| Microlivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future |
|Part II : Poultry|
The muscovy (Cairina moschata), a unique ducklike species of the South American rainforest, belongs to a small group of waterfowl that perch in trees. In poultry science, however, it is normally grouped with domestic ducks for lack of a better classification.
Except in France, Italy and Taiwan muscovies have received little modern research. But their promise can be judged from the fact that they account for 50 percent of the duck meat consumed in France - about 60,000 tons per year - and they are often consumed in Italy and Taiwan as well.
For Third World subsistence farming, muscovies have excellent possibilities. There is probably no better choice for a meat bird that requires minimal care and feed. Tame, quiet, and able to forage for much of their keep, they are inherently hardy, vigorous, and robust. They have heavily fleshed breasts and are highly prized for their meat, which is dark, more flavorful, and less fatty than that of common ducks. An average muscovy gives more meat than a chicken of the same age, and it also survives hot, wet environments better. In addition, muscovies are better parents than the domestic duck. Females are probably the best natural mothers of any poultry species, as measured by their success at incubating their eggs and caring for their young.
All in all, this bird deserves more attention than it has received so far in Third World livestock projects. Dispersed around the warm and hot regions of the world, muscovies already exist in small numbers in backyards and villages, much like the domestic chicken in previous centuries. Despite a lack of research, the present unimproved stocks are already impressive meat yielders. Used more widely and more intensively, they could contribute much to poor people's meat supplies.
Crossing the muscovy with the common duck produces a hybrid that combines many of the advantages of both. This cross, known as "mulard," or "mule duck" in English, is raised in France for its liver and meat and is produced in quantity in Taiwan (see sidebar, page 132). It, too, has a major future role.
AREA OF POTENTIAL USE
Muscovies are suitable for use almost anywhere that chickens can be kept. Moreover, their tropical ancestry and inherent robustness give them an advantage in hot and humid climates.
APPEARANCE AND SIZE
Although a muscovy somewhat resembles a goose, it is one of the greater wood ducks of tropical South America. It was domesticated in pre-Columbian times, most likely in the rainforests of Colombia. Related wild types, looking very much like the muscovy, still occur in South American wetlands, particularly mangrove swamps.
Males have mature live weights of 5 kg and females about 2.5 kg. Both have broad and rounded wings. The adults have patches of bare skin around the eyes, rather than feathers. Much of this is covered in "caruncles," which superficially resemble warty outgrowths. The feet have sharp claws. Both sexes raise a crest of feathers when alarmed.
There is much color variation among the various muscovy populations including types that are called white, colored, black, blue, chocolate, silver, buff, and pied.2 The most common types (they are not considered breeds) are the white and the colored. The white produces a cleaner looking carcass, but the colored is the most popular meat type in France. Its plumage is an iridescent greenish black, except for white forewings.
The native range of the muscovy's probable wild ancestor covers much of Central America and northern South America. The domestic form also occurs over most of Latin America - from southern Chile to the northern limits of traditional culture in lowland Mexico - including the Caribbean, where it was present shortly after Columbus landed.3 The birds can be observed among the domestic fowl in the high Andes, for example, and are feral in southern coastal areas of the United States.
Carried across the Atlantic, probably in the early 1500s, the domesticated muscovy spread quickly in Europe, and thence to North America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Today, it finds favor with the food-loving French as "canard de Barbarie," and France has the greatest concentration of muscovies in Europe.
Down the centuries the muscovy became popular in tropical Asia (especially the Philippines and Indonesia) and in China and Taiwan. Throughout Indonesia (where it is known as "entok") it is popular with villagers for incubating eggs from ducks, geese, and chickens. It is now spreading into Oceania, and has recently gained particular favor in the Solomon Islands.
Muscovies are also known in Africa and can be found in many villages, especially in West Africa.
HABITAT AND ENVIRONMENT
Wild muscovies occur mainly along tropical jungle streams, but domestic muscovies are found in many environments from the heat of Central America to the cold of Central Europe. They also tolerate dry conditions, but they thrive best where climates are both hot and wet.
Muscovies utilize high-fiber feeds better than chickens and common ducks, and eat larger quantities of grass. They also consume other green vegetation and readily snap up any insects they can find. If quality forage is available, only a small daily ration of grain or pellets is required for them to reach peak production.
Muscovy females normally hatch and raise large broods efficiently. It is not unusual to see them with a dozen or more fragile ducklings in tow - many of them adopted from other species. They bravely protect their young and have been known to beat off cats, dogs, foxes, and other marauders.
Normally, muscovies are healthy and live and breed for many years. They suffer few diseases, especially when free ranging. However, they seem to be more susceptible to duck virus enteritis (duck plague) than common ducks.
