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Friday, July 8, 2022

Ancona Duck Breed Guide – Start Here

by Tara Dodrill

Ancona ducks are both rare and beautiful poultry birds. These domesticated ducks have unique and broken – colored feathering patterns that makes them both easy to identify, and engaging to watch.

Ducks of this breed are classified as multi-purpose or dual-purpose because they are raised for eggs as well as meat. The beauty and friendly nature of Ancona ducks has also endeared them to backyard keepers and homesteaders alike as farm pets.

Ancona ducks are a medium weight breed that tends to be calm and intelligent. I believe they are second to only Pekin ducks in barnyard common sense and ease for free range training. The average lifespan of Ancona ducks is 10 years in captivity.

History of Ancona Ducks

Despite their attractive plumage and enigmatic personalities, Ancona ducks have threatened population numbers. According to the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, members of this duck breed was deemed critically endangered in 2015.

There were just roughly 124 known Ancona duck mature breeder ducks in America a decade ago. Some slight increases of about 1,500 breeding pairs have been noted in the recent years.

The little uptick in population numbers prompted the move from critically endangered to “watch” list status.

There has been some heated debate over the exact origins of the Ancona duck breed. Until about 1913 these ducks were thought to have hailed from Great Britain.

It was then the Water Fowl Club of America’s yearbook stated a Knowlesville, New York farmer created the Ancona breed.

W.J. Wirt, the owner and operator of Ridge View Farms maintained he had crossbred multiple different varieties of American standard breeds of ducks to create the Ancona breed.

Soon after Wirt’s announcement about the new duck breed, Anconas started to take first place in the Wildum Duckery of Rowley show in Boston.

It remains unclear which breeds of ducks were used to create the Ancona. Some duck keepers think there is some body style similarity to the Pekin – which is not a native breed to the United States.

Others look at the Ancona and think that Indian Runner ducks as well as the Belgian Huttegems also were somehow in the cross-breeding mix. Magpie ducks may be a close relative of the Ancona as they share multiple similar physical characteristics.

Ancona Duck Physical CharacteristicsAncona is known to be a hardy breed, and boasts above average disease and parasite resistance.

Duck mating is often rough on the hens as drakes are not prone to be gently amorous. Ancona ducks may be the most mild maters in the world of domesticated ducks.

Ancona ducks are classified as a medium class bird based upon their weight. Unlike many heritage breeds of various livestock, members of this duck breed have a fairly fast growth rate.

Mature ducks of this breed range in size from nearly six to six and a half pounds.

Ancona ducks have a bill that is concave at the top line and of medium length.

Ancona ducks are fairly stocky for a medium class breed. Their body style and bulk is similar to a Magpie but is a little less robust than a Pekin.

The head on Ancona duck is similar in plumage to the fur on a Holstein cow – but without a standardized feather design. The plumage is a mix of white and colored feathers with broken color areas on not just the head but the back, sides, and underbelly of Anconas, as well.

The most common plumage coloring on Ancona duck breed members include: silver and whtie, black and white, chocolate and white, blue and white, and lavender and white.

The head is oval in shape and is connected to a neck that slightly arches forward. The neck of Ancona ducks is always solid white.

The bill on Ancona ducks is yellow to dark green in color. A tiny amount of black speckling or spotty can also be present on the bill – which is similar to the greenish black speckling on the bill of a Pekin duck.

Ancona legs and feet are orange with black or brown markings that appear and become more distinct with age.

Any chocolate plumage present on an Ancona duck is the result of a sex-linked and recessive trait that is solely carried by drakes. When a chocolate drake mates with a black hen all of the females will be chocolate, and all of the males will be black. When a black drake mates with a chocolate hen all of ducklings will turn out black regardless of sex.

As is the same situation with all domesticated duck breeds, the Ancona cannot fly – not really. These birds are capable of getting a couple of inches off the ground when flapping their little wings really hard and then moving forward may 12 inches or so before their fanciful flight comes to an abrupt end.
Due to their size and agile nature, once mature Ancona ducks far less often fall victim to birds or prey (except with eagles) than some other domesticated duck breeds. There are however, tragic exceptions to the rule. I have twice found dead mature Jumbo Pekin ducks that a hawk tried to make its dinner dropped on our hilly farm acres away from the barnyard.
Ancona Duck Demeanor And Eating Habits

Members of this duck breed are as hardy as they are sweet. Ancona ducks seem to enjoy human interaction, even though they do not require it in order to survive in the wild. They are not easily startled wether in or outside of the coop and run.

