1890 lithograph

America has gone chicken crazy.  Every suburban housewife has 3 hens in the back yard and homesteaders seem to fixate on chickens when we value our other poultry as much, sometimes maybe more, than chickens.

I love our colorful Rouen ducks.  I’m currently caring for seven hatched just two days ago by two Rouen hens.  After a dog and raccoon killed some, our flock had dwindled to three hens and a drake so I’m thrilled to add seven little brown and yellow balls of fluff.

There are two schools of thought as to the origin of the name.  One is that it was bred from wild and tame ducks in the area of Rouen, France, and the other is that Rouen is simply a corruption of the word Rhone or Roan duck.  I had several ancestors that went from Normandy to England with William the Conqueror so I tend to favor the probable Norman origin for them while agreeing the English were, at least in part, responsible for improving them.  Where do these ducks rank in the hierarchy of historic poultry?

First, for the uninformed, what does a Rouen look like?  I can find no better description than the one from “Farmer’s Bulletins” published in 1917.  After noting the duck derived its name from the city in northern France, the author noted it was equal in size and standard weights to the Pekin.  “The eyes are dark brown and the head and upper part of the neck of the male are green, with a white ring around the neck, while the back is gray mixed with green near the neck, shading into a lustrous green near the tail.  The lower part of the body is gray and the breast is claret colored.  The tail and wings are gray and brown mixed with some green, while the wings have a wide purple bar with narrow white bars on either side of the purple, which are exposed when the wing is folded.  The shanks and toes are an orange or orange-brown color.  The duck is barred on the wings similarly to the drake, but the color of the plumage of her body is brown with penciling in all sections.  This breed has very handsome markings…”.

The Rouen was commonly found around Normandy and were taken to Paris where they were plucked and drawn for market.  “The Rouen duck used to pay a duty double that of the dabbling duck.  This difference arose not only from its size, which in fact is larger, but again, on account of the quality of its flesh…The ducks…are finer in Normandy than in any other canton in France.  The English come often to purchase them alive in the environs of Rouen, to enrich their farm-yards…”.  The author went on to say there was quite a lucrative trade in coasting-captains returning to England with a load of ducks which were always sold at a profit.  (1810)

“The large, fine species, called the Rouen duck, suits well in the environs of Rouen, on the banks of the Seine…”, read the opening line in a discussion of this duck penned by Walter Dickson in 1838 and copied by Peter Boswell in “Treatise on the Poultry-Yard”, published in 1841.

The “Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture” said in 1863 that the family of ducks was a numerous one but only the mallard; common farm-yard duck; Aylesbury; Rouen; Musk [“sometimes improperly called Muscovy”]; Black East India Duck, Wood Duck and Mandarin Duck were worthy of discussion.

The author said, “The Rouen Duck has for a long time been as distinguished in France as is the Aylesbury in England.  It is the largest, and, in some respects, the best duck of all our domestic varieties, though less beautiful in form than the Aylesbury.  Its color is pleasing, closely resembling the wild Mallard.  These ducks have broad, clumsily-built bodies, and when highly fattened they are very ungainly in their movements.  They are remarkably quiet, easily fattened, and are most excellent layers of very large eggs, and have no equal for the table in the domestic family of ducks.  The adult Rouen not unfrequently reaches from twelve to fifteen pounds per pair.  They are emphatically a “puddle-duck,” seeming to care less for water exercise than most other varieties….

For amount of care and feed the Aylesbury and the Rouen yield the greatest profit…”.

Saxton wrote in 1859 that the Rouen duck of France was abundant and fine, especially in Normandy and Languedoc, “where duck liver pies are considered a great delicacy”.

The Rouen remained much appreciated as a meat duck into the 20th century.  “Few, if any, ducks fatten more readily.  The flesh is extremely delicious, the Rouen acknowledging few equals and no superiors in this respect.  While they do not mature quite as quickly as the Aylesburys, they attain equal weights.  They are thoroughly hardy…”.  – May, 1891.

The Rouen’s negative trait, if the reader considers it so, is that its pin feathers are darker than the white Pekin or Aylesbury.  Rouens were supposedly being raised in England by about 1800, but some claim it wasn’t until about 1850 that D. W. [Daniel Waldo] Lincoln of Worcester, Mass. introduced Rouens to the U.S.

This author made a rather thorough search for a period [published in the 19th century] account connecting Daniel Waldo Lincoln to the Rouen duck and found nothing earlier than 1947 when Paul Ives made the statement in his book, “Domestic Geese and Ducks”.  He gave no source for the information, and by his own admission, rather assumed the date to be so based on the fact that he neither found the Rouen shown at the first Boston Poultry Show in 1849 or at the New York State Fair.  He gave no source, or even a hint, for how he connected the duck to D. W. Lincoln.

In the absence of any mid-19th century documentation, this author questions the validity of Lincoln as the first to import the Rouens, yet the statement has been passed on by one author after another with none noting an original source other than Mr. Ives.

Governor Levi Lincoln, called “farmer Lincoln”, when chosen Governor of the Commonwealth in April 1825, was the father of Daniel Waldo Lincoln, mayor of Worcester for two terms.  Daniel, born Jan. 16, 1813, was named for his paternal uncle, Daniel Waldo Lincoln, who died unmarried in April 17, 1815.  His uncle is remembered for his oration for the creation of the Bunker Hill Society in 1808.  Daniel was, “President of B. and A. R. R. [railroad]; killed by the cars at New London, Conn., 1st July, 1880”.  Levi and Daniel were officers of the Worcester Agricultural Society for numerous years.

In closing let’s examine another statement about Rouens from “The Poultry World”.  “To the one who desires to combine hardiness, prolificacy, quiet disposition, excellent table qualities, and exquisite plumage, in a word, great beauty and general utility, the Rouen duck makes a strong bid for favor”.

© – Victoria, Thehistoricfoodie


“Saxton’s Rural Hand Book”.  1859.  Richardson, H. D.  “Domestic Fowl and Ornamental Poultry”.  1851. Dickson, Walter.  “Poultry:  Their Breeding, Rearing, Diseases, and General Management”.  1838. A Treatise on the Breeding, Rearing, and Fattening of Poultry”.  1810.  “The Poultry World”.  May, 1891.  Loring, James Spear.  “The Hundred Boston Orators Appointed by the Municipal Authorities”.  1852.  Rice, Franklin Pierce.  “Worcester of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-eight”.  1899.  Ives, Paul.  “Domestic Geese and Ducks”.  1951 edition.  New York.