Ducks are a fairly common site on many farms. While the majority of the 22 million ducks raised in the US every year are at large commercial farms that make up the bulk of duck meat sold in stores, many farms keep a few for their own personal use.
Duck meat is high-quality protein, and contains zinc, iron and selenium. Their eggs are also a great food source. While not as productive overall as chickens, having some ducks on hand is a good way to vary your food supply and increase your food independence (some other great animals to consider are goats, pigs and rabbits).
BUYING DUCKS AND CHOOSING THE RIGHT BREED
You can find ducks for sale at hatcheries, different livestock and animal shows, and breeders. It’s good to buy them at the age they start laying eggs (around 6 months old). They will live for 8 to 10 years.
You want to choose the right breed for what you’re looking for. Light breeds, such as the Campbell, Indian Runner and Welsh Harlequin, are better for producing eggs. Heavier breeds, like Pekins and Rouen, are better for producing good white meat. The Muscovy is an interesting breed, originating from South America and looking different than other ducks. They will produce a good, but dark, meat.
If possible chose ducklings hatched in the spring, so the males will be ready to begin mating at the start of the next year.
Look for birds with a good weight and feathering, and a tendency to conform. Select from families with a good egg production and fertility record. Aim for 1 male for every 5-6 females- male ducks have a high libido, and any higher a ration maybe too much for the female ducks.
Health and Disease
Ducks are pretty strong, and as long as their living quarters and waters are clean, they are pretty resistant to disease. They will need regular mite and worm treatments.
Ducks need a place to stay indoors from dusk until dawn, to stay warm and dry and avoid predators. They should spend the day outside, to move around and forage. Their living space can be an indoor building (a shed or garage work well) that is well-ventilated, has no draft and has a large entrance. It should have high windows to help with air circulation, and the ceiling should be at least 3 feet high.
If your housing is just for the night, 4 square feet per duck is enough. If it’s for longer periods, you’ll want more space.
You need to keep your pen clean, hosing it down often. Keep the floor surface smooth, to avoid food injuries that can sometimes end up fatal to ducks.
Ducks need a body of water they can splash around in, to activate their preen gland and keep their feathers oiled and eyes and nose clean. It should be deep enough to dip their head in, and ideally possible for them to float in.
Young birds should have a fully-caged outdoor run area, to protect from winged predators. Regular ducks should have their run area fenced off, ideally with electrical and underground wiring, to protect from predators like foxes and coyotes. Ducks can squeeze through cracks, so keep your fencing tight.
To get ideas in this area, check out how to build your own chicken coop and chicken run.
If your ducks are for breeding, you’ll want a little more space, at least 5 square feet of floor space per bird. Keep your ducks inside the shelter at night, and then collect the eggs in the morning before letting your ducks outdoors. Wash the eggs with warm water and a sanitizing compound.
There are commercial feeds available that are tailored directly to ducks. Use starter crumbs for a duckling, and grower pellets for 4-6 week old ducks. From 6 weeks on, you can start to differentiate depending on your goals. There are different kinds of pellets available for breeding, meat producing, or egg producing ducks, tailoring the nutrients to the specific needs of that type of duck.
After 2-3 weeks, you can supplement their meals with cracked corn and other grains. They will also forage plants and bugs outdoors, that will help diversify their diet. They should also have some grit to help break down what they eat.
Ducks need a waterer they can drink from but can’t fall into or knock over. Make sure to keep it clean.
A chicken feeder and waterer can be used to feed ducks as well. Check out this article to learn how to make your own chicken feeder and waterer.
If your goal is egg production, switch to an egg-laying ration 1 month before egg production.
Feeding your ducks oyster shells will improve the quality of the shells in the eggs they produce.
BROODING AND EGG PRODUCTION
Brooding is the process of caring for the eggs and newborn ducklings. Your ducks should be at least 7 months old before starting egg production. Place the eggs underneath the female at night so she will be more accepting of them. A chicken hen or female duck can sit on around 10 duck eggs.
Keep their nesting area in a place that won’t be disturbed, supplied with food and water. Your brooding area should be dry, well lit and ventilated, but with no drafts. Cover the floor with an absorbent litter material, such as wood shavings. You will need to remove wet spots and replace litter material often.
For the first 2 weeks, you will need ½ a square foot of floor space per bird. Increase this to 1 square foot in weeks 2 to 4, and to 2 square feet for over a month.
An infrared heat lamp is a good source of heat for your brooding area. A 250 watt lamp will produce enough heat for 30 ducklings.
You’ll want to keep the brooding area nice and warm. It should be around 90F when the ducklings first arrive, and reduced by 5 to 10 degrees every week. Watch your ducklings to know if the temperature is right- too hot, and they’ll move away from the lamp. Too low, and they’ll bunch around near it and get noisier.
You should supplement heat for 5-6 weeks in the winter, 2-3 weeks in the summer. By the fourth week, your ducklings will have moved out of their downy (fluffy) phase, have grown feathers and will be able to go out in all but the most wet and coldest weather.
Remove early hatchlings and place them in a separate area under a heat lamp. This will stop the mother from leaving the nest early.
Ducks can be brooded artificially in the same manner as chicken eggs. Eggs for hatching should be stored at 55 F and 75% humidity. When using an incubator you need to turn the eggs 3-5 times a day up until 3 days before they hatch.
Most breeds require 28 days to hatch. Muscovy take a little longer, at just over a month.
To learn how to make your own incubator, check out how to make your own chicken egg incubator.
HARVESTING AND SLAUGHTER
Pekin duck, the most common commercial breed in the US, will take about 2 months to get to market weight, 6-7lb.
A Rouens will take about 5 months to get to 6-7lb.
If you’re looking to sell your duck meat, the demand is highest between Thanksgiving and New Years.
How to Slaughter a Duck
Here’s a guide on how to pluck and butcher a duck:
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Good luck and stay prepared!