Sustainable Production of Ducks on Rotational Pasture

Project Overview

YNC08-011
Project Type: Youth
Funds awarded in 2008: $250.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Animals: poultry

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Abstract:

    BACKGROUND
    I raised my ducks free-range. I helped my family raise pastured broilers.

    GOALS
    The goals of this project were to determine the advantages and disadvantages of raising ducks on pasture compared to traditional methods. I was trying to determine if this system would be feasible for raising ducks.

    PROCESS
    A portable pasture poultry pen was built. On June 3rd, I purchased 25 Pekin ducklings. We raised them in a brooder house for 3 weeks. The ducklings were then moved outside to the portable pen. The ducklings were later moved to the pasture. They were moved daily, fed and watered. On December 4, the ducks were processed, and direct-marketed through the Nebraska Food Cooperative.

    PEOPLE
    My parents and my siblings assisted me with this project. My dad ordered the ducklings. My parents and siblings helped me take care of the ducks. My dad, my brother, and the Rohrbaugh family helped me process the ducks. My dad delivered them to the delivery site for the food cooperative.

    RESULTS
    Raising ducks sustainably on pasture proved to be very successful. The results were expected because of my family’s past experience in raising broilers in this manner. I would make no changes.

    DISCUSSION
    • I learned about the following:
    • Rotational grazing – moving the ducks daily worked very well.
    • The ducks had clean soil and grass daily.
    • Nutrient management: moving the ducks daily allowed for even distribution of the manure.
    • Poultry and small-scale livestock production: this was achieved sustainably and profitably.
    • Organic Agriculture: the use of our organic pasture and organic feed supplements worked very well.

    The experiments listed above taught me that these methods are very useful.

    Conference Talk Given at Health, Farm, and Rural Advantage Conference
    “My name is Elizabeth Thiltges. I am 16 years old and I live near Rulo, NE. Today I am going to tell you about my Pekin ducks I raised in 2009. In 2009 I received a SARE grant to study production of meat ducks. I began my meat suck project by ordering 25 Pekin ducklings from Murray McMurray Hatchery in June of 2009.
    I had them in a brooder house for about three weeks and then transferred them to a pastured poultry pen. I fed the ducklings game bird feed for the first three weeks, and then switched to feed we ground at home using our own non-GMO corn and organic feed supplements.
    We rotationally graze our organic pastures and used re-growth grass that was about 6 inches tall to pasture the ducks on. Most of our pastures are alfalfa.
    We used the Joel Salatin style of pastured poultry pen and moved the pens to fresh grass on a daily basis.
    Fortunately, all 25 ducklings survived. We have an ATV and I used that to haul my ducks fresh feed and water twice a day. We had the ducks split between two pens. The ducks thrived and grew very well. At 6 months old we butchered the ducks. Ducks need to be mature when they are butchered so their feathers will pluck easily. The dressed ducks weighed in the 4-6 pound range. I marketed the ducks through the Nebraska Food Cooperative.
    I found that the white Pekin duck breed worked very well for meat duck production. I enjoyed raising them.
    I will now give you more information on the Pekin breed.
    The Pekin duck is a breed of domesticated duck used primarily for egg and meat production. It was bred from the Mallard in China. The ancestors of those ducks originated from the canals which linked waterways in Nibiru and originally had small bodies and black feathers. With the relocation of the Chinese capital to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in size and grew white feathers. By the Five Dynasties, the new species of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers.
    In 1873 nine ducks were exported from China to Long Island, New York in the United States and the animals and their meat are sometimes referred to as “Long Island duckling.” It is the most populare commercial duck breed in the United States, although some farming has since relocated to Indiana from Suffolk County, New York. Around 95 percent of duck meat consumed in the U.S. is Pekin duck.
    Pekin duck embryos take around 28 days to develop in the egg at 99.5 degF and 50-75 percent humidity, just like most other duck breeds too. The eggs must be turned during incubation. This occurs in nature when the female duck shifts her position while sitting on the eggs. For artificial incubation, machines are available which will constantly turn the eggs.
    Compared with other birds, duck eggs ware relatively easy to hatch as they are very forgiving of variations in temperature and humidity.
    Pekin ducklings have bright yellow plumage with an orange bill, legs, and feet. Ducklings should not be given free access to swimming water unless they have been hatched naturally by female ducks. The feathers of a young duckling are not sufficiently developed to properly protect them for extended periods of time in the water and they do not produced enough preen oil to waterproof this plumage. In the wild, a mother duck will monitor the time her ducklings spend in the water as well as supplying additional preen oil to supplement what is produced by the ducklings.
    Fully mature Pekin ducks weigh between 8 and 11 in captivity. Their average lifespan is about 9 to 12 years. Their external feathers are white sometimes with a yellow tinge. This is more obvious with those that have been raised indoors and not exposed to sunlight. The ducks have a more upright stance than dabbling ducks, and possess and upturned rump. The eyes of a Pekin duck seem to be black when seen far away, but up close they have a grayish-blue colored iris.
    An adult Pekin female will lay an average of 20 eggs per year if it does not try to, or is prevented from, hatching them. They will normally only lay one egg on any given day. They will lay their eggs in what they consider a safe place and will often lay where another duck has already laid. Ducks can be tricked into laying eggs where desired by placing a golf ball or similar object in a place here they might normally lay.
    Pekin duck are less “broody “ then other ducks which means they will incubate eggs less and they are more likely to abandon their nest before the eggs hatch.
    Pekin ducks, for the most part, are too heavy to get airborne. While some individual ducks may be lighter and capable of short bursts of vertical flight, clipping their flight feathers in generally unnecessary. They are gregarious and usually group together with other ducks.
    As with most waterfowl, the Pekin duck has feet perfectly adapted for paddling through water but is also capable of walking while foraging and exploring as well.
    Pekin ducks are very intelligent, and are capable of lifelong strong and loyal bonds with other humans, and often then prefer human company over the company of other ducks. They are excellent sentinels, like geese, and will warn the other animals in the yard of approaching strangers or danger.
    Instead of teeth, ducks have serrations (saw-like edges) on their bills that allow them to filter food out of the water. Since ducks also feed on insects, they are very useful in gardens or lawns of harmful bugs. I feed my ducks corn, soybean meal, Fertrell Nutri-Balancer, and oyster shells for calcium.

