Aylesbury Duck

(Heavy Duck class)

Prepared by Michael Schlumbohm and Keith Bramwell, Department of Poultry Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Aylesbury Ducks The Aylesbury is a duck of English origin bred primarily for meat production. In fact, at one time in that country it was more popular than the Pekin and in some places is still grown commercially to this day. This breed is unique because the skin and bill are white as opposed to most other breeds of duck which have yellow skin and bills. They are only found with white feathers and lay eggs with white to tinted greenish white shells. The Aylesbury was recognized in the American Poultry Association's (APA) Standard of Perfection in 1874.

Standard Weights
Old Drake: 10 lbs.
Old Duck: 9 lbs.
Young Drake: 9 lbs.
Young Duck: 8 lbs.

In general, the Aylesbury is a large rectangular shaped duck, with a long body that is deep and moderately wide. The back should be horizontal, long and straight with as little an arch as possible. The stern is deep and should be nearly dragging the ground, and there should be close to a 90 degree angle from the end of the stern as it swings up to the tail. The breast is fairly wide and should be very deep. The breast then leads into the keel, which is deep and should nearly drag the ground. This keel should be long, straight, and free from cavities and should run clear through to in-between the legs. The head and neck are moderately long and refined with a bill that is long and should have a straight top line. The plumage is pure white and should show no sign of creaminess or any other color. The bill is a pale flesh color that approaches white with legs and feet that are orange and the eyes are blue.

Many very early writers of poultry first called the Aylesbury the English White but in the early 1800's their name was later changed to Aylesbury. The name Aylesbury comes from the town of Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire England, where it was developed as the type best suited to the requirements of the London meat market. In England it was regarded as superior to all other ducks as a market and table duck, thanks to its white skin, relatively small fine bones and well fleshed carcass. English duck growers particularly valued them for producing "ducklings" which were ducks slaughtered at seven to nine weeks of age. They were also prized as being early breeders and reaching sexual maturity rather quickly.

Despite being introduced to American poultry keepers several years before the Rouen, the Aylesbury never gained much favor or attention in the U.S. For many years they had an established position as one of three breeds of ducks most popular for the table. But after the introduction of the Pekin the market duck growers in this country abandoned the Aylesbury. Their objections to it were that it was not hardy under the conditions of duck growing in this country, and that it was too difficult to dress clean without tearing the skin. These faults were not noticed in England, because the climate is milder and duck growing has always been a "cottage" rather than a farm industry, and the English meat market did not demand that ducks be picked perfectly clean. As the Pekin grew in favor here in the U.S. the Aylesbury all but disappeared. But thanks to those people who used them as exhibition birds the Aylesbury was kept alive, although in small numbers.

Despite their lack of popularity, there have been and are several good quality strains of Aylesbury ducks. However, the Aylesbury remains very rare and is almost always underrepresented at most of America's shows. This is a breed that is in desperate need of more supporters.

Caution should be taken when conditioning Aylesburies for show. In order to maintain the white skin and bill color the birds should be kept out of sunlight. Otherwise, their feathers, bill, and skin will develop a yellow cast. Feeding additional corn should be avoided as well as green feed such as grass, lettuce, or other fresh produce. This will also be important if you want to produce a white-skinned carcass for the table. In addition to this, be sure to provide them with plenty of water to bathe in. Being a white duck, there feathers will stain easily if they do not have regular access to bathing water. Further precautions against stained feathers can be taken by providing a well-drained area for the drinking water, a layer of gravel or a wire frame to place the water container on is a good way to prevent muddy areas. Another thing that should be done is to give them plenty of clean dry bedding.

Aylesbury ducks have had a reputation of being of being weak, poor layers and with poor fertility. This is largely untrue; in a well-bred strain they are as productive and fertile as any breed of duck. Typically one drake can easily service three or, at the most, four females and maintain good fertility. If fertility does become a problem, providing them with swimming water to mate in can help larger drakes mount the females more easily. It is a matter of breeder selection to keep vigor up in any strain of poultry and this is no different with the Aylesbury. As with all heavy ducks however, care should be taken to avoid overweight birds. Overweight birds do tend to have poor fertility and being too fat can lead to egg production problems. It is a good idea to allow them adequate room to exercise and avoid feeding excess feed and excess corn.

In general, the Aylesbury makes a fine bird for a home flock of ducks. They make good show birds thanks to their easily bred white color pattern and a well-bred duck with its massive size, large block shaped body, and straight profiled, and graceful head makes for a bird that will catch anyone's attention. For those who wish to just raise their own duck meat the Aylesbury is an excellent choice thanks to their large size, fast growth rate, and white skin and feathers.

Works Cited
Robinson, John H. Popular Breeds of Domestic Poultry. Dayton: Reliable Poultry Journal, 1924.
The American Standard of Perfection Illustrated: A Complete Description of All Recognized Breeds and Varieties of Domestic Poultry. Burgettstown, PA: American Poultry Association, 2010.
Sheraw, Darrel, and Loyd Stromberg. Successful Duck & Goose Raising. Pine River, MN: Stromberg Pub., 1975.
Grow, Oscar. Modern Waterfowl Management and Breeding Guide. N.p.: American Bantam Association, 1994.