How to Raise Ducks
Why You Should Raise Ducks:
Where should I begin? Ducks are great! They are hardy, forage for their own food, and lay eggs. Not to mention that if cooked properly, they taste amazing. Nothing warms you up faster on a cold winter day than a nice hardy bowl of duck soup. Even if you don’t have the heart to kill and butcher a duck you can collect and eat their eggs. Ducks aren’t strict vegetarians, rather they have an appetite for slugs, snails, and other garden pests. As such, I have read that some gardeners like to keep ducks around for pest prevention.
One of the most attractive things about raising ducks is that they are easy keepers. They can adapt well to different climates and they don’t require a lot of attention or fuss. If you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to raising animals, then duck are a great choice. One local farmer who raises ducks and geese told me that he doesn’t feed them during the spring and summer months. Instead he lets them forage for their own food. Granted, he has a large pasture for them to run around in. If you don’t have a large area for you ducks (many people don’t) then you will have to supplement their diet, but more on that later.
There are many misconceptions about raising ducks and ducks in general. Many people think that ducks are dirty, smell bad, and require a lake or large pond. However, this is often not the case. As long as ducks are not kept in a crowded environment they will remain relatively clean and odorless compared to other animals. The missconception that ducks stink largely comes from those who keep ducks in somewhat cramped conditions. Although it is true that ducks consume a lot off food and their waste smells atrocious, this shouldn’t be an issue provided that they they have plenty of room to roam. If you try to raise them like chickens in a small coupe then you will most certainly have issues.
Although ducks love water, they don’t require a lake or large pond. Ducks are generally satisfied with having a small pool of water that is large enough to paddle around and wash in. I have seen people use small plastic pools that are commonly sold in department stores during the summer months. In my neck of the woods domesticated ducks are happy with the irrigation ditches and small streams that run throughout our community.
Chickens are typically only good layers for about 1 to 2 years, whereas ducks are generally good layers for 3 to 4 years. Duck eggs are slightly larger than chicken eggs. Typically a chicken will lay around 30 pounds of eggs a year, whereas a duck will lay around 40 pounds of eggs a year. Also, duck eggs are rich in iron. Iron is an important mineral that helps the human body produce red blood cells. Just a couple duck eggs can help you reach your daily dietary requirement for iron.
Ducks also have a significantly lower mortality rate than chickens, largely due to the fact that they are much more disease resistant and fair better in cold climates. If you have ever plucked a duck and a chicken then you know that ducks are much better insolated (and way harder to pluck) than chickens. Ducks have evolved to spend a lot of time in cold water. As such, they require less attention during the winter months than chickens do.
Ducks are social creatures and generally hang out in groups (a bevy). You will seldom see ducks alone, unless a duck is incubating her eggs. Like many animals such as horses, cows, and geese, staying in a herd has it’s advantages. When in a group, a prey animal can spend more time foraging for food and less time looking out for predators. As such, it’s advisable that would be duck owners get several ducks rather than just one.
Ducks are aquatic birds that have adapted for land, sea, and pond. There are many different breeds of ducks. Each breed has different characteristics that so is suited for different environments. For example, some breeds are better suited for walking on land, whereas others are better built for swimming or flying. Ducks can be found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
There are many different breeds of ducks. However, all duck breeds are descended from two species. These two species are the Muscovy and the common Mallard. The Muscovy was an obvious candidate for domestication as a meat bird given it’s large size. The Mallard was likely singled out for domestication given that they are so common and easily adapt to living around humans.
Bantams: There are 4 recognized bantam breeds (Mallard, the Call, Australian Spotted, and the East Indies). Bantam ducks only weigh around 3 pounds, so they aren’t ideal meat birds. However, they are easy keepers since they consume less grain then their counterparts. Their smaller size means they are more adapted to living in smaller spaces.
