Duck Production and Goose Production at Home

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Ducks have a strong constitution and grow quickly, making them an easy bird to raise compared to chickens or turkeys.
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Simple construction of swimming arrangement for both ducks and geese. Pekin ducks require swimming water if they are to reproduce... however, Muscovy ducks do not need water. Both breeds, however, do much better when swimming water is available. Size of swimming pool will depend on number of ducks kept... however, it is important that draining facilities are supplied as the swimming pool should be cleaned regularly as needed.
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Pekin ducks are a great favorite to the duck producer.
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A two year old purebred Toulouse gander.
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A pair of Toulouse geese will produce all the goslings that the average family can consume. 

Back in 1949 — before factory farming and the “pump
’em full of chemicals” school of agriculture blitzed the
country — a fellow named Jack Widmer wrote a little
book called PRACTICAL ANIMAL HUSBANDRY. Now that
manual wasn’t what you’d call completely exhaustive, the
writing style wasn’t the best, and a few of the ideas it
advanced — such as confining laying hens in cages
— were later refined into the kind of automated
farming that so many of us are fighting against these days.

Still, PRACTICAL ANIMAL HUSBANDRY contained a good
deal of basic information that today’s “homesteaders” all
too often need and don’t know where to find. I’m pleased,
then, that the publisher of the book, Charles Scribner’s
Sons, has granted me permission to reprint excerpts from
this out-of-print manual. I think that many of my readers
will find the following information both interesting and
informative. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Excerpts from PRACTICAL ANIMAL HUSBANDRY by Jack
Widmer are reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner’s
Sons. Copyright 1949 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Duck Production

Ducks are much easier to raise than chickens or turkeys.
They are subject to few diseases, are sturdy enough to live
through a more variable brooding temperature than other
fowl, and if given half a chance will weigh from five to
six pounds at eleven weeks, an ideal butchering age for
that delicacy of delicacies, Roast Long Island Duckling.
Their feeding is a simple matter, their feeds easily mixed,
and the amateur agriculturist will have more encouraging
results from ducks than he will from most members of the
home barnyard.

True, it is almost essential for breeding ducks to have
access to some sort of water in which they may swim during
the breeding season, for egg fertility is tremendously
increased if they have a good swimming hole; but this can
be supplied by either streams, lakes, or man-made pools
that need not be very large to accommodate all the ducks
that the average family will require for home consumption.
In the event that a swimming hole is not practical, then
the country dweller may purchase day-old ducklings and
fatten them without swimming facilities.

Ducks do not require elaborate housing arrangements (four
square feet per breeding duck is sufficient . . . three
square feet for fattening birds) and barrels, packing
crates, or other waste material make excellent nesting
boxes. In moderate climates ducks will not require any but
natural shelter and the ducks themselves, beyond being a
bit on the noisy side, are interesting and intelligent
birds and give little worry in relation to their many
advantages.

Breeds of Ducks

Ducks are divided into three major categories: [1] meat
ducks, [2] egg producers and [3] ornamental ducks. In this
work we will not be concerned with the third class for they
are used primarily in zoos, parks, and country estates that
are interested in their ornamental attributes. However
class 1 and class 2 are of importance to those living in
the country.

The meat ducks are made up of the following breeds: Pekin,
Alesbury, Muscovy, Roen, Cayuga, Buff and Swedish. Of these
breeds the Pekin and Muscovy are considered the most
popular in the United States . . . the Pekin being the
mainstay in the duckling industry of Long Island and other
Eastern States. The Muscovy is very popular in California,
Oregon, and Washington (as well as in the Eastern States)
although many Pekins are also found on the Pacific Coast.
Both breeds are very satisfactory for the average American
locality and both produce excellent carcasses.

Breeds most suitable for egg production are the Runner
(White, Buff and Penciled), Buff and Khaki-Campbell. Of
these the Runner is by far the most popular and many duck
fanciers who are fond of duck eggs maintain a few of this
breed for the Runner is to the duck world what the White
Leghorn is to the chicken world.

Choice of breed will therefore depend on whether the
prospective duck raiser is interested in meat or eggs. Here
on Toowoomba, where we usually maintain upwards from twenty
ducks, we keep the Pekin and are supplied with all the
ducks that we require for the table as well as having a
number of surplus eggs that are consumed by the family.

