Muscovy are one of two types of domestic duck, all other domestics are what is referred to as 'mallard
derivatives' meaning that they descend from the wild mallard. Muscovy, more or less, have changed little
from their wild counterpart over the years, the most noticeable differences being the much larger size & large
number of varieties currently available. Wild birds are black or dark brown with white wing patches, wing
bows, and throat patch and they are found primarily in Mexico & South America although there recently have
been sightings of wild Muscovy nesting along the Rio Grande in Texas. Feral Muscovy, that is, domestic birds
that have escaped or been turned loose and have become wild, can be found in the southern states and are
often considered nuisances. Domestic Muscovy can be found in over 10 solid-color varieties with two feather
patterns, ripple and barred, as well as pied birds which can be found with any color/pattern and white. The
ability to find certain varieties really depends on location, although with the US Postal Service shipping birds it
is easier now than ever before.
In addition to the varieties noted above, Muscovy also come in two types. The utility bird, the most common
farm-yard Muscovy which is slightly smaller, has moderate caruncling and is often pied, or standard-bred,
those birds bred towards the standard adopted by the American Poultry Association which are typically larger
and possess much more caruncling. The standard calls for heavy caruncling, the more the better. Personally,
I prefer utility Muscovy because there is less emphasis on caruncling and 'beauty' and more on hardiness, self-
sufficiency, and productivity. Of course, ask a breeder who raises standard-bred birds and they'll disagree.
From my own experience, birds I've owned that come from standard-bred lines have more caruncling which
can be rather ugly and unsightly, has no practical purpose, and is very easily frostbitten during winter. I've also
had more incidence of angel wing & more leg problems than I've ever had with my utility flock. Again,
because I want a bird that is hardy and can handle life free-ranging on the farm, I breed towards meeting those
Typically Muscovy are considered a meat breed, often being compared to veal. It is lean, unlike other duck
meat. Another characteristic of the Muscovy is their ability to set and hatch a nest. Muscovy can hatch
anywhere from 1 to 20+ ducklings at a time, two to three times a year. Incubation takes on average 35 days,
and is much more difficult to do artificially than other domestic ducks are. Muscovy ducks (hens) do not lay a
lot of eggs, instead they lay only until their nest is full then they begin to set. Muscovy are incredibly broody
and will spend the entire summer dedicated to either their nest or a clutch of ducklings. If you steal a
Muscovy duck's eggs, she will abandon that nest and seek out another, more suitable (meaning better hidden!)
nest and begin to lay there. They are notorious for being able to hide nests anywhere regardless of how
convenient that location is for you! If a duck can squeeze through it, she can put a nest in it.
I feel that the Muscovy is one of the best all-around ducks for the small farm or homestead, and I know of
many who favor them as pets, as well. As a general rule birds who are raised as ducks and not coddled
excessively tend to be quite personable and entertaining. Often-times drakes who are raised as pets with close
human contact tend to grow up to become aggressive once they reach sexual maturity. This is due to the fact
that they see people as their flock mates and the natural tendency is for drakes to start challenging others to
improve their status in the flock. Because of this, as his flock-mates, the owner is on the receiving end of his
sometimes violent attentions. They will bite, flog, and generally pester you throughout breeding season
when they're hormone-raging. If you have small children this can be quite dangerous not only because of the
size of Muscovy but because of their sharp claws and thick, hard joints on the wing. If you find yourself the
owner of an aggressive Muscovy you might be able to curb this behavior by showing your physical dominance
each and every time it threatens you. While I have not had an aggressive Muscovy, I use 'kick therapy' with
goats or sheep that are aggressive, not only does it provide the pain that they need to feel in order to accept
you as a superior, it also keeps your face away from an aggressive animal. You can also pin aggressive drakes
to the ground and ruffle it's feathers, anything to show him that you are more powerful than he is. Otherwise
this vicious behavior will most likely continue. Preventing aggressive drakes can be as simple as giving them
their space as they're growing which allows them to maintain a certain amount of fear of humans. Giving
birds treats teaches them to trust you and creates a bond with them and is a much better alternative to lap-
Muscovy are also incredibly hardy and not near as messy with water as mallard derivatives are. Muscovy can
forage for a lot of their own food although supplementing this with a good balanced feed is never a bad idea.
The higher quality feed they're fed, the healthier and larger they will be. Birds who forage as the sole source of
food tend to be smaller and are at the mercy of mother nature which means it's possible that they might not
be getting all the nourishment that they're needing.
Muscovy do have a few characteristics that aren't very pleasant. One of the most distressing aspects of owning
Muscovy that I have found is their omnivorous nature. They require more animal protein than mallard
derivative ducks and will eat mice, baby birds, chicks, sometimes even other Muscovy ducklings. The first
time I witnessed this was when an adult Muscovy drake of mine snatched up a bantam chick from a broody &
her clutch. Before I could rescue it he'd killed it and there was nothing I could do. Since that time, I've had to
make sure that I do not allow chicks in the Muscovy pen and pick up ducklings as soon as they're brought
from the nest. In my experience juvenile drakes are the most likely to kill ducklings, although at times some
adult drakes & ducks will do it, too. This need for animal protein is why I like to use a pork-based poultry
premix in my feed and I often recommend people feed cat kibble or hard boiled eggs as a treat.
Another consideration is the Muscovy's incredible strength and their sharp, talon-like claws. Even ducks can
be difficult to manage for a lot of people. Care must be taken when handling Muscovy not only for the safety
of the bird but for the handler as well.
|Muscovy Duck Central © 2006 - 2009
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