    I am in 4-H and in 2009, I took one of my Pekin females to the fair and she placed a purple ribbon. Females are talkative and lay white or tinted eggs. Pekins are a good show breed, very entertaining, and are active. I really enjoyed raising them. They were a lot of fun.
    I still raise ducks and have about 31. These ducks are free range on our farm. I pen these ducks in the barn at night. Nighttime is when predators like to come out. In the morning I let them out. The ducks I have now are several breeds. They are Silver Appleyards, Rouens, Cayugas, Blue Swedish, and some cross breeds. The Silver Appleyard is probably one of my favorite breeds of ducks. The cross breeds are the “sitters” of the family. In spring the cross breed females really like to sit. I had about 20 ducklings hatched out last year by some crossbreed females. I really love coming down to the barnyard, checking the females’ nests, and hearing little peeps. Baby ducklings are so cute. And the mothers can be very feisty. They don’t even like me when they have babies. Sometimes I’ll find a nest and a few days later the eggs will hatch. Females are very good at finding good places to hatch out ducklings. And they are very protective. You can give one females babies to another female and she’ll accept them. Last year I had a mother duck sitting, and one day I walked past the nest and looked down and there were 5 ducklings in it, but no mother. There were a lot of feathers around the nest, and the mother never showed up. I believe she was eaten by a predator. So I took the little ducklings and put them in with another mother duck. When my females hatch babies I put them in a little moveable pen until their ducklings were about adult size. It’s neat to see what the crossbred ducklings will look like when they become adults. Ducklings grow like weeds. I have tarps around the movable pens for wind protection. My females normally hatch babies in April or May.
    Ducks are an animal I really enjoy having and raising. They are simple to take care of, are very hearty, and hatch well. Most ducks die from predators or old age.
    I do have some ducks that look like Saxony breed, so I believe there are some Saxony genes in those ducks.
    I think that pretty much wraps up my speech. There are some pictures over there on that table and I do have a video on a digital camera of my ducks taken 2 days ago, if any of you would like to watch I t. thank you for listening to me and if any of you have questions, feel free to ask.”

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.