By LS Cohen
Back in the day, Long Island was synonymous with two things: Potatoes and Ducks. Long before the bulldozers moved through and suburban homes and shopping malls sprouted up in their wake, ducks dotted the landscape, especially out east.
Below we present some fun and historical facts about Long Island duck farming.
- Long Island duckling has been featured on the menu at many fine-dining establishments around the world
- Pekin duck is the breed that Long Island became famous for even though it is not native to the region
- The first breed of Pekin Duck was brought from China in 1873
- Four Peking ducks were imported for breeding purposes to Connecticut and then transported to Long Island where they sired an entire industry
- Raising ducks became a full-time industry on Long Island around 1885
- Before that, raising ducks was a supplemental activity to farming and fishing
- Our terrain, climate and demand from New York City fueled Long Island duck farming boom
- In the mid-1900s duck farms on Long Island produced about two-thirds of the duck consumed in the United States
- Duck pickers helped process the duck by picking off feathers
- The duck pickers were mostly women who averaged about 60 ducks per day
- A 1901 newspaper reported that Miss Dolly Raynor of Westhampton was “very likely the best duck picker on Long Island.” She was said to have picked 111 ducks at a farm in Speonk and was paid 5 cents per duck, resulting in a payday of $5.55. “This is certainly a good day’s work,” the paper reported.
- There was even a Long Island Duck Queen Pageant held in the late 1950’s to mid 1960’s.
- By the 1940s there were about 90 duck farms on Long Island
- A 1953 newspaper article talks about a “duck disease” that attacked duck farms and led to a death toll of up to 75% of all of the stock on Long Island
- During that time, the duck industry was as economically important as the entire commercial fishing industry in New York State