Breed of the Month: Silver Appleyard

This month’s duck breed of the month is the pretty Silver Appleyard, a reasonably rare but brilliant all-purpose duck. Their silver, white, dark green, and claret plumage makes them one of the most attractive and distinctive breeds of duck available.

the_silver_appleyard-12The Silver Appleyard originates from the UK and is named after their first breeder, a Mr Reginald Appleyard who was known as a writer and breeder of domestic waterfowl.

He first developed the breed in the 1930s with the aim of producing the perfect all-round utility duck that would make good eating and also be a prolific layer. They became popular as a pet, exhibition bird, and as “gourmet roasting ducks”.

The breed was made available to the American public in the 1980s but never really gained much support. A 2000 census in the United States found that there were only 128 breeding Silver Appleyards in North America, with only 5 breeders keeping the breed.

The modern Silver Appleyard is a “heavy” variety of duck, weighing between 6-8lbs when fully grown, but is unfortunately not as dual purpose as it once was.

Sadly good utility stock birds are now hard to find, although they are still one of the better large breeds of duck if you want a large number of eggs. The Silver Appleyard produces roughly 250 large white eggs per year.

They are known to be easy to keep, docile, and friendly. Silver Appleyard’s prefer to free range, although they tend to stay close to their duck house so they don’t need acres of land to be happy.

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Delicious duck friendly treats!

As well as their usual daily feed of commercial duck food you can also feed your ducks a variety of delicious treats and snacks. Some treats, like vegetables, can be fed every day and other treats, like fruit or meal worms, should be saved for more special occasions.

ducktreatsIf you’ve been wondering what you can feed your ducks to supplement their usual diet just check our list below before feeding:

Vegetables

As we said above, vegetables can be fed daily; however it’s best to limit the amount of carbohydrate high vegetables and only feed treats once their normal feed has been eaten.

Lettuce, Kale, and Cabbage should all be shredded and ducks seem to prefer raw over cooked. Ducks can eat both the stalks and tops of Broccoli and Cauliflower either raw or cooked.

  • Lettuce (except Iceberg)
  • Cucumber
  • Corn (on the cob, cooked, or uncooked)
  • Peas
  • Carrots (raw or cooked diced into small pieces)
  • Beans (must be cooked until they are soft as raw beans are toxic to ducks)
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Beetroot (fresh is better for ducks than tinned)
  • Asparagus (ducks seem to prefer cooked to raw)
  • Kale
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Turnips (cooked only)
  • Courgette (great shredded and placed in a bowl of warm water to make a warm winter “soup” for your ducks)
  • Bok Choy

Fruit

Fruit should only be fed occasionally as fruits contain a lot of natural sugars. Top tip: halved cherry tomatoes are a great way of getting your ducks to take medication. Simply halve and hide the pill in the tomato – then feed to your duck!

  • Tomatoes (only the flesh – vines and leaves are toxic)
  • Aubergine
  • Pears
  • Apples (applesauce is an easier treat for ducks to eat and can be mixed in with other treats. Do not feed ducks apple seeds as they contain cyanide and even small amounts can be toxic)
  • Bananas (mashed or diced – not the skin)
  • Peaches
  • Cherries (fresh and seedless only – not jarred or tinned)
  • Strawberries

Protein/dairy treats

High protein treats will often give duck manure a stronger smell so only feed these treats occasionally.

  • Worms (best when found from your own garden – be careful of worms bought from bait shops as they have sometimes been chemically treated)
  • Crickets
  • Eggs (cooked only – try hard boiling and dicing with the shells on as an extra source of calcium)
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Cottage cheese

Other supplements

With a healthy, balanced diet your ducks shouldn’t really need any extra supplements but sometimes duck keepers like to include things in their ducks’ diet to promote good health.

  • Electrolytes – these are especially useful during the hot summer months or if you have a dehydrated duck. Follow packet instructions for dosage requirements.
  • Grit – free range birds should get all the grit they need but if you keep your ducks in an enclosure you’ll need to provide them with grit to help grind up food in their gizzards.
  • Oyster shell – this is an important supplement if you having laying ducks as the oyster shell provides them with enough calcium for good egg production.
  • Brewer’s Yeast – brewer’s yeast contains Niacin, an essential nutrient that promotes good health, particularly good foot and leg health.
  • Apple cider vinegar – only use raw apple cider vinegar and add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Apple cider vinegar promotes general good health, particularly good gut health.

Duck Breed of the Month – Pekin

In this new feature for Jim Vyse Arks Chicken Chat we’ll be looking at a different breed of duck every month. To kick off the breed of the month we’re looking at the Pekin – popular both commercially and as pets.

snow ducksThe Pekin duck is most famous for its commercial use, particularly in America where 95% of the duck meat eaten comes from Pekin duck. However, the breed is also popular as a pet and show bird because of their cream feathers and bright orange feet and bill.

The breed was originally developed in China from the Mallard breed and where small with black feathers. Eventually the breed grew bigger, developed white feathers, and was domesticated by Chinese farmers.

In 1873 the first small group of Pekin ducks were exported to America and became immediately popular for commercial purposes. The breed was also introduced to the UK in the 1870s and entered the British breed standard in 1901.

