Ducks are a great “beginner bird” for anyone who’s interested in starting a small farm or home business. They don’t need a lot of space, and they’re less likely to catch common bird diseases.
Even if you don’t have a lot of capital, you can easily learn how to keep ducks in your backyard—and eventually, grow it into a successful duck farm.
Here’s a simple guide to teach you how to raise, breed, and sell ducks.
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What are the Benefits of Raising Ducks?
You can fetch higher prices for duck meat than chicken and turkey, and there’s a higher demand for it than ostrich and goose. In Asia, duck meat and duck eggs are a diet staple. n the Philippines, a delicacy called balut (boiled fertilized duck embryo), is one of the biggest reasons for the success of small duck farms in that country.
But duck meat and eggs are becoming more popular In Western countries, too. These can fetch a premium price from restaurants and specialty Asian stores.
As for duck eggs, a dozen can sell for $12 a dozen—more than double the price of large chicken eggs. The demand for duck eggs is also increasing, not only because of their higher nutritional value but the fact that they can be safely eaten even by those who are allergic to chicken. Some pastry chefs also prefer to use duck eggs, because of the richer flavor and a higher fat content, and the higher yield per egg.
Even large distributors of duck meat prefer to buy their stocks from small farmers, since these birds tend to thrive when they’re raised in small numbers. That’s why it’s a lot easier for duck farmers to get a good network of buyers. You’re not competing against large industrial farms—which is a common issue when you try to raise and sell chickens.
Stronger immune system
Ducks are much hardier than chickens and won’t be affected by common bird diseases like coccidiosis and Marek’s disease. This is a serious issue for many small farmers, who can lose their entire livestock because of a single outbreak.
Ducks, on the other hand, have a built-in immunity. Their internal body temperature of 107 °F actually kills off a lot of parasites and bacteria. (But do note that that they can be carriers and infect any other birds you are raising, so keep your ducks and chickens in separate areas.) Since ducks love water, they’re also less likely to be infested by lice and mites.
Easier to raise
It’s easier to raise ducklings, because of a comparatively shorter and simpler brooding period. After just a week, you can already remove them from the artificial heat.
Better longevity and productivity
Ducks have a longer lifespan of about 12 years and have a longer “productive” life. They will lay eggs at about 5 months old and may continue to lay for several years.
Bear in mind, however, that some duck breeds may take longer to mature. Bantams, Runners, and other small ducks can start laying eggs at around 4 months, while larger breeds like Muscovies will lay eggs at about 6 months.
Your neighbors won’t hate you
Spend five minutes in a chicken farm and your ears will start ringing from the crowing, clucking and cackling. However, your backyard ducks will rarely quack—even if they laid an egg. They only start chattering if they’re scared or excited, and they’ll never wake you up at the crack of dawn with their incessant crowing. Some breeds, like Muscovies, actually hiss rather than quack.
Ducks will control pests
Ducks love to eat grubs and insects, which is very good news for any plants in the area. They may nibble on your garden greens, but are less likely to decimate your crops than other livestock.
Excellent for integrated farming systems
Do you have a fish farm, rice paddy, or vegetable field? Ducks can be a welcome addition to its ecosystem. As they forage for food, they loosen up and aerate the soil. Their duck droppings can serve as extra feed for fish or enrich the soil.
Ducks are also natural pest control, since they love to eat grubs and insects. One farmer said that his tomato crop suffered a massive infestation of horn worms. He simply let the ducks into his greenhouses, and they happily ate all the pests. Use them to control potato beetles, grasshoppers, snails, and slugs. If your farm has a large pond or body of water, they can keep it clear of mosquito pupae and larvae.
What are the Best Duck Breeds for Farming?
When you choose a duck breed, consider two things: temperament, and the kind of duck products you want to sell. Generally, smaller breeds are better for producing eggs since they mature more quickly and tend to lay more eggs. Larger breeds like the Muscovy are raised primarily for meat.
Some breeds are friendly and easier to manage, while others can be rowdy and need more space. There are also some notable breeds that have high-quality feathers, and different breeds can have leaner meat or a higher fat content and desired for different kinds of dishes. Some ducks are also fattened primarily to create the rare and expensive delicacy, foie gras.