Ancona ducks love to free range and are capable of foraging for up to half of their daily dietary needs. Even when still in the duckling stage a young Ancona will still likely be a voracious forager.

But, unlike Pekin ducks, these beauties rarely venture too far from their living quarters. If you have a small homestead of only five to 10 acres or are a backyard keeper, the Ancona will still have the room to roam they desire to feed themselves.

Some of an Ancona duck’s favorite foraging meals include: slugs, insect larvae, snails, tadpoles and small frogs, small fish, tiny lizards, mosquitoes, and wild greens.

To provide a continuous supply of free and naturally healthy food for an Ancona flock, consider using a chicken tractor to safely relocate them to other areas of the homestead or farm to forage for more food once their favorite stomping grounds near the duck house have been depleted.

Ducks typically cause far less damage to a garden area than chickens due to the difference in the rounding of the bill as opposed to a pointy beak.

Still, allowing Ancona or any other duck breed free access to your garden results in trampled ground crops and the loss of possibly your entire patch of lettuce.

Because Ancona ducks prefer to spend as much time on the water as they, investing in some aquatic plants, such as water lettuce and duck week, will help keep the flock in natural food during the winter months, and when they have cleaned out the pests from around their living quarters.

Ancona ducks often make a sound that is similar to the squeaking of a metal hinge while happily foraging for a meal. Members of this duck breed are docile, quiet unless substantially startled, and get along well when living with or duck breeds, chickens, or guineas.

Members of this duck breed are climate hardy in both hot and cold environments. Neither summer humidity nor the chilly winter nights in February seem to deter an Ancona duck’s desire to free range, lounge outside, go swimming, or mate.

When you need to supplement the feed of the Ancona flock chicken or poultry bird feed can be used.

Waterfowl feed may be best, but it is not usually stocked at agriculture supply stores, especially in rural regions. Game bird feed is highly recommended during the winter months to give the duck a needed protein boost.

Only use non-medicated chick starter when feeding ducklings, medicated chick starter can be very detrimental to the health of the young ducks.
Egg Production

Ancona hens are excellent layers of quality eggs with hard shells, but they are more often than not, awful sitters. This is a highly unusual trait in a heritage poultry bird breed and perhaps part of the reason why their population numbers have dipped so low.

If you want to sustain or increase flock numbers, investing in an incubator would be incredibly wise.Hens of this breed usually lay between 210 and 280 large grade eggs annually.
Ancona hen eggs can range in color from white to cream, and also include light shades of blue.
These hens rarely ever go broody.
Ancona duck hens usually lay eggs heavily for five to eight years before the quantity but not the quality of the eggs dwindles as they age. The peak laying years are from hatching through age three.
An Ancona hen’s age gradually increases in size from when she starts laying at around four months old until she reaches maturity.
An egg laid by a duck hen of this breed weighs approximately 70 grams.
Ancona Husbandry Tips

There are no breed specific husbandry tips for Ancona that are not present for all other domesticated duck breeds.

They need a clean and safe living area, such as a duck house or a duck coop and run. The living quarters need to protect the Ancona duck flock from both the elements and predators.

Clean and dry bedding needs to be inside of the living area. Damp and moldy bedding can breed bacteria and cause the growth of mold that can be deadly to the flock. If the Ancona ducks spend the bulk of their day inside of the run, straw will occasionally need to spread around the run to dry up the mud created by the ducks hopping in and out of the baby pool and splashing.

Ducks need constant access to clean drinking water, as well. A duck should never be without access to clean water to drink, and at least dip their head and neck into for longer than eight hours.

Growing vegetables, greens, and fruit inside the run (enclosing them in a hardware cloth cage until mature) will simulate foraging and provide a reduced cost and healthy alternative to supplementing the diet with a substantial amount of grain.

There is really no need to put nesting boxes in a duck house or duck coop. It would be extremely beyond rare for a duck hen to actually lay an egg in a nest like a chicken hen.

But, duck hens (regardless of breed) lay between sunset and dawn, making it easy to know when to search around the coop and to gather delicious farm fresh large duck eggs.
Final Thoughts

Being a heritage breed, the Ancona was bred selectively to generate specific traits that solidified over generations to ultimately led to a purebred line without a distortion of the desired attributes.

Like other heritage breeds of livestock, they tend to be exceptionally hardy and require little to even zero human intervention in order to survive.

Starting or expanding a duck flock using Anconas will add not only more beauty to your barnyard, but likely also bolster the hardiness and disease resistance to future duckling hatches.

Due to the docile and social nature of members of this duck breed, they may also help to calm any more anxious and vocal duck breeds you are already keeping.

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