The Fat Duck

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I learned about the duck fattening phase via a website dedicated to promoting awareness of foie gras production and animal welfare. My interest in the finishing stage for ducks came about because of the need to raise the best quality duck meat. This means lean, plump meat that is also tender. At 6 months, duck meat begins to become tough so the goal was to raise fat ducks suitable for consumption by the time they are only 3-4 months of age.

It was necessary to conduct several experiments to figure out exactly when our ducks reached the fastest growth spurt. I tried giving a protein-rich diet ad libitum to ducks at 10 weeks, 12 weeks and 14 weeks. This protein diet lasts for only 2 weeks. I found that our Muscovy ducks are suitable for finishing stage at no less than 12 weeks and no more than 14 weeks.

How much and how often do I feed the ducks at fattening? I visit the duck fattening pen at least 3 times a day and when the feeding tray is empty, I just fill it up. It is also necessary to provide lots of water. For fattening, I also had to make a separate pen to keep out the other older ducks. When the fattening phase is finished, the ducks are released with all the rest.

The results of the fattening phase are very good. Previously, at 4 months of age our ducks would only have a dressed weight of about 1.6kg (male) and .8 kg (female). With the fattening phase our ducks at 4 months of age have a dressed weight of 2.4kg (male) and 1.5kg (female).

To make the scheme economical, I needed to find a cheap source of protein to feed the ducks. In our village, one of the cheapest source is fish. Depending on the season, anchovies can be as cheap as 25 pesos per kilo. Ducks at fattening would need about 20%-24% protein so I simply mix the boiled anchovies with bulk food stuffs such as chopped banana stalks, seasonal windfall fruits, corn-based or wheat-based mash or pellet feeds, etc.

If the ducks get a lot of protein and grow too quickly, their wings tend to become deformed — something called angel wing syndrome. I often get this with the duck fattening phase. Sometimes the deformity sorts itself out.

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Since ducks are a natural glutton, feeding them to fatten at younger or older ages is just not economical. There is a fattening or finishing age for ducks and that is something that you must find out for yourself by experimenting. I assume not all duck breeds or flocks are the same when it comes to fattening, this is why I suggest that people who are raising ducks for meat conduct their own experiments.

Duck Ballet

Our ducks learned to dance sometime before the drought. This is behaviour so far observed only amongst a few of the younger (less than a year old) female ducks. I associated this behaviour with the drought. Third week of May it finally started raining heavily. And the ducks are still dancing. But not as often as before.

I just feel grateful that the long dry spell has finally been broken. Over the past several weeks temperatures have been reaching a rather uncomfortable 35°C – perhaps not too bad if you live in a nipa house surrounded by trees. For now, it’s 29°C at high noon and probably will be raining later in the evening.

We Have Duck Eggs Again!

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The last clutch of duck eggs were laid in December and hatched in February. Over the next 3 months, we didn’t have any eggs. The two drakes stopped courting the duck hens — they all stopped mating. I would’ve thought that – like chickens – duck hens would continue laying eggs even without a drake, but this wasn’t the case. Just like the drought of now 4 months, the ducks expressed their own response to the dry spell.

The strange dance that some duck hens began exhibiting in January (and a couple of them continue to do so) suddenly have new meaning to me.

Then earlier this month, it started to rain, not very much, but at least, the earth gets a bit to drink! And the drake began his dance, and now, we have eggs again!

 

With that, our alpha drake has become more aggressive with regard to enlarging his territory. Here, in the video above, he has engaged one of the roosters in a fight. The drake uses his weight to pin down the rooster and his wings to beat him, while the rooster uses his sharp beak in several attempts to inflict wounds on vulnerable areas of the drake’s body such as the eyes.

It looks like a nasty fight but neither animals really get hurt. Roosters fighting are bloodier and deadlier with their sharp beaks, claws and spurs.

Looking on are 10 young ducks (of 4 months age) that have been released a month ago from an experimental fattening program I started in early January. Note that some of the ducks have “angel wing syndrome”. This wing deformity seems to appear when young ducks are fed large amounts of protein, thus motivating a growth spur much faster than their bodies could take. This leads me to think that this breed of Muscovies should start fattening/finishing at 12 weeks of age minimum instead of 10 weeks.

