Duck farming is part of poultry farming. However, there is a slight difference between duck farming and chicken farming, especially in the habits and feeding of the two species of poultry. Ducks can be raised for meat and eggs, for commercial purposes, or for personal consumption.
About 3 billion ducks are slaughtered each year for meat worldwide, with duck farming being more popular in China than in any other part of the world, as they are raised extensively in the Asian nation, with the average duck number per farm being between 100 to 200 ducks.
If you are a duck farming beginner or you want to start raising ducks, this duck farming guide for beginners is specially made for you. I am going to share with you and explain in great detail everything you need to know about duck farming and raising ducks for meat or for eggs and how you can make money with ducks. There are roughly 20 million ducks raised for profit on farms across America annually.
You can raise ducks for personal consumption or commercial purposes. If you decide to raise ducks in your backyard or on your homestead for personal consumption, you will be rewarded with plenty of big eggs, have more nutrients and are excellent for baking. You will also eventually enjoy eating quality duck meat, especially the Pekin meat which tastes so yummy and is very succulent.
ADVANTAGES OF RAISING DUCKS.
1. Ducks hardly fall sick and they rarely unexpectedly die like what chickens do at times.
2. A wet duck, however, is a very happy duck. Ducks are made for the cold and will continue to lay eggs even during the winter months.
3. Chickens make more noise than our ducks. Therefore, ducks are less noisy than chickens, guinea fowls and turkeys.
4. Ducks welcome newcomers far more quickly than chickens do.
5. Most duck breeds lay longer than chickens, and ducks will breed until they are about six years old.
6. Ducks can feed on a wide range of food. A duck’s regular diet can include fruits and kitchen leftovers, vegetables, weeds and garden waste, grains and other insects such as grass-hoppers, lizards, flies, and snails. Ducks, especially muscovies, are wonderful for natural pest control.
DUCK FARMING BUSINESS.
Commercial duck farming is increasing as duck farming is not a tight-competition poultry farming business like that of broiler chickens. You could sell eggs or you can hatch the eggs first then sell ducklings. Day-old ducklings usually cost 3 to 4 times more than the price of chicken's chicks. Not only can you sell eggs and ducklings, but you can also sell adult ducks for breeding to fellow poultry farmers or you can sell duck meat. Another, but a rather rare way of earning an income through raising ducks, is to simply use duck manure to grow horticulture produce. I use duck manure to grow potatoes, strawberries, cabbages and vegetables which I sell to neighbours and local community members, remember organic produce sells fast and at a premium!
If you want an economical and steady supply of homegrown eggs that are nutritious and tasty, you’ll need a flock of ducks. In the last 10 or so years, ducks have become the new chickens on most homesteads as a growing number of backyard poultry farmers or homesteaders have realised that in most cases ducks are better layers than chickens. Ducks will lay longer than chickens and ducks will lay bigger eggs than chickens, and most ducks can lay eggs daily before 8 am every morning. Duck eggs are particularly popular with bakers and duck meat is sought after in upscale restaurants. Finding a market for duck eggs and duck meat should not be a difficult thing no matter where you live.
Ducks are highly available around the world. There are several duck breeds for meat eggs available in most parts of the world. Usually, Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell ducks are considered the best egg-laying duck breeds. Aylesbury, Muscovy and Pekin are some popular meat duck breeds. We will talk more about duck breeds later in this tutorial.
Ducks do like to wash their bills and heads frequently, so their drinking water should be changed at least several times weekly and preferably daily. If crowded in a small pen with a dirt floor during wet weather, they will turn their quarters into a muddy mess. But, adequate bedding (such as sand, straw or wood shavings), larger pens, or the use of wire floors, takes care of this problem.
HOW TO START DUCK FARMING.
After deciding what you want to achieve with your duck farming project, whether you want eggs or meat, you can start raising ducks. Start with just a few ducklings. About 12 birds are a number to kick-start your duck farming business. A male-to-female ratio of between 1:5 and 1:10 is ideal in most cases, meaning per every 5 to 10 female ducks you need 1 or 2 male ducks.
Ducks are the toughest of farm birds as they have a high resistance to diseases and infections. Nevertheless, health measures should be taken to safeguard duck health and foster high duck yields. These could include keeping a clean and unpolluted environment, as well as other criteria.