The Muscovy is most popular in the Eastern States. This
breed comes in two varieties . . . the White and Dark. They
are excellent fliers and require little care as they will
forage wide. They are quite good egg producers and in
contrast to the Pekin are good setters and will rear their
young with little attention. They have proven very useful
for the general farm and do not require swimming water for
egg fertility.

Starting With Ducks

We have two general methods of getting started with ducks:
[1] We may purchase day-old ducklings from a hatchery or
[2] we may purchase breeding stock, mate our ducks,
incubate, and brood our own ducklings.

When we started with our Pekins we purchased our original
stock as day-old ducklings, raised them to maturity and
saved the better females. We then traded some of our males
for drakes belonging to our neighbors (who had also
purchased Pekin ducklings, but from a different hatchery)
and we continued from there. However, some breeders prefer
to purchase mature ducks of breeding age and thus produce
their own eggs. This may be practical if water is available
for as has already been mentioned it is difficult to
produce fertile eggs without sufficient water for the
swimming of the breeding flock. If water is not available,
then day-old ducklings is the only answer.

Day-Old Ducklings

Once the question of desired breed has been settled, and
contact has been made with a reputable hatchery for the
purchase of the ducklings, we are ready to undertake the
raising of our ducks. Numbers ordered will depend on space
available, how much time we wish to devote to our birds, and
the number of ducks, eggs, or both that we are interested
in producing. We started with 25 ducklings (ordered from a
Wisconsin hatchery and flown air express) and we raised
every one of the 24 that were alive upon arrival.

Ducklings may be successfully placed under chicken hens in
brooding coops. However if hens are not available,
ducklings are the easiest of all fowl to raise with an
artificial brooder.

These brooders may be the same ones that we used for either
chickens or turkeys. Ducks are maintained at a temperature
of 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week, 80 to 85
the second and at about 75 the third, and from then until
the ducklings are six weeks old, they should be kept at
from 65 to 70 degrees. After that, ducklings require no
heat unless the breeder is situated in a very severe
climate where it might be prudent to allow the ducks a
little heat during cold nights for their seventh and eighth
week. Great care should be exercised in keeping the litter
in the brooder room dry and watering devices should be
arranged so that ducks cannot climb into them and get wet.
Under no circumstances should ducklings be permitted to
swim or to become wet before they are at least six weeks
old or until they are well feathered.

Home-Grown Ducklings

Selection of breeding ducks is much the same as that of
breeding chickens. The ducks should be selected as being
truly representative of their breed and for their broad,
deep bodies. They should have straight breastbones, be of
good size, and show considerable vigor.

A good Pekin female should produce about 120 eggs during
the laying season (from January through May) and the ratio
of drakes to females should be no wider than one to seven.
They should be allowed to roam in a fairly spacious pen,
have access to swimming water and should be kept in a
thrifty but not overly fat condition.

Eggs should be kept at a maximum temperature of 60 degrees
Fahrenheit between laying and setting, and the sooner that
eggs are set the better. Pekin and Runner ducks seldom set
and few duck fanciers have found it practical to hatch
ducklings under their mothers. Instead, chicken hens are
used and they will incubate from 13 to 15 eggs handily.

Duck eggs hatch after 28 days for all the breeds except the
Muscovy which requires from 32 to 34 days, and inasmuch as
duck eggs require more moisture than chicken eggs they
should be sprinkled two or three times during the
incubation period and certainly just before the ducks are
ready to pip.

Hens should be confined to the incubating nest for the
first 24 hours after the ducklings start to hatch as a set
of duck eggs will not hatch as rapidly as will chicks and
the chicken hen may get off the nest prematurely with the
first of the hatch, leaving the rest to spoil.

For those duck fanciers who are interested in raising but a
few ducks each year it would not be practical to maintain
an incubator for artificial incubation. Instead (as in the
case of turkeys) it is recommended that fertile eggs be
taken to the commercial hatchery to have them custom
hatched.

After the ducklings are from 24 to 36 hours of age they are
removed from either the natural or artificial incubator and
are placed either under the hen (that is, shut up in a
brooding coop) or under the artificial brooder as already
described under “Day-Old Ducklings.”

