Taste the (Heirloom) Difference of Silver Appleyard Ducks

Silver Appleyard ducks are a dual purpose heirloom duck that is currently listed as Threatened by the Livestock Conservancy.

The original birds were bred and raised with very specific goals in mind. Appleyards should:

·  be white skinned

·  have deep, wide breasts

·  lay abundant white eggs

·  be beautiful to look at

As part of my interest in food security and sustainable food production, continuing to breed and develop dual purpose heirloom poultry, like Silver Appleyards, is a priority for me at Rose Hill Farm.

Watch hungry Silver Appleyard ducklings eat and play in their water dish (Video: Rose Hill Farm)

You Get What You Focus On

As with any livestock breeding endeavor, you get what you pay attention to.  If  you only pay attention to creating the LOOK of a Silver Appleyard, then you can achieve very uniform size and coloration. But you may not get many eggs or have fast-growing birds for meat.

If you are most interested in eggs, you may pay attention to egg counts and quality. But egg laying trades off against meat production in all poultry. A focus only on eggs inevitably results in smaller birds.

So unless you are harvesting the ducks for meat, you tend not to pay attention to the qualities that create a great meat bird:  Big, even chest development on compact birds that grow FAST!

Therefore to really understand and maintain the dual-nature of the Appleyard, it is important that birds be harvested for the table and that breeding lines are compared on their meat output and quality, not just for eggs and appearance.

This is my first year producing meat from three groups of Appleyards:  Two from my Langley stock (where one drake – Marshall- is bigger than the other drake – Teddy), and my Quesnel line (where Barney is the smallest of all 3 drakes that I own).

Silver Appleyard ducklings on some blue microfibre clothes with a messy cat water dish in their brooder
Just hours old, these are Silver Appleyard ducklings fresh from the incubator and moving into a brooder (Photo: Rose Hill Farm)

Appleyard Meat Results

Although these are early days, the results for meat production are interesting for 2021.

The Quesnel line (with Barney as the drake) produced highly uniform ducklings with the characteristic black head mark. The ducklings grew fast and produced a uniform output of meat averaging 3.5 lbs per duck (range 3.2 to 3.9 lbs). 

The Langley group with the smaller drake (Teddy) produced more white-colored birds than I expected (but none were pure white).  These ducks grew fast and averaged 3.7 lbs per duck (range 3.1 to 4.9 lbs).

The other Langley group with the larger drake (Marshall) produced more larger birds than the other two lines, with half of the birds being over 4 lbs each!  This group averaged 3.8 lbs overall.  What was striking here was that the males were significant larger than the females. The males were all 3.7 lbs or larger and the girls were 3.2 lbs or less.

Silver Appleyard ducklings going for a swim in a saucer pool
Silver Appleyard Ducklings cooling off in a saucer pool (Photo: Rose Hill Farm)

First Impressions and Looking Ahead

Overall, I am very pleased with all my duck lines.  This year I focused on breeding within lines only to see the depth of what can be expected from each one.  The Langley birds showed more diversity within the line than the Quesnel birds did.  The Quesnel seemed to produce smaller birds, but in fairness, I did keep the largest drake and ducks aside for the breeding program.  That could have easily skewed the meat output results.

The birds grew fast, reaching 3 to 4 pounds in 13 weeks. I think I would have had to keep going to 15 weeks to see 5 lbs birds this year. However, there is room to improve those weight gain results. My impression is that harvesting at 10 weeks would have created more 2-3 lbs birds. The extra time created more 4 lbs birds, and more time still was needed to consistently hit 5 lbs weights.

The results from Marshall’s group suggests that if I split the ducks from drakes earlier, I could likely improve the overall meat performance of the group. This is commonly done with chickens to improve meat results of the roosters. I suspect those smaller ducks had a hard time competing for food with the big (and ravenously hungry) Marshall boys.

Next year I intend to set up crosses of the two lines to see how hybridizing the lines turns out.  I will be looking to increase the overall size of the Quesnel line, as well as capitalizing on the fast-growing Marshall birds to try and achieve bigger weights sooner.

Young Silver Appleyard ducks foraging on grass
Young Silver Appleyards foraging (Photo: Rose Hill Farm)

I also kept two new drakes to add to the program: 

  • Splash, from Teddy’s line, who is a large, predominately white duck with Appleyard markings; and
  • Swarley, from Barney’s line, who is a larger and lighter toned drake than Barney is.

Stay tuned to see how it all turns out!

Table Ducks for Sale (2021)

As of November 2021, I do have table ducks available at $12/lbs.  These ducks have been raised on pasture, with pools for swimming and space for foraging.  They were processed at Spray Creek Ranch by people earning living wages.  That means you may pay more for a Rose Hill Farm duck than if you found duck available at the market.  But you will taste the difference that heirloom quality, careful husbandry and animal-welfare certified processing makes.

Use the contact form to inquire about table ducks.   I will be setting up a pre-order system for the 2022 season.

Silver Appleyard duck roast, vacuum packed and frozen, on display above a box of packaged ducks for roasting
Silver Appleyard Duck ready for the table (Photo: Rose Hill Farm)

Looking for supplies that help make raising ducklings easier?

Supplies from the photos:

Duckling water pan

Microfibre cloths for the brooder

Spill resistant feed/water dishes (Messy Cat dishes)

Snow Saucers make perfect shallow ponds first time duckling swims

For other supplies – Visit the SHOP page

More to Read on Silver Appleyards:

Rose Hill Farm Silver Appleyard Breeding Flock 2021

Raising Silver Appleyard Ducks

Quackers for Duck Eggs