The revised and updated second edition includes:
*Expanded coverage of 23 domestic North American breeds
*Preview of natural and artificial incubation
*Revised and expanded guide to duck colors
*Up-to-date information on disease prevention and treatment
*Guidelines for showing
*Tips on rare breed conservation
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THE POPULARITY OF DUCKS — often described as the happiest animals in the barnyard — is increasing in many areas of the world. It appears that the rest of us are beginning to understand what many Asians and Europeans have known for centuries — ducks are one of the most versatile and useful of all domestic fowl. For many circumstances it is difficult to find a better all-purpose bird than the duck.
There are many reasons why people raise ducks. These amazingly adaptable fowl produce meat and eggs efficiently, in many situations require a minimum of shelter from inclement weather, are active foragers, consume large quantities of flies, mosquito larvae, and a wide variety of garden pests (such as slugs, snails, and grubs) and weed seeds, produce useful feathers, and are exceptionally healthy and hardy. A wonderful bonus to their myriad practical qualities is the entertaining antics and beauty they add to our lives.
Easy to Raise
People who have kept all types of poultry generally agree that ducks are the easiest domestic birds to raise. Along with guinea fowl and geese, ducks are incredibly resistant to disease. In many situations chickens must be vaccinated for communicable diseases and regularly treated for worms, coccidiosis, mites, and lice to remain healthy and productive. Duck keepers can often forget about these inconveniences. Even when kept under less than ideal conditions, small duck flocks are seldom bothered by sickness or parasites.
Resistant to Cold, Wet, and Hot Weather
Mature waterfowl are practically immune to wet or cold weather and are profoundly better adapted to cope with these conditions than are chickens, turkeys, guineas, or quail. Thanks to their thick coats of well-oiled feathers, healthy ducks of most breeds can remain outside in the wettest weather. Muscovies (which tend to have less water repellency than other breeds) and any duck that has poor water repellency due to infirmity should have free access to dry shelter during cold, wet weather.
While chickens have protruding combs and wattles that must be protected from frostbite, as well as bare faces that allow the escape of valuable body heat, ducks are much more heavily feathered and are able to remain comfortable — if they are provided dry bedding and protection from wind — even when the temperatures fall below 0°F (–18°C). (When people express concern about mature, healthy ducks being cold, I remind them that these waterfowl have the original and best down coats on the market!) Because ducks have the ability to regulate how much down they grow depending on weather conditions, they also thrive in hot climates if they have access to plenty of shade and cool drinking water. During torrid weather bathing water or misters can be beneficial.
Insect, Arachnid, Snail, and Slug Exterminators
Because they nurture a special fondness for mosquito pupae, Japanese beetle larvae, potato beetles, grasshoppers, snails, slugs, flies and their larvae, fire ants, and spiders, ducks are extremely effective in controlling these and other pests. In areas plagued by grasshoppers, ducks are used to reduce plant and crop damage during severe infestations. Where liver flukes flourish, ducks can greatly reduce the problem by consuming the snails that host this troublesome livestock parasite.
Under many conditions two to six ducks per acre (0.5 ha) of land are needed to control Japanese beetles, grasshoppers, snails, slugs, and fire ants. To eliminate mosquito pupae and larvae from bodies of water, provide six to ten ducks for each acre of water surface. With observation and experience you will be able to determine the number of ducks needed for your specific situation. The breeds of ducks in the Lightweight class and the larger bantam breeds are the most active foragers, making them the best exterminators for large areas. However, as noted in the chart of breed profiles on pages 28–29, most other breeds are also good foragers.
Ducks are one of the most efficient producers of animal protein. Strains that have been selected for high egg production (especially Campbells, Welsh Harlequins, and special hybrids) lay as well as or better than the best egg strains of chickens, averaging 275 to 325 eggs per hen per year. Furthermore, duck eggs are 20 to 35 percent larger than chicken eggs produced by birds of the same size. Unfortunately, in many localities, strains of ducks that have been selected for top egg production are not as readily available as egg-bred chickens.
Meat-type ducks that are raised in confinement and fed an appropriate diet are capable of converting 2.6 to 2.8 pounds of concentrated feed into 1 pound of bird. When allowed to forage where there is a good supply of natural foods, they have been known to do even better. The only domestic land animal commonly used for food that has better feed conversion is the industrial hybrid broiler chicken, with a 1.9:1 ratio.
Ducks are energetic foragers. Depending on the climate and the abundance of natural foods, they are capable of rustling from 15 to 100 percent of their own diet. Along with guinea fowl and geese, ducks are the most efficient type of domestic poultry for the conversion of food resources that normally are wasted — such as insects, slugs, snails, windfall fruits, garden leftovers, and weed plants and seeds — into edible human fare.
