Country Enterprise: Keeping ducks for eggs, meat, feathers, breeding, or as ornamental ducks
Duck-keeping is often inspired by pond ownership.
Any area of
water is enhanced by a few ducks floating on it. If this is your
motivation for going into duck-keeping, it is worth bearing three
important facts in mind.
- Duck eggs can transmit dysentery and other illnesses — still
water is a great source of tummy bugs. If you intend to eat or sell
the eggs, make sure that the pond is continuously being filled and
emptied. Or better still keep the ducks off the water.
- If you intend to eat or sell for eating fat ducks, again keep them
ff the water. Exercising in water leads to tough ducks.
- Baby ducklings do not always float and mother ducks seem to
be unaware of this fact. Again keep them off the pond. In fact,
ducks are not nature's most careful mothers and duck eggs are
really safest brought off under a broody hen. Of course, she will
not have the slightest inclination to take them off for an instant
bath. Having said all that against the pond, there are a couple of
reasons why you should allow ducks on to it. One reason is that
the heavier breeds of duck often find it difficult to mate unless
they are on the water. Therefore, when you want your eggs
fertilised, let the birds mate on the water, collect the eggs and
incubate them artificially or under a broody. The second reason
is that ducks really do love water so if all you want to do is
improve your view then let them on to it. Ornamental birds can
have free access to water if you are breeding them. Mandarin
ducks and other ornamental waterfowl sell very well if they are in
prime condition and swimming around certainly keeps them sleek
Ducks do not lay eggs in nesting-boxes like the obliging chicken.
In fact, they will drop them anywhere. It is therefore advisable to
leave the ducks in their night quarters until well into the morning:
that way you have a lot fewer eggs to hunt for.
Khaki Campbell ducks are the best variety for egg-laying. They
are lightweight brown-coloured birds that lay up to 300 eggs a
year. A duck does not need artificial light as a hen does and the
eggs are larger than a hen's. However, ducks do eat one and a half
times as much as a laying hen, about 6 oz of layers mash a day. If
you allow the ducks to run on your vegetable garden, you will
find that they are great devourers of slugs and unlike the
enthusiastic hen, will not enjoy your vegetables as well. Ducks
start to lay when they are four or five months old and are always
much more expensive to buy than a laying chicken, often up to
three times as much. Farmers Weekly and Poultry World carry
advertisements of suppliers.
Duck eggs are something of a specialist market; health shops
will often provide an outlet and local agricultural markets often
provide custom. People who like duck eggs will often travel to
buy them so it is worth persevering to find a market. It is worth
pointing out to prospective customers that duck eggs make superlative
sponges. Perhaps it is also worth bearing in mind that one
of the authors of this book spent a week in an isolation hospital
having picked up something evil from a duck egg. We hasten to
point out that the egg in question was not one of our own; our
policy now is only to eat those we produce ourselves and never to
eat one soft-boiled.
Almost all the ducks we eat are Aylesburys.
The Aylesbury is the
traditional white duck with orange bill and feet. A good Aylesbury
will lay up to 100 eggs a year so this breed is sometimes referred
to as dual-purpose. However, if you work out the comparative cost
of producing an egg from an Aylesbury or a Campbell (three times
as much) it is quite obvious that Aylesburys should be bred to
fatten. Fed well, an Aylesbury can grow to around 8 Ib live weight
in 8 weeks. This is when the birds should be marketed. It is the
easiest time to pluck them as they are moulting and not yet in full
adult plumage. Ducks are not nearly so easy as chickens to pluck.
In France the Rouen duck is the most widely eaten. It is a handsome,
black and white bird which takes some six months to reach
the weight of a two-month Aylesbury. This slower growth is said
to give more flavour. The bird is generally killed by smothering.
This is said to add to its particularly fine flavour; what it certainly
does is make it more likely to 'go off as it has not been bled. It
has to be cooked within a very short time of killing to be safe and
for this reason it is banned from sale in the USA.
Ducks remain on the ground so their housing can be quite simple.
What is important is to have a floor that is easy to clean so that
the eggs do not become contaminated. The housing must be
fox-proof — the nursery rhymes are all quite true: foxes love
ducks and geese. There should be at least 2 to 3 sq. ft of space for
each duck and that is assuming that these are only night quarters;
if your ducks are also confined during the day, they must have a
lot more space.
