What you should know about ducks

By Makeli Phiri   

It is interesting to note that we have many people rearing ducks in our midst but lark knowledge on how to look after these birds. Today let us look at this duck which is always associated with filthy living but has the potential of feeding the hungry.

Ducks although not well utilized as a potential bird in addition to the chicken can provide the much needed protein just as the chicken does for the human population. In areas where ducks are fully kept like chicken, can be categorized into two different categories, those used for egg production, and those used for meat production. Commercially there is much more demand for duck meat than duck eggs and some famers in Africa are mainly engaged in the production of table ducklings.

The majority of the domesticated breeds of ducks have originated from the Wild Mallard (Anus platyrhynchos) and the Muscovy is more popular in Zambia (Cairina moschata). However, the most popular ducks in the farming world are the Aylesbury and the Pekin, they are both white feathered, but the Aylesbury is white fleshed and the Pekin yellow. These are often crossed together to provide the hybrid vigor and best points from the two breeds.

For egg production, the Indian Runner and the Khaki Campbell are used throughout the world and when kept commercially are capable of producing up to 300 eggs per annum. The Muscovy although popular in Zambia is not really a true duck and is more related to the goose. It will fly make little noise except to hiss, and although will cross with true ducks, the progeny will be unfertile.

Unlike the incubation period 28 days for ducks, the Muscory egg takes 35 days to incubate. Its main advantage unlike the other ducks, is that it becomes broody easily, sits well, is a very good mother, and can be reproduced without artificial incubation or brooding therefore can fit in very well within the capabilities of emerging and improved farmers, or where there is not scope for commercial production, because the Muscovy is also a very good scavenger.

In the past, in some rural areas of Zambia some work was done on expanding and developing the Muscovy at village level. The main problem that was encountered was to protect the ducklings in the earlier stages from drakes the weather and predators, and the provision of supplementary feeding during the first four weeks. Otherwise the majority of the Muscovy ducklings, as under normal scavenger conditions, is high.

Breeding: as the main domesticated ducks are non – broody or poor sitters, there is really no alternative but to use artificial incubators for the hatching of duck eggs, unless small numbers of the eggs are placed under some other broody breed of bird.

It is best to have small pen of breeders consisting of about twenty ducks to five drakes. The drakes are mature for mating at about eight months of age, and can be kept as breeders for up to three years. Ducks begin to lay at between five and six months of age, but it is not advisable to use the eggs for incubation until the ducks reach eight months old, when the progeny are very much better. Pekins will lay on average 120 eggs, and Aylesbury about 80 eggs in a year.

Housing, for all ducks, can be very simple but must be situated on a well-drained area, the floor must be raised at least 15 centimeters above the surrounding ground level, and allowing about 0.46 square meters floor space for each duck. For a pen of twenty  five ducks and drakes, a house should be of the open front types with learn – to roof, the front being 2.4 meters high, and the back 1.4 meters high.

Ducks end to be dirty and plenty of clean litter must be available for the floor of the house. Make nests, one to every four ducks (30.5 cm wide by 40.6 cm deep with a partition of 30.5 cm between nests). The nests can be placed on the floor against a side or rear wall.

Ducks normally lay their eggs in the night or early morning, so to encourage the eggs to be laid in the nests in the house, and not in the outside run, they are not let out of the house until laying is completed by 8 or 9 hours in the morning. All the runs provided for the ducks should be surrounded with low fence and the end of the run can reach and extend into a steam or body of water. If this is not possible, then an artificial pond can be constructed. Fertility of duck eggs are probably better when swimming water is not available to breeding ducks.

Breeding ducks should be fed well if the best hatching results and ducklings are to be produced, and the modern method is to be feed a breeders mash or pellets ad lib, with a morning and /or evening feed of wet mash which should be consumed in a short time. Gather the eggs soon after laying and keep in a cool room 12.8 c is ideal with relative humidity of 60 percent, and the eggs should not be held longer than 5 or 6 days because the hatchability will be reduced.

The principles of artificial incubation of duck eggs are the same as those for chicken eggs, exception that the temperature is slightly lower and the relative humidity higher.

During the first 24 days the relative humidity should be held and maintained at 70 percent, and can be reduced to 60 percent, for the remainder of incubation period. If difficulty is experienced in keeping the relative humidity at the required level, then the eggs can be sprinkled each day with warm water.

The eggs should be turned four times each day up to the 25th day, and in natural draught incubations the eggs should be moved alternatively from the outside of the tray to the inside.

Once the hatch starts and the ducklings begin to pip the shell, do not disturb the incubator keep the door closed until the hatch is complete. Do not remove any ducklings from the incubator until they have all dried off. Do not chill them before moving them to the brooder.

Brooding and rearing: this is very similar to chicks and the same temperatures are given. Ducklings grow very rapidly, and the correct floor space must be provided. During the first two weeks 0.47 square meters per duckling and during the third and fourth weeks 0.106 square meters. From the fifth to seventh week and over 0.28 square meters per ducklings. Ventilation is very important for ducklings and they can be let out in fine weather after a few days, but they should not be allowed to get wet before the feathering is complete on the backs at about six weeks of age, and they should also be kept out of the sun during hot weather to avoid sunstroke from which they are very susceptible.

The feeding of ducklings is similar to chickens and the majority of duckling producers feed a balanced chick mash or pellets ad lib, which can be augmented with feeds of wet mash which should be consumed in few minutes. Clean drinking water must be available at all times.

Ducklings do tend to be dirty, and plenty of clean litter should be made available to keep the floor of the house clean.

Table ducklings are ready for marketing at about seven weeks of age if managed correctly. Also, at this age, a complete growth of feather has just finished, and there are no stubs of pin feather just forming and plucking is very much easier.

Diseases affect ducks very much less than chickens, although heavy losses can occur with particular diseases, but the following of a strict sanitation program and good management are the very best prevention against getting disease. Do not over crowd the ducklings in the brooder, keep the houses and runs clean, and clean all feeding and watering equipment regularly.

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