Later, I’ll write more about this new fattening phase program I am implementing as I am getting very good results!

Hens Spat

I’m sure you don’t see this very often. 😉 This is speckly hen and one of our duck hens fighting. The duck hen has a brood of some 16 ducklings and she doesn’t like old speckly grabbing their food and pecking them. These fights are usually quite harmless because the animals can flee for safety – they are not confined in pens or coops.

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Old speckly hen has always been quite a bully, sometimes resulting in duckling fatalities because of repetitive pecking – so honestly, she had it coming.

Generally, ducks are not as bloody and violent in their fights compared to chickens. Without the sharp claws and beaks, ducks can’t really inflict wounds and can really just rely on their weight and the strength of their wings to subdue their opponents. So, this fight just ended with old speckly hen running away and mommy duck hissing at her. I doubt that speckly hen learned her lesson though …

Linggo ng Pato!

 

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OK, yesterday was Duckerday, today it’s Linggo ng Pato! 😜

This time, it’s the duck legs, breast, liver, gizzard and heart. I decided to cook the duck legs and breast ala confit. However, I didn’t bother to salt, cure or marinate the meat. I also didn’t have enough duck fat to use for the confit, so I got some palm oil and used that instead.

Cooking duck meat in oil is fantastic because oil heats up really fast, stays hot, and cooks deep into the meat. You actually save more energy than cooking meat in water like stew. Anyway, the only other ingredients I added to the oil were: salt, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, tomatoes, black peppercorns and garlic.

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When the duck legs and breast were close to super tender, I added in the heart and gizzard (sliced a bit so they cook easier). The result, is absolutely fantastic! I should add: (1) curing, salting or marinating duck meat is probably unnecessary because duck meat (well maybe at least OUR ducks, 😄) is already very flavourful; (2) curing and salting only dries up and meat and makes it tougher so it is not necessary!; (3) those native tomatoes are the BEST tasting tomatoes, they have more flavour than those huge expensive hybrid tomatoes!

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And here’s what I did with the liver – I used a bit of the oil and bits of garlic and tomatoes from the confit, then used that to cook the liver, adding water when the pan dries a bit, de-glazing it and bringing out that delicious brown sauce!!!! I served the liver with a bit of chilli and singakamas (jicama) from the garden. This liver is brilliant, absolutely fantastic, smooth like your most expensive foie gras can ever be smooth!

Also, I think this duck liver is much larger than the usual because this duck is part of my experiment on fattening phase for ducks. I will write about that later when I get more results.

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In the meantime, I am just so ecstatic with the result of this cooking experiment! I would never find this fantastic quality of duck meat (and cooking of course hahah! 😂) anywhere else! Cheers! 😄

Duck Weekend: Duck springrolls

Greetings, my ducks! 😜 It’s a weekend and we had a duck selected for weekend meal and here it is! I recorded a video of my amazing butchering skills but decided not to post it here — at least not for now. 😄 Maybe later! But you can see in the photos the dressed duck (thanks to the great skills of our lady butcher, Terry), and then me butchering the duck, then the finished product – duck meat, liver and heart on one side and the bones and trims on the other side.
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For today, I decided to deal with the bones and trimmings. The cats think that’s a much better idea too! The duck is not very large, a dressed weight of 1.3kg, so it will not render a lot of fat. So I thought that I can probably use the meat for confit later and, for today – the bones, skin, fat and trimmings for spring rolls and broth.

The process is simple: put the bones, fat and trimmings into a pot and heat up, simmer, boil in its own fat and juices, brown it then add water (not too much) and seasonings. My choice of seasoning is salt, pepper and 5-spice powder. Let this cook for a while until the meat is soft and can be easily removed from the bones.

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Let this cool for a bit then start separating the meat from the bones (cats are waiting…).  Shred the meat up, you may or may not wish to include the skins. Here’s what I got from my bones and trimmings – the bones on one side and the shredded meat on the other side.