Duck Feeding

Ducklings are fed as soon as they are placed under the
brooders and, unlike the turkey poult, there is no need to
worry about them learning to eat . . . they are hatched
hungry. Their ration for the first five days should be a
moist mash, fed on boards or shallow troughs and made up
something as follows:  

  • 35% yellow cornmeal
  • 31% bran
  • 10% flour or middlings
  •   5% alfalfa meal
  •   5% dried milk
  •   5% meat scraps
  •   5% rolled oats
  •   3% sand
  •   1% salt

Some small operators have found that they that they may
start ducklings on chick starter that has been made into a
wet mash, while others have been able to purchase duck
starter, although this is not always obtainable in the
average community. Ducklings are fed all they will clean up
three or four times daily for the first four weeks and then
may be cut down to two feeds daily. Sand or grit, or both,
must be kept before them at all times and they should have
water available in deep enough pans so that they dip their
bills nearly to the eyes. This is important so that they
may clear their nostrils of mash. These watering devices
should be covered with a wire basket so that ducks will not
play in the water and thus make a mess of their litter.

After the first five to seven days, the ration may be
changed to a wet mash made up of the following:

  • 45% cornmeal
  • 24% bran
  • 10% flour
  • 10% meat meal
  •   5% ground oats
  •   3% ground limestone
  •   2% dried milk

This ration is fed until the ducklings are from six to
eight weeks of age at which time they are changed to a
fattening ration made up as follows:

  • 50% cornmeal
  • 18% bran
  • 13% flour
  • 12% meal meal
  •   5% ground oats
  •   2% dried milk

To this ration should be added 10 percent (by volume) of
green feeds. These greens may be alfalfa, clover, young
corn, rye, cowpeas, or whatever greens are available. They
should be cut into inch-long lengths and are very necessary
if rapid gains are to be made. For those who do not care to
mix their own rations, duck pellets may be purchased that
are made up of a balanced ration especially suited for duck
fattening. Naturally the expense of feeding will climb
considerably when these pellets are used and it must be
remembered that green feeds should be fed even when pellets
replace mash.

This fattening ration is fed until the ducks have reached
11 to 12 weeks of age at which time they should weigh from
five to six pounds and are ready for butchering.

Experience has taught us that it is far more economical to
butcher all the ducks at this prime age, for their
maintenance beyond that point is usually more detrimental
to quality than advantageous. They should therefore be
butchered, cleaned and wrapped in cellophane, and placed in
the deep freeze where they will keep from nine to ten months
with no appreciable loss in quality.

Those ducks that are to be used as breeders the following
year should be separated from the fattening ducks at about
eight weeks of age. Here we are interested mainly in a
growing rather than a fattening ration and they may be fed
a more reasonably priced ration as follows:

  • 40% bran
  • 30% yellow cornmeal
  • 25% middlings or low-grade flour
  •   5% meal scrap or fish meal

This mash should be mixed with about one-third of the bulk
being green feed and is fed until the laying season when
the following ration should be substituted:

  • 45% yellow cornmeal
  • 29% bran
  • 10% middlings
  • 10% flour
  • 10% meat scraps
  •   5% oatmeal or ground oats

This mash should also be supplemented with a third of the
bulk being greens.

Breeding ducks are fed this ration throughout the breeding
and laying season after which they should either be
butchered for home consumption or sold on the market.
Experienced breeders tell us that the keeping of breeders
after the first laying year is not economical as new
breeders may be selected from each year’s crop of ducklings
. . . thus incorporating considerable saving in feed bills.

We here on Toowoomba are very fond of mature duck meat, and
although we butcher a number of our ducks for succulent
roast duckling at from five to six pounds, we do permit at
least half of our ducklings to grow into yearlings before
butchering. We admit that this is not the most economical
manner in which to handle ducks, for more mature animals
eat considerably more per pound of grain than do the
younger ducklings. However, we are willing to feed somewhat
longer for these mature carcasses.

Yet no matter which manner ducks are handled, the beginner
will do well to raise at least a dozen annually for they
will require very little attention, do not eat too much
expensive feed, and will certainly supply the family with a
delightful change for the table.

