Raising Ducks for Meat
Ducks are a fine source of meat for the small farm or homestead. They are fairly disease resistant, easy to care for, and fun to raise. Large breeds of ducks are a more sustainable source of meat for the small homesteader than hybrid broiler chickens. Keeping a drake and several hens will provide fertile eggs for hatching and raising enough meat to feed your family each year.
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Best Breeds for Meat
Browsing through breeds of ducks in poultry catalogs is fun, and very confusing. There are so many kinds available that it’s hard to choose. If your main purpose for raising ducks is for butchering, you will want one of the heavier meat breeds. The most common are Pekins (or Giant White Pekins) and Muscovy.
There are other breeds, such as the Rouen, Aylesbury, and Blue Swedish, that will provide a decent size carcass. These breeds have colored feather shafts. Although this does not affect the flavor of the meat, it will make it a bit more difficult to get a clean looking carcass.
If you’re planning to raise your ducks for both meat and eggs, the Pekins lay a decent number of eggs plus provide a meaty carcass. This is the breed most often raised for market, because the carcass is clean and they are ready to process at a young age. They are ready to butcher at 7 to 8 weeks, a very fast rate of growth…as fast as Cornish X meat chickens. You can butcher your ducks at any age, but they are much more tender when young.
Ducks have oilier skin and meat than chickens, since they are adapted to life in water. If you don’t care for the greasiness of most duck meat, try Muscovies. Their oil gland is not as well developed as most ducks and their meat is lighter. Be aware that Muscovies are prone to flightiness and you may need to cover their pen or clip the feathers on one wing to keep them at home. Some states have regulations about keeping them, because they have escaped and created problems for local waterfowl populations. They are also quieter than most ducks and make reliable brooders and mothers. If you wish to keep a breed that will raise future generations without an incubator, the Muscovy may be your best bet. They will often raise several clutches of ducklings each year. For the self reliant homesteader, this is an important consideration.
Unless you have breeding stock or a local source for young poultry, it will be necessary to order your ducklings from a hatchery. There are hatcheries all over the world, but it is best to order from a facility close by. The longer the trip, the harder it is on your new ducklings to recover from the stress of shipping. Baby poultry hatch with a 3 day supply of nutrition from the egg yolk to sustain them. If the shipping period is longer than this, you risk losing your little ones to starvation and thirst. Most hatcheries ship by air mail, but delays could cause heavy losses. If possible, choose overnight shipping for the best results. Check with the hatchery before you order so you know what their replacement policies are.
Many hatcheries have a minimum order of 15 ducklings per customer. If this is too many, you may want to split the order with a friend or sell some on Craigslist. Some feed stores have chick days in the spring when you can order small numbers of baby poutry. Be prepared for prices of $5 and up for day old ducklings.
Schlecht Hatchery in Iowa has the best price I have found online for Pekin ducks. I’ve ordered broiler chicks and Pekin ducklings from them in the past and was happy with the birds I received. I will say that they are not the best at communicating with the customer about delivery dates, but I am happy with their prices. Their 2018 catalog lists Pekin ducklings for $4.25 plus shipping.
(I do not make a commission from Schlecht Hatchery.)
Check out this video about Pekin ducklings, from Cackle Hatcheries…
Caring for Your Ducklings
Before your ducklings hatch or arrive, you will need to prepare a brooder pen for them. They need a heat lamp or Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder to keep them at 95 degrees F for the first week. Each week afterwards you will reduce the temperature by 5 degrees. If they are crowded under the lamp, they are too cold. If they are as far from the lamp as they can get, it’s too warm. Be sure to check on them often to prevent fatalities from overheating or exposure to cold.
Provide clean water and non-medicated starter feed at all times. For the first few days, you may want to put a tablespoon of sugar in each quart of water to provide them with extra energy. Electrolytes can also be added to their water, especially if the shipping process was particularly stressful. Ducklings are more susceptible to Vitamin E deficiencies than chicks. Vitamin E breaks down in feed during storage, so be sure to purchase fresh feed shortly before they arrive. Ducklings suffering from Vitamin E deficiency will have trouble walking and may roll over on their backs and paddle the air with their legs. Administer Vitamin E promptly if you see these symptoms. Adding Brewer’s Yeast to their food is a good preventative
What, No Swimming?
Be sure that your little ducklings can’t get into their water container and drown. They are curious and playful, but shouldn’t swim in the first few days, so care must be taken to prevent accidents. As they get older they will love to swim, but young ducklings should not be left alone with a water dish that is too deep or difficult to get out of.
Raising And Processing Ducks Humanely
I raise my own poultry to avoid eating animals raised in factory farms and slaughtered in giant processing plants. I know exactly what my birds eat, how they live, and I can ensure that their death is as quick and humane as possible. It’s impossible to know what conditions they are subjected to if I purchase them from the grocery store. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.
Even though I have a difficult time butchering my own birds (I’m a big softy), I choose to do it anyway. For complete instructions on butchering your ducks, read my post How to Butcher a Duck.
When butchering any poultry, I feel that the most humane way to dispatch the bird is with by beheading it with an ax. Other people prefer to place them in a killing cone and bleed them out to ensure that the heart pumps the blood from the carcass before death occurs. Either way has to be better than what happens at a commercial slaughterhouse.
The biggest difference between butchering ducks and chickens, in my opinion, is plucking. Chickens are much easier to pluck because they don’t have thick down feathers like a duck. When plucking a duck, I recommend using duck wax to make the removal of down much easier.
Growing up on the farm, we had White Pekins for eggs. My Mom made the most delicious cakes with those large, pale green eggs. I can still remember the fun I had searching for them in the weeds. When we bought our homestead I knew I wanted to keep ducks for eggs again.
I ordered 20 Pekin ducks from Schlech Hatchery and butchered all but a small flock for laying. Those duck hens provided us with enough eggs for fresh eating and for hatching out meat birds each year. They were very hardy birds and kept laying eggs right through our cold winters. Of course, they go through a molt each year and would stop laying for about 3 months. Each year they laid fewer eggs until I turned them into duck sausage.
Notes On Keeping Healthy Ducks
- Ducks are very messy birds, especially in the coop. Their droppings are large and very high in moisture content. You will need to do more clean up if you keep ducks.
- Keep a clean tub of water deep enough for ducks to dunk their heads under the water. They are prone to eye infections if water is dirty.
- Ducks should be fed fresh layer feed with calcium and 16 to 18% protein.
- Ducks enjoy free range or pasture with grass. They eat a lot of bugs and slugs. They also like a lot of garden veggies…so they may not be welcome in your garden.
- Try to keep their pen free of sharp sticks or other debris, as these can lead to bumble foot infections.
Ducks make great livestock for a small homestead. They lay nutritious eggs and provide a sustainable source of meat. You don’t have to have a pond to keep ducks but make sure they have clean water and they will do fine. I’ve enjoyed keeping ducks on our 1 acre homestead and would like to try more breeds in the future.
Do you raise ducks for meat or eggs? What is your favorite breed?
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