What springs to mind when you hear the word 'Aylesbury'? For those of us in the Midlands, it is the Aylesbury duck, a large duck with pure white feathers, a pink bill and orange legs and feet. Raising white ducks became popular in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in the 18th century when there was a huge demand for white feathers as a filler for quilts and pillows. Over the 19th century, breeding for size, shape and colour lead to the classic Aylesbury duck which was prized in London as the most exquisite of all ducks to eat.
Buckinghamshire became home to quite literally a cottage industry of duck rearing - the ducklings were so valuable that they often lived inside the cottages in the winter months. Once fully grown, the ducks were walked 40 miles to the London markets, their feet protected by waddling them first through a shallow ditch of cold tar and then through one of sawdust to provide them with a tarry/sawdusty form of shoe. Demand in the 19th century declined as the Pekin duck was introduced and took over in popularity. Now only one surviving flock of pure Aylesbury ducks remain, fittingly on Long Grove Wood Farm, Chesham, in Buckinghamshire.
If you fancy a dabble in duck keeping, then you might be surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily need a pond or a stream. That’s not to say ducks don’t love water. They do, but will be perfectly happy with a tin bath sunk into the ground, or even a paddling pool to splash around in. If the water isn’t free flowing in a stream or a pond, it will need to be changed regularly. Ducks need to wash their faces and feathers, especially in winter when their plumage needs to be in tip top condition to keep them warm. Otherwise duck keeping is just like hen keeping. A fox-proof run and duck house to keep them safe at night is vital, and they eat grain morning and night. Treats at sundown to tempt them in to the enclosure are a good idea. Ducks can see in the dark and, like small children, won’t head to bed without bribery.
The Domestic Waterfowl Club of Great Britain @ www.domestic-waterfowl.co.uk are always happy to advise, so contact them before taking the plunge. And check with your neighbours that they don’t mind starting their day with a quacking dawn chorus.