They are called Runners for a reason. Also known as Indian Runner ducks, these fast moving, very upright ducks have been used often for training herding dogs, since they flock well, and they move fast enough to be a challenge for a herd animal.
They are actually kind of amusing to watch. They have such an upright carriage, with a wine bottle shape. So they look like they are leaning just a little. In a flock, they will all be leaning the same direction, and when one turns, they all turn, and this flock of ducks will angle one direction, then another.
The flocking instinct is protective. When moving from place to place, or when disturbed or threatened, they bunch up together. They'll relax and spread out more to forage when they are not agitated or on the move.
Runners are among the best of layer ducks, but not given to broodiness. Keep a Muscovy hen or two if you want to brood Runner eggs.
Among the lightest of full sized ducks, they have been used for meat, but do not produce a very meaty carcass. Many people feel that they taste more like a wild duck though, so they may appeal to you for this reason.
If you have large pastures to graze, and need a duck to rotate after sheep or cattle, to keep parasite populations down, Runners can cover more ground than almost any other duck, and will happily scratch through manure looking for anything wriggly to gobble with delight.
- Type - egg
- Size - light
- Production Capacity - high egg production, light carcass
- Special Features - among the fastest of ducks on land, popular for training herd dogs
- Best for Farms - great for farms with lots of pasture, and for egg production for homesteads
- Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - large white to greenish eggs
- Other Products - not applicable
- Historic or Contemporary Significance - used in the creation of many egg laying duck breeds, a solid egg layer for small farms
- Housing and Space Requirement - typical for housing, but they require ample forage space because they are so active
- Regional Adaptations - well adapted to a range of conditions
- Feed Requirement - typical, but more productive if provided with good forage with lots of protein sources
- Other Considerations - If you have mixed flocks, Runners will still tend to flock together, in part because of their speed. They are light enough in weight to be prey for aerial predators. Productivity depends a lot on bloodlines, much egg productivity of runners has been lost to sloppy breeding.
A NOTE ABOUT DUCKS:
Other than the Pekin, most ducks are struggling to maintain sufficient numbers to keep the breed thriving. Ducks have fallen out of favor in recent years due to analysis of feed consumption to meat production statistics.
Ducks require more feed to produce a pound of meat than chickens do, and since farmers have adopted a consumer attitude about animal feed, every pound of feed translates into a dollar cost - something that was not the case when animals foraged more for themselves, and farmers could feed all poultry the same, and the animals themselves would make up the difference by their own efforts.
Many small farmers now fail to realize the strength of the duck in the barnyard. Ducks are hardy, many are very prolific, and they forage like nobody's business when given something to forage ON - they'll eat grass, weeds, bugs, grubs, and some will even go after small snakes and rodents, and they'll forage on anything in the water.
Ducks are cautious and suspicious of what is not familiar, but if given the opportunity and encouragement to forage (refrain from overfeeding, so they have a reason to forage and try new things), they will be avidly hunting their own food within a few days of being put out on range. A few ducks in your yard or pastures can reduce fly and mosquito populations to an astonishing degree. They are also great to rotate through pastures to remove parasites for cattle and sheep, since those parasites do not harm ducks, and they'll eat them as quickly as they'll eat bugs.
We love ducks, in part for their ability to be trained and the ability to herd them. Ducks cluster together any time there is a disturbance, so they herd easily if you have a couple of people, and herding poles to extend your reach as you guide them. This makes it easy to move them from area to area. They also train easily, by scattering a little scratch feed where you want them to go out in the morning, and herding them back to a bit of feed in the evening in a pen or duck house. Three days of that, and they'll be waiting for you to let them out in the morning, and to let them in at night!
Good home raised duck meat is excellent, and the butchering scraps from them are helpful for feeding dogs, cats, and pigs. They have especially good livers, and duck fat is a useful fat to have on hand.
Most ducks require only a kiddie pool for water, and can make do with a dishpan of water - they require enough to wet their bills. Some prefer to mate on water, so they'll be more productive if they have sufficient water to swim. If provided with a pond that is not infested with snapping turtles or other water predators, ducks can also get a lot of their food from a pond that has been sown with duckweed, and some fish and freshwater shrimp.
Predation is more of an issue with ducks than with some other poultry because they do not defend themselves well against predators, and the ability to fly has been bred out of most. Putting them on pasture with other poultry may be helpful in reducing predation, and if it is a major problem in your area, choose ducks that can still fly, or which have dark broken colors that help to camouflage them.
Duck breeds have some of the same issues with productivity and loss of utility traits, in part because so many breeds have been corrupted by being relegated to show birds. A few of them have been bred to obscene proportions in the quest for trophies from judges who have a distorted sense of what is worthy of praise. Rouens and Aylesbury, specifically, have been bred with disproportionately large keels so that they have trouble breeding naturally, but some older bloodlines still exist, and these breeds are in need of restoration, and other breeds are in need of utility use and breeding in order to keep them from meeting the same fate.
Ducks natively have a diet very high in meat proteins, a thing which most people do not realize. In the wild, they forage on all kinds of small animal life, in addition to greens, grains and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and aquatic plants and animals. Ducks truly ARE omnivores, and if you are having issues with fertility or health, increasing their access to natural forms of animal protein and fat is a primary method of improving both.
When you work WITH the strengths of the duck, instead of trying to turn him into a production line chicken, he produces excellent meat, terrific eggs, and does so with surprisingly little input from you!
Duck eggs are great for baking, and range in size from small chicken egg size, up to extra large and bigger. The egg whites are clearer, and have more, oh, I don't know what it is called, but more elasticity, I guess. So they whip up stiffer, and hold cakes and muffins higher. They boil up a little rubberier than chicken eggs.
Rare duck breeds listed here are generally available from Dave Holderread, a Conservation Breeder who produces good quality stock. It is not cheap, but it is bred to retain utility traits, and to APA standards. He is a conscientious breeder who is trusted throughout the US to produce high quality stock.