Mallard: Mallards are the most widely recognizable duck breed. They look similar than their wild counterparts. They are beautiful birds with vivid green heads and yellow bills. Mallards typically weigh in between 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. They are good egg layers and brood their eggs. They are also independent and forage well. Despite their small stature, Mallards are often kept as meat birds and for hunting.
The Call Duck: The Call Duck is one of the cutest and most adorable duck breeds. They have short bills and short stubby legs. They also come in a wide variety of colors. They are good layers producing around 60-70 eggs a year. Females are known for being good layers and mothers. The one big draw back to the Call is that they produce loud shrill vocalizations.
East Indies Ducks: The East Indies duck (also known as the Emerald, Brazilian, or Labrador) are dark with shiny emerald colored heads. East Indies ducks are generally too small for meat birds. They are known to be a good laying breed. They are generally kept for eggs and show.
Lightweights: Lightweight breed are generally between 3 1/2 to 5 pounds and are known for being great egg layers. There are 4 recognized “lightweight” breeds: Runner, Campbell, Welsh Harequin, and the Magpie. Both the Magpie and the Welsh Harlequin are considered endangered.
The Runner: Runner ducks are amazing egg layers. Some can produce upwards of 300 eggs a year (according to my YouTube/Wikipedia research)!! However, they are not good brooders. As the name suggests, Runners are known for running. They have long legs compared to other breed and have a tall, upright position. Traditionally they have been raised in Asian countries and herded around.
Campbell: If you are looking for a good egg layer than look no further. Campbell ducks produce upwards of 350 eggs a year. They are also incredibly hardy and can adapt well to a variety of different environments. Given all this, it’s no wonder that Campbells are one of the most popular duck breeds. The Campbell was introduced in the late 1800’s. The breed origionates from England and is a cross between the Runner, Mallard, and the Rouen. They are typically either white or khaki in color.
Middle weight ducks come in around 6 to 8 pounds. There are 4 different common middle weight breeds. These breeds are the Cayuga, Crested, Ancona, and Orpington. Middle weight breeds are known for being great all round ducks. They make good meat birds and produce a good quantity of eggs.
Cayuga: The Cayuga breed was developed in New York and is named after Lake Cayuga. They were developed in the early 1800’s. They are a dark in color with a beautiful dark emerald green sheen. They will lay around 100 eggs a year and are known for being well domesticated.
Ancona: Ancona ducks are white with black spots making them easily identifiable. Ancona ducks produce between 200 to 280 eggs a year and weigh in between 6 and 6 1/2 pounds. They were developed in England and are a cross between Runner ducks and Huttegen ducks. They are known for having a calm disposition as well producing good tasting meat. They are also hardy and adapt well to different climates.
The Crested Duck: As their name would suggest, Crested ducks are identifiable by the feathery crest on their heads. They are either black or white and produce around 100 eggs a year. The one drawback to raising Crested ducks is that they have a somewhat hire mortality rate due to the fact that they are known for having skeletal abnormalities and prematurely die as embryos.
Orpington (aka Buff): The Orpington duck breed (aka Buff) was established in Kent, England by William Cook in 1890. He also produced a chicken breed by the same name around this time. The Orpington duck was produced to be a “dual purpose” duck (for eggs and meat). Orpington ducks produce between 160-200 eggs a year, which is fairly impressive given their weight class. Orpington ducks are generally docile. They are known for being quite active, but rarely fly.
Heavy weight ducks are generally raised as meat birds and weigh in between 7 to 15 pounds. Since they are generally raised for meat, these breeds are known for their rapid growth. In light of this, if you wish to keep them around for a long period of time (for breeding or companionship) you may wish to put them on a bit of a diet. Their rapid
growth can cause issue later on, such as leg deformities and lameness. There are 6 common heavy weight breeds: the Pekin, Muscovy, Appleyard, Aylesburry, Saxony, and Rouen.
