Comments

Episode-1493- Adventures in Raising Ducks — 43 Comments

  1. Jack, really looking forward to listening to this show. You got us started with the duck eggs you gave us at your workshop in November, and we now have nine ducklings just shy of four weeks old. We’re having a blast learning about them and are already talking about increasing the flock. One thing we learned very quickly: duck s**t has quite a smell, so they got moved out to our garage very quickly after hatching! We ended up with one grey, three black with yellow/white aprons, and five black ducks.

  2. We have given up on chickens and now have ducks only for all the reasons you mentioned. Our ducks out lay any chickens we ever owned especially in the winter. The size of our duck eggs equals 1.5 chicken eggs, so 300 hundred duck eggs per year is equal to 450 chicken eggs for the same amount of food.

    Every baker will tell you how excellent duck eggs are for baking. They are also excellent for eating.
    I’ve been eating high cholesterol duck eggs for years and my blood cholesterol levels have dropped every year.

    We use lots of plastic concrete mixing trays ( Lowes or HomeDepot) instead of kiddie pools. They last longer and have a second life in the plant nursery.

    In the ducks night coop we use 5 gallon buckets with lids. We have holes drilled in the side, just enough room for them to get there heads in and drink. Ducks need to get water through their nostrils to stay healthy. We hatch our own ducks and they learn to drink out of little buckets in the brooder.

    We clean the night coop weekly and this mulch goes directly into the garden no composting needed, I have never burnt any plants and have had incredible growth and yields for all plants it is used on.
    I enjoy our ducks and will never go back to chickens. Thanks Jack for a great show on ducks.

    • We have a duck that lives with our chickens. We do the same thing with a square cat litter bucket (and a seedling heat pad under it this time of year.) I can go several days without changing the water and its almost always still clear. The water trough outside the coop is another story: Cesspool in a couple hours. (Assuming its not frozen. )

  3. Thanks David for your input. I have been thinking about ducks now instead of chickens. Haven’t raised either one yet. It appears It my be easier to start with ducks.

    • If I had it to do again right now we’d have 75ish ducks and likely no chickens, if that says anything.

  4. very good, I lost one chicken to an eagle and two ducks to a snowey owl. The ducks were on the ice till the owl got two of them, then they felt one side of the chicken coop was ok. The ducks and chickens go out in the snow but stay inside in heavey snow and cold 10 deg. f and lower, in Upper Michigan. A light at night and a little heat helps winter egg production, also keeps preditors away I have not lost anything to the local coyote of fox. I am getting traps now. The ducks were out all summer and fall, and stayed in the pond all night. When I had geese in FL, I found that the geese could digest anything, but the young ones could not handle poisionous plants at all. If you can get the young ones away from mom, then you can feed them yourself.

  5. Jack, I couldn’t make out the name of the brooder brand that you recommend. Could you give that to me?
    Thanks for another great show.

  6. Thanks for the show Jack! Great info, got me really thinking about getting some ducks to go along with our small flock of chickens. May have to eat the chickens to make room for more ducks!

  7. Do you think the Ducks could be raised using the compost method Geoff Lawton copied to make the chicken tractor on steroids?

    • Perhaps modified a bit? Seems too much like work to me though. Let them eat and spread the compost for you. I just see no reason to extend “tractoring” or “paddocking” effort to a duck. They don’t mess stuff up.

      They also don’t scratch and break stuff up like a chicken.

  8. A few months back I started raising my first flock. I got 15 Jumbo Pekin and 8 Rouen. I had some leg issues with the Pekin ducks and lost 9 before the we’re out of the brooder. I did some research and found that the could get a niacin defecency if feed chicken food. I think i used flush free niacin as a supplement to see if i could stop and maybe reverse some of the issues. I don’t think my efforts helped alot. I also don’t know if they were gaining weight too fast because I gave them nearly unlimited access to feed as duckling. I just don’t understand what was going on because I had no issues with the Rouen ducklings.

    • We add Thomas Labs. Brewers Yeast & Garlic to all our duck feed.
      They don’t need much, but Ducks do need extra Niacin.
      If they have access to bugs and worms this isn’t so much of a problem.
      Pekins are bred for meat like Cornish Cross chickens, Rouens are close cousins to Mallards and less susceptible to Niacin deficiency.

      Angle Wing is another condition caused by high carbohydrate brooder feed, so Paleo diet for baby ducks also…

      Bumblefoot is another problem that wasn’t mentioned by Jack.
      Occurs in barnyard ducks that don’t have access to a pond.
      Ducks can damage their feet due to constant walking on hard, rough, or sharp surfaces this becomes infected with Staphylococcus aureus that can kill the bird if not treated.

      These are a few things to look out for but Ducks are way hardier and have far less problems than chickens. Congrats an your new Duck Herder status.

