Why Raise Ducks on Pasture?
Pasture-raised ducks are happier and healthier than ducks raised in confined conditions. Raising poultry on pasture allows them fresh air, green space to forage for food, and room to exercise and stay fit. Ducks raised on pasture may forage for up to 30% of their food, saving money and providing tastier, more nutrient dense eggs and meat. Pasture-raised livestock animals have fewer problems with physical disease and emotional distress than those raised in confinement.
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Raising Ducks for Eggs and Meat
Raising ducks for eggs and meat is a great way to help supply your family with quality, nutrient dense meals. Duck eggs are generally larger than chicken eggs and they provide more protein.
Duck meat is dark and flavorful. Many people prefer it to chicken. Raising ducks for meat allows you to hatch your own ducklings in an incubator each year and dress them at just 8 weeks. This
How to Raise Ducklings
Ducklings need the same basic care as chicks for the first few weeks. They must be kept in a warm brooder and protected from predators and inclement weather until they are old enough to go out on pasture.
Basic Care for Ducklings:
- Keep at 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week and decrease by 5 degrees each week until feathered out
- When fully feathered out, ducklings may be allowed out on pasture during the day
- Provide ducklings with 18 – 20% protein chick feed or game bird feed for the first 2 weeks
- Switch feed to 16% grower feed after week 2 to prevent ‘angel wing’
- Make sure ducklings do not suffer niacin deficiencies…read more here
- Provide grit with probiotics to help them digest their food
- Provide ducklings with fresh water daily that they can clean their faces in, but cannot swim in
- Put down clean pine shavings or sawdust for bedding and change often to keep the brooder clean
For the first few days, it is a great idea to use Sav-a-Chick probiotics and electrolytes in their water. This helps them get off to a healthy start.
It is very tempting to provide a little swimming ‘pond’ for ducklings. However, they may become chilled or drown because the oil gland at the base of the tail isn’t developed and their down isn’t waterproof.
Keep ducklings in a warm brooder that is clean and free of moldy feed, wet bedding, and excessive manure. They mess up their brooder very quickly and it needs to be cleaned often. It may be necessary to place water containers over a grate that allows water to drain away but is not difficult for them
Provide Ducklings with Proper Nutrition
Many instructions for feeding and caring for ducklings and other waterfowl say not to use medicated feed. Here is an interesting article that disagrees with this information, ‘Can Medicated Feed be Used for Waterfowl.’
Ducklings and other waterfowl need more niacin than chicks because their bodies don’t process it as well. Niacin breaks down quickly in storage, so purchase fresh feed and watch for signs of niacin deficiency. Symptoms include difficulty walking, bowed legs, and inactivity.
Protein Content for Egg Layers vs Meat Birds
Many sources recommend feeding 20 – 22% protein feed until ducklings reach butcher weight at about 8 or 9 weeks of age. When raising ducks specifically for meat, this ration should be fine. However, if you are raising ducks for eggs or pets, start off with an 18 – 20% protein feed and switch to 16% at 2 weeks of age to prevent angel wing. This deformity is caused by abnormally fast bone growth from high protein feed.
Benefits of Pasture Raised Ducks
Allowing your ducks out on pasture gives them the opportunity to forage for weeds, grass, and insects. They may find enough food on good pasture to reduce their feed consumption by almost one third! This saves a lot of money and increases your sustainability on the homestead. For best results, mow their pasture to about 6 to 10 inches tall.
Another method for pasturing ducks is to keep them in a ‘duck tractor’ similar to the chicken tractors gaining in popularity. This will help prevent predation and allow you to move the ducks in a more methodical manner to graze on fresh pasture.
If your ducks will be in an open pasture, you may need to provide protection from predators. Donkeys and geese are both good livestock
Treats and Other Sources of Nutrition
Ducks enjoy many vegetables from the garden and will happily devour unmarketable produce. Feed no more than one-quarter of their diet in treats such as damaged tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, fruits, or other produce. Scratch grain may also be fed in small amounts, but be sure that their main source of nutrition is a balanced feed.
If you can’t raise your ducks on pasture, try sprouting wheat grass fodder for them!
What About Water or a Pond?
Ducks don’t necessarily need a pond to be healthy, but they are much happier with one! At the very least, your ducks need a pan of water that is large enough to dunk their entire head under the water. This allows them to keep their eyes and nostrils clean. Without a clean source of water to dunk their heads, their nostrils may become clogged and they are susceptible to eye infections.
It is best to provide your ducks with a kiddie pool or swimming pond that is large enough to get into and bathe. Ducks rub their bill over the oil gland located at the base of the tail to preen their feathers and waterproof them. Without a pool large enough for
Pasture Raised Ducks for Laying Eggs
Duck eggs are highly prized in many areas and may be profitable to raise and sell. If there is a thriving market for Asian foods, specialty farm products, gourmet foods, or local foods you may do quite well with a duck egg business. Check into the market, competition, and regulations before you begin this project.
If you wish to raise just enough for your own use, it’s advisable to try duck eggs first to see if you like them. Some people prefer duck eggs only for baking due to the flavor.
Duck eggs may be washed, coated with food grade mineral oil, refrigerated, and stored for up to 6 months for home use.
Breeds that make great laying ducks include Khaki Campbells, Indian Runners, and some hybrid layers available from hatcheries. Pekin ducks also lay a respectable number of very large eggs in their first year.
Pasture Raised Ducks for Meat
Dressed ducklings are in high demand at specialty markets and gourmet food providers from September through December for the holiday season. Local food markets and upscale restaurants also like to offer ‘wild duck’ during this period. If you are able to time finishing at 8 to 9 weeks for this desirable market, you may make a nice profit raising meat ducklings.
To raise ducks for your own table, you won’t need to be nearly as concerned about the timing. However, it is best to hatch, brood, and raise ducklings during the late summer when they won’t need as much supplemental heat. Dressing ducks at home
Another concern with home processing is the removal of down. For best results, use a duck wax from a hunting supply store or order online. The wax is melted and spread on the down. Once it hardens, peel away from the skin and the down will come with it. This reduces the time and mess of processing ducks.
For complete instructions on processing ducks, check out How to Butcher a Duck on The Self Sufficient HomeAcre.
Some of the best breeds of ducks for meat are Pekin, Muscovy, Silver Appleyard, Aylesbury, and Rouen. Pekins are noted for their large size, quick maturity, and white skin. Muscovies are especially prized for the flavor of their meat.
There Are Many Reasons to Raise Your Ducks on Pasture!
Pasture raised ducks are a great addition to your homestead. Whether you really just want them for pets or you wish to raise them for a nutritious source of eggs and meat, pastured ducks are happier. You will notice a difference in the flavor and color of the egg yolks. The meat will be leaner and more flavorful too! If we choose to raise animals as a source of food, then we should do our best to provide them with the most natural life possible and the way to do this is with a nice green pasture and plenty of sunshine and fresh air!
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.