See also Raising Ducks for Meat & How to Butcher a Duck
Raising Pekin Ducks For Sustainable Meat Production
One of the reasons we homestead is to provide our own humanely raised poultry for the table. I began raising broiler chickens for meat and I like freezing them for winter. However, I wondered if there was a more sustainable way to raise my own meat birds, since the Cornish x broilers are a hybrid and must be purchased every year. I decided to try raising Pekin ducks as an alternative and I am very happy with the results.
I ordered my ducklings from Schlecht hatchery in Iowa. It took 3 days for them to arrive and they were very thirsty and hungry. Schlecht Hatchery has the best price I have found online for ducklings. Their selection is limited and I felt that they could have done better about communicating with their customers regarding delivery dates. (I do not receive a commission from Schlecht.) However, I was happy with the price.
Pekin ducklings are larger than chicks, they also grow faster, eat more, and make a bigger mess than most baby chicks. I have only found one exception to this…Cornish X meat chicks. I think they are just about as messy and hungry as ducklings.
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Caring for ducklings is pretty similar to caring for chicks. They need similar brooder temperatures and conditions. Ducklings should have a bit more space and it is recommended that you provide them with a special starter feed for ducklings. Make sure their feed is fresh so that the Vitamin E hasn’t started breaking down. Ducklings are susceptible to Vitamin E deficiency and will display symptoms such as having trouble walking or rolling over on their backs and paddling the air with their feet. Electrolytes and probiotics are also a very good supplement when added to their water to give them a healthy start.
You also want to be sure that the ducklings aren’t swimming too early. Ducklings raised by their mother are groomed with the natural oils from her oil gland, making them water resistant. If they come from a hatchery, incubator, or non-water fowl surrogate mother, they won’t have this natural protection.
Fast Growing Alternative to Cornish X Meat Birds
The Pekin breed is one of the most popular for meat and I can see why. Our ducklings grew very fast and were ready for processing at 7-8 weeks of age. That is on par with the Cornish X meat chickens for speedy growth and tender flesh. The Cornish X might provide a bit more meat per bird, but you can’t keep them to breed a new batch of chicks each year. At least the results will not be the same as you get with the hybrid chicks directly from the hatchery.
If you are interested in raising your own meat birds but you’d rather not order Cornish X chicks every year, you might want to consider raising Pekin ducks. Be aware that they are messy, you’ll want to provide a pond or pool for them to splash in, and the ducks are not very good mothers. Hatching in an incubator or under a Muscovy duck (or other surrogate mother) might be a better option for raising a successful clutch.
Not only will Pekin ducks provide you with a great source of meat, but they are very good layers. I gather an egg almost every day from my ducks. I have 4 ducks now (and 1 drake) and I gather 4 eggs every day, except maybe once or twice a week I gather 3. They are producing better than any of my chickens, the eggs are much larger and are great for baking.
I also found it a little bit more difficult at first to kill my ducks, in comparison to chickens. They seem just a little bit smarter and they are pretty cute. So just be prepared and remind yourself that you don’t need a dozen drakes with raging hormones running the gals ragged! And if you need an incentive…here’s a yummy plate of duck meat prepared in a slow cooker to entice you!