Tips for rearing ducks for income

The Pekin breed is by far the most popular for meat production given its high growth rates. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Selecting the right breed of duck greatly contributes to the success of the business. Kindly consider the ease of availability of the breed you intend to keep.

Ducks are beautiful birds, easy to keep and they bring warmth to a farm because of their economic and aesthetic benefits.
As any other poultry, you have to think wisely before rearing ducks. Keep in mind where they will be housed, their safety from predators during the day, water facilities, feeds and health management. Here are things to consider before starting:

Production objective
Find out your main purpose for raising ducks. Do you want to produce eggs, meat or both? This will also guide you in determining which breeds of ducks you should be looking for.

Breed selection
Selecting the right breed of duck greatly contributes to the success of the business. Kindly consider the ease of availability of the breed you intend to keep. The Pekin breed is by far the most popular for meat production given its high growth rate, enabling it to attain market weights of 2.5kg in seven to eight weeks.
The Muscovy breed, popular due to the high adaptation to scavenging conditions, is also a suitable breed for meat.

Ducks can be reared under intensive, semi-intensive or free-range systems. Under intensive system, allow a floor space of 4 to 5 square feet per duck for the laying breeds and 3 square feet per bird for the meat breeds. The house should be well-ventilated, dry and rat proof while the floor should be partly covered with litter material (wood shavings, rice husks or wheat straws) and partly with wooden slats or wire mesh.
For the semi-intensive system, the house should have easy access to outside runs as ducks prefer to be outdoor during the day.

Brooding takes three to four weeks during which it is best to confine ducklings to a smaller space using brooder ring (spacing of 0.5 square feet per duckling) made out of cardboards of 12 to 15 inches high that can be adjusted as the birds grow.
Since the ducklings are unable to maintain their body temperature, supplemental heat is essential.

Ducks kept in the free-range system are reared with minimal attention by the farmer since they are able to balance their nutrient intake by feeding on grasses, seeds, insects, earthworms, snails and small fishes, among others.

However, in confinement, the farmer must provide the birds with balanced feeds to enhance productivity. Ducks eat more than chicken and depending on size, an adult duck can consume between 150–200g of feeds a day.
Given the high level of feed intake and costs involved, it can be quite expensive and uneconomical to completely confine the birds, and as such the semi-intensive system would suffice.

Under the system, feeds should be offered only twice in a day, at 8am and at 4-5 pm, while they are let out to forage.
This way, the total amount of commercial feeds consumed in a day can be cut down, especially during the harvest season.
One way to determine this is to observe if there is any feed left in the feeding troughs 20 minutes after feeding.

If there is, then you are probably providing too much and the birds are able to meet a major share of their nutrient requirement during foraging. Similar feeds as those of chicken may be used (layers and broiler feeds) to feed ducks, but not the medicated type, especially when they are raised in confinement and cannot dilute the potency of the medications through foraging.

Ducks have the tendency to transfer feeds to their drinkers for easy swallowing, especially in the case of dry mash. This leads to a lot of wastage. To prevent this, they should be given pelleted or crumbled feeds to ensure efficient utilisation.
However, in case only mash is available, a combination of dry and wet mash should be provided while ensuring the feeders and drinkers are placed 60 to 70cm apart.

Rearing ducks for meat production takes about seven to eight weeks after which a market weight of 2.8 to 3kg is attained.
The birds should be given broiler starter from hatch to week three at a gradual rate of 35 to 75g per duckling per day. Afterwards, the birds should be given broiler finisher from week three to seven/eight at the rate of 80 to 160g per duckling, per day. At the end of the production, each bird consumes up to 7kg of feed to reach market weight.

For laying ducks, chick starter should be provided from hatch to eight weeks at a gradual rate of 50 to 90g per duckling, per day.
Growers feed should be given from nine to 24 weeks at a gradual rate of 90 to 120g per duck, per day and layers feed from 25 weeks onwards. Provision of layers feed will vary between 120 to 160g per bird, per day depending on the rate of egg production, age and availability of forages.

Ducks should attain sexual maturity by seven months, otherwise birds that start laying before this age will offer small eggs and those meant to produce chicks will have low hatchability rates.

Egg production increases rapidly once sexual maturity is reached and full production of 70 to 80 percent lay rate can be achieved by providing 14 hours of light daily from seven months.
This can be done by using a 40 to 60 watt light bulb in their housing to provide artificial light.
In the case where ducks are intended for breeding, maintaining one male for each six females in the flock is important to achieve high levels of fertility and hatchability.
Given that 95 to 98 percent of the eggs are laid by 9am, birds should be let out to from mid-morning to avoid the laying of eggs outside.

Ducks are hardy and relatively resistant to poultry diseases however, those kept in large groups and are confined to small areas are more susceptible to health problems.
Common diseases include salmonellosis and collibacillosis, which result from poor hygiene conditions.

Both are bacterial diseases and can be controlled by using Furazolidone and sulphur-containing antibiotics. Viral diseases such as duck plague, duck cholera and duck viral hepatitis (avian influenza) affect ducks between three weeks and eight weeks of age.
The best method in keeping your flock healthy and free from disease is prevention. Clean, dry and warm housing facilities as well as high quality feeds and water will keep your flock healthy and reduce the chances of infection.

In addition, it is recommended that vaccination should be carried out for duck viral hepatitis at one week; duck cholera first vaccination at four weeks and again at 18 weeks; duck plague first vaccination at eight weeks and again at 12 weeks.