Hunting for pigs

April 27th, 2010

Farming communities are generally incredibly generous, helping each other out whenever the need arises.  They can however also be very secretive.

At Wickedfood Earth we are continually looking for indigenous breeds of animals to farm with, as we believe these animals can survive best in the natural environment.  We heard a rumour that there were some European wild boar in the area, the granddaddy of all domestic pigs. The first time we heard the rumour was via the local security expert,  but he could not or would not give us any further information apart from saying that he had tasted it and it was delicious.

A sounder of free range wild boar

A few weeks later, while dealing with some rather bothersome municipal matters related to the incompetence of the local municipal officials I came across charming Elsabé, who at that time was our local ratepayers association representative.  In passing we started talking about my favourite subject, food, and she mentioned that she was a chef and butcher, and that a large proportion of their diet consisted of animals that lived freely on their property.

After a stress free natural life pig was dispatched humanely, single bullet through the brain

As she was in contact with many of the ratepayers in the area I asked her if she knew anybody who had wild boar.  To my great surprise I discovered that was in fact on their farm that this sounders(group) of wild boar lived. I mentioned to her that I would be looking for breeding stock to start my own sounder, and left it at that.

European wild boar

Skinning the wild boar

A few weeks later out of the blue, I received a phone call from Louis, Elsabé’s husband, asking if I would like a pig – of course.  We made an appointment for the next morning to meet and have a look at the pigs.

Patrick, the Wickedfood Earth site manager, dressed up in his nines  for the outing. When we arrived, we started looking for the pigs, remember that they are free range and have the run of the 20 hectare property. After an hour of zigzagging the property, we found them in a rather dense gully.

As I wanted to get a photograph, Louis suggested that I go to the end of the gully and they would herd them down. I positioned myself, eye glued to the viewfinder, oblivious of everything around me, waiting for that perfect shot.  The next minute an almighty shot rang out.

I looked up in surprise, and I’m sure also fear.

“There’s your pig” said Louis, matter of fact.  So much for my breeding stock.

After a stress-free natural life the 9 month, 24kg pig had been dispatched in the most humane way feasible, with a single bullet through the brain.

Elsabé, Louis and Bradley breaking down the carcass of the wild boar

Shock over, the pig was skinned and disembowelled – poor Patrick managing to puncture the bladder as he removed the intestines and getting sprayed with urine – it took me three days to get used to the smell!

Patrick claimed the head and lungs, while I took home the heart, liver and kidneys. The rest of the carcass all 12kg got hung in the cold room.

The following day Elsabé kindly gave myself and Bradley, my chef son, a lesson in breaking up a carcass with only a knife and hand saw.

Mallard ducks

April 26th, 2010

The Mallard, or Wild Duck (Anas platyrhynchos), probably the best-known and most recognizable of all ducks, is a dabbling duck which breeds throughout the world including North America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand (where it is currently the most common duck species), and Australia. It is strongly a migratory bird. It is the ancestor of all domestic ducks, and can interbred with other species of Genus Anas. This interbreeding is causing both the Mallard and rarer species of ducks to become genetically diluted. The male birds have bright green heads, while the female is light brown. It is a noisy species – the male has a nasal call, while the female has a “quack” stereotypically associated with ducks.


Mallard drakes have bright green heads, while the female is light brown

The Mallard lives in wetlands, eats water plants or grazes. It usually nests on a river bank, but not always near water. It is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and will form large flocks, known as a sord. Mallards form pairs only until the female lays eggs, at which time she is left by the male. The ducklings are precocial, and can swim and feed themselves on insects as soon as they hatch, although they stay near the female for protection.


Mallard ducklings can feed themselves on insects as soon as they hatch.

Mallards are also causing severe “genetic pollution” of South Africa’s biodiversity by breeding with endemic ducks. The Mallard duck can cross breed with 63 other species and is posing a severe threat to the genetic integrity of indigenous waterfowl. The hybrids of Mallard and the Yellow-billed Duck are fertile and can produce more hybrid offspring. If this continues, only hybrids will occur and in the long term this will result in the extinction of various indigenous waterfowl.

Clutch: 8 to 13 eggs per clutch, up to 40 eggs a year over.

Incubation: 27 to 28 days

Fledgling: 50 to 60 days to.

Size: 0.9 to 1.2 kg

Brooding Ducklings

April 24th, 2010

Muscovy Ducklings

Muscovy are superb mothers and protect the young form predators

Muscovies lay up to 4 clutches of eggs per year  and are superb mothers and brooders. They will protect their young from predators even if it means their own life in order for the young to escape. Keep as pair or 1 male to 3 females.