As you become more familiar with your local market and the demand for duck products, you’ll be able to decide which breed will give you the highest profitability. For now, here are some popular choices among duck farmers.
Khaki Campbell Duck
This is one of the best breeds for small farmers, since it can thrive in a variety of climates and produce as much as 340 eggs every year. However, it is very energetic and does not do well in cramped conditions. Give it plenty of space, in a calm and quiet environment.
If you’re really focused on getting good eggs, be sure to get an authentic Campbell duck from a reputable breeder. However, in some cases, female Campbells are intentionally cross-bred with other ducks for a “hybrid” duck that can produce eggs and very good quality meat. Usually, the first and second generation cross-breeds retain a decent egg-laying capacity; after the third generation, the chances of getting “the best of both worlds” declines significantly.
Indian Runner Ducks
A healthy Runner Duck can produce as many as 300 eggs a year. But as their name implies, Runner Ducks are quite active and will need a lot of space. They are happiest in areas where they can forage for their favorite treats: snails, insects, small reptiles, weeds.
While Runner Ducks produce a lot of eggs, don’t count on them to patiently hatch them. Unlike “broody breeds” – birds who have a stronger maternal instinct to sit on their nest and care for the new ducklings – they will often abandon their eggs.
This is one of the most popular breeds for meat production, but it actually produces a fairly decent amount of eggs too. They grow quickly, and are easy to buy. If you can, try to get a cross-breed of Pekins with Aylesbury, because this variety has a stronger constitution and yield a better quality of meat.
However, Pekin ducks tend to be nervous and aggressive, and need careful handling. It’s best to get them after you’ve already had some experience with other breeds.
If you plan to keep ducks to sell for meat, the Muscovy Duck is a good breed. It is very heavy and plump, which gives you more yield per bird. While they can fly, they prefer to stay on land.
Most large ducks will need larger amounts of feed, but the Muscovy is an active forager. With a large enough field filled with grass and insects, it can get most of its diet from the land and need only supplemental feed or grain. In a few months, it can be fattened to its ideal weight of 3 to 5 kilograms and then sold.
A Muscovy duck is sometimes cross-bred with a more common duck breed to produce what is called the Mule duck. These mules are sterile, but are easy to fatten. Since Muscovy ducks are expensive, this is one way to quickly increase your farm size — and profitability.
Welsh Harlequin Ducks
If you want a duck that produces a lot of eggs and high quality meat, then try the Welsh Harlequin. It can produce up to 330 eggs a year, and has a tender and delicious meat.
Welsh Harlequin ducks are also a good choice for a beginner duck farmer, since it has a calm and easy-going temperament and can quickly adjust to their surroundings. It rarely flies, and is content to wander around the field while foraging for food.
If you plan to sell duck feathers and down, this is the best breed for you. This large, migratory bird is native to Siberia, Iceland, and North America. Their thick feathers protect them from the cold, and have natural insulating properties that make them far warmer and softer than wool, cotton or any synthetic fabric.
For this reason, eiderdown is often used in comforters, pillows and other beddings. Since it is rare, it also fetches a high price.
How Many Ducks do I Need Initially?
If you are completely new to farming, you can start with a small flock with one male and five females. This will yield about 5 to 10 eggs a week, some of which you can hatch and raise to adulthood.
You can have up to 1 male duck for every 10 female ducks. They are usually ready for breeding by the time they are 6 months old.
If you prefer to start with ducklings, get at least 20 to make allowances for the average mortality rate.
Again, the best “mix” of ducks to buy depends on the type of business you want to focus on. If you want to raise ducks mostly for their eggs, then invest in more females. If you wish to breed them, then you will need more males to ensure a steady supply of fertilized eggs.
If you wish to keep ducks for their meat, then you need to set up various sheds with ducks of different ages. This does entail a higher capital investment—not just in property, but incubation and brooding facilities—but as a rule, duck meat will give a higher margin of profit.
What Kind of Housing do Ducks Need?
