Welsh Harlequin ducks are a relatively new breed when compared with those top meat and egg duck varieties that have been around for centuries. Their newness to the marketplace, and somewhat difficult to find nature has not hampered the ability of Welsh Harlequins to become an incredibly popular breed.
Members of this duck breed are primarily raised for their egg and not meat production, because of their size. Due to their smaller size, there is not enough meat on the bone of a Welsh Harlequin for breeders to consider them a viable money maker.
However, the meat is quite tasty. Some homesteaders and farmers do butcher a few Welsh Harlequins for the cook pot because they populate the flock so quickly. Welsh Harlequin meat is flavorful, lean, and is not very greasy.
One of the many attributes of this duck breed is the rapid procreating abilities of hens and roosters. Drakes are so amorous that you only need one to service an entire flock of 10 to 12 hens.
Possessing too many drakes can actually harm a flock because hens become overly taxed, causing potentially lethal damage to their reproductive systems.
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Welsh Harlequin Duck History
Welsh Harlequins were created quite by accident. Welsh duck breeder Leslie Bonnet discovered and fostered this breed in 1949. Bonnet, a British Royal Air Force officer, banker, publicist, and scholar, noticed a unique and beautiful genetic “mishap” in a batch of Khaki Campbell ducklings that caused them to be incredibly light in color.
Leslie Bonnet worked diligently to develop this genetic abnormality through Khaki Campbell breeding on his 25 acre estate. Bonnet ultimately became a highly renowned duck breeder on a worldwide scale.
Bonnet’s bestselling book, Practical Duck-Keeping was published in 1960. It is still largely considered a top duck breeding and husbandry guide globally.
In the book, Bonnet staunchly maintained that Welsh Harlequins were cultivated to create a standard line of egg layers that could out produce Khaki Campbells. He also wanted to develop an incredibly docile and calm duck breed.
On average, Welsh Harlequin hens can lay 300 eggs per year, and do so without any substantial interruption over the cold weather months, when proper husbandry habits are followed. He succeeded on both counts.
In 1968, Welsh Harlequin ducks that descended from the original chicks once they became breeders themselves, were living in just two small blocks. The breed gene pool had to become vastly diversified in order to grow and thrive.
John Fugate imported some fertilized Welsh Harlequin eggs to America later that same year. Soon after more, more descendants from the purebred Welsh Harlequin breeders were imported to the United States.
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At Fugate’s request, breeders Dave and Millie Holderread also helped to broaden the gene pool of this new and developing breed. Holderread also published a top selling duck husbandry book titled Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks.
It was not until the 1970s that Welsh Harlequin ducks finally had consistently growing and stable population numbers. In 2001, the light silver feathering of Welsh Harlequins was set as the acceptable breed standard by the American Poultry Association.
Welsh Harlequin Physical Attributes
- Mature Welsh Harlequin ducks generally weigh between 5 to 5 and a half pounds.
- Ducks of this breed are deemed “light class” because they do not weigh as much as larger birds – meat birds.
- Welsh Harlequin drakes are not as good as monitoring the area for trouble and alerting his hens as drakes of some breeds, likely because he is most often far more focused on breeding above all other things.
- These ducks have a medium sized back and a full abdomen area.
- The body of a Welsh Harlequin is long in nature, and includes a streamlined but rounded chest area.
- The heads of Welsh Harlequin ducks are filled with colorful feathers. The head area is oval in shape.
- Reddish to chestnut colored feathering with both or either white and chestnut “frosting” are present on the shoulders of Welsh Harlequin ducks.
- The feathering on ducks of this breed also includes a bit of green on the heads of drakes once they mature. This physical characteristics likely comes from their Khanki Campbell heritage.
- The breast region on Welsh Harlequin ducks is a white or cream with chestnut or reddish plumage.
- The backs on ducks of this breed boast a tortoiseshell pattern in shades of white, brown, and cream. Some parts of these wings have a bronze cross band and shiny green shades of coloring.
- Welsh Harlequin ducks have webbing on their feet, and legs that are orange. The toenails on the ducks are brownish to black in shade. The brown shading typically does not appear until they start to mature.
- Rust or burnt orange plumage is present on parts of the neck, breast, and head of Welsh Harlequin ducks.
- Tails on ducks of this breed boast white edging, bronze to black feathers, and some stippling in brown.
- Welsh Harlequin hens grow through either a silver or gold phase where their plumage adopts more of this coloring once they are 24 months old.
- When ducklings of this breed are hatched, those that have a dark bill during the first few days of life are male, and the ones with a pink tip on their bills are female. On day four after hatching a male Welsh Harlequin’s bill will start to lighten in color. On day five, the bills of both males and females will be nearly identical. You’ll have to wait until the ducklings are around five weeks old when males make a raspy sounding quack, to get another good guess at sex.