While appearing to be slow and lethargic, muscovies can be quick and agile when one tries to catch them. Females are strong fliers and readily clear a standard fence. Males frequently become so ponderous that they cannot get airborne without an elevated perch or the aid of a strong wind. Although they forage over a larger area than chickens, they generally neither decamp nor wander as far as common ducks.
Domesticated muscovies are either solitary or live together in small family groups, but sometimes in winter they flock together on bodies of water. They swim and dive well.
These birds seldom make loud noises. A drake's voice resembles a muffled "puff"; females are almost mute. However, both can hiss or make a soft sound not unlike that of sleigh bells.
The muscovy is polygamous (a young male will try to mate with almost any fowl, including chickens). Mating can occur on land or in water. Males are pugnacious and tolerate no opposition. Because of this, they do not do well in close confinement.
A BETTER FLY TRAP
The muscovy is a voracious omnivore that is particularly fond of insects. For years, some Canadian farmers have sworn that a few muscovies took care of all fly problems on their farms. In 1989, Ontario biologists Gordon Surgeoner and Barry Glofcheskie (see Research Contacts) decided to put this to the test.
Starting with laboratory trials, the entomologists first put a hungry five-week-old muscovy into a screened cage with 400 living houseflies. Within an hour it had eaten 326. Later, they placed four muscovies in separate cages containing 100 flies each. Within 30 minutes over 90 percent of the insects were gone. It took flypaper, fly traps, and bait cards anywhere from 15 to 86 hours to suppress the populations that much.
Moving to fleld tests, the researchers placed pairs of twoyear-old muscovies on several Ontario farms. Videotapes showed the birds snapping at houseflies and biting flies about every 30 seconds and being successful on 70 percent of their attempts. With that efficiency, they achieved 80-90 percent fly control in enclosures such as calf rooms or piggeries. The birds were given only water and had to scavenge for all their food. Females seemed to eat about 10 percent more flies than males, and individuals of any age between eight days and two years were equally effective.
The birds fit the practical needs for farmyard fly control. They stayed close to piglets and calves, to which flies are particularly attracted. They even snatched flies off the hides of resting animals without waking them up. On one farm, the birds huddled between sleeping piglets and were accepted by the sow lying beside them. This was noteworthy because most fly-catching devices (chemical, electrical, or mechanical) must be kept far from animals.
To the Canadians, the economic advantages are clear. A 35-cow dairy needs $150-$590 worth of chemicals for controlling flies during the fly season; muscovy chicks, on the other hand, cost less than $2 each, eat for free, and can be sold for a profit of 200-400 percent.
The researchers point out that employing muscovies does not eliminate all need for insecticides, but it reduces the amounts required. And muscovies are biodegradable, will not cause a buildup of genetic resistance, and taste better than flypaper. Indeed, their meat is excellent, and the naturally mute birds seldom make any noise.
Reportedly, muscovies are kept in some houses in South America to control not only flies, but also roaches and other insects.
The muscovy is generally raised only for its meat, which is of excellent quality and taste. In stews it is hard to distinguish from pork; cured and smoked it is similar to lean ham.4 The fat content is low.
Muscovy eggs are as tasty as other duck eggs, and a muscovy female can supply a large number if she is kept from sitting.
These birds are useful for clearing both terrestrial and aquatic weeds.5
Down feathers are used, like those of other ducks, in clothing and comforters.
Muscovies may be raised like common ducks. An ideal grouping is one male to five or six females.
Except in Taiwan, France, Hungary, and a few other European countries, they exist predominantly in small flocks in farmyards and village ponds. However, they can be reared under intensive conditions in a shed or pen that is well lighted and equipped with low roosts and bedding. Under such conditions, they may be fed diets recommended for rearing common ducks or given coarse feeds, including whole grain. If chicken rations are used, fresh greens must be provided to avoid "cowboy" legs, a symptom of niacin deficiency.
Although they thrive in areas where there is abundant water, they do not require access to swimming water. They prefer to nest under cover and will use nesting boxes. A normal clutch size is 9-14 eggs; however, clutches of up to 28 can occur. There may be 4 clutches annually, and (when the hen does not have to brood the ducklings) some muscovies have laid 100 eggs in a year.6
The egg weight, which increases with the female's age, ranges from 65 to 85 g. The eggs require 33-35 days to hatch, a week longer than the common duck's. Hatching success of 75 percent or more is common.
Compared with domestic ducks early growth is slow, which is perhaps why muscovies have not enjoyed wider industrial use. However, after the slow period they grow rapidly and, because they forage on a broader range of vegetation than common ducks, they can scavenge a large proportion of their diet at little or no cost.