Pekin: Pekins are the most popular duck breed. They are especially popular for commercial meat operations due to the fact that they put on weight quickly and have sweet/succulent meat. Adult Pekin ducks are pure white and ducklings are yellow. Adult Pekins weigh between 8 to 11 pounds and live between 9 to 12 years. Pekins are also decent egg layers producing between 100 to 175 eggs a year. However, they don’t brood much and make poor mothers. They are also known for being docile and easy keepers.
Muscovy: Muscovy ducks are great meat birds. Males can weigh upwards of 15 pounds and females weighing between 6 to 8 pounds. Their meat is considered a delicacy and is around 98% fat free. Muscovys aren’t big fans of water compared to other ducks and tend to perch in trees. As such, if you build a duck shelter for them it’s a good idea to install a perch or roosts for them to get on at night.
Appleyard: The Appleyard breed was developed by Reginald Appleyard. His goal was to produce a duck breed that exemplified beauty, size, and was a good egg producer. Appleyard ducks weigh between 8 to 19 pounds and are one of the biggest egg producers in the heavy weight class, producing between 220 to 260 eggs a year. They are known for being active foragers, with a calm temperament, and will stay close to home if well fed.
Aylesbury: Aylesbury ducks were among the first breed to be imported to America. However, although they were once highly prized, their numbers are now critically low. Aylesburys weigh between 9 to 10 pounds and produce between 35 to 120 large eggs a year. They are also known for being “slow-moving” and exceptionally tame.
Saxony: Saxony are a multi-purpose duck and are raised for both meat and eggs. Adult Saxony ducks weigh in between 6 to 8 pounds and produce between 190 to 240 eggs. They are also known for being docile, good foragers, brooders, mothers, and adapt well to different climates.
Rouen: Rouen ducks are generally raised for meat and exhibition. They typically weigh between 7 to 9 pounds and produce between 3 to 125 eggs yearly. They are known for having exceptionally flavorful meat that is considered a delicacy. However, they take a long time to mature (6-8 months) making them less desirable for commercial meat production.
Ducks are good foragers and will eat insects, slugs, snails, worms, grass, and grain. They will also wreak havoc on your vegetable garden if you don’t keep them fenced out. Ducks dietary requirements include a need for protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and mineral. There are several factors to take into consideration when it comes to feeding ducks, such as: the season, environment, breed, and life stage (chick/mature).
Season: Ducks will require more food in the winter than they will in the summer. Obviously this is due to the fact that they wont be able to forage as well in the winter months, as opposed to the summer. Also, ducks will require a more protein in their diet in the winter since they won’t be able to forage for insects. Feeding them grain such as corn will help them put on weight, which will help them get through cold winters. Feeding your ducks (especially in the winter) will help in preventing them from running/flying off.
Ducklings: Ducklings require a lot more protein than mature ducks (between 18% to 20%). Their food also needs to be small enough that their little beaks can handle it. This means that they should either be feed grain that has been ground or pellets that have been soaked into a mash. This diet should last through their first 3 weeks. However, if you have a fast growing meat breed, you may want to feed them a diet of 15% to 16% protein. As previously mentioned, if they grow too fast and get fat, they may experience leg deformities and lameness. However, as previously mentioned this is generally only a risk for larger meat breeds. Commercial meat operations will feed them a protein rich diet since the ducks will be slaughtered once they reach maturity.
Mature Ducks: Ducks will typically mature at or around 9 weeks (depending on the breed). Once they have reached maturity they will only require about 14% protein in their diet. This is of course assuming that they aren’t foraging for insects. Breeding ducks will require around 17% protein and their diet should start about 3 weeks before breeding season (early to mid spring). Ducks that are being kept for egg production will require a diet of around 17% protein, and 2.5% to 3% calcium. You can use oyster shells to help them meet their calcium requirements.
During the winter month it’s advantageous to feed your ducks a diet rich in carbohydrates. Doing so will help them keep on weight/warm during the cold winter months. Cracked corn or a grain mixture from your local feed store can help boost their carbohydrate requirements.