  9. Got another question when you process the ducks do you do it just like chickens. Sharp knife to the neck?

    • I tend toward fast and clean full decapitation with ducks they just seem to take too long to bleed out with only cutting.

  10. Muscovy’s sound intriguing. Is anyone raising ducks in Zone 3? Any other tips on wintering ducks in harsh winters that last from December to March? I am guessing that at minimum the ducks will need more space compared to chickens if they need to be confined to an enclosure for 4 months due to extremely harsh weather.

    • Ducks in zone 3 with proper housing I an see. Scovs in zone 3, I would not do, the crankles are a frost bite liability. Scovs are a tropical animal like the chicken.

    • Thanks for the input Jack. So muscovy’s are out unless I have a seriously insulated house with additional heat.

      The beef on webbed feet sounds pretty awesome but I’ll look at other dual purpose ducks. Maybe my next fowl house should be built on the ground over a rocket mass heater.

  11. I’m ready to try ducks next year. I’ll have to do some thinking as I have 10 acres with some areas that I would like to turn into ponds. However I have had heavy losses this year due to aerial predators, how do ducks fare with hawks and owls?

    As a side note I’ve bee successful brooding without a heat lamp. Granted it was only twice and it was after the cold weather was gone. I built what amounted to a box lined with radiant foil insulation and they would move in and out of it to regulate their temp. You can read about it at my blog at http://www.my10acres.info/tag/brooding-chicks/

    • We have not lost a duck to a hawk or an owl but have lost a chicken or two to the same. Odds are those giant Grey evil looking long necked monsters (geese) that live amount the ducks just look like something the average Coopers Hawk doesn’t want to deal with. Coopers are our main hawk, they are not that big and I honestly think they would struggle with a Drake anyway.

  12. This was a thoroughly enjoyable podcast. Thanks Jack.

    With the exception of about 3 years I’ve been raising Muscovies since 2002, first in NJ and then, for the last 7 years in Oklahoma. For a while we had some other breeds and mixtures. I had pure buff runners for a couple of years. The best layer we ever had was a runner/Campbell cross. She laid huge blue eggs, LOTS of them, and would even hatch her own. Some of the buff runners went broody too. But they were so high strung that sometimes they would almost hurt themselves, bolting into fences, etc.

    The Muscovy and its crosses proved our favorites. Ours have laid pretty well. Though we switched over to just Muscovies because we really wanted meat. The program said it all about their advantages (well, I can’t remember anything left out;) .

    The Muscovies do very well fending for themselves. However, in my experience, there are two situations they do need help. 1) I’ve had hatches in February, when temps drop into the lower 20s. The mother ducks marched their babies around until they dropped of exposure and died. Now, when I have such an early hatch, I pen the mother with her babies and put a home made brooder in the pen, so the babies can get warm when momma forgets. My brooder is just half of a plastic car top carrier, with an strong light hung under it.
    2) Though we have a pond, it’s about 300′ behind the yard. So I put out water in black feed pans and a small, green turtle shaped kiddie pool. I’ve had ducklings manage to jump into the water pans or pool and then be unable to climb out. This is heart breaking. So, I place a couple of bricks on the bottom near one edge of the pool and/or a ramp of old lumber in the kiddie pool. This enables them to climb out. It works great.

    One other comment: in our area most people are hesitant to try duck eggs. So, when I sell chicken eggs, I will often throw in a duck egg or two, as a bonus. Customers soon start asking for them. As Jack said, duck eggs are the best!

  13. Great show Jack, love my duck eggs, only advantage of chickens is their giving me eggs in this single – 20’s degree weather and the ducks lay out in the fall. Seeing my Mallards flying overhead is just so cool. The Pekins seem to have more personality and friendly disposition and I have one Muscovey still waddling around hissing at everything. Love ducks, just wish they’d stay off my sidewalk!

  14. Back when I first brought Muscovies to our Oklahoma homestead I penned them, in their own pen, every night. (Shelter in the duck pen was kind of a lean to.) They trained to pen up, very easily, as Jack alluded to in the podcast. The first time temps dropped into the teens, they all headed to our spring fed pond. I was worried they wouldn’t handle the cold, so I spent quite a bit of time coaxing them out of the pond an herding them back to their pen, where I left them for three days, until the cold spell passed. At the end of three days I noticed that they had frostbitten toes. Most of this starter flock lost the end of their toes in that episode. After that I stopped penning them. I realized that they knew better how to cope with the cold than I did. Since that time we have had temps down as low as -16 F. The ducks hide out in the barn, the pond, the chicken coop, etc. We have not had another case of frostbite. We have never seen frostbite caruncles, only toes, back in 2008.

    Here is a link for some resources on Muscovies. There is a map of some Muscovy breeders. I read from Free Rein LLC, apparently in the North of Maine, that they free range their birds. You might contact them, or some others in your own area, to find out if they have any difficulty, and if so, what they do about it.