Aquatic Plant Control
Ducks are useful in controlling some types of unwanted plants in ponds, lakes, and streams, improving conditions for many types of fish. In most situations 15 to 30 birds per acre (0.5 ha) of water are required to clean out heavy growths of green algae, duckweed (Lemna), pondweed (Potamogeton), widgeon grass (Ruppia), muskgrass (Chara), arrowhead (Sagittaria), wild celery (Vallisneria), and other plants that ducks consume. Once the plants are under control, 8 to 15 ducks per acre will usually keep the vegetation from taking over again.
In bodies of water containing plants submerged more than 2 feet (0.6 m), or when it is desirable to clean grass from banks, four to eight geese per acre of water surface should be used along with the ducks. (For geese to be effective, they must be confined to the pond and its banks with fencing.) In experiments conducted in Puerto Rico, waterfowl were not found to be effective in eliminating well-established infestations of tropical plants such as water spinach and water hyacinth. However, both of these plants will be eaten by ducks if chopped into small enough pieces, and can be used as a supplement to other feeds.
Ducks are omnivores and will eat most food items that come from the kitchen or root cellar. The rule of thumb is this: If humans eat it, ducks most likely will also — as long as it is in a form they can swallow. They relish many kinds of leafy greens (they tend to be wary of red- or purple-colored leaves but, oddly, not fruit of these colors), garden vegetables and root crops, both temperate zone and tropical fruits (even bananas and citrus if they are peeled), canning refuse, most kinds of stale baked goods, and outdated dairy products and by-products such as cheese, whey, and curdled milk (these last two are best used to moisten dry foods, such as baked goods and finely ground feeds). To make it easier for these broad-billed fowl to eat firm vegetables and fruits, place apples, beets, turnips, and such on an old board and crush them with your foot or cut them into bite-size pieces.
Cooked potatoes can be an excellent source of carbohydrates and protein for ducks (avoid raw, green, or moldy potatoes; see page 234). Other root crops are typically consumed in larger quantities if cooked than if left raw.
Find creative ways of having your ducks utilize "waste" products, but avoid moldy or fermented foods and anything known to have harmful toxins, such as raw soybeans and potatoes. Keep in mind that certain sticky foods (such as milk) can compromise water repellency if allowed to splash onto the ducks' feathers.
During a 9-month research project in Puerto Rico, we supplied a flock of 40 mature Rouen ducks that were on pasture and had access to a 5-acre (2 ha) pond with nothing but leftovers from the school cafeteria (and oyster shells during the laying season). These "garbage-fed" birds remained in good flesh and showed no signs of poor health, although they produced 60 percent fewer eggs than a control group that was provided concentrated laying feed along with limited quantities of institutional victuals.
Down feathers come in a wide array of sizes, colors, and shapes and have both practical and artistic value. The down and contour body feathers of ducks are valuable as filler for pillows and as lining for comforters and winter clothing (see appendix E, Using Feathers and Down, page 335.) Fly fishers use duck feathers in fly tying, and artisans incorporate them into artworks. Because of their high protein content, the feathers yield valuable plant fertilizer when composted with other organic materials.
A valuable by-product of raising ducks is manure. Duck manure is an excellent organic fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. In some Asian countries duck flocks are herded through rice fields to eat insects, snails, and slugs and to pick up stray kernels of grain. The birds are then put on ponds where their manure provides food for fish.
Typically, ducks are not aggressive toward humans. Of the larger domestic birds, they are the least likely to inflict injury on children or adults. In the 50 years I have worked with ducks, the only injuries I've sustained have been small blood blisters on my arms and hands — received while attempting to remove eggs from under broody hens — and an occasional scratch when the foot of a held bird escaped my grasp. (There are exceptions. Factors such as the bird's personality, the environment in which it is raised, and the temperament of its caretakers can alter the usual docility of the duck. For instance, many Muscovies interact well with humans, but due to their long claws and exceptional strength, the occasional aggressive one — usually male — can inflict painful injury.) If you do get scratched by the claws of a bird, prompt washing of the wound with hydrogen peroxide and the application of an antibiotic ointment will lessen the chance of infection.
Decorative and Entertaining
Along with having many practical attributes, ducks are beautiful and fun to watch as they enthusiastically go about their daily activities. Over the years many people have told me of the pleasure and relaxation they experience from the simple act of watching their ducks. Folks have given detailed accounts of setting up lawn chairs next to their duck yards or locating their pens within sight of the house, so their ducks can be observed from a picture window. A small flock of waterfowl can transform just another yard or pond into an entertainment center that provides hours of enjoyment.