Small groups of ducklings can be brooded by broody chicken hens or Muscovies as females of most other breeds of domestic duck are very unreliable at sitting on their eggs and raising their young. If the ducklings aren’t hatched by the broody female, place them under her at night so that she will more readily accept them.

Ducklings can also be brooded artificially. Due to their rapid growth, ducklings will need heat for a shorter period of time, and floor space requirements will increase more rapidly than for chickens.

Ducklings can also be brooded artificially on absorbent litter material such as wood shavings

However, young ducklings rely on their mother for a supply of preen oil to make them waterproof, and a hen does not make as much preen oil as a duck; and an incubator makes none.

Any small building or garage or barn corner can be used as a brooding area. The brooding area should be dry, reasonably well lit and ventilated, and free from drafts. Allow ±0,05m2 of floor space per bird during the first two weeks and double the area by 4 weeks.

Cover the floor with about 15cm of absorbent litter material, such as wood shavings or chopped straw. Litter dampness is more of a problem with ducks than with chicks. Good litter management is imperative, so remove wet spots and frequently add clean, dry litter. Be sure litter is free of mould.

Muscovies lay up to 4 clutches of eggs per year and up to 21 eggs per clutch

Infrared heat lamps are a convenient source of heat for brooding small numbers of birds. Use one 250-watt lamp for 30 ducklings. Heat lamps provide radiant heat to the birds under them. Since the air isn’t heated, room temperature measurement isn’t so important.

When using hover-type brooders, brood only half as many ducklings as the rated chick capacity. Because ducklings are larger than chicks in size, it may be necessary to raise the hover ±15cm. Have the temperature at the edge of the hover at ±30°C when the ducklings arrive. Reduce it ±3°C per week.

Confine the birds to the heated area for the first 3 to 4 days. Watch the actions of the birds as a clue to their comfort. If they are too hot, they will move away from the heat. If too cold they may pile up and be noisy.

High temperatures may result in slower feathering and growth. By 4 weeks of age, the ducklings should be feathered enough to be outdoors except in extremely cold, wet weather. In some areas attention to predator control may be necessary when the ducklings are turned out.

Muscovy Ducks

April 23rd, 2010

The Muscovy Duck, (Cairina moschata), is a large duck, native to Mexico, Central and South America. Although a tropical bird, it adapts to cold conditions down to –12°C and below, without ill effects. They are the only domestic ducks not derived from mallard stock. In the wild their colouration is black and white, but domestication has produced many different colours. Muscovies are unique because of the bright red crest around their eyes and above the beak.

Their feet are equipped with strong sharp claws for grabbing tree branches and roosting – they prefer to roost in trees. They do not swim as much as others as their oil glands are under-developed compared to most ducks. When they wash, they are incredibly thorough and most of the water is dispersed over a wide area.

Muscovy has a bright red crest around the eyes and above the beak.

The only real illnesses they get as a breed other than those suffered by all breeds, is a tendency to anaemia if not allowed sufficient foraging or supplementary feeding with scraps. This is very obvious as they lose colour around the eye and become listless. This is easily rectified by supplements of meat or tinned pet food.

They’re self-dependent, better foragers than other ducks, they grow fast and they seldom get sick. Wild Muscovies feed on the roots, stems, leaves, and seeds of aquatic and terrestrial plants, including agricultural crops. They also eat small fish, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, millipedes, and termites, they are food “hoovers” and quite happily eat small vermin including mice, rats and even snakes.

Although relatively silent, the male produces a low hissing sound, and the female has a short, weak “quack.” but “chirps” and talks to the eggs as they hatch making the babies very independent as they recognize their mothers’ alarm call.

Muscovies lay up to 4 clutches of eggs per year,  and are superb mothers and brooders. They will protect the young from predators even if it means their own life in order for the young to escape. Keep as a pair or  1 male to 3 females.

When a Muscovy is crossed with other breeds, it produces a sterile offspring called a mule which is a good meat duck.

Birds reach full size in 120 days, but can be slaughtered after 90 days. The meat yield is higher than any other duck, with 50% more breast meat, which is 98% lean, and the skin has 50% less fat than other ducks.

Eggs: weigh 75g and are cream, ranging from 8 to 21 eggs per clutch, up to 195 eggs a year over a 40-week season. They’ll nest three or four times during the season, hatching up to 20 ducklings a time.

Incubation: 35/36 days maturity, not the 28 for most ducks

Uses: fine down, meat (fine texture, very little fat, and a unique and delicious flavour), foie gras and eggs.

