Duck Raising: The Ultimate Begginer’s Guide

Need a new pet for your backyard? fresh eggs for breakfast? or maybe delicious homemade meat for a dinner party with friends?Your first choice might be chickens. This is what nine out ten people tend to choose. But you might want to be the one who goes for something else, for ducks for example.

Contrary to popular belief, ducks are easier to keep because they need less care and do not suffer much illnesses. They also gain wait rapidly which makes them excellent for meat production. Also calmer, they then become the optimal option people living in dense areas.

Even if this is your first experience in raising backyard pets, do not worry. This comprehensive guide is for you. It contains all what you need to know to guarantee success in this amazing journey. We cover different areas: choosing the suitable breed, feeding, housing, reproduction and other important aspects of the activity.

Duck breeds

duck breeds

Before making the purchase, you need to exactly specify what your need is. In fact, breeds differ in a number of aspects. Your choice depends on your aim whether it is getting eggs, getting meat or simply ornamenting your backyard.

There are two broad classifications of duck breeds: it is either by size or by usefulness/qualities (eggs, meat or ornament).

As far as size is concerned, there are three types of breeds: lightweight ducks, medium-sized ducks and heavyweight ducks.

Concerning usefulness, we find laying breeds, meat producing breeds and ornamental breeds.

We discover in this section the most popular breeds.

Laying breeds

You can get the better and more duck eggs from the following breeds:

Indian runners

These ducks have a thin and long body with small wings which doesn’t allow them to fly. Indian runners stand like penguins they come in a multitude of colors : The most popular of them are the white, the silver, the mallard, and the fawn.

Hens of this breed are excellent layers: their production begins since 6 months of age and continues until 4 or 5 years. They can steadily produce up to 200 eggs every year. Eggs weight 65 grams minimum and are usually white. Indian runners’ meat is also of good quality.

Indian runners pertain to light breeds. Their needs in term of food are relatively small. They can eat the insects (such as worms) they find when digging in the ground.

Khaki-Campbell

khaki campbell

Khaki Campbell ducks originated in England and are a cross between Indian runners, Rouen and Mallard. Male heads are brown bronze but the rest of their plumage is khaki. Hens can be either white or khaki. Weighting between 3 and 5 pounds, they are light weight ducks.

Khaki-Campbells are also excellent layers with up to 260 eggs per year. The eggs generally weight aroud 85 grams and arewhite greenish.

Known to be kind and friendly, they are also robust as they resist to different environments including bad weather. All of these characteristics make them an excellent choice for beginners.

Muscovy ducks

muscovy duck

The wild Muscovy ducks are usually black. The domesticated Muscovy ducks that are derived from the wild duck can have be in other colors like white or lavender. You can easily recognize the Muscovy duck by their red or black and red nude faces. Males have distinctive large white patches in their wings. They are much bigger than females (two times bigger).

Hens can lay up to 180 good quality eggs per year. Even though they are not the laying machine the khakis are, their eggs are the richest and smoothest among all duck breeds.

Welsh Harlequins

welsh harlequin duck

As its name suggests, it initially originated in wales and exists in two colors: silver and bronze. Also a light weight bird, when they mature, males weight between 4 and 5 pounds. Hens’ egg production is very good with up to 200 eggs per year. Their meat is also of excellent quality. For this, the breed is considered to be hybrid.

Breeds for meat production

Pekin ducks

pekin duck

Originated in China, it is also called domestic and white Pekin. This breed is easily recognized by its yellow bill and white plumage.

Adult ducks weigh between 7 and 11 lbs. It is a heavy weight breed.

Pekins are excellent meat producers. Their meat is in fact the most consumed duck meat in US. That is, their egg production is not abundant: one should not expect more than 180 eggs per year.

Rouen ducks

rouen duck

This is a heavyweight French breed. Its plumage has the same patterns as the Mallard breed as it originally derived from it. Males have green heads, white collars and black tails while females’ plumage tends to be all shaded brown.

Rouen ducks are very much appreciated for their delicious meat. Hens are also decent layers. Their eggs are 80 grams with a light greenish color.

Cayuga ducks

cayuga duck

Photo credit: Dobis Images via Visual Hunt / CC BY

It is a medium-sized breed that is very well known for its beautiful black feather and green head. For that, it is also considered an ornamental breed. The breed is a generous producer of excellent delicious meat. Hens perform quite well as far as laying eggs is concerned: with good care, one can get as much as 150 eggs per year.

Ornamental ducks

Baikal teal ducks

baikal teal duck

Photo credit: quinet via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Also called Formose, a latin word that means magnificent, it is an unmistakable gorgeous breed. This is one of the best choices you can make to ornament your backyard. It is in fact one the most in demand breeds because its reproduction is very rare.

Keep in mind that this beautiful little creature doesn’t appreciate captivity and spends a good portion of its time in water. So if you intend to get one, make sure a little pool is available.

Blue-wing teal ducks

blue wing teal ducks

Photo credit: Dan Pancamo via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Males are easily recognized by their greyish blue head and white crescent in their face. Female’s plumage is all brown. Males and females have sky blue wings.

Blue-wing teal also prefer calm or sluggish current water.

Friendly and of a calm character, this breed is highly recommended to beginners.

The list of breeds we presented is far from being exhaustive. Nonetheless, from our point of view, these birds are the most suitable for future duck keepers. As a beginner, you will of course grasp more knowledge about the different breeds all along your journey.

Let’s move on to discover what crucial things are to take into consideration before starting duck keeping.