A brooder is very simply a warm area to safely house ducklings while they are very young until they can care for themselves. Ideally, you should have your brooder set up, warmed and ready before the ducklings arrive.
Ducklings like a temperature of 90-92 degrees for the first 3 days, then 85-90 degrees for days 4 to 7. After the ducklings are a week old, drop the temperature in their brooder by approximately 5 degrees per week.
Use an infra-red heat lamp with a hood over it to direct heat toward the floor of one side of the brooder. It is a good idea to have a cool side and warm side within the brooder, to allow ducklings to move from warmer to cooler areas as needed. To decrease the temperature, simply raise the height of the infrared heat lamp. Moving it further above the floor reduces heat in the brooder.
Don’t stress about the precise temperatures too much, the ducklings will let you know if they are uncomfortable. If you check on them and they are sitting with their mouths open & panting, it’s too hot, and time to back the heat off a bit more. If they are peeping loudly and huddled together, the heat back some more.
WHAT TO FEED BABY DUCKS.
Wondering what to feed baby ducks? If you are buying ducks to add to your chicken flock, you’ll be happy to know that ducks can eat broiler chicken starter feed. Many feed houses will state that broiler starter feed should not be given to ducks because it contains coccidiostats. Tell you what, just ignore it; it's a myth that won't kill your ducklings now or later. Most coccidiostats used in broiler starter feeds are used to treat some of the diseases that affect ducks. I always give my ducklings some broiler starter feed and nothing has ever happened over the years.
So feel free to give your day-old ducklings broiler chicken starter feed for 3 to 4 weeks, then switch to duck grower feed or free-range chicken grower feed until you pick your first egg, which should be at about 6 months of age for big breeds and 4 and half months of age if you are raising small to medium breeds. It's best to give the laying ducks chicken layers mash so that they lay as many eggs as possible.
Ducks are omnivorous birds and will eat many different foods. The best foods to offer ducks include cracked corn, wheat, barley, or similar grains, oats, rice, birdseed and more. However, bear in mind that ducks naturally love greens. So when you remove weeds and garden waste, they will be so happy to feast on those green plants.
BEST DUCK BREEDS.
Successful duck farming starts with selecting the best duck breed. There are a variety of duck breeds that are prolific layers. However, for top efficiency and year-round egg production, Khaki Campbells, Welsh Harlequins, Indian Runners, Magpies and Anconas from strains selected for egg production are usually the best choices. Pekins are good seasonal layers of jumbo-sized eggs, but due to their large size and corresponding hearty appetites, they require nearly twice as much feed to produce a pound of eggs when compared to the above-mentioned breeds.
The Pekin is the most popular duck breed globally and is usually reared for table purposes, though they are also good layers to some extent. In addition, the Pekin is fast-growing and has low feed consumption with fine quality meat. Pekin ducklings are ready for market at 2 or 3 months old. The Pekin breed attains the market slaughter weight of 2.2 to 2.5KG in about 42 days of age, which is just 7 weeks. You see, the Pekin duck growth rate is almost similar to that of broiler chickens.
Campbells, and their close relative the Welsh Harlequin, are generally considered the best layers of all domestic poultry. Individual females have been known to produce 360 or more eggs in a year, although flock averages are nearer 275 to 325. For egg-laying needs, a Khaki Campbell duck is an excellent choice.
For meat production, the best breeds are Pekin, Muscovy, Appleyard, Aylesbury, and Rouen.
If you decide to keep different duck breeds for various purposes, you should raise them in separate enclosures, run spaces, and water sources. This is necessary to keep each line pure to prevent cross-breeding. When ducks are turned out to free-range at the same time outside of the duck house – coop and run environment, cross-breeding will likely occur during this time, as well. In that case, you may need to avoid free-ranging some breeds or at least all males.
Visit various poultry feed houses in your area and find out how much duck feed or free-range chicken feed costs, then do some calculations to see how much you are likely to spend per week and month on feeding your ducks. The price of duck feed (or free-range chicken feed, which is also a great alternative) varies by location but you should expect to spend between $10 to – $18 per 50-pound bag, or between $20 and $25 per 50KG bag. One bag of feed is enough to keep a flock of 12 mature ducks well-fed for seven days. This can last much longer if they are free-ranging during the spring through fall months or if you ferment your poultry feed for three days before feeding your ducks or even chickens.
