Muscovy Duck ~ Learn About Raising these Red-Faced Ducks

Good for meat, the Muscovy duck is also useful around a pond, cleaning up insects. Muscovy ducks are a popular domestic breed to raise in North America. They are usually kept as backyard or hobby animals, and sometimes as pets.

They are friendly and not aggressive. They are highly adaptable and hardy. Muscovies are not considered to be productive layers. They lay between 80 – 120 white eggs each year. Hens will start laying around 28 weeks.

If raising them for meat, you can dress them out when they are 4 – 6 pounds which means you can slaughter them in about 3 – 4 months. They yield a lot of meat compared to other domestic duck breeds with a good amount of breast meat.

Because Muscovy hens go broody several times a year, they can hatch chicks regularly. This means you can have a reliable food source for your homestead. Your return on investment can be high, especially if the ducks free range part of the time.

Muscovy Duck

Other names for these ducks are Barnaby duck and turkey duck (because of the red bumps on their heads). Their scientific name is Cairina moschata.

Raising domestic Muscovy ducks is relatively easy. They have an easy-going temperament. This is a low maintenance breed that is easy to care for as long as you provide them with proper shelter, food and water.  

Muscovy ducks can fly. Continue feeding and caring for them and they will continue to come back. If given the opportunity, they will enjoy roosting in trees. 

muscovy hen
They are also called Barnaby ducks

If that isn’t an option, provide a duck house or duck shelter with ample areas to roost. They are perching birds. They won’t be able to sit on roosting bars; they’ll need a flat surface.

Giving them the opportunity for roosting will reduce stress and anxiety as it’s their natural tendency to want to roost when sleeping.

Appearance

These large ducks look just like regular ducks except for their faces. They have a rounded head, long necks, webbed feet, and short legs. You can tell a Muscovy duck from other breeds by the red bumps on their faces, called caruncles.

Caruncles are the red and fleshy parts on their faces, similar-looking to turkeys. Some people call them turkey ducks. While this will help you distinguish them from other duck breeds, they also serve a purpose. Caruncles help the ducks keep their feathers clean when they are in mud or dabbling about. 

Also, on the end of their bills, it almost looks as if they have a beak.

Domesticated Muscovies often have large white or brown patches on their bodies, between the wings and legs. Most Muscovy ducks vary in color from grayish white to dark grayish plumage.

Muscovy duck colors
They have different color variations

Coloration

They come in a variety of colors including white, black, brown, chocolate, buff, blue, lilac. Pied is a color variation as well. This means about half the duck is black and the other half is white. There are other color combinations as well.

When they have darker colors, they have brown eyes and the lighter colors (white, etc.) have lighter eyes that appear gray.

Black Muscovies will appear to have a greenish sheen to them. 

Adult male ducks, called drakes, are larger than females. Muscovy drakes can weigh up 12 -15 pounds. Muscovy females are noticeably smaller, weighing up to 8 pounds.

baby Muscovy duck
Baby Muscovy ducks

Raising and Caring for Muscovy Ducks

There is a lot to know about raising ducks, but it is easy to do once you get them set up with a shelter, duck run, etc. Like with keeping all farm animals, raising your ducks in a clean area, with plenty of water and enough food will go a long way to keeping them healthy, safe, and stress free. This will produce better eggs and meat for you to enjoy.

Enough space

Ducks prefer areas where they can scratch, bathe, and nest. Give them ample space so they can move around comfortably. Some people like to place a small enclosure near the house for their ducks.

You want to be sure they have enough room and aren’t threated by other duck breeds who may be more aggressive. Watch for overcrowding as well. Muscovy ducks require a minimum of 10 – 15 square feet of space per duck. The more space the better. This includes space in the duck run or free range area as well.

Raising hens and drakes together

Consider whether you want to raise chicks to populate your farm or to sell. If so, you will need to have a male duck along with your hens. Drakes will also work to protect the flock. You need to consider the hen to drake ratio so the hens do not become overworked. In general, it’s best to have a minimum of 6 hens per drake. 

In increase fertilization rates in breeding season, you may consider keeping one drake per one or two hens for a limited time.

Raising ducks with chickens

Many people who keep ducks also keep chickens. Depending on the breeds and their temperament, it’s often best to keep them separated. An easy way to do this is to keep their pens next to each other, sharing a common wall.

Secure coop

Also be sure to provide proper shelter and protection from predators. Muscovies can fly, so this does give them more chances of survival than other domestic duck breeds. 

But you will need to consider this when deciding whether to raise a Muscovy duck. The ability to fly enables to keep them safer from predators, however, you will need to have a secure duck coop for them at night.

domestic muscovy duck
Most people raise them for meat rather than eggs

Use chicken wire and be sure to secure all sides of the duck house or duck coop, including the roof. Provide clean duck bedding such as hay or straw. It will work to insulate them at night.

When considering how to build a duck house, keep in mind this is a large duck breed.

Water source 

Before raising a Muscovy duck or any ducks, you’ll need to be able to provide a water source for them. They need to be able to dunk their heads to keep their membranes lubricated. You don’t need a pond to raise ducks though that would be ideal.

A kiddie pool is easy to refill and dump every other day or so in order to keep it clean. Ducks will enjoy splashing around and swimming in it.

They will also require access to clean, fresh water all day. Keep watering areas close to where you feed the ducks. Unlike chickens who do not need water while they are eating, ducks do. They prefer wet food and will takes sips of water when eating. 

Muscovy ducks
Muscovies are excellent foragers and will do well free range

Food

The best way to ensure your domesticated ducks are healthy is by making sure you feed them a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, grains and quality protein sources. Be wary of feeding commercial duck food mixes that contain corn products.

