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Rare Breeds: The Cayuga Duck

Photo by Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins

The Cayuga duck breed may have originated in South America, but was first ‘discovered’ on Lake Cayuga in New York state around the mid-1800s. It is thought to be a hybrid between an American black duck and a mallard. It is medium weight – the drake weighs up to three and a half kilograms, the duck up to three kilograms – and cannot fly. Its beautiful black plumage has a bottle-green sheen in the sunlight. It has a black bill and black legs.


They are fast growing, and great for egg laying and meat production, and ornamental purposes. Cayuga ducks lay eggs at change of seasons such as at end of winter/spring and summer/ autumn. Incubation is twenty-eight days.

They are very docile, being content to forage close to the house. Unlike some ducks, Cayuga are not very noisy so are good in a smaller domestic situation.


Housing Cayuga, and ducks in general, can be a challenge as they are very messy around water. It isn’t long before a yard is completely turned from green grass or garden to mud city! So, do not house them with chickens. A duck’s immune system is far hardier than any other birds.

They require fresh water to be provided at least three times a day in hot weather. They don’t really need a pond to breed on, and are quite successful breeding on the ground. Movable tractor housing with just a few ducks is okay, but more of a challenge with larger numbers as the watering detail and efforts to keep their areas clean would be all consuming.

The best way to keep them is in a protected yard where they can be locked up at night away from predators, and then only allow them to free-range in areas where they will be most useful. Ducks are easy to train: just muster them to where you want them on the same pathway, and they will start to do this on their own in a short amount of time.


If they are working all day in the garden or paddock, ducks will forage for any insects, spiders or snails. They do this by burrowing their bills under the grass, leaf matter or directly into the soil. In orchards they will clean up fallen fruit and help to control some pests.

A little supplementary feeding daily, of wheat and poultry pellets, provides a balanced diet. They will be particularly hungry when laying eggs and moulting, when higher protein intake is needed. Be prepared for this, it will drives you nuts!


During breeding season, only pair up the ducks that you want drakes to mate with, and separate the rest of the females from the males. Keep them separate until young are born. Drakes will be very persistent in pursuing the ducks on a daily basis, and I have known some ducks to perish this way.

Cayuga are very rewarding and beautiful ducks to have in the garden or on the farm. They are also great with children.


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