The South American Incas, so it’s said, domesticated these quackless red-carnucled ducks centuries ago. Introduced to other parts of the world by European explorers in their travels, grain-fed Muscovy duck has been widely renowned for its distinctive flavour, firm flesh, and high yield after cooking – Muscovies have more breast meat, smaller bones, and less fat than other ducks. The drakes are about twice as large as the females, so the grower has the right-sized bird to suit almost everyone.
To enhance the natural advantages of the Muscovy, there has been a lot of genetic research and selection done in France. As a result, strides have been made in increasing feed efficiency and improving growth rates. The new hybrid Muscovy ducklings look like the original Muscovy, but they eat somewhat more per bird per day, and grow more rapidly. For the traditional roasting duck with that fine “ducky” flavour, you need to raise them at least 14 weeks. The feed efficiency will drop as the birds get older and heavier, but the improved meat quality and better dressing percentage will make it worthwhile.
Young Muscovy ducklings are sometimes cannibalistic when they are getting their feathers, particularly when the quills are poking through the wings and tail.
In Canada, Muscovies have earned a reputation in an area entirely unrelated to their food production value – as economical, environmentally friendly additions to fly control regimes in other livestock productions. For more information, you may contact the Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario,
These attractive ducks have the same feather colouring as their cousins the Mallards, but are about twice as large and cannot fly, so you need have no fear of losing them. The drakes have green heads and silvery feathers on the breast. The ducks are brown with a fine silver pencilling effect and a blue wing patch.
Along with Pekins, Rouens are good for algae control on the pond. They make excellent ducks for the freezer when fully mature and fattened in the fall. Rouens, however, are not intended for the commercial producer, who should be raising Pekins or Muscovies.
This Danish hybrid is considered one of the best in the world. White Pekins have superior feed conversion and very rapid growth. They are ideal for commercial growers who run batches through their barns in 8-week cycles and have a market for uniform-sized young ducklings.
For those customers who prefer Pekin ducks, but do not intend to process them at such a young age, these ducklings will do well when they are fed less grower and allowed to fend for themselves around the barnyard or pond.
Feeding and Management of Ducks
Ducklings may be floor brooded the same as chicks, but need more floor space per bird. An area 10 feet square is suitable for brooding 200 ducklings for the first 10 days. The birds need additional space to run after that period.
Ducks should be started at 90º F (32º C) for the first 7 days. The temperature may be lowered 5º (2-3º C) per week thereafter for 6-8 weeks until birds are feathered. Infrared heat lamps with hard glass bulbs that won’t break if water is thrown about by the birds are satisfactory for brooding. They should be hung 24" to 30" above the litter. Any other kind of brooder with a hoover will also do a good job, but take care to raise the hoover high enough so that the birds won’t burn their heads. Straw or shavings make good litter for brooding.
Don’t use newspapers for litter because ducklings find it difficult to walk on such a smooth surface, and it may even cause them to become lame and go off their feet completely.
The birds should be fed all they will eat of a good duck starter for the first 2 weeks. If this is unavailable, chick starter may prove quite satisfactory if you ensure that it is not medicated with any drugs that could be harmful to ducklings. It is essential that plenty of drinking water be available at all times as these birds are born thirsty and stay that way.
Swimming water is unnecessary and, in the case of a large flock, may even invite disease through water pollution.
Occasionally we receive reports that ducks did not get very big, but we receive many more reports that they did wonderfully well. The difference is in the feeding. If the birds are not properly fed during the first week of life, they will be stunted, and no amount of fattening just before Christmas will produce a big duck if there is not a big frame on which to put the weight. For best results, Pekin ducks should be full fed on a good 18% protein growing ration from 2 weeks until 8 weeks of age. During this period, they will make as efficient gains as almost anything else you care to name, and will have attained nearly mature size. If you do not wish to kill them at this age but prefer to have a more mature duck, you can then ease off on the feeding and gradually introduce whole grain to the ration. Muscovies, which both eat and grow more slowly, stay on grower longer.
Diseases are rare in waterfowl, and ducks seldom require non-natural feed additives or medications. This makes them an ideal choice for those concerned about food additives. However, there are several conditions which do arise occasionally, and which you should watch for. First, lameness may appear. This is often due to niacin deficiency, either in the starting ration if the condition appears in very young birds, or in older birds because the pasture has become dry and brown. Also, sometimes respiratory problems occur, and the birds have symptoms similar to those found in chickens. Among the possible causes are moldy bedding material, poor ventilation, and viruses. Antibiotics will usually prove helpful.