Appearance

Although Pekin ducks look white they should actually be cream, white feathers are considered a defect according to breed standards. Their feathers are thick and fairly soft so they should be kept away from too much mud in the winter months.

They have bright orange feet and beaks, meaning that they are often confused with the Aylesbury and Cherry Valley ducks that look similar.

European Pekins have an upright stance, similar to penguins, whereas the American Pekin is closer to the ground.

They are classed as a “heavy” breed with drakes weighing 4.1kg on average and females weighing 3.6kg.

Egg production

Despite being bred for their meat rather than their egg laying abilities the Pekin produces a fair number of  eggs, around 60 – 140 large white eggs per year.

Female Pekin ducks aren’t particularly broody so if you’re planning on breeding them you may want to consider artificial incubation methods.

Personality

Pekin ducks are usually calm, friendly, and enjoy being companions both to other ducks, humans, and other breeds of animal. Just like geese they can make excellent guard animals as they will make loud noises should predators or strangers approach.

Pekin ducks are also very intelligent and enjoy foraging and exploring their surroundings as well as swimming.

They are usually too heavy to fly, although they may be able to lift off the ground for short bursts. Clipping their wings is the best way to avoid them flying if you do have a particularly determined flier, although this is normally unnecessary with Pekins.

Keep an eye out next month when we’ll be looking at the beautiful Silver Appleyard!

How to create a duck friendly garden

White Call Duck Drake

White Call Duck Drake

One of the things that puts people off poultry, especially ducks, is the thought of the greedy birds wrecking their beautiful garden. However, with a little bit of planning and selective planting you can keep your beautiful garden and your ducks.

Ducks are great pest control and letting them free range is the ideal way to keep the bugs down without having to use harsh chemicals. Plus, duck manure makes great fertiliser so you’ll want plenty of it to go in the compost bin!

Here’s our guide to landscaping your garden in a way that keeps it pretty and provides your ducks with a healthy environment:

Protect your bushes

Unfortunately ducks don’t know the difference between a weed and your prize Hydrangeas so it’s important to protect your bushes if you want them to survive.

Invest in chicken wire, or other form of fencing, to create a “cage” around the plants you want to protect. You can then anchor the cage to the ground with large rocks or stones.

Choose the right grass seed

If you’re determined to have a luscious looking lawn you’re going to need grass seed that is sold for high traffic areas. Unlike chickens, ducks don’t scratch or yank up grass, but they will dig holes in search of tasty worms.

You’ll probably find you need to re-sow your lawn once a year, but it shouldn’t be particularly high maintenance.

Keep roots safe with rocks

Ducks love digging, so you’ll need to protect the roots of your plants using rocks or stones. Not only will the stones protect your tender plants but they’ll also provide a nice decorative addition to your garden once the plants have matured.

Invest in evergreens

One of the few plants that ducks don’t seem to find delicious are firs and other evergreens. However, they do provide ducks with shelter from the elements and a hiding place for predators.

If you’re looking for plants to disguise ugly perimeter fences then evergreens would be a good, duck friendly option.

Be careful about your choice of plants

Unfortunately not all plants are good for ducks so it’s important to consider the things that grow in your garden carefully. We’ll be discussing plants that are toxic to ducks next Wednesday, so if you’re planning on buying anything new, check our list first.

Top duck friendly plants: the top ducks friendly plants chosen by many duck keepers are Hawthorn, Juniper bushes, Butterfly bushes, and Climbing Roses.

Next week we’ll be looking at plants, and other items you might use or find in the garden, that are toxic to ducks.

How to keep ducks and chickens together

ducks_chickensFor some people the idea of keeping ducks and chickens together brings them out in a cold sweat and even if they keep both species they are kept in separate enclosures.

Both species are social animals and many people keep ducks and chickens together, usually in perfect harmony. However, they are different species with different care needs so it isn’t always plain sailing.

Here are some things you’ll need to consider if you’re thinking about having a mixed species flock:

Keeping the peace                                                    

Chickens and ducks will squabble both with their own species and with each other. This behaviour is normal and as long as this doesn’t turn into bullying you won’t need to worry about the occasional ruffled feather.

It’s important to provide your flock with enough room for them to be able to avoid a fight. You may find that they need separate poultry houses within the same enclosure and ensure there are plenty of water and food sources so everyone gets their fill.

However, if there is a squabble damage can sometimes be done by chickens’ beaks, which are far sharper than ducks. Fights are more common between drakes and cockerels during the breeding season than between female birds.

Having bachelor groups and removing overly aggressive birds should help to resolve this problem.

Feeding time

As said above, having plenty of food and water stations will mean that the entire flock doesn’t crowd around one place at the same time.

Chickens and ducks also have different nutritional needs, especially when they’re young. Generally speaking it’s not advisable to keep young chickens and ducks together as they should be fed on different food.

Adult birds can both be fed chicken layers pellets/mash but care needs to be taken to ensure the ducks are getting enough Niacin (Vitamin B3) in their diet. This can be done by adding Brewer’s Yeast to their feed or a Niacin supplement.