    Also, the President of the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, Craig Russell, mentored me in poultry for a time. Craig has a flock of black Muscovies which he has maintained for over 60 years. He received the original trio when he was ten. He could tell you about raising them in your area. He’s a walking encyclopedia of poultry.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/xy0k40skg8a7fmn/Free%20Range%20Muscovy%20Duck%20Info.doc?dl=0

  15. after some intensive searching I only found 3 hatcheries that ship day old Muscovy’s… a business opportunity for someone? prices ranged from $175/50 to $340/40 + shipping.

    After putting a post out on Facebook I found I have cousins in the Westover PA area (western PA coal mining area, Jacks old stomping grounds?) who raise Muscovy’s for their own use. I’m working on a deal to get 4 dozen eggs shipped in mid-April and incubate them for my starter flock.

    I’m still working on ideas to heat the floor of a new fowl house for wintering in harsh zone 3 climate.

    • How far away are they for you? If less than a day’s drive I would have them hatch them for you, let mom do the work and then drive down and pick them up when they are say 8 weeks of age.

      If you want 4 dozen ducks and you do the shipping thing, get 6 dozen eggs, bet on about 40-60% success doing your own incubation with shipped eggs.

      For the floor, why not just use a rough tile and tile the floor with a standard underfloor heater. Remember even with scuvs you don’t need it people comfortable just duck comfortable.

      We hit the teens here last week. It was like 15 when I woke up, lying weather guesser said 19. The ducks including the scovs were not even in the duck house when I got up. They also went strait into the kiddy pool to play after I bused the ice off it with a hoe.

      As to the stomping grounds, I made it to west PA quite a bit but it wasn’t my home area. That’s soft coal country out there, bituminous coal. I was from East of the big river (Susquehanna) in anthracite country (hard coal). Look up Minersville on Google Maps, find Minersville High School. You will see a road on the sat image that comes down from the big hill the school is built on.

      That road hits another road that if you go east it runs into Minersville the actual town. If you go west instead you can see a house on the south side of that road, first one on that side, with a big clearing. That is where I grew up, learned to hunt, fish, preserve food and all.

      If you are looking at the right house there is a red and a white vehicle in the drive way. That house is my Grandfathers place, my dad now owns it. You will see a second building that looks attached to the house at a right angle. It isn’t really attached, the porch covering just makes it look that way.

      That smaller second building is our “Shanty” as they are called in the area. It was the original house built in the 1840s.

  16. The reason they are not shipped by many is that they don’t handle shipping very well. But overnight would probably work out alright. I got my starter flock from JM Hatchery, which stopped selling back around 2010, when the Feds decided that Muscovies needed to be regulated (long, stupid story).

    Before you incubate research humidity requirements. Duck eggs are among the most difficult to incubate in the common incubators because they need more humidity and most people don’t give it to them. It can be done and done well. But research and adjustments will be needed. I’ve hatched them under chickens and that worked pretty well.

    I almost exclusively use the ducks to hatch their own, as, just as Jack mentioned, they are superb at it. They detect and eat any eggs which go bad. They bathe at least once a day, carefully covering their nest while away, and come back, ready to give their nest a new “shot of humidity.”

    • @George, agreed but again let me say the inncuview has worked well for us and others. Again all we ever did was watch the needle on the hydrometer, add water if it got to the edge and set the temp. We also turned off the turner the last 3 days of incubation. The folks we gave eggs to got 50%, Nick Ferguson got about 35%.

      That may seem low but again they were very young and had only been laying for a few weeks, it was also raining a lot and those eggs were soaked when collected, far from ideal.

      I agree with you though, if you can get any bird to do the brooding and incubation, DO IT because it means absolutely no work for you. I am about to have ducks in my living room for 2-3 weeks. I am sure we will have fun with it, but I won’t lie, I’d prefer not to do it.

  17. You’ve provided a ton of info George, thank you!
    I think a lot of hatcheries dropped Muscovy’s after the 2010 government screw-up. A lot of them haven’t updated search terms and you can see a lot of hatcheries used to carry them.
    2 is 1, I’ll order day old and try incubating some eggs.

    Paul

    • @Paul, I checked with several hatcheries and they say the main reason they don’t advertise Muscovies even if they have them is they simply do not ship well as day old chicks. I have been advised to find local sources. Around here you can get adult males for 10 bucks, adult or almost adult females for 12-15.

      Noting beats the cuteness of a baby duck BUT the convenience and lack of a need to feed it for 18-24 weeks before it produces anything make those prices a win, a big ass win!

      Right now Metzer is shipping me 50 baby ducks. They are costing me 6.80, if I could find them almost grown around here for 15 bucks (all girls) I would gladly pay the premium to not have to baby sit them for the next three months.

