Saturday 18 February 2012

Homegrown eggs for better sponge cakes

For a steady supply of homegrown eggs you need a few hens....right? Well, not necessarily. Ducks are more proficient and efficient egg layers than hens. The most highly selected hybrid hens based on the White Leghorn lay 250 - 280 eggs a year but Khaki or White Campbell ducks lay 300+. This is after 60 years of highly scientific selection and breeding of the hen while ducks have been largely ignored. So in my search for a small scale, sustainable poultry production system I am trying some ducks this year and the first batch have just hatched.
They are Khaki Campbells, the best egg layers. They have been known to lay 360 eggs a year and the surplus males are good table birds, so they are a dual purpose utility breed.

Why are ducks more efficient? The eggs are up to 10 per cent heavier and although ducks eat about 20 - 30 per cent more feed they are still more efficient converters of feed than hybrid hens because of the larger number of bigger eggs . On free range they are even more efficient as they forage for grass, insects, molluscs and worms.
Ducks are more resistant to disease, mortality rates are lower and they are hardier. Ducks cope much better with cold, wet weather and need much less elaborate housing and they are easily confined by a two or three foot fence. The clinching argument for some people is that duck eggs make much better sponge cakes.

So why aren't we as a nation eating 11billion duck eggs a year instead of  11billion hen eggs?. Largely because ducks are much more difficult to fit in to large scale,industrial, intensive systems. There is also a lingering  prejudice against duck eggs based on  stories about salmonella and food poisoning during WW2. Studies have shown that duck eggs actually keep longer and stay fresher than hen eggs, especially when refrigerated.

As a smallholder or domestic poultry keeper with some grass, you have a big advantage, ducks aren't at all difficult. They do need more and deeper water to wash their bills and eyes so water has to be changed more often. Ducks soon turn a small pen into a sea of mud, so don't keep them in small pens. Unlike free range hens you will probably have to drive your ducks into their house at dusk and you have to leave them locked up until after 10.00am by which time they will have laid their eggs in the house. If they get out earlier they drop eggs all over the place. There's also a minor culinary drawback to the egg whites; they take longer to whip up into meringues.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article.Good luck with your work.

Anonymous said...

Friends tell me they train their ducks to go in at night ... a food trail into the duck house in the early days plus some coaxing does the trick. Then an electric pophole can be used but on a timer rather as it will need to close well into dusk and, as Tom says, open late after the eggs are laid,.

I'm tempted to add ducks around the pond at the foot of my so-called garden ... bog is a better description.

Kate Atchley said...

Anyone got a very simple design for a duck house for 6 ducks?

Tom Bryson said...

There is an excellent design for a 4'x3'mobile duck house in, "Making Mobile Hen Houses" by Michael Roberts, Golden Cockerel Press 2004. There are usually used copies available on Amazon and Ebay.

Tom Bryson said...

Thank you I'll try that method of getting them in. A bog for ducks sounds perfect, lots of snails, worms etc.