By Holly Fuller – Cayuga ducks are a threatened breed. These beautiful, iridescent, green feathered ducks are great for their flavorful meat, egg production, show quality, and their ability to make great pets. Their medium size (6-8 lbs.) and quiet quack make them an excellent choice for a backyard duck.
Cayugas appear black until the light hits them, then they show their beautiful green color. Their bills, shanks and feet are usually black. As Cayugas age they start to get white feathers, which can eventually take the place of most of their colored feathers, and their shanks and feet may take on an orange hue.
The biggest challenge in Cayuga duck care is thwarting the efforts of their predators, and every backyard has a few. Cats, mink, weasels, raccoons, and owls will all eat ducks if they are given the chance. Cayugas must be brought inside a building or enclosed in a tightly covered pen at night. A raccoon can kill and eat a duck through 1″chicken wire, so the bottom 30″ of fence must be ½” wire to protect them.
Cayugas also need protection from hot sun; shade must be provided when temperatures reach 70° Fahrenheit. They love to swim, so a wading pool is nice as long as the water is kept clean and the surrounding areas are not allowed to get muddy. Ducks can, however, live well when provided with nothing but fresh drinking water; it must be deep enough to cover their bills so they can use it to clear their nostrils. Water needs to be replaced at least twice a week. Cayugas can forage for their own food when given enough space (1/4 acre for five ducks). Where space is limited a commercial duck feed is needed. Ducks need small gravel or coarse sand to help them digest their food.
Well-kept Cayugas produce between 100 and 150 eggs per year. The first eggs of the season are black and lighten to gray, blue, green and even white as the season goes on. Cayugas are hardy and can produce a large quantity of offspring despite cold temperatures. Unlike most duck breeds, Cayugas will brood their own eggs which hatch in 28 days.
Cayugas have a quiet, docile temperament. When they are hand raised, they make wonderful, tame pets. With quality care, they live 8 to 12 years. Cayugas are a welcome, colorful addition to any backyard flock.
Cayuga Article References
- Back to Basics 1981 published by The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks by Dave Holderread
- Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds by Carol Ekarius
The History of the Cayuga Duck
By Jeannette Beranger – The Cayuga duck is an American duck breed that is as beautiful as it is mysterious in its origins. With its striking beetle green color, there are few birds that catch the eye as the Cayuga. According to local lore, this breed was developed from a pair of wild ducks that a miller in Duchess County, New York, caught on his mill pond in 1809. This report as it turns out seems to be historically inaccurate and is actually an accounting of the Gadwall duck as reported in the Birds of America by John J. Audubon in 1843. It is possible that Cayuga ducks could have originated from a population of wild ducks from the region but there is currently no definitive evidence found to substantiate the hypothesis.
Another accounting of the source of the Cayuga duck breed is told by Mr. R. Teebay of Fulwood, Preston, Lancashire, UK in the 1885 publication The Book of Poultry by Lewis Wright. Teebay states that the Cayuga duck resembles (if it was not identical) to an English black duck breed commonly found in Lancashire in the 1860s. He believed that the Cayuga breed may have originated from this stock. He notes that the English black duck had since disappeared in Lancashire as it was replaced in popularity by the Aylesbury duck by the 1880s. His view on the Cayuga’s origin was supported by an unnamed source Teebay references in the book. The source was an acquaintance who hunted and trapped extensively the Cayuga region and was familiar with both domestic breeds. The hunter, having extensive knowledge of the local wild ducks, supported the theory that the Cayuga was derived from the Black duck of Lancashire as opposed to originating from a local wild duck population.
What is certain about the history of the breed is that John S. Clark introduced the ducks he attained in Orange County to Cayuga County in the Finger Lakes region of New York circa 1840. Clark noted at the time that occasionally ducks would develop a “top knot” on their heads. This is further substantiated by Luther Tucker, editor of The Cultivator, in 1851. In the Finger Lakes region Clark’s ducks soon became popular as a table bird and were noted for their ability as layers of numerous eggs. The ducks were named “Cayuga” after the native people of that area. By 1874 the Cayuga duck was accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. The breed was raised in large numbers on duck farms in New York until the 1890s when the Pekin duck came to dominate the duckling market in the big cities.
While ducks do not need a pond, they do need a water source deep enough to submerge their heads to clean their nostrils and eyes. Photo courtesy of ALBC.
On the Farm
The meat of the Cayuga is reputed to be of excellent taste and fine quality but the carcass can be difficult to clean because of their dark feathering. Some resolve this problem by skinning the ducks rather than plucking. Their eggs, which can number up to 150 per breeding season, can be used for general eating and baking purposes. Here’s an interesting egg fact: The whites of duck eggs are usually firmer than the whites of chicken eggs and make delicious rich desserts.
When choosing stock for your farm, a fault to avoid with this breed is small size. These medium class ducks should have males that reach eight pounds and females seven pounds as mature adults. The beetle green color is most striking in young birds and as the bird’s age, white feathers typically begin to appear on the body after they go through their first breeding season. Overall, the Cayuga is an easy keeping docile breed that will be a beautiful addition to any farm.
A special thanks to Jonathan Thompson of Great Britain for helping ALBC bring to light some of the historical inaccuracies surrounding the origin of the Cayuga duck. For more information on the Cayuga contact American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.albc-usa.org.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry April / May 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.