Foraging: As I have previously mentioned, there is a local farmer who doesn’t feed his geese or ducks during the spring and summer months (they do have access to loss hay and some grain). Rather, he gives them free range over his sizable farm and lets them forage for their own food. This has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is that this saves him money on feed. The downside is that they don’t have a lot of meat on them until early fall and don’t produce as many eggs as they would if he supplemented their diet.
Although I have not purchased a duck from him, I have purchased several geese. The first goose I bought was in mid Spring. The goose was quite skinny and had very little to no breast. The Goose also tasted quite gamey. The Second goose I purchased was in mid Summer. This goose had some breast meat and tasted less gamey. The third goose I purchased was in early Fall. This Goose has a lot of breast meat and didn’t taste the least bit gamey. Rather it’s meat was sweat and richly flavorful. However, it was smaller than it probably would have been if he supplemented it’s diet.
Although he doesn’t feed his ducks and geese, he has built a nice environment for them and be, they haven’t run off. He has a small pond and irrigation ditch that they can paddle around in. He also has a good 40 acres available for them to forage in and around. When the female ducks and geese are brooding, they can often be found in the barn where they have made a little nest out of loss hay.
He has a “you catch” farm where people come and catch their own ducks and geese (he will provide a bag and net). His main market is Asian immigrants who come from rural societies who are used to and like having their meat locally sourced and don’t mind doing their own butchering. If his business model was based on egg production, then he might be better off supplementing their diet.
Ducks really don’t need a lot. They are incredibly hardy and can withstand long cold winters. As such, they don’t generally require much in the way of shelter, although if you want to spoil them it’s not a bad idea, especially in the case of brooding ducks. However, they don’t require anything as fancy as an insulated chicken coop. With that being said, ducks can be messy, especially if they are kept cooped up in a small areas. In light of this, it’s advantageous to either give them a lot of room or put an emphasis on cleaning when it comes to designing their coop. If you live in an area with predators, then it may be advantageous to lock your ducks up at night. Most predators tend to strike at night (except for hawks).
They typically enjoy being near a water source such as a small pond or slow moving stream. Some people will simply use a small plastic pool for them to clean themselves and paddle around in. I know one farmer who invested in a small pump in order to pump out their pond and use the water to fertilize/water their garden.
Male to Female Duck Ratio: “Wild” ducks such as Mallards and Mandarins are typically monogamous. The drake will often stay quite close to his female companion and will chase off other would be suitors. Female ducks will also remain loyal to their significant other and will actively discourage other drakes. They are also known to mourn the death of their significant other. In light of this, Mallards and Mandarins may not make the best “meat birds” (not to mention that they tend to be small when compared to larger “meat breeds”). As such, a breeder will typically try to keep them separated in pairs and away from other ducks. This is especially the case during mating season, though they can be let out to mingle with other ducks/breeds outside of breeding season.
More domesticated breeds who are not descended from Mallards are typically not monogamous. I recently spoke to my neighbor who raises Crested Ducks, who told me that her single drake doesn’t seem to show any prefrence when it comes to the female ducks. I have heard the same sentiment from other duck owners whoes breeds are not monogamous. These duck breeds are typically housed together with several females to one male. As with chickens, having more than one male per group can lead to serious issues such as fighting (sometimes to the death). Muscovy ducks in particular are prone to vicious fighting between males.
Catching Ducks: For one reason or another you may find that you need to catch a certain duck. Some ducks are more docile and easier to catch than others. Ducks have fragile bones. Because of this you should catch and carry your ducks with the utmost care. I have found that the easiest method for catching ducks, geese, and/or chickens is to use a large net. I have found that a large fishing net attached to a long pole works best.
Every duck breed is different. As such it’s important to research which breed will best fit you. If you aren’t interested in artificially brooding ducklings, then you had better get a breed that are good brooders. If you are interested in incubating and brooding ducklings then you have a broader host of breeds to choose from. The Mallard, Muscovy, and East Indies breeds are known for being good sitters and brooders, whereas Indian Runners who are known for being good layers, are also poor sitters and brooders.
