12 April 2008 |

Raising Ducks at the Yardstead

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 Raising ducks at the yardstead is a very new venture. We've only had our ducklings for one week now. But, I've spent the last six months reading about ducks. We have talked about having a few at the yardstead for quite some time now. In writing about the experience of having ducks for the first time, I thought I should include some background information on duck production and on brooding baby ducklings too.
 

Each year about 22 million ducks are raised in the United States. These ducks are usually produced under confinement on specialized duck farms in a few commercial duck production areas of the U.S for meat production. There are still a lot of small farms and a few hobby owners that raise ducks for family use or to sell locally. With ducks it seems there is no such thing as either a meat bird or a laying bird...as there is with chickens. The commercial duck industry produces mostly the Pekin breed. Pekins reach market weight early and are fairly good egg producers, but they are poor setters and seldom raise a brood.

 

In reading about raising ducks, I found that meat production is generally of primary importance in selecting a breed for most farm owners, but egg production for propagation, brooding tendency, and the white plumage that produces an attractive dressed carcass is also considered when selecting breeds. Here at the yardstead, we are not yet interested in ducks for meat production. We only wanted a few for entertainment, education and the occasional egg for baking.

The Rouen is a popular farm flock breed. When we decided to purchase our Buff ducklings this year, the family we split the order with purchased Rouens. Rouens are slower growing than the Pekin, but they reach the same weight over the 5 to 6 month period of feeding and foraging under farm conditions. Buff ducks are originally from the same area and farm of the UK as the famous Buff Orpington chickens. They are usually refered to as Buff ducks but sometimes as Buff Orpington Ducks.

Keeping ducks for exhibition or hobby purposes is increasing. You can find articles about ducks in many magazines such as Hobby Farms. Most general poultry shows and some special bantam shows offer classes for ducks. You should check with your local county extension office for information about this.

Below is what I found on brooding ducks in books and on the internet:

If you are interested in raising ducks from eggs, small groups of ducklings can be brooded by broody chicken hens and most breeds of ducks other than Pekin and 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. We purchased our ducks via mail this year from Murray McMurray Hatchery. It required a 10 bird minimum and we split this with friends because we only wanted 3 birds. The hatchery, especially Murray McMurray often throws in an extra and this year's extra was a buff, so we ended up with 4 buff ducks.

I have seen ducks in farm stores too and advertisements in the paper from local farms. So look around, there are many ways to find ducklings. We have ordered chicks from McMurray before and they have always been healthy. As we knew another family wanted to share our order, this was the best option for us.

Any small building or garage can be used as a brooding area for small numbers of birds. The brooding area should be dry, well lighted and ventilated. It should also be free from drafts. Cover the floor with about 4 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.

Our four ducks are currently in a large plastic storage tub in the house. We use a light clamped to the side of the tub, a small plastic (glass jar) water (same as used for baby chicks) and a small shallow stainless steel bowl for food. In Florida, in April, our night time temperatures are already at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So the baby buff ducks will be able to move outside in a few weeks.

An infrared heat lamp is a convenient source of heat for brooding small numbers of ducks. Use one 250-watt lamp for 30 ducklings. Heat lamps provide radiant heat to the birds under them. Since the air isn't heated, room temperature measurement isn't so important. Just make sure the ducks have some room to move away from the heat as temperatures fluctuate throughout the day. The temperature under the light should be 85 to 90 degrees F when the ducklings arrive. Reduce it 5 to 10 degrees per week. If they are too hot, they will move away from the heat. If too cold they may pile up and be noisy.

By 4 - 6 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. Our ducks will go in the same enclosed area that some of our chickens run in. They will have a separate nesting and housing area.

Ducklings need a 1/2 square foot of floor space per bird during the first two weeks. Increase this to 1 square foot by 4 weeks. If due to the temperature outside or housing situation, ducks are to remain confined after the first month, provide them with at least 2 square feet of floor space.

Ducklings should have feed and drinking water available when they arrive. Use waterers, I think the chick waters work best, the ducklings can't get into. A pan or trough with a wire guard is also useful. The waterer should be wide enough and deep enough for a bird to dip its bill and head.

In some areas farm stores have feeds formulated for duck feeding. Check with the suppliers in your area. If duck feeds aren't available, start ducklings on chick starter for the first 2 to 3 weeks. Do not use the medicated chick starter. This is not good for ducklings. Ducklings can be fed out of a shallow container. After 2 to 3 weeks ducklings can be fed a pelleted chicken grower ration plus cracked corn, or other grain. Keep feed before the birds at all times and provide some finely chopped greens after 3 – 4 weeks.

Small flocks of ducklings raised in the late spring with access to green feed outdoors generally have few nutritional problems. Water for swimming isn't necessary for successful duck production. As ducks love water, I believe it would not be good to deprive them of this treat. We plan to use a small swimming pool for the four ducks we have to provide water for playing and swimming. We’ve settled on a size that will not be too difficult for my husband to tip over, drain and refill often.

We will add pictures and stories as our ducks get bigger. Anyone interested in duck production should check with their local library or county extension office for information.

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