- Mature birds of this breed will have a bill that is yellow to green in shade.
Welsh Harlequin Duck Demeanor
- These ducks are quite hardy in both cold and hot climates. If keepers provide adequate housing, clean water for swimming and drinking, as well as a safe run area, Welsh Harlequin ducks should multiply and thrive in most regions around the world.
- Ducks of this breed adapt quite well to changes in housing, and to seasonal environmental changes.
- Welsh Harlequin ducks were bred distinctively to develop a calm, affable, and docile breed. Their easy going manner is one of the reasons they have become so popular with homesteaders. They are kept not just for their egg laying, but also as a beautiful farm pet.
- More often than not, a Welsh Harlequin duck will accept or even seek out interaction with their human keepers – yet another reason while the breed has become so popular with keepers who want a “pet” that can also provide them with delicious eggs.
- Welsh Harlequin is an intelligent breed that tends to learn how to free range and its boundaries quite quickly. Members of this duck breed are prone to easy identification of their human keepers, and learn to trust them as a source of both safety and food in a short amount of time.
- These ducks are not as avid of a foraging breed as Pekin ducks, but they do prefer some free range time, and will eat up to one fourth of their daily dietary needs, on average, when allowed out of the duck house/coop and run. Foraging favorites of Welsh Harlequin ducks include: tiny lizards, grasshoppers, slugs, crickets, tadpoles, snails, young frogs, and slugs.
- Welsh Harlequin ducks may be a little bit more quiet than some other popular duck breeds – even the females.
You can expect to garner between 255 and 300 exceptionally creamy large white eggs from Welsh Harlequin ducks annually. This breed is highly prone to laying even during the winter – as long as the coop or duck house includes safe light fixtures.
A solar powered “coop light” or two inside of the duck house will help the Welsh Harlequin hens be exposed to the minimum of 10 hours per day they require to prompt solid egg production.
Duck Buying Tips
Purchasing ducks as ducklings and only from a reputable breeder is always highly encouraged no matter what breed you are purchasing.
Several common and popular breeds, such as the Pekin and Khaki Campbell can readily be found during twice annual “Chick Days” events at Rural King and Tractor Supply, but more unique breeds like the Welsh Harlequin duck, are rarely available at agricultural retail stores.
The Welsh Harlequin tips below should help guide you to reviewing not just ducklings, but juvenile and mature birds offered for sale by breeders, at poultry bird shows, and livestock auctions.
- Check the level of strength of the bird’s legs. They should feel sturdy and look properly developed for their age. The legs should also be uniform and not show any signs of hip placement that are too wide or too narrow or bow legged.
- Weigh the ducks on a scale or estimate their weight by lifting. A healthy duck should not weigh either one pound too little or one pound too much for their age.
- Both the coloring and pattern of their plumage should resemble the standard traits associated with the Welsh Harlequin breed.
- The body of a Welsh Harlequin should not be too blocky or stout – or too short.
- Feel the feathers on the duck’s head, they should not feel coarse if the bird is clean and healthy.
- The color of the Welsh Harlequin duck’s bill should conform to age appropriate color standards for the breed. Even slight deviations from the post-hatching to mature bill coloring could indicate either cross-breeding, or a subpar genes in the line.
- Learn as much as you can about the laying habits of not just the momma hen, but other mature hens in the same flock. If you are going to breed the ducks after acquiring a flock, always keep laying and hatching records to bolster the quality of your Welsh Harlequin line to potential buyers.
Sexing Welsh Harlequin Ducks
Never attempt to sex a duckling or older duck using the vent check method unles you have been properly trained.
Apply even just a little too much pressure or pressure on the wrong part of the body can not only severely damage the duck’s sex organs, but cause potentially deadly damage to internal organs.
Only use the vent checking method to sex a duck if you have been trained to do so by a veterinarian, or a quality experienced breeder – if at all.
Welsh Harlequin ducklings have differing bill color after hatching, as noted above. Look for the pink tip on the bill to determine if the bird is a male or female.
The pink shade is light or faint and some newbie keepers mistake it for a tan or salmon colored tip. Typically, you can determine sex on a new duckling with at least 75 percent accuracy using the bill color check method.
Keeping ducks of this breed will provide the family with ample eggs and a friendly new addition to any backyard flock or homestead.
Welsh Harlequin ducks are affable not only with their human keepers, but also when kept with ducks of other breeds, chickens, and guineas – in my personal experience.
Because it will take a little extra effort to find these ducks, such as ordering them from a hatchery and having them delivered, you may want to separate them from ducks of other breeds to keep the drakes and their high libidos from procreating with all of the hens sharing the same living quarters.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.