When raised intensively, females average 2 kg and males 4 kg at 11-12 weeks of age. Females may reach sexual maturity by 28 weeks of age; males require a month more.
THE MULE DUCK OF TAIWAN
In parts of Europe, hybrids between muscovies and common ducks are reared for fattening. However, Taiwan has made the most outstanding use of this "mule duck." Thanks in part to this muscovy hybrid, Taiwan's duck industry has grown rapidly in the last decade. The total value of duck products now exceeds $346 million per year. Much of the boom in duck production is due to improved feeding disease control and management systems, but much is also due to the performance of the mule duck.
This hybrid is now Taiwan's major meat-duck breed, and about 30 million are consumed each year. Indeed, the duck industry has been so successful that Taiwan is increasingly exporting frozen duck breast and drumstick meat to Japan. It now provides 24 percent of the duck meat eaten in Japan— most of it coming from mule ducks. Also, Taiwan is exporting partially incubated mule-duck eggs throughout Southeast Asia. And mule ducks supply most of the raw material for Taiwan's large feather industry.
Taiwan farmers have been producing mule ducks for 250 years, but the recent jump in production is due to the use of artificial insemination to overcome the natural reticence of the different species to mate. Fortunately, artificial insemination is well developed and is a standard part of farming practice in Taiwan.
Mule ducks are successful because they have less fat than a broiler chicken and they grow faster. Indeed, they can reach a market weight of 2.8 kg at 65 - 75 days of age, depending upon the weather, season, and management. In part, this fast growth is because they are sterile and waste no energy in preparing for a sexual existence or in laying eggs.
The usual cross employs a muscovy male and a domesticduck female. The domestic breeds most employed for muleduck production are White Kaiya (Pekin male x White Tsaiya female), Large White Kaiya (Pekin male x White Kaiya female) and colored Kaiya. Both sexes of the hybrid offspring weigh about the same.
Crosses between a muscovy hen and a domestic drake are much rarer (traditionally, this was because of the different mating behavior of the two species, but even with artificial insemination available they are not much used) and the males of these hybrids are much heavier than the females. Females of this cross do lay eggs, but the eggs are small (about 40 g) and their embryos do not develop.
There are almost 300 duck-breeding farms in Taiwan, annually producing more than 600,000 female domestic ducks for use in producing mule ducks. Some farmers combine duck raising with fish farming. The excrete of 4,000 ducks on one hectare of pond can provide 30,000 tilapia with 20 percent of their feed. It helps the farmer get rid of waste as well as giving him fresh fish to sell.
As noted, the muscovy is an extremely good forager and thrives under free-ranging conditions. Unlike other ducks, it grazes on grass and leaves and will maintain itself on pasture. Apparently, it can digest bran and other fibrous feeds better than common ducks can.
The males are larger than all but the largest strains of table duck. They have exceptionally broad, well-muscled breasts and provide one of the leanest meats of any waterfowl.
The muscovy is apparently more resistant to diseases that regularly decimate other poultry. This is one reason why villagers favored them: when chickens die, muscovies often survive.
The female's strong parental qualities help assure the survival of ducklings with a minimum of human intervention. Her ability to incubate and hatch most other poultry eggs is an added advantage to small farmers who have neither the capital to buy, nor the knowledge to operate, artificial incubators.
Unlike other ducks, muscovies are not easily alarmed, and fright does not affect their egg production and laying. Indeed, they are so phlegmatic that automobiles can be major causes of death.
Because they are a tropical species, these birds are much less tolerant of cold than common ducks and require more protection from freezing weather.
The muscovy's feed conversion is not as good as the chicken's. Also, compared with some other meat-duck breeds, muscovies have a slower rate of growth and require about 4 6 weeks longer to attain maximum development of breast muscles.
Muscovies can be difficult to handle. If their legs are free, the handler may be badly lacerated by the claws.
Although adults have a fair homing ability, muscovies may wander away when local forage is sparse, and young birds may be carried long distances downstream, never to return.
Because they feed on greenery, they can devastate gardens if the plants are very young.
Muscovies can be unsuspected carriers of poultry diseases, so that healthy-looking muscovies may infect the other species.
RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION NEEDS
Poultry scientists should unite in efforts to advance technical knowledge and public appreciation of this bird. Governments and researchers should begin evaluations of local varieties and their uses and performances. The experiences of France, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Taiwan should be gathered and made available for a worldwide readership.
It is important that the many muscovy varieties within the countries of Latin America - where the bird has a centuries-long history of domestication - be maintained and studied. Many superior varieties and specimens may be awaiting discovery.7
The muscovy's nutritional requirements, range and confined systems of management, and disease vulnerability are poorly understood and need study. Especially needed are ways to increase growth rate.