By Tasha Greer
Despite being named for the Muscovite training company, with ties to the Moscow area, Muscovy ducks are truly Native Americans. As non-migratory birds, their first overseas journey happened when Christopher Columbus carried them to Spain on the Santa Maria. Yet, they were intensively bred as a meat source by indigenous Americans long before (and after) Europeans discovered their existence.
Today, this large breed goes by many names depending on the preparation. The French cross Muscovy ducks with Pekins to make the “Moulard” used for foie gras and Magret duck breasts. Other cultures market them as the Barbary duck, renowned for their plump, lean, richly flavored carcasses.
Whatever name you call them, this productive breed is enjoyed by five star restaurants and epicurean homesteads around the world.
Muscovy ducks have been domesticated for hundreds of years. Yet, even the most domesticated lines retain many wild qualities. They can fly, fend off predators, and forage voraciously. That’s what makes them such terrific homestead ducks.
In wetlands and diverse grasslands, they can feed themselves entirely. In large, protected runs, you can cut feed costs by supplementing their diet with foraged leafy greens, garden leftovers, and insect treats.
Plus, female Muscovy ducks almost universally go broody and make good mothers. That means they can brood and raise a homestead meat supply with very little help from you.
Unfortunately, these qualities have made them feral pests in many locations. Some places even regulate keeping Muscovy ducks as livestock due to their prolific reproductive capacity. Check with your local aquatic or agricultural authorities before you bring them home!
Muscovy Breed Characteristics
If you are allowed to keep Muscovy ducks where you live, then you’ll want to know about some of their distinctive features. The thing which most distinguishes Muscovy ducks from Mallard-type ducks in appearance is their creepy caruncles.
Now, I know some people think the appearance of those red, rubbery, globby looking caruncles is creepy. But I actually mean that their caruncles creep. They start first around their eye and bill area. Then they expand across more of their face as they age.
On males, the caruncles thicken and get significantly larger in the face area. Non-dominant males, who are often beaten up, develop large red globs on the back of their necks. These are a natural response to repeated injury and act like armor to protect repeatedly damaged areas.
Claws, also called talons, are another universal feature of male and female Muscovy ducks. Like birds of prey, their talons grow longer, stronger, and sharper than other domesticated ducks. Watch out for these when processing. Control the legs to avoid being scratched.
Muscovy ducks are considered a heavy weight duck. However, they size up slower than other heavy weights like the Pekins. It can take 4-6 months to get them to a useful harvest weight and more than 8 months to achieve mature size. Muscovy female ducks are also much smaller than the males.
How much do Muscovy ducks weigh?
- Young Drake: 8 lbs.
- Mature Drake: 10-15 lbs.
- Young Duck: 6 lbs.
- Adult Duck: 7-8 lbs.
Note: If you are new to keeping ducks, drakes are male. Female ducks are just called ducks, though occasionally some people call them hens.
Despite long harvest times and smaller-sized females, these ducks remain a preferred meat breed. Here’s why!
Muscovy ducks are best-suited for warm climates. They also spend more time on land than in water. As such, they don’t develop the thick, warming belly fat that’s common to Pekin ducks and other meat breeds.
Additionally, even at full weight, Muscovy ducks still fly. To maintain that flight capacity, these birds have lightweight bones and extra-large muscles.
This all means that when you do harvest them, more of their final weight is lean muscle mass compared to what you get from other duck breeds. It’s that high meat/low waste ratio that makes them so desirable for meat production.
Plus, that lean meat has dark red color. It’s also denser in texture and richer in flavor than other duck. Many people think it has more similarity to a good Wagyu beef steak than to poultry.
That large muscle mass also means, pound for pound, Muscovy ducks are stronger than other duck breeds. You need to restrain them quickly and completely during processing or they can use their sturdy wings and powerful breast muscles to escape your grip or back out of kill cones.
That strength also gives them power to escape large predators and fly away. These ducks aren’t predator proof. But I’ve watched them fight their way out of direct attacks from raccoons and large dogs and get to safety.
Muscovy ducks are seasonal layers. They generally start in February and will lay through August. However, they don’t consecutively lay during that whole period. They often lay 15-20 eggs, then become broody. Even if you don’t let them sit a nest, they will stop laying for several weeks before starting back up again.
