Duck Eggs — all they’re cracked up to be

Sound Consumer | July 2011

by Erica Strauss

Ask someone why they enjoy duck eggs and you’ll likely hear how rich they are compared to chicken eggs.

Duck eggs can be used in all the ways you’d enjoy chicken eggs, but they boast a proportionally larger yolk than a chicken egg, with a slightly higher fat content. This gives them a wonderful character that’s winning over chefs and consumers.

Pastry chefs love duck eggs because the protein of the whites whips high and light and adds loft to baked goods. The smooth, dark golden-orange yolk imparts a creaminess and color to pastries, custards and ice cream that even the best chicken egg can’t match.

When fried or poached, care should be taken not to overcook duck eggs, because the whites can become tough.

When you use duck eggs for the first time, you’ll notice their heft. They sit solidly in your hand, with a cream or pale green shell you have to work a bit to crack. This thick shell shields the egg from outside contaminants and dehydration. Because of this, the eggs will keep, refrigerated, for more than a month without losing substantial quality.

You may have seen duck eggs nestled in the refrigerator case alongside chicken eggs at your local PCC. Duck eggs look like jumbo (or larger) chicken eggs and are sold by the dozen, just as chicken eggs are.

They generally cost a few dollars more per dozen than premium chicken eggs, but since one duck egg is about 1.7 times the size of a large chicken egg, they’re worth the extra expense.

Jon Stiebrs raises ducks and chickens at Stiebers Farms and provides PCC with Farmer Jon’s Valley Pride duck eggs. I spoke with him about the joys and challenges of raising egg-laying ducks.

According to Jon, ducks are more sensitive and more excitable than chickens and, if conditions aren’t right, they will simply stop laying eggs. “Ducks need a lot of attention,” he says. “Everything has to be just perfect.”

Learning to work with the ducks has required some effort. Jon and his team traveled to Canada, where they observed the practices of a successful Canadian duck egg farm. Those observations and their own experiences on their farm in Yelm, Washington, helped Stiebers Farms implement systems that ensured they could supply the rapidly growing demand for duck eggs.

Stiebers keeps its ducks healthy, happy and laying consistently by supplying supplemental heat in the evening, and contracts with a poultry feed expert who custom designs the rations the layer ducks receive.

Despite Jon’s best efforts, ducks by nature are very sensitive to daylight lengths and weather conditions, and egg supply fluctuates seasonally.

The ducks are housed amongst the flocks of chickens in open, communal houses. Within the mixed flock, Jon says, “the ducks all stay together in a little flock.” He describes the ducks, 250 strong, in a hen house surrounded by far more chickens, moving together as a single herd.

Ducks require greater up-front investment before they begin to lay. Compared to chickens, which can begin to lay eggs when they are 18 weeks old, ducks do not lay until week 27.

Jon packages his duck eggs in cartons designed to hold jumbo chicken eggs, but it’s normal to see variation in the sizes of eggs within a carton. Unlike chicken eggs, which are graded by size (Jumbo, Extra-Large, Large, etc.), grading for duck eggs is not standardized or required.

Jon says raising ducks is a “big commitment,” but the end result is chefs and consumers who clamor for his duck eggs.

Look for Farmer Jon’s Valley Pride duck eggs at your local PCC. Because demand for this increasingly popular product can exceed supply, it’s a good idea to call your local store and confirm that duck eggs are in stock.

Erica Strauss writes about edible gardening, seasonal eating and urban homesteading at nwedible.com. She enjoys frise salads topped with fried duck egg.

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