The first step to any duck farm is to build a shed where ducks can seek shelter at night or in inclement weather. This can be made with any readily-available material like wood or bamboo. Use rice hulls, sawdust or sand for the flooring. Each adult duck needs about 2 to 3 square feet of floor area.
You may need a separate shed for nesting. Ducks lay eggs on the floor, so provide about 5 to 6 inches thick of littering. Keep this area dry, and provide adequate food and water.
Ducks will not thrive if they are locked in a shed the whole day. Most farmers will leave the ducks out for 6 to 12 hours a day.
What is the Difference Between Free-Range vs Confinement System?
Free-range farmers will allow them to freely forage for insects and weeds on the property, which typically includes a natural lake or river, man-made ponds, or wet rice paddies.
If you want to raise free-range ducks, pick breeds that are active scavengers and are native to your region. They are more likely to thrive in the natural environment and instinctively find the kind of food they need to grow. According to one study on duck farms in Vietnam, “improved” or genetically modified breeds have less active foraging capacity.
Other farmers create a semi-enclosed park, using fishnets to fence off the area. This is called the “confinement system”. It requires more dedicated land, but it protects the ducks from natural predators and makes it easier to monitor their health and diet. If you raise chickens or other birds, confinement may be necessary to prevent the spread of disease. While ducks have natural immunity, they can be carriers that can infect the rest of your livestock—so this is a case when birds of a different feather should never flock together.
What Should I Feed My Ducks?
Most commercial farms will supplement any foraged food with high-quality feed and minerals or salts to increase their weight (for meat) or egg production. It’s also important to give good food to baby ducks, which are very weak and sensitive.
In the first eight weeks, provide starter wet mash (crude protein content of 10% to 20%) and drinking water. You can start adding finely chopped shrimps when they are about four days old. Once they reach four weeks, you can give boiled unhulled rice, fish meal, soybean meal, dried whey, and corn.
As they grow older, the ducklings will need more protein. By the time they are 6 weeks old, any pre-prepared mash should have 16% crude protein content. However, too much protein can cause a condition called angel wing, where their feathers stick together. For this reason, many farmers prefer to use commercial feed, which can ensure the right balance of nutrients.
Remember to provide just enough food for the ducks to consume within 15 to 20 minutes. Wet mash spoils quickly! You can supplement the meals with vegetable trimmings, barley, oats, milo, cracked corn (do not give whole corn, which is difficult to digest), and worms. If you let them forage outside, they will also find plenty of grass and bugs—which will help lighten the cost of daily feeding.
Duck farmers suggest keeping feed in terra cotta containers. The porous material absorbs moisture, and helps prevent the food from becoming too wet and prone to spoilage. You can also place the dish near a heat lamp. This is a good workaround if you live in an area that has high humidity.
How do I Hatch Duck Eggs?
Most domestic ducks won’t sit on their eggs until they hatch. If you plan on hatching your own ducklings, invest in an incubator. Here are some tips:
- Avoid very small or very large eggs, which have a lower chance of hatching. Select the medium and most uniform eggs, and then scrape off dirt and manure with fine grade steel wool. DO not wash eggs, since this will strip away the natural protective wax layer. If you need to clean a particularly dirty egg, use lukewarm water of 45°C with a sanitiser like iodine-based compound, chlorine solutions, or quaternary ammonium compounds. Never use cold water, which will make the egg contract and increase the risk of bacteria entering the egg.
- Check for hairline cracks by holding them in your palm and shining a flashlight through the shell.
- Store any eggs you collect in a cool location (about 60 degrees), with their narrow ends pointed downwards. Rotate them frequently throughout the day. You can keep eggs here for a week at most; after that time, the chances of hatching starts to decline.
- On Day 7, check eggs for fertility. You can do this by “candling”: shining a light through the egg to check for signs of embryo development. Discard any eggs that are clear, or show a dark spot that is stuck to the shell. A healthy egg will have a dark spot in the large and round side of the egg, with blood vessels emanating from it.
- Transfer fertile eggs to an incubator, set at a temperature between 99.3 and 99.6 degrees and a humidity level of 45% to 55% for the first 28 days. They need to be turned at least 5 times a day, at 180 degrees each time. If your incubator does not have an auto turner, mark one side with an X so you know which ones you have already turned.
