With all the controversy stirred up by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of the Muscovy as a species native to the U.S. in Texas, I decided to do some research. Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire, http://www.yellowhousenh.com/, wrote an excellent article about Muscovies for Backyard Poultry’s February/March issue, but it is not posted online. I’m preparing a brochure on Muscovies based on that article. This pair are from Harvey Ussery's Modern Homestead in Virginia, http://www.themodernhomestead.us/.
For the homestead or small-scale farm focusing on sustainable agriculture, Muscovies are a goldmine; there’s no way around it. They are fantastic foragers, extremely fertile, excellent mothers, disease free, self-reliant, tough as nails, and funny as all get out. In short, they are possessed of the most worthy farming qualities that recommend them to almost any farm or homestead.
Muscovies were already domesticated when Europeans arrived in the Americas. They were called Musk Ducks, which may have contributed to their name. The musk refers to the scent the males develop in maturity. Other possible origins of the name are the Muscovite Company, a 16th century trading company and the nation of Muisca, a South American Native American confederation located in what is now Colombia, which is within the Muscovy’s natural range. Be that as it may, European explorers brought Muscovies back, along with turkeys, by the early 16th century.
The musk scent can be avoided by slaughtering males before 17 weeks of age, when they acquire those glandular odors.
Muscovy hens are excellent mothers who lay large clutches of eggs and then set on them. That makes them prolific reproducers, but inappropriate as egg producers. Lewis Wright in his 1890 Illustrated Book of Poultry remarks on the low egg production, and tells stories of the nasty and aggressive nature of the males. “We recollect well an old rascal which belonged to a relative, and was kept in a yard with some Dorkings. The first time the drake attacked him the Dorking cock showed fight, but was quickly demolished, and after that the drake made the poor fellow’s life a positive burden to him. His favourite mode of offensive warfare was to rush at the poor Dorking like a battering-ram, and knock him clean off his legs, trampling over him as he fell; and we often wished in a half-hearted way for a good sharp-fighting Game Cock to teach him a lesson or two. For these and other reasons, the Musk Duck can hardly be called a profitable variety.”
By 1912 in the U.S. the International Correspondence Schools found Muscovies very desirable, both as meat birds and for exhibition, as shown in this illustration from the volume on Standard Bred Poultry. At that point, two varieties, Colored and White were recognized. The American Poultry Association now recognizes White, Black, Blue and Chocolate. Other varieties are also raised, including Black, Blue and Chocolate Magpie and Lavender.
Joseph finds no such aggression problems in his flock, although the males can be aggressive toward each other during breeding season. “The result of Muscovy fighting is rarely as drastic as that which can occur in the wake of a battle between two cockbirds. Muscovies are more like sumo wrestlers than sword-thrusting samurai. Although their claws are certainly sharp, the thick and close-knit feathering of their opponents is quite effective in avoiding any bloodshed. As a whole, they thrash about, locked about the neck in a stubborn embrace. They flap their wings wildly, mostly against the ground and push each other back and forth. Over the course of the season, they tend to snap off their flight and tail feathers at half mast, which leads to a rather dreadful appearance. This is, however, primarily cosmetic, and, although they tend to look like something the cat dragged in by mid-summer, the worst bruise is to their pride. Luckily, the time of molt tends to signal the end of the mating rush. Molting refreshes their outfit and they return to looking comically debonair until such point as February awakens their lust for life.”