Ducklings can be effectively raised in any chicken brooder house and under any chicken brooder design. Ducklings are typically easier to raise than chickens. Although Muscovy ducks can be used to raise ducklings, they are more valuable for egg production or incubation and should not be wasted for this reason. Discourage broodiness by placing broody ducks in broody coops for 3–5 days, ensuring that they have access to food and water at all times.
The brooder housing should be sufficiently ventilated, but drafts that produce chills should be avoided. Wall apertures positioned 1,2 meters from the floor allow adequate ventilation.
It is possible to raise ducklings on wire, litter, or a combination of the two. The floor should ideally be concrete, with 8 cm of trash. Moldy litter can cause ducklings to perish, so always keep the litter dry. Periodically, mix the litter.
Ducklings require little floor space. For ducklings up to 10 days old, 200 cm2/bird (or 50 birds/m2) is recommended. Due to their rapid growth, this space will need to be 1,250 cm2/bird (8 birds/m2) by the time the ducklings are 8 weeks old.
Controlled-environment housing is good for brooding ducks and can be utilized for the first two weeks of a duckling’s life before being transferred to an adjacent growing house.
Regardless of the type of brooder — gas, electricity, hot water, or hot air — it must provide adequate heat, ventilation, and space to prevent congestion. As a general rule, half the indicated chick capacity of a brooder can be used to raise ducklings.
Place surrounds around hover brooders, moving them further away from the brooder each day, and remove them after the first week.
For the first week, the temperature in the incubator should be 30 degrees Celsius. Reduce this by 3°C per week until the third week, at which point the heat can be eliminated (depending on the weather).
10 days after hatching, ducklings may be allowed access to outdoor runs. Keep in mind that ducklings hatched in captivity cannot withstand rain until they have sufficient feathers, around 3–4 weeks of age. Protect the ducklings against rats and foxes as well as other predators.
Waterers and feeders
Ducklings must always have access to clean, potable water. For the first few days, this can be provided by 4.5 L drinking fonts, and later preferably by an automatic ballcock-operated drinking vessel or a bell-shaped hanging drinker. Ducklings should be let to submerge their heads in water, but not to swim in it. Place drinkware on a wire grid over the concrete floor to prevent wet litter.
Even brief times without water are fatal for ducklings. Stumbling and seizures are classic signs of dehydration. Give ducklings a drink of warm milk before supplying them with water if the water source fails; this will prevent intestinal cramps and staggers.
Placing feeders on a raised platform will prevent contamination from droppings. Both food and water must be readily available. For each duckling up to three weeks of age, allow 1.5 cm of room for drinking and 4 cm of space for feeding.
After hatching, ducklings may be placed in intensive, semi-intensive, or wire colony cages. Or, if the management system justifies it, ducklings may be raised in the brooder house with the heat turned off until the time of sale.
Wire roosting cages
If ducklings are raised in wire colony cages, no more than 10 ducklings per standard pen (1.25 m 1.0 m; 8 birds/m2 or 1250 cm2/bird) should be allowed. In general, ducklings kept in wire cages are more marketable than those grown on the ground, mostly because they are confined and so do not “ran off” meat.
Ground rearing is favored by producers with ample land due to the cheaper housing expenses and simpler flock management. Allow 1250 cm2 of floor area per growing duck up to 8 weeks of age in intensive housing. Those housed semi-intensively require the same amount of area (8 birds per square meter).
For optimal results, ducklings should be raised in groups no larger than 500. A shed with a skillion roof is suitable. Concrete flooring are the cleanest. During windy and rainy weather, cover the front of the shed with polyweave plastic or hessian shades.
Separate the outdoor enclosures with 60 cm-tall fencing, and give each duckling a 2 m2 space. Lock ducklings inside the shed at night.
Utilize one 15-watt bulb per 18 m2 of floor space for all-night lighting to enhance productivity. Ideally, ducks should be raised on wood shavings in dense buildings. If wood shavings are unavailable, straw can be used daily in the summer and, if necessary, twice daily in the winter.
Wet and moist trash must be removed from the shed. As ducks are extremely susceptible to heat stress, outdoor shade is required.
Swimming water may be supplied, although it is not required. If ducks are permitted to swim and play in clean, moving water, their growth rate and feathering will be enhanced. While there is a gain in performance, the vast quantities of water need and the associated expense are not justified.
Drinkers, feeders, and litter should be managed identically to how they were during the nesting time. However, ducklings require around 75 percent more area for drinking and eating (i.e. 3.5 cm drinking space and 7 cm feeding space). Growing ducks are suited for automatic feeding.
Although cannibalism can occur at any age, it is more prevalent in ducklings older than four weeks. The fundamental causes of cannibalism in birds are unknown, however it is connected with boredom and exacerbated by:
- inadequate ventilation,
- improper nutrition.
Transport and handling
Ducks can be transported:
- by the crown of the head;
- by holding both wings with a single hand;
- by carrying them under one’s arm with the duck’s head facing backwards; or
- using one wing and one leg from the same side.
Sometimes it is necessary to handle ducks, such as when weighing them or examining them for sickness. They must be captured and handled with minimal stress.