Here’s a great post that explains more about Niacin and Niacin Deficiency in ducks.

If you keep drakes you’ll also need to be aware that chicken feed has too much calcium in it for drakes. You’ll need to provide your drakes with wheat to keep their protein levels up and they’ll regulate their intake between wheat and layers’ feed themselves.

Keeping water clean

Of course, both species need water to drink but ducks also need water to wash in and this can lead to water sources becoming dirty quickly. There are a number of ways to combat this.

One common solution is to put a drinker higher up and provide perches for your chickens to access it. Nipple style drinkers, such as these, also ensure that your flock can stay hydrated without your ducks making a mess.

Hopefully this has given you something to think about and ideas for keeping your mixed species flock in perfect harmony. Next week we’ll be looking at keeping ducks in an urban area.

Breed of the Week: Brahma

Brahma cockerel (Source: Omlet)

Brahma cockerel (Source: Omlet)

Brahmas are often known as the “King of chickens” because of their large size and upright stature. The breed was first developed in America after very large birds were imported from Shanghai.

Because of this they were originally known as “Shanghai birds” and have similar origins to the Cochin breed. However, their distinctive head shape and pea comb differentiates them from the Cochin.

Their large size meant that the Brahma became the principal meat bird in the USA from the time of their development until the 1930s. After this the commercialisation of meat birds meant that larger breeds fell out of favour.

The Brahma was first imported to the UK in December 1852 when nine “Gray Shanghaes” were sent to Queen Victoria as a present from George Burnham. British breeders then developed the Dark variety of Brahma that were later re-imported back to the USA.

Here’s more about the big, beautiful Brahma:

Brahma Factsheet                                     

Name: Brahma (originally known as the Shanghai bird)

Type: Large fowl

Weight: Cock: 5.5kg Hen: 4.5kg

Popularity: Popular as pets and show birds

Purpose: Originally meat birds but now mostly pets or show birds

Eggs: Large brown eggs and hens lay all year around

Physical features: Large, upright bird with a large head. Legs are yellow with abundant feathering around their feet.

Colours: There are two recognised varieties – Light and Dark. There are also a number of recognised colours, although not all breed societies accept all colours. Available colours are: Buff, White, Gold, Buff Columbian, Black, Blue, Partridge, and Barred.

Other characteristics: Despite their large size Brahmas do not often pose as a threat to other, smaller breeds. This means that they are a great breed if you want to keep a mixed flock.

They are very trusting and easy to tame. They also don’t make much noise, even the cockerels don’t have a loud crow, so they’re ideal if you live in a more urban area.

The Brahmas’ beautiful foot feathering means that care needs to be taken during the wet winter months as mud balls can build up between their toes causing discomfort and damaging the foot feathers.

Due to their large size they do take up more room than other chickens and they will need stronger perches, so you’ll need to consider this when choosing a chicken house and any runs or enclosures.

You might find that a bespoke service is a better option to ensure that your chickens have as much room as they need to move around and perch.

Learn to “speak chicken” – understanding flock behaviour part 2

flock of chickensLast week we looked at how chickens decide their pecking order, form friendships, and operate as a group on a day to day basis. We also learnt that chickens can communicate both verbally and non-verbally. In fact, chickens have over 24 verbal communications, it’s not all about clucking!

Chickens are social animals and prefer to have friends to spend their time with so it’s best to start off with at least three chickens when you’re creating a new flock. You can learn more about how chickens conduct their lives by watching this documentary The Private Lives of Chickens.

Here’s more about the benefits of being in a flock:

Safety in numbers

Living in a group means that there are more eyes to look out for a tasty treat, or more importantly, danger.

When one of the flock spots something they think is a threat they’ll start making a noise that the other members of the group will pick up. Although experts don’t really know why the group starts making such a loud noise but we can assume that the noise is intended to frighten the predator away.

Cockerels are the best example of one member of the flock protecting the rest and when a threat is spotted he’ll make a growling or loud screeching sound to warn his hens.

“Food’s over here!”

You’ll also hear your chickens getting pretty noisy when they find something delicious and want to let the rest of the group know there’s juicy plant or tasty looking bug to eat.

Cockerels telling their hens about food are more common but you’ll also see this behaviour in an all hen flock.

“Hello ladies…”

If you do have a cockerel in your flock then you’ll hear his mating call on a fairly regular basis and you’ll witness the “dance” that goes with it.

Cockerels combine verbal and non-verbal communications in an attempt to impress their hens and get them accept his amorous advances. You’ll see your cockerel drop one wing and spread it out to signal that he wants to mate. He’ll also puff the rest of his feathers up and perform a shuffling dance with his feet.

If the hen accepts his proposal she’ll squat and let him mount. If, on the other hand, she doesn’t like the look of his dance she’ll screech, cluck, and usually run away.

Bedtime

Dusk is another good time to hear the verbal communications in your flock as the cockerel or dominant hen will usher the rest back to the chicken house. Low clucking sounds will tell the rest of the flock that it’s time for bed and they should settle down for the night.

Next week we’re getting in the kitchen and showing you great ways to use up all of those delicious eggs and how to correctly freeze them.