Ducks are not destructive to crops like chickens due to differences in their beaks. You can allow them into the garden to help the ducks fulfil their protein needs at no cost to you.
Ducks start laying eggs at about the age of 6 months, though smaller ducks may start laying at around 4 to 5 months of age Bantams, Runners, and other small ducks can start laying eggs at around 4 months, while larger breeds like Muscovies will lay eggs at about 6 months.
Due to the large number of eggs they can produce (many more than wild birds do), laying ducks have very high requirements for calcium and protein and must be fed a layer or breeder diet. Laying feeds typically contain 16-17% protein and at least 3.25% calcium. Layer feed is balanced to keep layers healthy and produce quality eggs and is made with cereal grains, oyster shells, and essential vitamins and minerals.
Commercial ducks may produce fewer eggs because they become nervous and uneasy when they are with too many other birds. Make sure to limit any group of ducks to 250 birds or less. We have already talked about best laying ducks, so we will not dwell longer on laying. To keep ducks laying the year around, they must be supplied with an adequate amount of laying feed that provides a minimum of 15 to 16 percent crude protein. The feed can be left in front of the birds at all times in a trough or hopper feeder, or it can be given twice daily in quantities that the ducks will clean up in 10 to 15 minutes.
High-producing ducks need a constant supply of reasonably clean drinking water. Both the number and size of eggs will suffer if birds are frequently allowed to go thirsty. Water containers do not need to be elaborate, although I do suggest that they be at least four to six inches deep to permit the ducks to clean their bills and eyes. As a general guide, a single adult duck requires about 1 litre of water per day.
If you want the ducks to hatch their eggs, then you will have to raise muscovy ducks as most duck breeds, except muscovies and wild mallards, don't hatch eggs.
For farmyard and wild ducks alike, nesting typically occurs in early to mid-spring. Duck hens lay about a dozen or so eggs, which take nearly a month to hatch. A mother duck sitting on her eggs is "brooding", and her collection of eggs — and eventually ducklings — is known as a brood. Brooding provides heat during the important incubation period; the time it takes for the eggs to hatch.
She arranges the plucked feathers around the bottom and sides of the nest to provide additional warmth and insulation. The plucking also results in an additional benefit: blood vessels run close to the duck's skin in the brood patch and pass heat from the mother directly to the eggs.
It is very difficult to hatch Muscovy eggs artificially. Muscovy ducks can be used to incubate and hatch out their eggs or the eggs of any other breed of duck, and can easily cover 16 eggs. To incubate Muscovy eggs ‘artificially’, place the eggs under a duck for 10 days and then transfer them to an artificial incubator. Better results are obtained if the eggs are again put under broody ducks for a day or so every week until about day 30 when they can be hatched in an incubator.
A mother duck sits on her eggs for 20 to 23 hours a day, taking an average of three breaks, each lasting around an hour at a time. When she does leave her nest, the duck hen covers her eggs with additional down and nesting material to help keep the eggs warm in her absence.
Ducks must build and insulate their nests before they lay any eggs. A duck will even pull out most of the down or extra soft feathers that cover her belly and use them in her nest as a type of insulator. This added layer will help keep heat within the nest. The belly feather removal allows her abdominal area to serve as a direct, uncovered source of heat for her eggs.
A clutch of eggs is the final group of eggs that a single duck lays during a specific nesting/incubation period. Clutches can vary in size depending on the breed of the duck and their surrounding resources.
A healthy duck with a lot of food nearby will lay a larger clutch of eggs than a skinnier duck that is having trouble finding enough food sources.
The incubation period starts when the internal temperature of the egg reaches 99.5°F or 37.5°C, which happens only when the duck begins continuously sitting on her clutch of eggs. After sitting begins, no more eggs will be laid or added to the nest.
This means that although the eggs in the nest could have been laid up to 10 days apart, they will still hatch around the same time because the incubation timer began at the same time.
Ducks may at times accidentally crack an egg open, and end up eating it. Rarely, they may develop a taste for it and may start eating their eggs in their entirety, including the calcium-rich shells, explaining the missing shells. If in doubt whether they have eaten their eggs, check for the yolk on their bills.
