By Tasha Greer
Pekin ducks are the most popular duck on the planet. Mild flavor, tender meat, succulent fat, and fast fattening rates make them ideal for meat production. Plus, these large, lovely pond lovers offer lots of other potential benefits too.
With voracious appetites for live insects, and surprisingly good foraging ability for their large size, Pekins are amazing for slug and other pest control around the homestead. They’re good layers of large, decadent duck eggs. Pekins are also easy to herd for rotational grazing.
Last but not least, they make pretty, playful pets with bonus manure benefits.
Pekin duck often gets confused with Peking the city (now called Beijing). The original breeding ducks brought to the US and Europe from China were hatched in Peking and shipped out via Shanghai. However, their breed history likely began in the areas around Nanjing.
Nanjing is a southern Chinese province capital on the Yangtze River. People in that region began domesticating mallard ducks as livestock over 3,000 years ago. In the 1400’s the Ming Dynasty emperor, Zhu Di, moved the capital from Nanjing to the Northern city called Peking.
In the move, he also took an entourage of Nanjing chefs. Legend has it those chefs brought the Nanjing ducks, as well as their ancient and secret cooking preparations, to Peking.
That kicked off the rage for duck meat in Peking. It also ultimately led to a recipe rivalry that lives on in China today between the Northern-style and Southern-style of roasting ducks for dinner.
The Imperial Peking Duck
After a while, those Nanjing ducks became known as the Imperial Peking Duck. They had black feathers and what made them “Imperial” was how they were raised.
They were allowed to free range for 45 days. Then, they were hand fed twice daily to fatten them quickly. This Imperial method is roughly the same process used for fattening ducks for foie gras today.
The Ten Pound Duck
Eventually those black feathered ducks gave way to white feathered ducks, with thinner skin and a more delicate texture. There are no good records of how the breed evolved, but it could have been a natural anomaly exploited through repetitive breeding or the result of out-crossing.
Either way, those white ducks became known as “shi-chin-ya-tze”. That roughly translates to “ten-pound duck”. Those large breed, white ducks were bought in Peking, and shipped out of Shanghai, to Europe and the US in the late 1800’s.
The American Pekin
Once those Peking ducks landed in New York in 1872, they were bred and their offspring spread for use as a meat duck. Just two years later, in 1874, they were accepted into the first edition of the American Poultry Association (APA) standards of perfection.
At that point in history, spelling standards weren’t strictly enforced. The new breed was listed as “Pekin” in honor of where the breed was perfected, rather than the “Peking” spelling standard used today.
Since that time, American Pekins have been bred primarily for meat. They’re fattening speeds and tolerance for confinement have improved. Some strains have also been selectively bred for better egg production and higher hatch rates. Now some breeders are working toward Pekin strains with lower fat to lean meat ratios.
The American Pekin has creamy white plumage, a medium-sized orangey yellow bill and feet, and deep blue eyes. Their unique body shape also makes them easy to distinguish from other white feathered breeds.
The American Pekin has a shoebox body shape, tilted on a 40° angle. Some people believe that American breeders crossed the original Peking ducks with the squattier Aylesbury white meat ducks from the UK to create this unique shape.
Historically, American Pekins were heavily bred and farmed on Long Island, New York and are often called the Long Island ducks as well as Pekins or American Pekins.
The German Pekin
During this same time frame, similar Chinese breeding stock made its way to Europe. That stock likely first went to the UK, then to France, and eventually to Germany.
In Germany, duck breeders had a preference for an upright appearance. They crossed the Chinese ducks with Japanese ducks that came in on Dutch trading ships. The result was a large breed duck similar in size and color to the American Pekin but with the posture of a runner duck.
German Pekins are rare and hard to find. As such, the term “Pekins” usually refers to American Pekins. However, as interest in ducks continues to increase, hopefully we’ll see a revival in German Pekins as well.
Besides the differences in breeding history and posture, German and American Pekins have other differences. American Pekins can lay 150 eggs per year and sometimes more if they come from a laying line. German Pekins are seasonal layers with egg averages of less than 100 eggs per year. German Pekins are also slower to fatten and don’t typically grow as large as American Pekins.