Goose Production

The domestic goose can be raised in any section of the
United States and once the mating question has been solved,
the amateur will experience little difficulty in their
production. They are a thrifty bird and if pasture is
available they will require little additional feed other
than an abundance of grass which they will harvest
themselves. In the event that pasture is not available they
will get along very nicely on grains and roughage.

Unlike most breeds of ducks, geese do not require water for
the fertilizing of eggs, although geese do considerably
better when they may swim. These birds require little if
any housing, are subject to few diseases, and live to a ripe
old age. They are as easy to drive as a herd of milk cows,
and one trio of mature geese will produce all the goose
meat that the average family can ever consume. Geese make
more thrifty gains when they have enough space in which to
range most of the year — the more space the better
— however, excellent results have been obtained with
geese even though they are confined to limited enclosures.

Breeds of Geese

Choice of breed will depend more on availability than any
other single factor. There are several excellent breeds
with the Toulouse, Embden, African, China, and Egyptian
being the leading varieties. Perhaps the Toulouse and
Embden will be found as readily as any as they are very
popular in the United States and are found in all sections
of the country.

Both here in California, and formerly in Colorado, we have
kept with the Toulouse, and although we maintain but one
trio — one male and two females — we have had
excellent results in their production. The Toulouse is a
hardy bird, requires little if any shelter (in the average
climate), and is the largest of the breeds. The adult gander
will weigh up to 30 pounds, while the adult goose usually
weighs in the neighborhood of 20 pounds. The only criticism
we have to offer after several years with the Toulouse is
that they sometimes refuse to set. For this reason we have,
in the past few years, depended on a commercial hatchery
for the incubation of our goose eggs.

The Embden is also very popular in most sections of the
United States and although this variety is usually
considerably smaller than the Toulouse (a gander weighing
in the neighborhood of 20 pounds) they are better setters
and are said to be better mothers.

Of the other varieties, the China (both white and brown)
has proven most practical for small quantity goose
production and this breed is gaining in favor, especially
on the Pacific Coast.

Some goose fanciers have obtained wild Canadian geese and
have crossed them with domestic varieties. The beginner
must be warned that even though this cross makes for
excellent meat, all goslings produced by such a union are
sterile and therefore are of no value as breeders.

Starting With Geese

There are three methods of starting with geese: [1] Day-old
goslings may be purchased, [2] a pair or trio of mature
geese ready to breed may be obtained or [3] a setting of
fertile eggs may be purchased and if setting chicken hens are
available they may be set under these hens. All three
methods are satisfactory . . . however, availability of the
stock in question may be the deciding factor.   

Day-Old Goslings

Goslings are not fed until they are from 28 to 36 hours old
and their first feed may be made up of stale bread that
been soaked in either water or milk, corn that has been
cracked and scaled, or mash that is made up of four parts
corn, one part middlings, and soaked in either water or milk.
Green grass makes up most of the feed for both goslings and
mature geese and they will require only a very limited
amount during their entire growing period.

When the young goslings come from the hatchery they may be
successfully brooded under geese, chicken hens, or under an
artificial brooder. The geese themselves are by far the
best for this purpose and each goose will look after from
14 to 16 goslings. If chicken hens are used they may be
given from 10 to 12 goslings depending on the breed and
size of the hens in question. After the hens have taken
care of the youngsters for two or three weeks the goslings
will get along nicely without them. As to artificial
brooders, this is most difficult, for young goslings should
be put directly on green range and when confined to brooder
houses their advancement is retarded considerably. If
however, it is necessarv to brooder the goslings they
should be started at 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first
week, 85 for the second, 75 for the third and then turned
out to range.

Home-Grown Goslings

Geese can be most aggravating when one considers them from
a mating standpoint. Unlike most animals of the barnyard
kingdom, geese are by nature monogamous. Especially is this
true in the wild state where it is said that Canadian geese
mate but once and then for life. As any observant goose
hunter can testify, a Canadian gander who has lost his mate
will search for her continually and seldom mates again.

In domesticity, geese may mate more than once and often
trios are very successful . . . one male and two females.
Yet even here the gander will often select a favorite and
will fertilize her eggs while permitting his second mate to
live a life of celibacy. Then too, if pairs are kept, it is
not always a sure thing that they will care for each other
and many goose fanciers have found it necessary to shuffle
their pairs around until the proper combinations have been
attained. But even this has its advantages, for once mated,
pairs and trios will remain loyal to their mates for life
and will go on for years without any changes being
necessary.