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Now that the cats are busy eating, I can start cooking. I have prepared some onion, garlic, chopped carrots and cabbage. The rice paper for the spring rolls are ready too. I use these Vietnamese rice paper. When your ingredients are ready and you’re ready to roll, you can prepare the rice paper. You don’t cook this rice paper. You just soften it by putting a damp towel over it until it is soft enough to roll. This type of rice paper is eaten fresh! I love this because sometimes I’m too lazy to fry stuff … 😜

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Here, I’ve put duck and veggies together and cooked, seasoned, added a bit of the broth, and let it cool down a bit before attempting to start rolling!

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And here are my finished duck spring rolls!!! Served with Hoisin sauce! Now these are two ingredients you shouldn’t skip in the preparation of this dish: the 5-Spice powder and the Hoisin Sauce. Those two make such an enormous difference in the taste, flavour of this duck dish.

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And here’s the spring rolls served with a salad of home-grown singkamas (jicama). I was surprised how well these went together!!! I think that’s because Vietnamese spring rolls (duck or vermicelli or other) are often served with a dipping of sweet vinegar, and the vinegar dressing in the salad just partnered perfectly with these spring rolls. PLUS the crunch of the singkamas compliments the softness of the rice paper – fantastic!

Bon appétit! 😍

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Cooking with Duck

Earlier this year, my sister treated us to a fantastic meal at a Cantonese restaurant in Quezon City. We ordered the duck, of course! Now if I remember correctly, this was a duck served 3 ways (or was it 4)? Anyway, the duck found in Chinese restaurants are usually the pekin duck and not the muscovy or barbary duck.

Both pekin and muscovy are domestic duck breeds. The pekin breed is descended from the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the muscovy duck breed is descended from the muscovy (Cairina moschata).

The meat of the pekin duck is probably what most people are familiar with since it is the staple in many Chinese restaurants. This duck meat is quite fatty and moist and imparts a taste and flavour that is typically associated with “duck” flavour. The meat of the muscovy duck, however, is quite different. It is not as fatty and it has a flavour much closer to that of sirloin steak or beef.

Anyway, here are a few photos of the meal at the Chinese restaurant. Typically, the duck is baked and the meat is carefully carved. The meat is used to prepare a number of dishes (such as chopped and mixed with vegetables and spices, and eaten by wrapping in lettuce; or wrapped in rice paper with onion leeks and hoisin sauce), and the bones used to make soup. The idea is to use the whole duck to serve a fantastic meal.

Here is a fantastic video I found on The Lexicon of Food (below), showing how duck can be prepared from beak to butt! – nothing wasted. This looks more like muscovy duck meat to me! I love it totally – definitely a must try!

Happy New Year! 🙂

Ducks Mimic Eating Motions

Shortly after feeding the ducks this afternoon, I noticed this unusual behaviour amongst a couple of mature female ducks. These are mature egg-laying duck hens. They have just finished eating when they began to mimic the sweeping motions of feeding with their beaks. Here are two videos showing this peculiar behaviour. The second video shows the ducks stretching their necks, moving their heads upwards.

I assumed it was part of a mating ritual but the first video might dispute this, where there is a mature male duck (drake) nearby, drinking from a plastic basin, and inadvertently pushing one of the duck hens aside, a bit of a scuffle ensuing.

Do you know what this behaviour means?

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I was able to spend some time with the ducks and take these photos before it started to rain.

Wake for a Dead Fish

This fish floated dead* in the pond so we decided to give it to the pigs. They didn’t want it. To the chickens, they didn’t want it. To the ducks, and this was their response. Yet another behaviour that we can only speculate upon. A similar behaviour occurred earlier this year, when a female duck was killed by the alpha drake, see Do Ducks Know How To Grieve.

*We have a not so large tilapia pond. Quite a number of small tilapia have appeared. I wasn’t able to catch any of the large tilapia lately because they have become smarter (and less hungry since it is chesa season and some of the fruits have fallen into the pond). As the fish population grows, the older and bigger ones die.