A few weeks ago I decided to restart my flock of Khaki Campbell ducks. I had Khakis a number of years ago but got out of them to focus on my Silver Appleyards and Anconas. Two years ago I tried to restart my flock but gender roulette worked against me on a duckling order and I ended up with all drakes. Then last year I gave up my flock of Anconas because breeding stock was becoming too hard to obtain. So this year I decided to try to restart my Khaki Campbell flock again. I bought sexed ducklings from Mezger Hatchery so as to guarantee a win at gender roulette.
I have Silver Appleyards primarily for meat, and I’ve downsized my flock over the years to the size that I need to hatch out enough ducklings for breeding stock and the freezer. Though Silver Appleyards lay reasonably well, I found that by the time I put eggs in the incubator, there weren’t enough for the kitchen, especially when I had enthusiastic customers, too. Khaki Campbells are excellent egg layers, often with production equaling that of chickens. In addition, I found them to not only lay earlier and longer in the spring, but they often also lay in the fall as well. I also had good luck reproducing them in my incubator. My only gripe with the breed is the small size of the carcass when I go to culling the flock, but I’ve come up with a marketing idea that I think will help there.
When I told my friend Eddie McDonough that I had restarted my Khaki flock, he shared his experience with them. On a couple of occasions people had asked Eddie for advice on an egg-laying duck breed, and Eddie had told them about Khakis. He had also said they were prolific layers, but the people didn’t seem to understand because they ordered a significant number of birds. Eddie expressed concern that they had overbought, and sure enough, in both cases, the people downsized their flock by half once the birds began to lay. I could definitely relate, as we had eggs spilling out of our refrigerator when we last had Khakis.
When I was shopping for Khaki Campbell ducklings a few weeks ago, I ran across a table summarizing the temperaments of duck breeds. Khakis were classified as nervous which brought back memories of my first Khakis. I was an intern on an organic farm fifteen years ago and raised a mixed rare breed flock. I was new to stewarding poultry, so I was clumsy with brooding and brooding lights and waterers and feeders. I was brooding the ducklings in a large building, so I confined them with cardboard, a not-uncommon practice. One day in the first week, something happened that caused the ducklings to escape the cardboard enclosure, and in the process of getting all the ducklings back where they were supposed to be, I stressed them out, and one of the Khakis died. Ever since, I’ve been stressed around Khaki ducklings for fear of stressing them out again.
The sexed ducklings that arrived this week were identified by colored leg bands. Ducklings can be sexed before they are one day old but then not again until they develop their voices, usually by five weeks. The packing list said to be sure to remove the leg bands before the ducklings got too old since the leg bands would become a tourniquet. I approached this job with trepidation, knowing it would stress the birds out and me too as a result. I am happy to report that we all survived the experience!
When I picked my ducklings up at the post office, a neighbor peered into the box and said, “I wondered how they did that.” The minimum order is usually ten ducklings because that many birds generates enough body heat to keep themselves warm during shipment. Since I was able to order the exact number of Khakis I wanted – two drakes and four hens – I needed to add four more birds. I chose four Pekins, a meat breed, that I will put in the freezer. I’ve never raised Pekins, which are the most common market bird, and I look forward to comparing them to my Silver Appleyards in terms of carcass size and conformation. For the next seven weeks, though, I’ll enjoy watching all three breeds of ducklings grow and discover the world at Willowtrail Farm, from brooding in the office, to brooding in an outdoor building, to finishing in a moveable pen called a tractor on a dandelion field. As my husband says, there’s no happier barnyard critter than a duck!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011