Cayuga ducks are a beautiful and wonderfully docile breed. They were once the most popular meat duck in both the United States and England. Sadly, these docile and lovely poultry birds were classified as “threatened”, but have improved their population numbers to the point where they now have just a “watch” designation.
Finding Cayuga ducks to start or add to an existing flock will not be as simple as venturing to your local Tractor Supply or Rural King during their famed “Chick Days” events. But, the searching through the duck offerings of hatcheries online or breeder listings can be well worth the effort.
Cayuga Duck History
This classic duck breed is believed to have originated in Great Britain from a breed of black English ducks in the 1860s but, just two decades later, all signs of these ducks had disappeared.
The Black Indies duck may have been naturally crossed with a Rouen duck, but that theory is mainly conjecture from duck experts based upon the physical characteristics of these poultry birds.
When invoking local lore to help determine the origins of the Cayuga duck breed, there is ample confusion to go around. One story maintains that a miller in Duchess County, New York originated the breed from a pair of wild ducks that he caught on the pond at the mill in 1809.
Some research into this theory can indicate the ducks created from the wild paid at the mill were actually the Gadwall breed.
John S. Clark introduced this enigmatic duck breed in Cayuga County, New York along the Finger Lakes region in 1840. How the black ducks that are believed to have played a role in the creation of this breed got from England to New York and into Clark’s hands, remains unknown.
The earliest known documentation of the Cayuga duck breed indicated they were living in the central or western region of the state among the Cayuga people on Cayuga Lake – one of the Finger Lakes.
The exact lineage of the Cayuga duck breed remains an often hotly debated topic among keepers and livestock historians. The true origins of these once favorite meat ducks may never be known, but the breed name definitely comes from the location where they were once kept in great abundance.
The Cayuga duck was first officially recognized as a breed in 1874 by the American Standard of Perfection. It was not until 1907 after the Cayuga ducks were shown at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace were they recognized as a standard breed in Great Britain.
Until the 1890s, the Cayuga ducks were the most popular meat duck by culinary chefs until the Pekin duck came onto the poultry bird scene on a global scale.
Cayuga Duck Fast Facts
- The average lifespan of a Cayuga duck is commonly at least 10 years
- Medium class duck weighing 7 to 8 pounds on average once mature
- Dual purpose meat and egg poultry bird
- Produces 100 to 150 extra large eggs annually
- Cayuga hens lay white to black eggs
- Eggs typically weigh between 75 to 90 grams
- Cayuga eggs hatch in 28 days
- Docile and intelligent breed that easily learns free ranging routine
- Ducks of this breed typically reach maturity in 20 to 24 weeks
Cayuga Duck Physical Features
- They have black plumage that is derived from a mutation often found in wild Mallard duck breeds
- The plumage on Cayuga ducks is iridescent in uniform feathering of greenish to black. The plumage is often referred to as a being like a wing on a beetle when referencing its shimmer.
- The bills, feet, and shanks of a Cayuga duck are black – but the feet can turn orange as they age.
- The feathers on a Cayuga duck can change as they age. When the ducks are usually between 4 to 18 months old gray shades in their plumage can begin to emerge.
- Members of this duck breed have orange to black legs.
- Cayuga ducks boast a low carriage and wide, well-rounded breasts.
- Mature males often display a well pronounced drake feather – curled feather on the tail.
- When molting Cayuga ducks turn white, which makes their plumage appear mottled. This is a natural transition as the bird ages. Some Cayuga ducks have close to all white plumage as they start to reach their old age.
Cayuga Egg Production
Even though this dual-purpose duck breed was traditionally kept as a meat, their eggs are large, rich, and creamy. For newbie duck keepers who are used to chicken eggs, the size and flavor difference will be a huge surprise – a pleasant one.
Unless you keep Pekin ducks, even a seasoned duck keeper might still be at least a little impressed with the size of the eggs.
Although Cayuga hens can lay white eggs, many hens also produce eggs with a black shell. The uniqueness of the Cayuga eggs is another reason why these birds are seeing a comeback.
While the black egg laying is not rare with this breed, in my experience the eggs laid are most typically an olive green hue.
At the beginning of the year, a Cayuga hen will lay her darkest eggs. As time goes on, the egg shells continue to get more and more light. By the time the hen is fairly done laying during the winter months, she will usually be laying eggs that are white – or nearly so, in color.
The hens of this breed are commonly extremely attentive mommas. They will often sit their own eggs – and sometimes go broody. Cayuga ducklings usually have all black plumage when they are born.
Even though many Cayuga duck hens are good sitters, you may still want to invest in an incubator to ensure the highest hatching yield.
Like nearly all other breeds of domesticated ducks, their fertilized eggs are highly susceptible to even minor and brief changes to humidity. You should expect a successful hatching rate of 50 to 70 percent.
Cayuga Meat Production
Meat from a Cayuga duck is often thought to boast a flavor that is far more similar to beef than the meat commonly produced by poultry birds. The breast meat on a Cayuga duck is smaller than that on a Pekin duck.
That fact might have played a part in the decrease in popularity of using this breed as a meat producer. Pekin ducks also tend to put weight on more quickly than Cayuga, making them more economical to raise to a butcher weight.
Due to the dark feathering, Cayuga ducks can take a little longer to pick clean to the bone than Pekins and other heavy weight class poultry birds with light plumage.
Skinning Cayuga ducks as opposed to plucking them may be the easier and faster route to go when harvesting meat from these poultry birds.
Cayuga Duck Behavior
Members of this duck breed are often regarded as one of the hardiest domestic breeds on the planet.
Not only can they thrive even in harsh cold weather conditions, but they procreate and lay eggs basically year round, and boast highly successful hatch rates.
- When raised from ducklings and interacted with regularly, Cayuga ducks are extremely affable, and sometimes even affectionate with their keepers.
- Ducks of this breed are quite docile with their keepers and other flock members.
- Some keepers feel Cayugas are very quiet, while others find the hens to be pretty talkative and on the loud side. If you need to keep a quiet breed because of nearness of neighbors or local laws, it would be best to stick to the almost silent Muscovy breed.
- Members of this breed are heralded for their hardy disposition and ability to survive very cold weather. As long as the Cayuga ducks have ample water to cool off in during the hot summer months, this breed is prone to being hot climate hardy, as well.
- Cayuga ducks are consummate foragers. When allowed to free range a broad area they are fully capable of providing at least two thirds of their daily dietary needs for themselves. A Cayuga duck’s favorite foraging finds include slugs, mosquitoes, snails, and tadpoles.
- The friendly nature of Cayuga ducks, combined with their beauty, are the primary reasons why some folks choose to keep them simply as farm pets to adorn a pond.
- Although domesticated duck breeds cannot really fly, some keepers have claimed to have witnessed a member of this breed pull off more than the typical few inches off the ground, and move forward more than one foot in the air, by Cayugas.
Cayuga ducks are a joy to watch and raise. They are an exceptionally hardy breed that when given a safe and clean place to live and adequate food, they will produce a robustly flavorful meat, creamy eggs, and hatch after hatch of ducklings to raise for sale.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day. her homesteading skills are unmatched, she raises chickens, goats, horses, a wide variety of vegetables, not to mention she’s an expert is all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping and many, many more.