Size: Drakes – 4.5 to 6.5 kg, Ducks – 2.2 to 4.5 kg. Average drake dressed weight – 3kg

Indigenous poultry breeds in South Africa

April 16th, 2010

Please note, we do not sell chicken breeding stock 

The most common poultry breeds available in South Africa can be divided into two groups:

  • Multi-purposed indigenous chickens, ideal for a free-range environment, especially rural communities. Breeds include Naked Neck, Venda, Ovambo, Potchefstroom Koekoek and Natal Game. Other European breeds such as the New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red and the Black Australorp, all can survive in this environment, although generally more susceptible to certain diseases and not as hardy.
  • Breeds that are used in an intensive system for either meat or egg production. Ross and Cobb are the most common for meat production, while Hi-Line or Lohmann are the best egg producers.

Please note, we do not sell chicken breeding stock

Indigenous poultry breeds

Naked Necks

Naked Neck

Naked Neck chickens have 30% fewer feathers than fully feathered birds (Fowls for Africa)

Records of Naked Neck chickens have been found in areas as far apart as central Europe and Malaysia. The South African Naked Neck is thought to have originated in Malaysia. These chickens have a variety of colour patterns. There are two types of Naked Necks, one of which is purebred and has a completely naked neck and the other, which is not purebred, has a tassel on the front part of the neck. If two tasselled birds are mated, one quarter of the offspring would have totally naked necks, half of them would have tassels and the remaining quarter would be fully feathered. They have a variety of colour patterns. In France the Naked Neck gene is used in commercial production as:

  • They have 30% fewer feathers than fully feathered birds and can produce the same body weight with less food.
  • There are fewer feathers to remove in the slaughter line and therefore they pass through much faster.
  • They are more heat tolerant.

Breed and performance information

Averages Male Female
Weight at 16 weeks 1.5 kg 1.1 kg
Weight at 20 weeks 1.95 kg 1.4 kg

Sexual maturity (days) 155
Average egg weight 55.1g


While doing research in 1979, veterinarian, Dr Naas Coetzee, noticed a distinctive new breed in Venda and named it after the region. Similar chickens were later seen in the Southern Cape and in Qwaqwa. The Vendas are multicoloured with white, black and red as the predominant colours. Rose-coloured combs and five-toed feet are not uncommon. It is fairly large and lays tinted large eggs. The hens are broody and very good mothers.

Breed and performance information

Averages Male Female
Weight at 16 weeks 1.57 kg 1.24 kg
Weight at 20 weeks 2.01 kg 1.4 kg

Sexual maturity (days) 143 days
Average egg weight 52.7 g


Ovambo chickens

Ovambo chickens originated in the northern part of Namibia and Ovamboland

Ovambo chickens

Ovambo hens come in a variety of colour compensations.

The Ovambo chickens originated in the northern part of Namibia and Ovamboland. Unlike the Venda which have white feathers, the Ovambo is dark-coloured. It is also smaller in size and it is these two differences which help to camouflage the bird and protect it from raptors. The Ovambo is very aggressive and agile. It has been known to catch and eat mice and young rats. This chicken can fly and roosts in the top of trees to avoid predators.

Breed and performance information

Averages Male Female
Weight at 16 weeks 1.74 kg 1.32 kg
Weight at 20 weeks 2.16 kg 1.54 kg

Sexual maturity (days) 143 days

Average egg weight 52.5 g

Egg production 129 eggs per year

Potchefstroom Koekoek

Potchefstroom Koekoek

Potchefstroom Koekoek hen and cock

The Koekoek chick's sex can be identified as the females are completely black, while the males have a white spot on the head.

The term “Koekoek” describes the colour pattern. The Koekoek’s colouring is present in as many as nine different breeds. The feather colouring is sex-linked, making it very useful in breeding programmes. If a black or red cock is crossed with a Koekoek hen, the sexes of the offspring can be separated when the chicks are only a day old. Sexes can be identified as the females are completely black, while the males have a white spot on the head. The Potchefstroom Koekoek was bred locally from crosses between the black Australorp and the White Leghorn.

Breed and performance information

Averages Male Female
Weight at 16 weeks 1.84 kg 1.4 kg
Weight at 20 weeks 2.4 kg 1.7 kg

Sexual maturity (days) 130 days

Average egg weight 55.7 g

Egg production 198 eggs per year

Source – Fowls for Africa (ARC-Animal Production Institute Tel: 012 672-9111)


Please note, we do not sell chicken breeding stock