Be sure to have enough duck feeders so there isn’t competition for food. Also be sure to have enough waterers that are close and convenient for them to access while they are eating.

Clean area

It’s important to clean up the area regularly. Clean out the duck waterers, food bins, kiddie pool, and duck coop.

Regularly clean out the duck bedding and nest, providing fresh straw, hay, pine needles, or large flake wood shavings.

You don’t want to have duck food laying out in areas that will attract mice, rats, and other pests.

Also be aware of snakes. While a Muscovy duck will hunt small reptiles, you want to keep snakes away because they will be attracted to the duck eggs.

This means you will need to keep debris, wood piles, etc. away from where you are keeping ducks. Trim bushes so snakes won’t take cover under the bushes sight unseen. 

duck with red face
If you have a pond, this breed is an excellent addition. They have the ability to fly which helps keep them safe from predators.

What to Feed Muscovy Ducks

Ducks are omnivores so they will eat grasses, fruits, grains, and insects. If they have access to a pond, you won’t need to supplement them with much. They will be able to get what they need to be healthy just as other ducks who live in the wild. Muscovy ducks are excellent foragers.

However, feeding them will help them return to your property, at least at night to roost.

You should supplement their food in the cold winter months. 

If you are raising them in captivity with a duck house and duck run, you can also feed them some  greens and vegetable kitchen scraps like lettuce, but these should only be added sparingly to their diets. Research before introducing new foods.

They shouldn’t eat spinach, citrus fruits, green tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, or dried beans. It’s difficult for them to digest properly.

Your duck’s first instinct is to eat anything they see on the ground so if you feed them table scraps, try to keep the amount down to just a few small bits per day.

Regular layer feed will be fine for laying hens. When raising Muscovy ducklings, start with chick feed that is supplemented with extra niacin. You can also add brewer’s yeast. Learn what to feed ducklings.

female muscovy duck
Hen

Breed Characteristics

Ducks tend to grow rather quickly because of their fast metabolism. Their body size tends to increase about one inch every week starting at birth. So, by 8 weeks old, they should reach approximately 5 inches long. By 10 weeks they’ll likely top 6 inches tall and weigh around 2 pounds. As they mature, they will continue gaining weight and height.

Muscovy Duck Cold Hardiness

You will also need to watch a domestic Muscovy duck in the cold weather. They aren’t as cold hardy and cold tolerant as other duck breeds. They are prone to frostbite on their caruncles. These are the red bumps on their faces.

Provide proper shelter which is well-ventilated yet free from drafts. You want to ensure ducks are  comfortable with straw which will keep them dry and warm. Also be sure the structure is able to protect them from wind, snow, frost, and ice. They will also need access to daylight though they likely won’t lay eggs in the colder months.

Health Considerations

There are many different factors that make up a healthy Muscovy duck. One of the most important aspects is overall well-being. Note if your Muscovy duck has any signs of illness such as:

  • Swollen head feathers
  • Dull feathering
  • Droopy tail

If so, it may be time to seek veterinary attention.

Muscovy Duck Meat

Stronger tasting meat that’s very tender. They produce a lot of breast meat and it’s lean. However, it’s important to eat them while they are young, typically less than five months old. When they are around 6 pounds, the meat will still be tender. You can let the males grow a bit more than the females to increase the quantity of meat.

female muscovy duck with ducklings
Muscovy hens are good mothers

Muscovy Duck Breeding

To ensure successful breeding, ducks need a stable temperature and adequate light levels. In colder climates, they must have access to a warm indoor shelter to brood the eggs. Most ducks begin nesting in late February through early March. Nest boxes are available from many suppliers and can be built yourself as well.

Hens are excellent mothers and will also take care of other breeds.

Typically, Muscovy ducks are not aggressive; however, in the mating and rearing season, they will follow their instincts to be protective and territorial of their mates, eggs, and chicks.

muscovy duck eggs
Muscovy duck eggs

Exhibition / Showing

A breeder must be registered by showing that he or she has raised at least one purebred bird within the last three years. A Muscovy duck should also pass the health tests required for show quality birds.

The American Poultry Association publishes standards for the various breeds of poultry. All Muscovy ducks listed on the APA website meet the minimum standard published by the association. To register your Muscovy duck, you must first obtain a certificate of registration from the National Muscovy Breeders’ Registry. The registry is administered by the U S Department of Agriculture, and there is a fee. You will need two copies of the certificate of registration, one for you and one for your veterinarian.

Why Raise Muscovy Ducks

Learning how to raise a Muscovy duck is relatively easy. They are a good choice for experienced poultry owners. They are a good choice for beginners too but a novice may want to start with a breed with a better egg production while they are learning.

If you have a pond, they are a great choice as this is the ideal habitat.

Speak with a local breeder or local owners to learn about protecting Muscovies in the winter months if you live in a cold area. No matter where you live, ducks require food, water, and predator-proof housing with enough space. This breed likes to roost.

Ducks are easy care animals and require little maintenance. They are highly adaptable. While most people raise Muscovy ducks for their meat, they will also lay eggs in the warmer months. You can butcher Muscovy ducks by 4 months when they are around 6 pounds.

Barnaby hens go broody and make good mothers. They will hatch ducklings 3 – 4 times per year. Otherwise their large eggs are delicious for baking and eating. They are usually kept for their egg laying alone as there are other breeds which lay more eggs.

As far as other things go, like keeping the coop clean and free from disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and feces, just remember that ducks are very clean animals and are able to maintain themselves quite nicely.

They make fine pets with the added bonus of insect (including eating mosquito lavae), snail and slug control. This makes them appealing to individuals with a pond on their property. They aren’t fond of being handled but they are friendly.

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