I can still remember the first ducks I had as a young boy. Because our property had no natural body of water, I fashioned a small dirt pond in the center of the duck yard. After filling it with water, I watched as my two prized ducklings jumped in and indulged in their first swim. They played and splashed with such enthusiasm that it wasn't long before I was as wet as they were. And then — much to my delight — they began diving, with long seconds elapsing before they popped above the surface in an unexpected place. I was hooked, and I continue to be intrigued by the playfulness, beauty, and grace of swimming waterfowl.
Helping Conserve Rare Genetic Stocks
One of the cornerstones for long-term viability of food-producing systems is genetic diversity. Unfortunately, many of the old and most versatile breeds of ducks are in danger of being lost to extinction as "modern" agriculture practices rely almost exclusively on a few breeds that best tolerate being packed tightly together in climate-altering buildings. You can help conserve rare genetic stocks in a variety of ways. Breeding and dispersing rare breeds is an obvious choice. If you raise one or more of the endangered breeds, you are helping curb the dangerous erosion of genetic diversity. Even if you buy rare ducklings for butchering at maturity, you are helping the breed by creating demand for them.
Some Points to Consider
Despite the unparalleled versatility and usefulness of ducks, there are several factors you should be aware of and understand. In some situations another type of fowl may prove more suitable.
Many people find the quacking of ducks an acceptable part of nature's choir. However, if you have close neighbors, the gabble of talkative hens may not be appreciated. Some breeds (and some individuals within a breed) are noisier than others. Typically, Call ducks are the noisiest, with Pekins being the second most talkative. Under many circumstances, a small flock consisting of any other breed will be reasonably quiet if not frightened or disturbed frequently. Muscovies are nearly mute, making them the least noisy of all breeds. Also, drakes of all breeds have weak voices, and for the control of slugs, snails, and insects in a town or suburb, they work fine.
Most people find that plucking a duck is more time-consuming than defeathering a chicken. But then, most of us who have had the privilege of dining on roast duck agree that it is time well spent. Furthermore, duck feathers are much more useful than chicken plumes. With good technique and experience, it is possible to reduce the picking time to 5 minutes or less.
Having large numbers of ducks on small ponds or creeks encourages unhealthy conditions and can result in considerable damage to bodies of water. One of the feeding habits of ducks is to probe the mud around the water's edge for grubs, worms, roots, and other buried treasures. A high density of ducks will muddy the water and hasten bank erosion. On the other hand, a reasonable number of birds (15 to 25 per acre [0.5 ha] of water) will improve conditions for fish, will control aquatic plant growth and mosquitoes, and will not significantly increase bank erosion.
Ducks do an amazing job of controlling slugs, snails, and various types of harmful grubs and insects in gardens. They also will eat tender young grasses and broadleaf weeds that they find palatable. However, because they may also consume desired crops, to prevent the birds from doing more harm than good, follow these guidelines:
1. Don't let birds in until the crops are well started and past the succulent stage.
2. Keep ducks out when irrigating or when the soil is wet.
3. Fence off tender crops such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and green beans (most ducks can be kept out with a 24- to 30-inch [60 to 75 cm] barrier).
4. Remove birds when low-growing berries and fruits are ripe.
5. Limit the number of ducks to two to four adults for each 500 to 1,000 square feet (45 to 95 sq m) of garden space.
A method we have used successfully for decades is to pen ducks around the perimeter of the garden, where they intercept migrating slugs, snails, and insects. Then, when we are working in the garden during the growing season, we allow a few ducks into the garden to "vacuum up" the pests they are so adept at ferreting out. When we are ready to leave the garden for the day, the ducks are simply herded or enticed back to their garden-side enclosure with the feed can. During the nongardening season, the broad-billed exterminators are allowed into the garden daily.
Excerpted from "Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks"
Copyright © 2011 W. David and Mildred M. Holderread.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by D. Phillip Sponenberg,
1 Why Ducks?,
2 External Features and Behavior,
3 Choosing the Right Duck,
4 Bantam Breeds,
5 Lightweight Breeds,
6 Mediumweight Breeds,
7 Heavyweight Breeds,
8 The Importance of Preserving Rare Breeds,
9 Hybrid Ducks,
10 Understanding Duck Colors,
11 Acquiring Stock,
13 Rearing Ducklings,
14 Managing Adult Ducks,
15 Understanding Feeds,
17 Health and Physical Problems,
A. Mixing Duck Rations,
B. Symptoms of Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies in Ducks,
D. Duck Recipes,
E. Using Feathers and Down,
F. Duck Breeders and Hatchery Guide,
G. Sources of Supplies and Equipment,
H. Organizations and Publications,