Until recently, dark farming was practised in small scale. The past decades have witnessed a sharp increase in the number of farmers venturing into duck breeding. Duck farming is currently a lucrative poultry industry world over. The increasing demand for duck is due to its delicious flavour and nutritional value. Some farmers keep ducks as layers, producing larger eggs which command a higher market price. The upside of duck farming is that it is relatively cheaper; ducks need limited shelter, are adaptable to the weather and are not prone to as many diseases as other species of poultry. As such, small and commercial farmers alike find duck farming profitable.
Duck housing should be located in a quiet, cool place that is close to a water source where they can easily get water and swim. The purpose of a proper housing facility is to protect ducks from excessive weather conditions such as heavy rains, strong sunlight and winds. The housing facility has to be well ventilated and dry as ducks sleep on the ground thus may catch diseases if the floor is wet. There should be easy access to an outside run because ducks generally prefer to be outside. Duck farming is often disrupted by dogs, snakes, cats and rats which attack ducklings. For this reason, the run needs to be a source of protection from predators. A housing system for 100 ducks is about 4m x 4m and high enough to allow a man to stand inside. A water pond of approximately 10 feet wide and 20 feet long can accommodate 50 ducks. The run should gently slope away from the house to provide drainage for excess water. Ducks should be grouped according to size or age and placed in different compartments. This is done to facilitate management; also, mature ducks usually push out younger ones from feeding troughs.
Provision of a nutritional diet is of the essence in duck farming. Ducks usually prefer mash. As such, make sure to provide them with wet mash which is easier to swallow compared to dry mash. Mash feeds usually comprises corn, soybeans, fish, and dried whey, rice bran with oyster shell and bone meal with vitamin-mineral supplements. The recommended diet for young ducklings aged 6 weeks and less includes 10% to 21% crude protein. Grower mash with 16% crude protein is best for ducklings aged between 6 weeks to 4 months and a layer mash with 16% crude protein is ideal for mature ducks. During the first 8 weeks, ensure that duckling are fed regularly, about 4 to 5 times a day including at night. As they grow, feeding can be one only twice a day, preferably in the morning and late afternoon. Fine gravel or grit is essential to growing ducks as it aids in grinding their food. Greens and legumes should constitute part of the diet. Note that consumption varies with different breeds. Some ducks require more feed than others. Water should be provided with every feed.
Although ducks are considered more resistant to disease than chickens, they can be attacked by similar diseases to those of chicken. As such, ducks and chickens should be segregated. Ducks are usually attacked by diseases such as botulism, duck viral hepatitis and duck cholera among others. Therefore, health of ducks constitutes an important part of duck farming. Duck viral hepatitis is characterised by an acute course and primarily hepatitis; it usually affects young ducklings aged between 2 to 3 weeks. Duck cholera is an infectious diseases characterised by loss of petite, high body temperature, thirst, diarrhoea and sudden death. It is common in ducks that are over 4 weeks old. Farmers should possess knowledge of various diseases prone in duck farming in order to control diseases infestations. A vet must be consulted in case of an outbreak.
Incubation and Hatching
The timeframe of incubating ducks differs with different breeds. However, most breeds require 28 days of incubation. The Muscovy has to be incubated for 33 to 35days. The recommended temperature for incubation is 37.5oC; humidity reading should be 37oC for the first 25 days and 33oC for the last 3 days of hatching. Eggs should be marked on one side so that they can easily be identified and monitored when turning them. It is advisable to turn eggs every hour. Cooling eggs by spraying with lukewarm water tends to result in better hatchability. This must be done from the 2nd day until the 25th day. Eggs should be cooled for a maximum period of half an hour daily. On the 25h day, eggs are moved to the hatcher. Spraying should cease during this period.
Ducklings need to be brooded by natural or artificial methods until they are about 3 to 4 weeks old, after which they are allowed to move to the run. Layers such as the Khaki Campbell ducks require a brooding period of 3 to 4 weeks whilst ducks kept for meat like the Pekin needs a lesser brooding time of about 2 to 3 weeks. The ideal temperature for brooding is 29oC to 32oC during the first week. As the duckling grow, the temperature must be reduced by approximately 3oC per week until reaches 24oC by the 4th week. A hover space of 90 to 100sq cm per ducking under the brooder is recommended. A key identifier that brooding conditions are ideal is the behaviour of the ducklings. When temperature is low, they huddle together near the source of heat. The opposite occurs when the temperature is perfect; they spread evenly. On the other hand, when the temperature is too hot, they spread away from the source of heat. Take care that the brooder is inaccessible to predators such as rats and cats.
The most common ducks that is bred for meat include the Pekin and the Muscovy. Pekin ducks are usually slaughtered around 7 to 8 weeks, weighing between 3 to 3.6kg. Pekin ducks beyond 10 weeks are difficult to pluck due to their pin feathers. Their feed efficiency tends to decline at that age. Muscovy ducks have lean fatty meat. The male Muscovy can weigh up to 5kg. It is advisable to slaughter them after 16 weeks as their meats gets too firm soon after. The Khaki Campbell is considered the best layer. Khaki Campbell ducks weigh anywhere between 2 to 2.2kg. They lay 300 large eggs approximately 65gm to 75gm. Khaki Campbell ducks are famous amongst farmers because they lay eggs for a period of 2 to 3 years continuously.
Duck farming an attractive option for those considering entry into the industry. This is because it requires low investments in terms of financial and physical resources whilst generating a significant amount income. Duck farming however demands a high investment in skillset and knowhow. In order to achieve high productivity, a sound understanding of various processes involved in duck farming is of great importance.