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Permaculture Animal: Muscovy Ducks

ducks
ducks
ducks
ducks

Clockwise from above left: Muscovy ducks foraging in the grass; Muscovies living beneath fruit trees; Muscovy ducks in a netted orchard with paddling pool behind; Mother duck with freshly hatched chicks; Female black muscovy with distinctive marking around the eyes. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

ducks

Muscovy ducks are a popular animal in many permaculture systems as they perform multiple functions, especially in the orchard or food forest. They are also a pleasure to watch waddling around the garden.

Muscovies come in a range of colours from all white, all black, black and white, black with green feathers, and brown and white. They have a distinctive appearance with a bright red mask around their eyes and beak, which is more pronounced in the male.

Muscovies are quiet ducks, which makes them a great fit for residential areas. Instead of quacking, the males make a hissing sound.

Functions In A Permaculture System

Muscovies are one of the few breeds of ducks that eat bugs, grass and fallen fruit, which makes them the perfect animal for an orchard or food forest. Eating the grass helps to control the weeds, although they do struggle to keep up with kikuyu. By eating bugs they help to keep down pest populations, and by eating fallen fruit they help manage fruit fly and other diseases.

Their appetite for fruit doesn’t stop at what’s already on the ground either – they will fly up and eat the fruit directly from the tree, usually just before it’s ripe, so either take them out of the orchard when your trees are fruiting, or clip their wings.

Muscovy eggs are great for baking as they are quite stiff and rich. The eggs are much larger than a chicken egg with a whiter, harder shell. Muscovies also make good meat birds if you are so inclined, and will be ready for the table around 10–12 weeks.

Feed

Muscovies eat a varied diet of grass, weeds, plants, fruits and bugs but will also benefit from some sort of grain. You can supplement their diet with grain or pellets specifically made for ducks. However, some people argue that given the right conditions with a good range of food sources, the ducks can easily survive on what they forage.

If you are feeding them grain, put it in some sort of container, so they aren’t eating their food off the ground amongst their droppings, as this can cause disease.

Water

Muscovies love water. They need to be able to get their nostrils right under the water to clear out their nasal passages. Although a duck pond is preferable, they are just as happy with a small paddling pool, like the ones you can buy for kids. If their pool is moved around from tree to tree in an orchard and emptied out onto the tree, the poo-infested water will feed the plants. The water needs to be changed regularly though to avoid disease.

Housing

Muscovies like to roost. They need shelter and a place to hide as they are vulnerable to predators such as foxes. They don’t need the same sort of housing as chickens though. They can be quite happy under low-lying fruit trees or any bushes they can get beneath in order to feel secure and safe. If you have housing for them it will need to be cleared out regularly as they poo a lot and it gets messy quickly.

As lovely as it is to see Muscovies wandering around the garden, their poo is very sloppy and quite abundant! They have a penchant for pooing on the doorstep, so it’s best to keep them away from the house.

Breeding

Muscovies generally make good mothers. They will lay one egg a day and once they have laid their clutch of eggs (8–10 eggs), they will sit steadily. They will come off at intervals to eat and bathe. Make sure their nest is sheltered and safe from predators.

After approximately 35 days the eggs will hatch. It is best to separate mother and babies from the rest of the flock, to keep the babies safe from drakes. The babies also need protecting from any sort of predators, including cats, birds and foxes. Once they reach 4–6 weeks they are safe to join the rest of the flock.

Companions

Muscovy ducks like to live with others, so having at least one other duck will be enough, but three or four is ideal.

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