German Pekins also aren’t always white. Other color variations like the Appleyard are available in countries working to restore the German Pekin breed.
Despite their ancestral connections to the “ten-pound ducks” from Peking, modern Pekins don’t normally reach that size. Most are processed at 7-8 pounds, when they are 8-12 weeks old.
How much do Pekin ducks weigh?
- Young Ducks: 7 lbs.
- Adult Ducks: 8 lbs.
- Young Drakes: 8 lbs.
- Adult Drakes: 9 lbs.
(Females are called ducks and males are called drakes).
Today, it’s also common for different lines of Pekins to be used to make hybrid crosses to produce more efficient feed to meat ratios or larger-sized harvestable birds.
Jumbo American Pekins
Jumbo Pekins are created by crossing a very large Pekin Drake with a medium-sized Pekin hen from a laying-focused breed Pekin line. This pairing produces Pekins that are a bit slower to mature but can grow larger than the standard Pekins.
These can weigh 10-12 pounds at time of harvest if you’re willing to wait longer to harvest. Technically, these are a hybrid cross since they will not breed true to type.
Pekin Grimaud Hybrid Ducks
There is also a line of extra-large Pekins referred to as the Grimaud hybrid ducks. Like the Jumbo Pekins, these are made by crossing two different lines of Pekins that come from Grimaud Freres, famous for their highly productive duck breed lines.
These crosses are usually fast to fatten and have good feed to meat conversion ratios. These will also not breed true to type.
Pekins are by far the easiest duck to raise in confinement or in protected rotational grazing systems. I call them the “duck borg” because when Pekins are raised together, they seem to act with one mind most of the time.
It’s also easy to assimilate new ducks in with Pekins, or Pekins into other flocks, as long as they are similar in size. Pekin drakes may fight for position. But the disputes end relatively quickly and usually without bloodshed.
Pekins are easy to herd. They produce copious amounts of wet manure that can be dispersed directly on lawns or under trees and shrubs by moving their water source and food to a new area. They’re perfect for beginners as pets or anyone for meat production not concerned about noise levels.
Caring for Pekins
Pekins require the same care as other ducks, with just a few adjustments related to their faster growth rates.
Pekin ducklings acclimate quickly to their conditions. They will shake when cold and pant when hot. Adjust their brooder climate as necessary to keep them from panting or shaking. Pekins also grow quickly and will outgrow the need for brooders quickly.
Pekin ducklings purposely spread their food and water to create a dabbling zone (like the muddy area around a pond edge). Expect to clean their brooder often to avoid pungent odors.
Healthy Pekin ducklings are also ready to swim as soon as they recover from the hard work of hatching out of an egg. But they’re prone to staying in water too long for safety. Supervise their swim sessions and be ready to warm them up after each dip.
Like all ducks, Pekins of all ages need access to deep water for cleaning their eyes, nostrils, and grooming their feathers.
Pekins can live without access to a deep pond or pool. But they will try to swim or make pools out of any water you give them, including drip systems. If you can offer them a pool deep enough to lift their feet in, they’ll be much happier.
Like all poultry, Pekins need protection from the elements and safe overnight housing. They rarely sleep at night. Instead, they lounge together as a group, watching for predators.
Plan on a few feet of floor room, and lots of litter, to keep them comfortable in duck housing. Alternatively, give them a protected grassy area guarded by electric fencing and livestock guardian dogs at night.
When raising Pekins for meat, a diet of mainly formulated duck feed with 18-20% protein will produce the fastest fattening rates. When raising Pekins for laying or breeding, using feed formulated for their specific stages of development is ideal.
Alternatively, you can use chick starter and transition to using flock raiser and layer feed in accordance with the labels. When using chicken feed, rather than duck feed, you may need to supplement with niacin.
Also, beware that with fast-fattening ducks like Pekins, too little or too much protein at various stages can cause deformities like angel wing. Be careful not to feed your Pekins too many high or low protein treats until they reach reproductive maturity.
