The Aylesbury

Sheila Holligon
Costa del Sol, Spain

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2000, 5(1):5

Although we never kept the Aylesbury duck ourselves, it is one which most people recognize on sight in the UK, and one which has been around for a very long time. This big white breed was first exhibited in the UK at the very first poultry show in 1845, in a class described as "Aylesbury" or other white variety. The other duck class was labled severally "Any other variety," which shows how popular the Aylesbury was at that point. The name comes from the town of Aylesbury.

This is a big breed, with the drake weighing 10 to 12 lbs. (4.55 to 5.44 kg.) and the duck weighing 9 to 11 lbs. (4.10 to 4.98 kg.). It has a very distinctive body shape with a keel parallel to the ground, and the body is long and broad, with strong wings and a short tail and sturdy legs. The plumage is bright and glossy and pure white, and as in most breeds of ducks, the drake has that delightful curly tail to differentiate him from his female.

The Anglian Mixture set of cigarette cards, first produced in 1927, shows an Aylesbury duck and a drake (illustration above). The reverse of the card is enthusiastic over the breed, describing it as "beautiful in its glossy white plumage, very hardy, a good layer and sitter and a plump bird for the table. The shanks and feet are orange colored, and the bill a delicate pink tinge." This pink tinge is still the required colour in today's Standards.

In his book The Illustrated Book of Poultry, published in the UK in 1890, Lewis Wright writes "The great merits of the Aylesburys are their hardiness, great size and above all, their early development to maturity." This last point is an important one if you are considering raising ducks for meat. Duck eggs are an acquired taste, but are wonderful for cooking and baking, especially to produce what are called "egg custards" in the UK.

We did enjoy eating our own duck eggs even though we didn't eat any of the ducks. We had been living on our little patch of land in Yorkshire for some time, surrounded by a river on three sides, but had been concentrating on our poultry collection and had not thought of ducks. Then I was presented with a very small duckling that had been abandoned by her mother. Poppy was some sort of Mallard cross. She followed the dog around and slept between his paws, bullied the cats for their dinners and heaved herself up the steps into the trailer where we lived every time she felt the need for company. I had not known before how endearing ducks are, how they can become imprinted on you at a very early age, and how having once kept ducks you never want to be without them again.

We procured some Crested ducks and some Cayugas and very briefly a couple of Call ducks. They were greeted on arrival by Poppy, marched down to the river and given a guided tour. She was so very tame that we only had to call her name and she would come hurrying back off the river, bringing all the rest of the flock with her, very useful at night time. Fastening ducks in at night keeps them safe from foxes and it also means that you get all their eggs, as they lay early in the morning, conveniently before you let them out for the day. We were lucky having the river round us, for how much ducks love water and their daily dabbling in it. They also forage for a lot of their own food if they have access to flowing water. They can be kept without running water, but they will need a constant supply of clean fresh water if they are to be kept well and productive.





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