Food

duck food

Ducks are mainly granivores. They can be fed oatmeal, wheat, corn or a combination of them. Your leftovers from vegetables are also a great meal for them. They also can feed themselves by digging for insects (especially worms). As you can notice, feeding your dicks is no big deal.

Even for ducklings, they manage to eat without needing any kind of help. They are quite unique in that aspect as other types of birds do need their parents’ intervention to survive.

If you decide to have ducklings in your flock, you can still provide them with special duck food available in feed supply stores. Notice that if they just hatched, they wouldn’t eat for 24 hours during which they still digest the nutrients that were in the yolk of the egg.

Make sure that food should be put in an appropriate container. The container needs to be a little bit elevated so that it doesn’t get stained by their dejections.

No need to mention that water should be permanently available. An adequate bowl of water is essential. By adequate, we mean a bowl containing just enough water that enables duckling to dip their beaks in. If water is deeper, they could jump in and drown.

Housing

duck house

If you have the time and energy necessary, you might want to consider building your own duck coop. If not, ready-to-use duck coops are available in all sizes and for all budgets.

Whatever your choice is, the house should be wooden and elevated from the ground by at least 8 inches. The roof is preferably slightly incline to facilitate water flow when it’s rainy.

Unlike chickens, ducks do not need perches nor laying nestboxes. They rather prefer to live on the ground. While a plastic feeder can be put either inside or outside the coop, the water trough has to be outside to prevent moisture from penetrating to the house. As for the litter, it should contain enough woodchip, some straw and sand. All of this is to be renewed as frequently as necessary to keep the coop dry and clean.

Some breeds like to stay in water longer than others. It might be a good idea to plan for a little pool for your dear ducks. The best way to do it is to dig a waterhole and put cement in the bottom. A 40 feet square pool is more than enough for a small flock. In this way, it is frequently and easily cleaned.

As for the general environment, there are 4 major principles you want to abide by if you want to guarantee your ducks the best living space possible:  enough water, suitable wooden housing, rich and varied nutrition and preferably a green space with some trees. Natural vegetation is at the same time a shelter for the ducks and excellent provider with insects.

Mating

duck couple

For heavyweight breeds, you will need 3 to 5 hens for one drake. For lightweight breeds, 6 to 8 hens are needed. As a beginner, this number of ducks is enough to keep control over your birds.

Ducks need an extremely quiet environment when mating. Try to avoid any kind of disturbance (dog, mower…etc.).

The easiest to breed are the Muscovy ducks as the drake is two times bigger than the hen. So, if you are really interested in the process (although it is preferable that you avoid in the first months), Muscovy ducks are your best choice.

Brooding

ducklings

Generally, female ducks are not as good as chicken females at brooding. If you have a flock of chickens, it would be a good idea to confide the fertilized eggs to hens. Future ducklings will get along well with their adoptive mothers.

If not, you’ll have to make sure that your duck is a good brooder, meaning she is able go broody for a long time. Her abandoning the eggs for a long time will make temperature drop below desired levels which may put ducklings’ development in danger.

Here again, the best choice in terms of brooding is the Muscovy duck. The female can take good care of her ducklings and can even go broody on other ducks’ eggs. If the Muscovy female is bigger than average, she can handle between 12 and 15 eggs.

You want to be there when the eggs hatch: it is in fact an important moment. You will be able then to differentiate between the productive ducklings and the less productive ones. Ducklings who hatch late tend to be less productive in the future. Sex of duckling is also known at hatching.

Newborn ducklings need special attention. They can’t keep warm by themselves. You should put them in a place (not too large) under a lamp that propagates heat. One can confine ducklings in a restricted space to make sure they’ll stay near the lamp. You can test if the temperature is adequate by observing their behavior. If they gather around, it’s that they are cold, so maybe the lamp needs to be lower. If it’s too hot, they’ll probably get the farthest possible from the lamp.

Health care

Essie has a poorly eye! by zenera, on Flickr

It is crucial to dedicate a good portion of time to ducks’ hygiene even though compared to chickens, they get ill less frequently. The following signs will help you know it when your ducks are ill:

First impression: if your ducks are overly quiet, they are probably ill.

Weight and growth: when they suffer, ducks tend to lose weight or grow less than they should.

Eyes: in the normal state, ducks eyes are bright. If they rather seem less energetic and tired, it means they are suffering.

Feather: should be soft and smooth.

Key precautions to prevent illness are good hygiene and vaccination.

Good hygiene is essential. Regular cleaning of the coop and its surrounding area keeps harmful animal (such as rats, flies, and fleas) away and decreases risks of catching a disease.

If your ducks have more freedom to move around, it is more difficult to know what they get in touch with and what they eat. Some infections can be transmitted to them.

These infections are most of the time contagious and can quickly affect the whole flock. So you might want to vaccinate them. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a veterinarian.

Final tips

Protect your flock

Most of bird keepers are concerned by predators. These animals can be either domestic or wild. Adequate entrapment is recommended.  Also a grid with fine wire should be put.

To tackle rodents, think of putting small crates containing some empoisoned grains (to prevent your ducks from eating it). But keep in mind that rodent succeed to immunize themselves from poison with time, you’ll have to change it from time to time.

Putting gazing globes is a good idea to frighten raptors and keep them away.

Slaughtering

It is recommended to make your birds fast for at least 12 hours before slaughtering them. Let them only drink. The equipment you use has to be disinfected and the operation must be done in a clean area far from airstream to prevent the presence of microbes.

 

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