- Start misting the eggs with lukewarm water starting from Day 5. This helps recreate the natural process where a mother duck will take a short swim in the middle of the day, then sit on her eggs with her feathers still damp. Duck farmers say that this improves their hatch rates.
- By Day 10, inspect the eggs with a flashlight to check for signs of a “blood ring” inside the egg. This is a reddish line that indicates that bacteria has penetrated the shell. Remove these eggs before they can break down, leak and infect surrounding eggs.
- On Day 26, stop touching the eggs and increase the humidity. The ducklings are almost ready to hatch, so it’s best to leave them be and let Mother Nature take its course. By Day 28, you may start to notice small holes and cracks. The hatching process can take 48 hours.
- Don’t disturb any new hatchlings for the first two days. They won’t need food, thanks to the remaining nutrients from their yolk. Leave them to dry out in the incubator and move them to a brooding facility when they start to look a little dryer and “fluffier.”
Duck farming experts recommend fumigating the incubation area at least once during this process to get rid of Salmonella Pullorum and other bacteria that could contaminate the eggs in this critical time. You can do this on Day 25. While there are many commercially available disinfectants for this purpose, one of the cheapest and most readily available solutions is formaldehyde gas (made by mixing formalin with potassium permanganate). Follow the products’ safety instructions and make sure to ventilate the area before re-entering.
How do I Set Up a Brooding Facility for My Ducks?
You can set up a very inexpensive brooding facility with a shed equipped with 1-watt incandescent bulb, with one bulb per day-old duck. Keep the temperature at about 95 to 98 degrees, but with a cool area where they can go if they feel too warm.
Use rice hulls, sawdust or wood chips for flooring—they will help keep the area dry, and prevent any bacteria growth that can make your ducklings sick—and provide water through plastic drinkers. Replace the flooring frequently to avoid contamination and control odor. If you can afford it, use pine chips for bedding, which has a natural scent that can help keep the brooding facility much more fragrant.
All hatchlings, whether it be chicken or duck or ostrich, will need access to clean water. However, ducklings will need more water than any other kind of chick. They need to moisten their food with water to swallow it properly, and their instinct drives them to splash and play. Give them a vessel that is deep enough for them to dunk their beaks into, but still shallow enough that they won’t end up spilling its contents all over their bedding.
How do I Encourage My Ducks to Lay More Eggs?
Commercial ducks may produce fewer eggs because they become nervous and uneasy when they are with too many other birds. Make sure to limit any group of ducks to 250 birds or less. Then, use artificial lighting techniques.
An article by Australia’s NSW Department of Primary Industries found that by carefully controlling their lighting you can shorten the moulting time (i.e., the period where they stop laying eggs).
You can view their recommended day-to-day/month-to-month ratio of artificial and natural light in their chart.
Is Keeping Ducks Profitable?
Duck farms are much easier to run than chicken, turkey, and ostrich farms. It’s easy to start keeping and raising ducks in your backyard, and they are such low-maintenance animals that you can get your duck business going even without any previous formal farming experience.
However, there are challenges when you start keeping ducks on a large scale. Ducks consume more feed than chickens. This is not a problem if they get some or even most of their diet from foraging the land. But once you start raising hundreds of ducks, it is more practical to use commercial feed to shorten the time to market—and that will certainly be a factor in your everyday costs.
Ducks also are nervous animals that need to be kept in small groups in relatively calm environments. Overcrowding affects their egg production and eating habits. If you want to scale up your duck farm, be prepared to add more sheds and set up enclosed pens. At a certain point, you may experience diminishing returns: the cost of expanding your duck farm will outweigh any incremental increases in profit.
Nevertheless, keeping ducks is a good option for small- or medium-sized farms, hobby farmers, or rural communities that wish to set up a simple but steady source of income. If you have a large empty field with plenty of bugs, grass, and water, you already have the most important feature of a successful duck farm. It is simple, low-maintenance, and low-risk. Give it a try and who knows — maybe the ducks will bring you luck.