Mature Pekins also benefit from extra feed leading up to their molting periods and before winter. But regular overfeeding will lead to health problems and reduced egg production.
Pekins are well-suited to both hot and cold climates. In hot weather, they need continuous access to cool water. They will drink more and bathe more often to keep their feathers wet and cool.
In cold weather, they are hardy below freezing if fully feathered and have good winter fat stores around their belly area. They’ll still need access to fresh water for clearing their eyes, nostrils, and drinking.
If you have a pond with an aerator to keep it from freezing over, Pekins love to warm up in the 33 degree water when air temperatures fall below zero. If you don’t have an unfrozen pond, wind protection and added dry litter in their coop can enhance their comfort.
Female Pekin ducks are very outspoken. They sound off in fear, excitement, and to be let out of their nighttime shelter. Flocks of Pekin ducks also sound off in unison, amplifying the noise level.
There’s no way to make them quieter. So, factor in their noise level when planning housing and forage areas.
Pekin drakes make throat noises but don’t quack. One Pekin drake can service 5 to 8 Pekin ducks. As with roosters too many Pekin drakes will lead to stressed ducks.
The large size of mature Pekins offers them somewhat predator resistant, especially if they spend days on a large deep pond. Their loudness also discourages some predators.
Unfortunately, Pekins don’t fly and run slowly. That means on land, they are “sitting ducks” against fast moving predators like dogs, coyotes, or a weasel with bloodlust. They’re also predated on by birds of prey, especially before they have their mature feathers.
Provide protection for Pekins as you would for chickens.
Even when they are given access to large pasture areas, Pekins stick close together as they forage. This makes them easy to herd. If you can get a few moving, the rest will follow. Training them to follow a feed bucket works exceptionally well with Pekins.
This herd mentality can also lead to stampedes and trampling when Pekins are frightened. Given their large size, it’s better not to keep Pekins in close quarters with lightweight breeds.
Pekin ducks usually start laying between 6-8 months of age. Egg production varies by breed line and can range from 120 to 180 eggs per year.
Their laying levels also fluctuate based on protein availability and given their druthers, they like lower protein food. To ensure sufficient protein, have them start the day with formulated layer feed before letting them out to foraging. Also, allow free access to feed until bedtime.
The broody gene has been bred out of Pekins. However, occasionally, older layers feel an inkling to sit a nest. Collecting eggs often will break the cycle.
If you want to hatch your own Pekin eggs for homestead meat production, consider keeping some Muscovy ducks to sit your Pekin eggs for you.
Pros and Cons of Raising Pekins
If you’re on the fence about whether Pekins are right for you, let me help.
- Amazing Temperament
- Good Egg Production
- Excellent Meat Production
- Easy to herd
- Good foragers
- Beautiful and so much fun!
- Not good mothers
- Heavy breed concerns
Really, if you want ducks, then Pekins are a perfect place to start. Well, that is unless you want heritage breeds, plan to have lightweight ducks also, or don’t like loud duck quacking!
There are a few more things you might find interesting about Pekins.
How can you sex Pekins?
Male and female Pekins are similar in size, shape, and color. But not in sound. As they age, Pekin females quack and males make throat gargling noises.
When they reach sexual maturity, males will grow a curled tail feather, called a drake feather. But by that time, you’ll already know which ducks are male by their lack of quack.
What do Pekin quacks sound like?
Another fun thing to know about Pekin ducks is that when they quack it sounds like an exaggerated laugh. It’s as if they’re saying Ha Ha Ha! That sound, coming from those big boisterous girls really can make it sound like a party all the time on your homestead.
The Possibilities with Pekins
Without question Pekins are the best choice for duck meat production, whether you roast them Nanjing or Peking style. But their other amazing attributes like eggs, that sense of humor that quacks them up all the time, herdability and Imperial beauty make them perfect as pond or pool companions, too!
Considering to add a domestic duck breed to your homestead? Check out this post – Top 10 Domestic Duck Breeds in the US
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