The main difference between wild and domestic ducks is that they’re used to humans and changing conditions. If you raise ducks on a farm or as a hobby on a larger property, they’re used to you walking up to them, touching them, feeding them, etc. There is likely a higher level of trust and comfort there. Domestic ducks are also accustomed to changing conditions in their pen.
Ducks sitting on eggs should exercise daily and be provided with food and water near their nests. Sometimes one or even all the eggs in a clutch may be cracked, unfertilized or simply have a duckling inside that has stopped developing. The duck will unknowingly continue to sit on the eggs until she is convinced that they are not going to hatch, often well beyond the average incubation days.
If a duck stumbles upon a cracked duck egg, it will likely eat the egg. Sometimes, ducks will intentionally crack and eat duck eggs if they are starving or lacking certain vitamins like calcium. If you own backyard ducks and have an issue with egg eating, make sure you are supplying your ducks with an adequate supply of calcium.
Ducks are larger than chickens. You will need more space to roam indoors during bad weather – although they prefer to remain outdoors even in cold weather and when it's also raining.
All poultry, ducks included, require a secure housing system, especially at night, to protect them from predators. Since ducks are extremely cold-resistant, the structure can have large ventilation spaces on its sides. In the coldest parts of winter, you can cover the “windows” with plastic to keep the coop warmer, if necessary.
Any materials can be used to construct a duck house. You could use scrap metal, bricks and cement, chicken mesh wire, wood or bamboo to build your duck house or fowl run. What you would use to make a chicken coop is usually ideal to make a duck coop as well, only that it should be a little bigger to accommodate the same number of ducks since ducks are slightly bigger than chickens.
If ducks are to free-range during the day, 3 to 4 square feet of floor space or 1 square metre is adequate for 5 or 6 ducks. Cover the floor with rice hulls, corn cobs, peanut hulls or similar materials and coop bedding to keep the duck house dry and clean. This also helps prevent the spread of pests and diseases. A poultry coop measuring 4 by 4 meters (which is 16 square metres) and 3 meters high or high enough to let a man stand inside, is ideal for about 100 ducks. My duck house is exactly 4 metres by 4 metres in size.
Use rice hulls, sawdust or wood chips to keep the floor a little more dry, which helps and prevent any bacteria growth that can make your ducklings sick. Replace the coop bedding frequently to avoid contamination and to control bad smells. If you can afford it, use pine chips for bedding, which have a natural scent that can help keep the brooding facility much more fragrant. I pile more straw in the corners of the duck house to encourage the hens to lay eggs there. This keeps the eggs out of the traffic lanes and keeps the eggs cleaner.
Because male ducks are pretty aggressive and they might fight with females. If you want to hatch eggs, then keep one male duck with every six to nine female ducks. This is usually the case with Muscovy ducks, and for that reason, I keep male Muscovy ducks separately. Female ducks only go to stay with male Muscovies for almost a month, then return to their duck house where they will lay eggs and eventually hatch them.
Before devising this strategy, I had figured out that male ducks, known as drakes, were being too aggressive on female ducks and ducklings, resulting in many eggs breaking and some ducklings dying.
The big difference between raising chickens and ducks is the amount of water that ducks require to be happy and healthy. Ducks are waterfowl and very fond of water. However, you can incredibly run a duck farm without providing your birds with any duck pond for swimming. I don't have any pond for my ducks, though next year I intend to let them swim in my fish pond. A duck pond is not essential; just make sure you provide them with sufficiently deep drinkers to allow the immersion of their heads and not themselves.
Ducks love water and use about 1 litre of drinking water per duck per day. They need water to keep their eyes, bills, feet, and feathers in good condition. The water should be deep enough for them to stick their whole head into and to wash their body. Typical chick waterers aren't deep enough for ducklings. To keep their nostrils and eyes clean, they need to be able to dunk their entire head into the water.
High-producing ducks need a constant supply of reasonably clean drinking water. Both the number and size of eggs will suffer if birds are frequently allowed to go thirsty.
HOW MANY DUCKS TO START WITH?
If you are completely new to farming, you can start with a small flock with one male and five or 6 females. This will give you about 20 to 42 eggs a week, some of which you can hatch and raise to adulthood. You can have up to 1 male duck for every 10 female ducks. They are usually ready for breeding by the time they are 6 months old.
If you prefer to start with ducklings, get at least 20 to make allowances for the average mortality rate.
