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General Care of the Duck


     Contrary to some beliefs, ducks and geese do not need to have a pond to be happy. They will have the instinct to go to water should your neighbor have a pond, creek, or pool. Dirty ponds and mud holes spread diseases. For all types of poultry, water should always be available at all times and food should be provided if the birds are young and growing (under 3 months of age). Waterers should not be constructed so that the ducks cannot defecate into the water.   If a pool is to be provided, place it away from the housing and feeding facilities.

     There are different varieties of ducks. Some are bred for egg laying, such as the Khaki, Campbell, and Indian Runners. The Campbell can lay up to 300 eggs per year.   Muscovy, White Perkins and Aylesbury varieties are meat types. The White Perkin can lay up to 160 eggs per year, but usually the hens do not usually sit on the eggs. A cross of the Mallard to the Muscovy (a South American breed) will result in a sterile “Mule Duck”.

     If you have recently purchased some ducklings they will need to be kept warm and inside for the first month. Keep the ducklings out of the wind and rain.   For heating, hover type brooders are available and should be used for 0?3 week old birds in the summer, and up to 6 weeks of age in the winter. Initially the hover’s temperature should be 85?90 degrees, with a gradual dropping of 5 degrees per week. Chicken hovers need to be raised for ducklings. If the birds are piling or crowding up, they are usually too cold; while shying away from the heat may indicate the temperature is too hot. A 250-watt infrared heating lamp can be used for 30 ducklings, hung at a height of 15 inches. Suspend infrared lights with wire and provide the bulb with a light guard. Initially 1/2 square foot of floor space per bird is to be provided for ducklings less than 2 weeks old, and increasing to 3 sq. ft. per bird at 8 weeks of age. Adults require 6 sq. ft. in the brooder house, and 40?75 sq. ft. for the yard per bird. Inside the brooder house a litter of peat moss, wood shavings, chopped straw, etc. should be provided for a depth of 4 inches. The brooder house should be fairly well ventilated for adults, and usually does not have to be heated.

            Sometimes the ducks will have a tendency to stampede at night. This can be controlled by providing light during the night. A 15-watt light bulb per 200 square foot of brooder house is adequate. When egg laying is desired, a 14-hour light day is needed, but continuous light will sometimes cause egg laying to stop.

     Start feeding the 0?2 week old ducklings a starter ration for ducks, waterfowl or maybe chickens. A layer diet is excessive in nutrition for ducks, and can cause angel wing and other problems. Do not use any feeds with antibiotics, as some can be lethal for ducks; coccidiostats are lethal to waterfowl. After 2 weeks of age, a grower ration can be utilized. By 8?9 weeks of age, most ducklings have grown to a market weight of about 7 pounds; with the Muscovy ducks taking a little longer (10?17 weeks till market weight). At a young market weight, the ducklings are free of pinfeathers.   Supposedly at 6 to 8 weeks of age, a hen will “honk”, while the male drake will “belch”; otherwise sexing may have to wait till maturity to differentiate the ducklings. If a whole or cracked grains are to be fed, grit needs to be provided, unless the birds have access to gravel by running free; a complete diet is much healthier. Medicated poultry diets with coccidiostats should not be fed to any waterfowl, as coccidiostats are toxic to ducks and geese. The coccidiostats of halfuginone, narsin, nitarsone, nitrofurans are toxic waterfowl (and also most are not allowed at all to be in contact with food animals). Dinitolmide is toxic to pigeons. Many of the coccidiostats/medicated feeds can be toxic to dogs, pigs, horses, humans, etc. All coccidiostat drugs can be toxic if there is an overdose. Monensin can be fed to most species of poultry, yet is toxic at high doses. In older turkeys and in all guinea fowl ionophores can be toxic (monensin, lasalocid). There are many drugs that if mixed with monensin/ionophores it can cause toxicity in poultry and other animals, especially waterfowl; our drug reaction handout has a list of these drugs. Ducks that are used for egg laying should have a 3% calcium in their diet. If such a laying diet cannot be found we recommend a 50/50 mixture of the duck diet and a chicken laying diet (4% calcium) that is not medicated.

     Breeding your own ducks can be fun. Allow one drake for 5 to 6 hens. Don’t breed before 7 months of age. A breeder?layer ration is advised to be fed one month before egg laying starts. Overfeeding can result in the ducks becoming too fat and results in health problems along with decreased production. For the average breeding flock 1/2 pound of feed per bird, split into 2 feedings, is adequate if you provide enough room for eating so that all the birds can eat at once. A pelleted food 3/16 inch in diameter is sometimes best to use, if available;   although chicken food is usually “most available”. A 14 hour light day needs to be provided 3 weeks before egg laying is desired. A 60-watt light bulb per 200 square feet floor space, on a timer, may be needed. Most ducks will lay for 5 or more months. It is best to confine the ducks at night and collect the eggs first thing in the morning and again at night when penning them up. If you are incubating the eggs yourself, turn the eggs daily, marking one side of the egg for reference. (We have separate booklets for information about incubating eggs, construction of housing, etc). Most duck eggs hatch at around 28 days of incubation, although Muscovy can be as long as 35 days till hatching.

     Vaccines, such as Duck Viral Enteritis, are available for large commercial operations, but rarely used for the average farm flock. A periodic exam for external parasites, and yearly fecal test, are recommended for a parasite program. For all poultry owners we recommend that you come into the clinic to obtain a feeding tube, syringe and the directions for tube feeding a bird, especially a bird that has been stressed out and attacked by a predator.

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