It is easier to maintain them in flocks of less than 50. Ducks are
timid creatures and should always be treated with care or they will
frighten themselves into going off lay or, when they are small,
they will stampede into the corners and trample the little ones. We
always whistle when approaching ducklings: if they have heard
your approach from afar, they seem quite happy. You can use
their reaction of darting away in a bunch to move them about.
Raise your left arm behind them and they move to the right and
vice versa. It is not quite as effective as moving geese in this
manner but certainly more effective than moving hens. If you try
to move hens like this, you will generally find that they frantically
cluck and dart off in several different directions; it is simpler to
resort to bribery and lay a trail of grain to wherever you want
them to go. (As a last resort it is worth remembering that chickens
roost in the dark and if one or more of yours goes missing, creep
around shining a torch up into neighbouring trees. This process is
extremely amusing to watch but often very satisfactory and much
better than letting a runaway fall prey to a four-footed predator.)
The best way to feed ducks is on a similar ration to hens but in
a sloppy mash. They are very wasteful feeders and we always let
some chickens in with them to clear up — waste not, want not! If
you feed the ducks whole grain, feed it in a shallow trough of
water. They like fresh water to drink and if they can get into the
water container they will swim in it. If the ducks are allowed to
forage they may well obtain enough grit and greenstuff; if they are
confined, you have to supply at least the grit. Ducks that are
allowed to roam are happy creatures; you will only be as happy if
you clip their wings, otherwise someone else will probably get a
gift from the skies — your ducks!
Run ducks and drakes together: four to five ducks to one drake.
If you have a heavier breed, let them run on water.
Collect the fertile eggs.
Hatch them in an incubator or under a broody hen. Of course,
you can let nature do her best and allow the duck to sit on them.
The number of ducklings reared will almost certainly be far less.
When hatched keep them warm, if not with a duck or hen then
with an infra-red lamp and a cardboard surround. Leave them in
this for at least two weeks depending on the outside temperature.
The infra-red lamp should be gradually raised as the ducklings
grow. It is simple to see if the lamp is at the right height: too low
and the ducklings rush away as far as they can from the heat, too
high and they crowd together underneath the lamp.
Rear growing ducklings on a grower's mash: five times a day at
first, three times a day at eight weeks, thereafter twice daily. Feed
as much as they will clear up within half an hour.
At around eight weeks, take all the meat birds and dispose of
them. Laying birds are grown on until they come into lay at
around four months. These you either use for breeding or egg-
laying or sell as point of lay.
Peking ducks are more upright than Aylesburys but similar in
The Peking duck is slower-growing but eventually larger
than the Aylesbury. It will lay up to 130 eggs a year.
ducks are a cross between an Aylesbury and a Welsh Harlequin -
the Welsh Harlequin is itself a cross between Campbell ducks. It
grows well and lays about 200 eggs a year.
A Muscovy is an odd-
looking bird with red wattles. When it is mature, the flesh is very
The Nantes duck is smaller than the Rouen duck
and is much prized by the French.
There are all sorts of ornamental ducks such as Mandarins and
Carolinas. The best way to sell ornamental birds is through local papers
where you can reach other pond-owners.
Fully feathered ducks will yield up to one-fifth of a pound of
feathers per bird.
If you have a few pounds of feathers to sell, put
them in a polythene bag with a few holes punched in, tie a pretty
label round the neck of the bag and take them to a local craft
shop. Patchwork cushion-makers are often good customers for fine
This is assuming that the feathers are clean; if it has been
raining for days, you will have to keep the ducks in the dry for a
couple of days before you kill them, otherwise the feathers will be
muddy and damp. Not only will the feathers be messy, it is also
much more difficult to pluck a wet bird. If you have large amounts
of feathers it may well be worth advertising for direct sales. As
well as craft-users requiring feathers for pillow and duvet fillings,
there is a growing interest in making feather flowers. The feathers
are often dyed for this and the white feathers from an Aylesbury
Traditionally, the curl at the end of the drake's tail was
used as a superfine paint-brush.