The duck, in a genetic sense, belongs to the family Anatidae. As a class, they are distinguished from other Anatidae by their smaller size, shorter neck, flatter body, shorter legs, and broader bill. The male duck is commonly known as drake and the female as a duck. The immature young ones are known as ducklings and this word is commonly used till ducklings are well feathered.
Most of the domesticated breeds of ducks are the descendants of wild mallard. Ducks occupy a second place to chicken for the production of table eggs in this country.
Although it is more economical to raise ducks either for egg or meat purposes, it has received little attention as compared to chicken.
The few facts which make duck raising more economical than chicken are as follows
- Ducks lay more eggs than the chicken.
- Duck eggs are 15 to 20 g heavier than the chicken eggs.
- Ducks require less attention as compared to chicken.
- Ducks supplement a part of their food requirement by foraging, eating snails, etc.
- Ducks have a profitable life from a commercial point of view as they lay economically in the second year and even in the third year.
- Ducks are quite hardy, can be more easily brooded, and are resistant to many avian diseases.
- Marshy and wetland where chicken or other types of livestock will not flourish are excellent quarts for duck farming.
- Cannibalism and agnostic behaviors, very common in chicken, are not usually encountered in ducks.
- Ducks lay more than 95 percent of their eggs before 9.00 AM in the morning, and hence data can be accurately recorded without wastage of a considerable amount of time and labor.
- Ducks are intelligent and can be trained to go to ponds and come back in the evening of their own.
The optimum size of hatching eggs for ducks varies from 70-75 g as against 50-58 g for fowls. Since duck eggs are more porous fumigation is advised only for 20 minutes after collection.
The incubation period is 28 days for duck eggs. Muscovy ducks however require 32-35 days for incubation. Duck eggs require lower temperature(99 to 99.5 deg F; 37.2 deg to 37.6 deg C and less ventilation, and more humidity (70-75%) during the incubation period. High humidity is maintained by sprinkling these eggs with lukewarm water twice during the second week, every other day during the third week, and daily during the fourth week.
Duck eggs are required to be turned at an angle of 180 deg as against 90 deg for chicken eggs. Duck eggs require cooling during incubation. Best results are obtained when the eggs are cooled for a maximum period of 30 minutes per day, starting from the fifth day of incubation to a temperature of 90 deg F (32-2 deg C). Duck eggs in general have a lower hatchability than chicken eggs.
Buff Orpington although utilized sometimes for egg production is a dual-purpose breed. In the selection of egg-type ducks, careful attention should be paid to individuals with an upright carriage and considerably lighter weight. Their eyes are usually set higher in their shells, and their heads and necks are noticeably more refined and leaner.
Laying ducks may be identified through the same tests that are applied to chicken hens. There is some abdominal expansion. In the varieties with orange or yellow bills, there is a loss of pigments as in the chicken hen. The more precocious layers are apt to be better layers and many breeders select their breeding stocks upon that basis.
Egg-type ducks come to production by 20-22 weeks of age. For obtaining fertile eggs the usual practice is to allow 1 drake for each 5 to 6 ducks with a slight increase in the number of drakes at the beginning and towards the end of the season, at which times males are less active.
Stud mating is very popular in duck breeding and individual mating has distinct advantages over the trap nest fen purpose of pedigree hatching. Although breeding ducks do best when permitted free range with water for both bathing and drinking purposes, these facilities are not indispensable.
White Pekins, Aylesbury, and Muscovy are the well-known duck breeds utilized for the production of duck meat White Pekins are creamy white in color with a yellow flesh and long, broad and deep body. It grows very fast and attains body weight at 2.2 to 2.5 kg in about 7 weeks time. It does well in confinement and produces a good number of eggs with optimum fertility.
Aylesbury breed of ducks has for many years been regarded as Delux table bird because of its light bone and a high percentage of creamy white flesh.
Muscovy ducks when crossed with other ducks produce all sterile progeny known as mule ducks. They graze like a goose and the males have no curled feathers which are a sex characteristic. There are no feathers on the face and the drake has a knob on the head. The males are twice the size of the female. Pennines and Rouens are also used for duck meat production but less frequently as compared to the other- breeds.
Green ducklings are the product of 2 or 3-way crosses, although sometimes higher crosses have been utilized. The commercial ducklings are the progeny of medium-sized females having a high rate of reproduction and males with a considerable potential for growth. Male lines are usually derived from Aylesbury or Pekin, and female lines from production stocks of Pekin or White Pennine. The preference of hybrid ducks is primarily due to better viability and to some extent due to heterosis observed for other traits also.