The best egg production I’ve had from a Muscovy is 80 eggs in one year. Normally though, 45-60 is more typical. Their eggs range from white to slightly gray. They are also rounder than other duck eggs.
The yolk to white ratio is also slightly higher and the white albumen is thicker than other duck egg. This likely relates to those eggs taking 35 days, 7 days longer than other duck eggs, to hatch.
The American Poultry Association (APA) has accepted four Muscovy breed varieties into their Standards of Perfection (SOP): Black, Blue, Chocolate, and White.1 For the first three colors, feathers must be at least 50% of that variety color, and preferably more to meet the breed standard. For White Muscovy ducks, the feathers must be 100% white to qualify.
Non-accepted, but commonly found colors also include Lavender and Piebald. Additionally, wild Muscovy ducks are nearly all black.
Muscovy ducks with darker feathers also tend to have darker skin. As such, the white color is preferred for commercial meat processing.
I have to preface this section by telling you that I’m partial to Muscovy ducks. They are the most intriguing, self-sufficient poultry that I keep. That said, not everyone finds them as amiable and fascinating as I do. Many people consider them nuisances or even pests.
Muscovy males have regular and violent battles over territory, food, and females. These can go on for minutes to hours if there’s no clear winner. Plus, they often bump into things and cause damage in the process.
Muscovy female ducks are fierce mothers. They will even fight off predators to protect their eggs and young. It can be downright dangerous to collect their clutch of eggs if you allow them to become broody. It’s best to wait until they are away from the nest to do it.
On the upside, this is what makes them capable of hatching and successfully raising broods as large as 15 ducklings at a time. Also, when not being territorial or broody, these expressive ducks are adorable and entertaining.
They use hissing sequences, head bobbing, and bottom wiggling to conduct complex communications about their needs and opinions. They are also very curious and attentive to the people who feed them.
Caring for Muscovy Ducks
Muscovy ducks can care for themselves if given enough space and safe places to escape predation. However, they can also be used on protected pasture and even in confinement if you provide them supplemental duck feed.
Muscovy ducks prefer warm conditions most of the year. However, they are noted as being cold hardy down close to 0°F. Some people have kept them as low as -20°F.
In my North Carolina climate, they sometimes show stress when temperatures remain below 20°F for several nights. As such, I recommend winter protection and deep litter in colder climates.
All ducks require water deep enough to bath in. This is necessary for feather grooming, eye-cleaning, and general good hygiene. However, Muscovy ducks don’t require as much water as most other ducks breeds.
Their feathers aren’t waterproof for as long as most other ducks. As a result, Muscovy ducks tend to spend less time in the water and more time on the shoreline preening.
In cold weather, their feathers are prone to icing. They often forego deep water baths altogether in cold conditions. Plus, it’s harder for them to fly if their wings ice, which makes them predator prone in freezing weather.
Muscovy ducks appreciate warm water buckets on cold days. Plus, like all other ducks, make sure to provide water any time they have access to feed to prevent choking risks.
When allowed to free range, Muscovy females like to roost high. They often roost in tall tree branches like peafowl. Males tend to prefer lower roosts or to sleep pond side. If you are keeping these ducks in enclosed runs or coops, low roosts or a cozy cubby area with thick litter is ideal to prevent injury and provide a sense of security.
Muscovy ducks are ground nesters who prefer to find a secluded, covered space away from the flock to sit nests. They then usually bring the ducklings back to the flock area shortly after hatching. Muscovy mothers who turn broody without hatching often jump in to co-parent young ducklings.
Muscovy drakes are competitive, large, and big eaters. Generally, when they reach mature size, you’ll want to process them as a meat source. In confinement, a good drake will service 10 females easily. When free-ranging, you may need 1 drake for every 6-7 females.
Muscovy mating is seasonal. Ducks willingly allow drakes to mate with them when they are laying. They lay down submissively for the few minutes it takes for the male to stimulate themselves and make the connection.
Occasionally, Muscovy drakes may mount other non-seasonal duck breeds out of season. Usually, though, even Muscovy drakes only mate in warm weather.