Sitting Ducks: Sitting ducks are female ducks that spend long periods sitting on their eggs in order to keep them safe and warm. She will make occasional but brief forays to get food. In light of this, it’s advisable that you keep food and water near by so she won’t have to travel too far for too long. It’s also a good idea to lock the brooking duck and eggs in at night since they may become a target for predators. Duck eggs take around 28 to 35 days to hatch. As such, you will also want to periodically lay fresh bedding so the eggs and mother don’t get exposed to mold and unsavory conditions.
Brooding: If you have a brooding duck you will want to keep her and her chicks in a “brooding pen” in order to keep them safe from predators. A good brooding pen should have wire mesh since chicks can squeeze through surprisingly small gaps. Ducklings can be prone to drowning. As such, if they are being kept near water, it’s advantageous to either have their water source to be too shallow for them to drown, or have a board or something they can use to climb out. You should also keep a heat lamp in their brooding coop in case of cold nights, though brooding ducks tend to do a good job keeping them warm on her own.
If you are artificially brooding due to a mother with poor brooding instincts then there are some things you will need: Large box with no top, heat lamp, thermometer, bedding, food and water. It’s important to make sure that the brooder is large enough for the ducklings to be able to more around. It’s also a good idea to keep the heat lamp off the far side of the brooder. That way if the ducklings get too warm they can move to the other end where it’s cooler. The brooder should be kept at 90 degrees for the first week and then 5 degrees lower every week thereafter. Within 6 to 8 weeks the ducklings will have enough feathers to withstand temperatures as low as 50 degrees F.
Interesting Duck Facts:
1. Ducks have a poor sense of taste. Mallards inparticular only have around 375 taste buds, as opposed to humans who have between 9,000 to 10,000.
2. Not all ducks quack. For example, Muscovies make a hissing sound.
3. Ducks keep odd hours. They sleep when they are tired regardless of the time of day. So don’t be surprised if you see them walking around at odd hours. They also sleep with one eye open.
4. Ducks can fly up to 60 miles an hour.
5. Some duck breeds can live upwards of 15 to 20 years.
6. Increase in daylight can encourage egg laying and mating. As such, some breeders will use artificial lighting in order to trick ducks into mating and laying more eggs. However, they will lay even if there isn’t extra light.
7. Duck feathers have an oil on them that makes them water resistant (as opposed to chickens). This makes it much harder to pluck them. Some people will add detergent to boiling water for the plucking process. The detergent breaks up the oils making it easier to pluck them.
8. Ducks don’t have blood vessels or nerves in their feet. As such, they don’t get cold feet while paddling around cold water.
Brooder: A safe and enclosed area used for raising ducklings. A brooder usually consists of a large box with a heat lamp, thermometer, beading, food and water.
Candling: Candling can be done with either chicken or duck eggs. It referes to the process of holding an egg up to a bright light in order to see if it’s fertile.
Breeds: As with most animal breeds, each duck breed has it’s distinctive characteristics.
Bevy: A group of ducks. Other names for a group of ducks include a raft, paddling, flush, or team.
Broody: A female duck or chicken who is inclined to incubate her own eggs and care for young chicks/ducklings.
Drake: Male duck
Hen: A female duck.
Hybrid: The used to refer to offspring that was breed from two different breeds.
Molt: Molt refers to the casting off of old feathers in place of new ones. This generally happens once or twice a year.
Perching Ducks: Ducks such as Wood Ducks and Muscovy that “perch” and/or nest in trees.
Twist Wings (aka Angle Wings): A condition in which the primary wing feathers grow up and away from the ducks body.
Webs: As you are probably well aware, ducks have webbed feet. The “webbing” consists of extra skin spanning their toes. This webbing allows them to paddle around in the water.
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