Again, the best “mix” of ducks to buy depends on the type of business you want to focus on. If you want to raise ducks mostly for their eggs, then invest in more females. If you wish to breed them, then you will need more males to ensure a steady supply of fertilized eggs.
The period of incubation for duck eggs is 28 days, except Muscovy which is 33 to 35 days. Breeds of ducks that have a high degree of laying are non-sitters and their eggs are hatched through artificial incubation.
The Muscovy is a natural mother. She hatches and breeds her ducklings with none or little assistance from a man.
Eggs for hatching purposes should come from ducks older than 7 months of age to ensure better fertility and increase the eggs' hatch rate. Drakes (male ducks) should be raised separately from ducks. They are put together only when ready for mating.
When ducklings show signs of sickness, add 3 tablespoons of Nexal to every gallon of water for 2 to 3 days. Skip or withdraw after 3 days. Then continue for another 3 days. Terramycin poultry formula can also be used. Follow the instructions on the package carefully. To prevent Avian Pest Disease, immunize your ducks with Avian Pest Vaccine.
COMMON DUCK DISEASES AND THEIR CONTROL:
A. DUCK PLAGUE:
It is also known as viral enteritis and is caused by the Herpes virus. All waterfowl are susceptible and the Barbary duck is more susceptible than the Pekin. The disease follows a very acute course with morbidity of 5-100% and mortality of 5-100%. Transmission is by infected birds, fomites, and arthropods. Recovered birds may carry the virus for a year.
Affected birds are listless with drooping wings, ruffled feathers, no desire to walk, dull cornea, nasal discharge, laboured breathing, greenish-yellow diarrhea conjunctivitis, and a drop in egg production may be seen.
Prevention and control:
There is no treatment. Only the vaccination with Duck plague vaccine can be used which should be given at the 8- 12 weeks.
Aflatoxins (abbreviated as A.F.) are a class of mycotoxins, produced by fungal species of the genus Aspergillus (flavus and parasiticus) and Penicillium puberulum, that are often found in the ingredients used to make poultry feed. It occurs due to ingestion of aflatoxin, the toxic metabolite of the fungus Aspergillus flavus, from infected maize-meal, soya meal, and groundnut cakes. Out of 4 types of Aflatoxin (B1, B2, G1, G2), B1 is the most toxic. The minimum dose of the toxin is 0.03 ppm per kg. of feed.
The important signs are poor growth, loss of appetite, falling of feathers, lameness, purple discolouration of feet, and drop in egg production. When aflatoxin is present in high concentrations, it leads to death.
Prevention and control:
For prevention, feed ingredients should be checked for aflatoxin. Replace the infected feed with a good feed immediately.
C. DUCK CHOLERA:
Duck Pasteurellosis or Duck cholera is caused by a bacterium known as Pasteurella multocida and usually affects ducks that are over 4 weeks of age. Fowl Cholera is a serious, highly contagious disease and affects a range of poultry species including chickens, turkeys, and waterfowl. The bacterium is easily destroyed by environmental factors and disinfectants but may persist for prolonged periods in soil. Reservoirs of infection may be present in other species such as rodents, cats, and pigs.
In the very acute form, death occurs without any symptoms. In the acute form, the bird shows loss of appetite, increased thirst, and mucus discharge from the mouth, high body temperature, and diarrhea. The liver and spleen are enlarged.
Prevention and control:
We can use sulfa drugs. Vaccinate the birds first at the age of 4 weeks and again at 18 weeks.
Botulism is a severe neuroparalytic disease caused by exposure to botulinum neurotoxins, which are produced by anaerobic, spore-forming, ubiquitous microorganisms called Clostridium botulinum.
The toxin produced from botulism causes paralysis in the wings, legs, third eyelid, neck, and more. The duck will be floppy when picked up and may have diarrhea from the toxins. The twisting in the neck can be mild or severe. When neck paralysis is severe, the duck often dies from drowning.
Prevention and control:
When the dose of the toxin is low, most of the birds can be saved by removing the sick birds and providing the rest with fresh and clean water. Avoid ducks scavenging on decaying plant materials. Epsom salt in drinking water, which acts as a purgative, can be used.
Although these are not the only diseases that affect ducks, however, these are the four most common duck diseases and if you prevent these, you are likely to automatically prevent other poultry diseases that also affect ducks.