      The beauty with scovs, is you will never have to take care of babies. They are some of the best moms and dads out there. I would say as good as geese though perhaps not as physically intimidating.

      I do think there were a few hatcheries shipping scovs and that government nonsense (calling them a federal migratory game bird) is what stopped them. I think now though they could ship but have realized it likely isn’t worth it.

  18. You’re probably right Jack.
    I won’t go into the 2010 debacle. But the apparent solution has been for the government to leave it on the books and ignore it.

    My ducklings shipped in 2008, from PA to OK and I think we might have lost one. It was well worth it.

    Local is good! If you can find any local and purchase a pair or trio, you will be set for big time production THIS YEAR, instead of waiting till 2016 for your first hatches. I’d even consider paying the shipping on an adult pair, if I really wanted the meat.

    Last night I was speaking with a customer who asked how much meat production they could expect from a trio. I calculated, going low on every figure, and came up with 192 lb of meat. Most likely it would be more. JM hatchery stock tends to have slightly smaller clutches than the regular black and white birds. So I estimated 8 to the clutch. I had a black and white duck who once hatched 23!

    By the way, we just came through a period of cold weather: nights in the lower teens and even single digit. But my ‘scovies are starting to lay again. They are incredible birds.

    I haven’t tried them. But Carol Deppe dedicated a chapter to ducks in her book, The Resilient Gardener. She went with Anconas. If I wasn’t doing Muscovies I think I’d either try the Buffs or Anconas.

  19. In floor heating is the only way to go, I’m just deciding if I want to spend money or sweat. I’m thinking a cobb floor set up for a rocket mass heater with electric heated water in tubing on top as a redundancy.

    Paul

  20. I’m curious if culling ducks is any different than chickens. Jack mentioned the ducks like more personal space and don’t like to be picked up. I also saw a person on youtube who raised a large number of ducks who ended up culling some drakes with a 22 after he could not catch them…

    • Like everything it depends. If you put them in a confined area each night you just separate those that are to be culled before you let them out in the AM.

      What is really different is this. You know how if you go into a chicken coop after it is dark for a while you can just pick up a chicken. Yea well ducks don’t do that, they are just as hard to catch at 2am as at 2pm.

      I recommend something like this http://bit.ly/1IDFeeS

  21. Jack’s net suggestion is really good. A net can save you a ton of work and probably some injuries (to yourself). Keep in mind that the Muscovy has really sharp claws and that the drakes are exceptionally strong. The proper way to pick up a duck is not what was shown in the earler link I shared. It is by the base of the wings (where they attach to the duck).

    I raise the production white strain which JM Hatchery used to sell. They’re really large. I’ve been selling trios via Craigs list. Last night a customer came to pick up a drake. I took down my old landing net, as I only had four ducks up in the yard. The rest were in the pond. So, I figured I’d net the drake, just to be sure there were no mishaps. The net was old. The drake would barely fit. But I surprised him and netted him cleanly. Then… HE BLEW THROUGH THE NET! He demolished it! Ok, so the net had dry rot. But it was still really impressive. And, because I was wearing gloves I still got him.

    Here are a couple of suggestions:
    1) If you feed your ducks each day, especially at a determined time. They will come at that time.
    2) If you feed them in an enclosed area, you can get them used to going into that enclosed area. This will help you in catching them.
    3) If you don’t make a practice of picking them up or hassling them, then, they will not be quite so skittish about your presence at feeding time. I often throw feed and then, continue on with my chores while the birds eat. This means they are used to me actually moving through them while they eat. Rarely do I try to touch them. So they become accustomed to me moving through their midst. So, when I want to catch some birds I usually throw some feed and catch a couple before the rest figure out that the situation has changed.
    4) When handling Muscovies, wear gloves. I have received cuts from drakes’ claws that almost required a butterfly bandage.
    5) Feeding will produce a superior carcass and build a relationship with the flock. Do it, even if you are feeding much less than their overall needs, letting them forage for the rest. My birds free range over a couple of acres and have free access to a 1/4 acre pond. But I find feed is still necessary. In the fall and winter it is especially necessary. When I butcher I really prefer to have a plump, fat carcass. The flavor is better. The presentation is better. And, I save the fat from roasted birds for baking. It is truly superior.
    6) Especially if your birds can range, you do not need any fancy poultry feed. I use 16% allstock which costs half of most other feeds, and I get very good results.
    Finally…
    7) Eat lots of duck eggs. Do not let their population get out of control. This is wasteful of resources and a huge pain in the neck. I can’t lay hands on it right now. But I onced saved an ad from Craigs List. Someone was selling Muscovies for $10 each. They admitted that on their small lot, they had over 400 birds! Their picture showed the entire lot COVERED in ducks (and poop)!