If you’ve only been thinking of chickens for your meat and eggs you will be surprised to learn that ducks are the world-wide top choice. Pekins grow fast, lay large eggs very well, and there’s no Marketing Board to limit your production! Consider some ducks…
Pekin ducks were developed (from Mallards) in China long before recorded history, and are quite possibly the oldest domesticated poultry. They were first brought to North America in 1874 and became the mainstay of commercial duck farming without ever needing to be genetically ‘improved’. Their hardiness makes them adaptable to almost any climate, and their calm temperament makes them welcome in any back yard or acreage. Compared to most chickens they excel in disease resistance, fertility, hatchability, calm temperament, growth rate, and feed conversion!
Our White Pekin will reach slaughter weight (dressed wgt 5+ lbs) as early as 7 weeks old, a little longer if they are very active. The ducks (females) lay about 200 eggs a year; they are not good broodies, so hatch your ducklings under an experienced mother hen or in an incubator.
Ducks are great foragers. In many Asian countries ducks are herded to fresh foraging areas each day — sort of like chicken tractor rearing, without the tractor! Wild ducks thrive in Canada in waterways and ponds, eating snails, tadpoles, frogs, worms, etc. Domestic ducks will enjoy foraging too, but they need to be fed a good duck feed as well, in order to grow and lay according to their potential.
Use feeds that are formulated for ducks, not chickens. Pelleted commercial duck starter is recommended (20% protein or higher) for the first 3 weeks. Then 16% protein duck feed until they start to lay eggs, and 18% while they are laying. The same tender-leaved greens that we recommend for chickens are also great for ducks: legumes, brassicas, dandelions, amaranth, trefoil, etc. Ducks love kitchen leftovers, but don’t feed them bread, nuts or chocolate.
Baby ducks need to be brooded, like chicks, but they feather up faster and only need the heat lamp for about 3 weeks. Don’t rush your ducklings to the swimming hole – without a mother to provide skin oils for waterproofing, ducklings can drown in water deeper than 2 inches until they are 4 weeks old. Ducks can be housed with chickens, but this may increase your risk of getting avian influenza, so it is not recommended.