent Gamebird Starter. We will feed this until the ducks are mature and begin to lay, at which time we will change their feed to a 20 percent Protein Laying Pellet. Young ducks are kept on a restricted diet so that they will be encouraged to look for pests.” Mature ducks, on the other hand, when they begin to drop eggs, have feed before them at all times. This method of feeding helps to increase egg production. Even with feed readily available, the Muscovies continue to search for bugs. On many farms that have Muscovy ducks, about the only feed the mature ducks get is what is spilled in the various pens and in the feed houses. In cleaning this feed up, the Muscovies are making use of a product that would otherwise be wasted, as well as keeping down the mice and rat population that would be likely to eat this feed and multiply.
Some people will tell you that Muscovy ducks are hard to hatch. Actually, we have hatched them for years and have had very good results. The best “incubator,” however, is a Muscovy duck hen. She will lay anywhere from 8-15 eggs and set. (Sometimes more.) Many times, she will hatch every egg. And, she will do this three or four times a year, depending on your climate. In addition, she is one of the best mothers of all.
Many people like to have the Muscovies on their lake or pond. The Muscovies will eat a lot of the algae and weeds. What about their dropping? While it is true that the Muscovy duck, just like other creatures, will “go” when the pain hit, their droppings are a natural part of the ecosystem and are easily biodegrade.
Are Muscovy ducks aggressive? No. As a matter of fact, my children love them. It almost seems that the Muscovies are trying to “talk” when they come up to you, wag their tails like a dog, and look up at you as if to say, “Got a treat?” About the only time a Muscovy male might be aggressive would be toward another male during breeding season. Females will also be “picky” about protecting their young, so we give them their space. So are they nasty? Absolutely not. As stated earlier, their droppings are soft and are very easily biodegradable. We use the manure from Muscovies in our garden every year since it is rich in nitrogen.We even have customers who come to our hatchery and ask to clean out our pens just so they can have the manure. (We do not allow this since we are participants in the State of Oklahoma and the National Poultry Improvement Plan. Not allowing visitors to go into your breeding pens helps to keep down on the spread of disease that visitors might bring to your place.)
Muscovy ducks like to breed with other muscovies. However, if you have a single muscovy male or female, he or she will breed with whatever duck is available. These ducklings are called “mules” because they are sterile and cannot produce offspring. Many people will deliberately cross Muscovies with a Mallard duck and get a Moulard. They use this duck for meat. At Country Hatchery, we do not cross Muscovies with other ducks.
In conclusion, Muscovy ducks are my favorite duck. Each one seems to have his or her own unique personality. We find them interesting to watch, friendly, and just fun to have around the place. If I could have only one breed of poultry, it would be the Muscovy duck.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry October/November 2007 and regularly vetted for accuracy.