RAISING DUCKS(BY MELVIN L. HAMRE)
About 22 million ducks are raised annually in the United States. Most are produced under confinement on specialized duck farms. However, many farms still raise a few ducks primarily for family use or local sale. This publication is intended for the latter group.
Ducks are raised primarily for meat. Although most breeds used are relatively poor layers, the flock should be managed to save the eggs produced for food purposes and hatching. The commercial duck industry is built around the Pekin breed. Pekins reach market weight early and are fairly good egg producers, but they are poor setters and seldom raise a brood.
The Rouen is a popular farm flock breed. It is slower growing than the Pekin, but it reaches the same weight over the five to six month period of feeding and foraging under farm flock conditions. Its slower growth and colored plumage make it undesirable for commercial production.
The Muscovy, a breed unrelated to other domestic ducks, is also used to some extent in farm flocks. They are good foragers and make good setters. Muscovy males are much larger than the females at market age.
Meat production is generally of primary importance in selecting a breed, but egg production for propagation, brooding tendency, and the white plumage that produces and attractive dressed carcass should also be considered.
Keeping small, ornamental varieties of ducks, sometimes called bantam ducks, for exhibition or hobby purposes is increasing. Included in this grouping are White and Grey Calls, Black East Indias, Wood Ducks, Mandardins, and sometimes Teal. Most general poultry shows and some special bantam shows offer classes for these ducks.
Small groups of ducklings can be brooded by broody chicken hens and most breeds of ducks other than the Pekin or Runner. 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 be brooded artificially in about the same way as baby chicks. Due to their rapid growth, ducklings will need heat a shorter period of time, and floor space requirements will increase more rapidly.
Any small building or garage or barn corner can be used as a brooding area for small numbers of birds. The brooding area should be dry, reasonably well lighted and ventilated, and free from drafts. Cover the floor with about our inches of absorbent litter material, such as wood shavings, chopped straw, or peat moss. Litter dampness is more of a problem with ducks than with chicks. Good litter management will require removal of wet spots and frequent addition of clean, dry litter. Be sure litter is free of mold.
Infrared heat lamps are a convenient source of heat for brooding small number of birds. Use one 250-watt lamp for thirty ducklings. Heat lamps provide radiant heat to the birds under them. Since the air is not 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 3 to 4 inches. Have the temperature at the edge of the hover 85 to 90 degrees F when the ducklings arrive. Reduce it 5 to 10 degrees per week.
Confine the birds to the heated area with a corrugated paper chick guard 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 it is too cold, they may pile up and be noisy.
Higher temperature may result in slower feathering and growth. Supplementary heat may be needed for 5 to 6 weeks in cold weather; in summer, only 2 to 3 weeks. 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.