Raising ducks is a huge commercial industry. More than 20 million ducks are raised in the United States alone. Ducks are mainly raised for their eggs and meat and duck eggs command a better price than hen eggs.
However, most commercial set ups prefer not to keep ducks for egg production, although the egg-laying breeds of ducks can lay larger and more eggs than egg-laying hens, because ducks eat 75% more feed, and hence are not economical.
Selecting The Breed
If you are raising Ducks for eggs then you will be pleased to know that they can produce a good number of eggs for three seasons, and individual birds can lay almost 365 eggs in a year. The only disadvantage is that they are not economical and difficult to manage in large numbers.
There are two main egg producing breeds: Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell.
The main breeds for meat production are Pekin, Rouen, Muscivy and Aylesbury. The different crosses between these pure breeds are also suitable for meat. Although Pekins are used commercially for meat production, they are also better at egg production than the other three breeds. This breed originated in China and is most popular in the USA and UK.
Keeping small ornamental varieties of ducks called bantams, for exhibition purposes is increasing. These breeds are White and Gray Calls, Black East Indias, Wood Ducks, Teal and Mandarins.
The main factor in the selection of breeders is the body weight. Since body weight is inherited, birds should be selected when they reach marketing age. There are several things that should be looked into, such as the body conformation, feathering, egg production, hatchability, fertility, productive life and feed consumption.
Breeders that are young and vigorous should be selected. The characteristics that define a young duckling are the bright color of the leg and bill, the pliable and gristly breastbone and the softness of the windpipe that can easily be dented.
To achieve best results, first-year ducks and drakes are the best. It is important not to mate birds less than six months of age. The number of ducks a drake can mate depends on the size of the birds. With light breeds, one drake to ten ducks is fine; whereas with the heavier breeds, it is one drake to five ducks. The number of birds to be mated depends on the number of ducklings that are needed. One duck can produce about 100 ducklings per season.
When raising Ducks, housing does not have to be elaborate. They can either be housed intensively, where the birds are kept inside or semi-intensively, with the birds having access to the outside during the day and kept indoors at nights as well as in bad weather.
The housing must be clean and dry with proper ventilation and safe enough to keep the rain out.
Flooring: There should be space of 0.2 m2 for each bird. The shed floor should be covered with wood shavings or some other absorbent material of about 6-7 cm depth, to absorb moisture as well as to prevent egg breakage.
The site where the sheds are located should be slightly sloping and should not be too flat as that will impede the drainage. Ducks cannot withstand too much heat and adequate shade is needed.
Nests can also be used as there will be fewer breakages of eggs and no exposure to dampness or sun. They should be clean, dry and comfortable. They can be built and placed in rows along the walls. The suitable size is 30 cm by 30 cm by 40 cm deep for one duck. Material such as shavings, sawdust or sand should be placed to a depth of 7 cm.
Feeding And Watering
Ducks do not need special feeding equipment and the equipment that is used for other poultry can be used. Each duck needs at least 12 cm of feeding space.
Although swimming facilities are not essential, concrete ponds of 1 m width and 0.25 m depth can be provided, away from the house to keep the litter dry. Ducks need plenty of clean drinking water. Their heads should be immersed completely to clean the blockage of their nasal passages caused by dirt and food. Drinking containers should be kept shaded at all times. To prevent damp litter, drinking bowls should be placed outside the shed or on a grid. For ducklings, waterers that the birds cannot get into should be used.
There are formulated feeds available for ducks. Ducklings can also be started on chick starter for the first couple of weeks. Initially, feed should be placed on a rough surface to avoid slipping. After the first 2 or 3 weeks, ducklings can be fed a chicken grower ration as well as corn or other grain. Keep feed in front of the birds at all times.
Since ducks are tough, medicated feed is not necessary. Ducklings with access to green feed outdoors or cur green feed are generally healthier.
Diseases that affect the ducks are E.coli, salmonella and streptococcal infections, fungal infections, duck virus hepatitis, duck plague and avian influenza. To prevent these diseases, hygiene and biosecurity have to be maintained. Controlling people and vehicles entering the farm as well as cleaning of any machines that are brought in goes a long way.
Duck raising is a lucrative industry and to avail of the benefits by raising healthy ducks, preplanning and understanding the above steps is essential.