Additionally, Muscovy ducks are a different species than all other duck breeds. When you cross them with other breeds, they will produce sterile offspring, called duck mules or moulards. Certain specialty duck breeders do intentionally cross the Muscovy duck with a Pekin drake to use for making a faster fattening, tastier hybrid. Unless you plan to provide extra care, though, crossbreeding is not recommended.
Muscovy eggs require 35 days of incubation, while other breeds only take 28 days. Other duck breeds or chickens are not ideal nest sitters for Muscovy eggs because they often give up before the eggs hatch out.
When you crossbreed, egg incubation times tend to average out between 31-33 days. Eggs may hatch irregularly over several days or ducklings may hatch too early because of hormonal responses to the other eggs hatching.
Also, Muscovy females will be stressed if drakes from other breeds try to mate them out of season.
Muscovy ducks are naturally broody and usually sit nests in the wild with no need for outside help. However, when they do get off the nest, making food and water easy to find (but not near the nest where it may attract predators), can speed hatch times.
Pros and Cons of Raising Muscovy Ducks
Muscovy ducks aren’t for everyone. They’re also not an easy first choice for those who haven’t raised poultry before. But once you have a little experience with easier to handle breeds, they can be an amazing meat and entertainment source in the right circumstances.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of keeping them.
- Great mothers
- Excellent meat to waste harvest ratios
- Predator resistant when allowed to free range
- Outstanding foragers when allowed to free range
- Able to fly which is problematic for confinement
- Seasonal layers and breeders
- Better when kept separate from drakes of other breeds
- Less domesticated than other breeds
Overall, if you have limited predator pressure and plenty of pasture or wetlands, these ducks can be a perfect choice as a self-sufficient homestead meat source. They can also work well in large runs if you don’t keep drakes from other breeds.
There are a few more things you might find interesting about Muscovy ducks.
Are Muscovy Ducks Healthy?
In general, ducks are renowned for being more disease resistant than chickens or turkeys. Even lethal viruses seem to roll off them like… well, like water off a duck’s back.
But that’s not entirely true for Muscovy ducks. Particularly in warmer, southern climates they are prone to parasite infestations and some bacterial infections. These infections usually aren’t life-threatening and aren’t typically zoonotic.
Can you sex Muscovy ducks by sight?
With some chickens and a few ducks, you can sex newly hatched chicks and ducklings by their feather color. For Muscovy ducks, you can sex ducklings by weight at birth.
You won’t be able to see the size difference, but if using a calibrated scale, males will consistently weigh about 1/10th more than females in the same hatch. After a few days of them eating and growing, you’ll be able to notice visible size differences too.
Are Muscovy ducks quiet?
Many people refer to Muscovy ducks as the quiet ducks. They don’t quack and so in that respect are quieter than other duck breeds. But what they lack in loudness, they make up for in expressiveness and activity. They also have a raspy, screeching sound they use to express a desperate need (like asking for food while they are broody).
Can you confine Muscovy Ducks?
Muscovy ducks make great free range or large run ducks. But you can also keep them as pet ducks in confinement similar to chickens. I recommend clipping both wings if you do. They will easily fly over 8-foot fences, roost in rafters, and can possibly hurt themselves flying into things if you don’t ground them in small spaces. Also just clipping one wing, as is typical for chickens, won’t ground all Muscovy ducks.
Bringing Home these World Class Gourmet Ducks
If you decide Muscovy ducks are right for you, be prepared for one last challenge. Though they are an incredible meat breed, they are the most adorable ducklings, will bond easily to human caretakers, and can also make great pets.
Particularly the females, seem to steal your heart with their sassy stares, natural curiosity, and intense communication styles. They also have this sweet way of looking at you like you are the most interesting thing in the world. This makes processing more difficult.
My solution to this dilemma is to keep a small breeding flock as protected pets. I process their offspring drakes when they start to become irritating. And I usually end up donating my extra females to friends in our rural area who just want pet ducks for company. As long as there are no drakes around, the females can’t reproduce.
Considering to add a domestic duck breed to your homestead? Check out Top 10 Domestic Duck Breeds in the US
Learn more: What Nobody Tells You About Raising Ducks
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