Geese, as with all poultry, should be selected as
individuals for their size, nearness to breed type, and
vigor. It is wise to keep medium-sized geese for breeders
for they seem to do better than the extra-large
individuals, and it is also advisable to purchase breeding
stock well in advance of the breeding season so that they
may become acquainted with their living quarters. In the
event that matings do not work out and that the gander
cannot be interested in the ladies in question, then there
is but one answer . . . roast gander.

Toulouse and Embden breeds will produce some offspring
during their second year. However, best results are
obtained with these heavier breeds during the third, fourth
and fifth years. The lighter breeds usually mature earlier
than these two mentioned and start reproducing at an
earlier age. After the sixth year has been reached
(regardless of breed) geese begin to taper off in both egg
production and fertility, and this problem must be settled
for each individual goose.

Geese usually lay from 25 to 30 eggs during the laying
season (January to May) and eggs should be taken from the
laying nests as they are laid (leaving at least two in the
nest for seed), for if all eggs are allowed to remain, some
geese will stop laying when they have produced what they
might consider a “set”. Some producers set the first five
to seven eggs under a chicken hen, the balance under a
goose and then give all the goslings to the goose to raise.
This may be a dangerous practice, however, for many geese
will leave their nests during the incubation period and
chicken hens have been proven much more reliable.

Eggs that are set under chicken hens must be turned daily
for the eggs are too heavy for the hens to perform this
duty themselves and all eggs should be soaked in warm water
for a few minutes every four days. Goose eggs hatch in from
30 to 35 days and, as in the case of ducks, chicken hens
must be confined to their nests during the first 24 hours
after hatching begins so that all goslings will have a
chance to pip before the hen decides to leave the nest with
the first of the hatch. From this point forward, the care
of the goslings is the same as described under “Day-old
Goslings”.

Feeding of Geese

As has already been stated, grass is the main feed of geese
until they reach the fattening stage. After they have been
fed the mash ration described under “Day-old Goslings” for
the first two to three weeks, goslings will require little
in addition to grass. However, if geese are to be raised in
confinement and grass is not available, then a ration made
of two parts shorts and one part cornmeal or ground oats
may be fed. After six weeks they may be fed a wet mash made
up of equal parts of shorts, cornmeal ,or ground oats, with
an addition of five percent meat scraps. Whole grains may
be substituted for these mash feeds when the goslings have
completely feathered out. But this method of producing
geese is far more expensive than those that are permitted
to have access to grass.

Breeding geese should be fed during the winter when pasture
is no longer available, but care must be exercised so that
the breeders do not become too fat. When egg laying starts
they should be fed a mash made up as follows

  • 3 parts bran or shorts
  • 1 part cornmeal
  • 1/2 part meat scraps

This mash is usually fed in the morning and both males and
females are fed. In addition, greens should be made
available and grit and oystershell are kept before the
breeding flock at all times.

Geese usually run on pasture until about six weeks before
the desired time of butchering when they are penned up and
fed a fattening ration of one-third shorts and two-thirds
cornmeal in the mornings, and a second ration made of equal
parts of corn and oats, or corn and barley, or oats and
barley. The morning feed is fed as a wet mash, the
remaining two feeds (noon and night) being fed dry. In
addition to these concentrates, some roughage or vegetable
greens are provided and geese fed in this manner will gain
from five to seven pounds during the six-week fattening
period.

The Finished Product

All geese that are not to be maintained for breeding stock
should be butchered at their prime . . . usually at the
conclusion of the six-week fattening interval. Having been
fattened as described above they should be in excellent
condition and will carry considerable flesh. As with ducks
they keep in a deep-freeze unit at zero degrees Fahrenheit
for from nine to ten months without any appreciable loss in
quality. Feeding them beyond this prime period is a waste
of good feed. Those that are kept for breeders may be fed a
much lighter ration and are cut off from grain entirely as
soon as grass comes green in the spring.

Geese are slaughtered much as are ducks and turkeys (to be
taken up in a later chapter), and many people will wish to
save the feathers for pillows, down-lined jackets, etc. If
this is desired, the feathers should be kept separate from
the down and the quality of the down and feathers will be
in direct relationship to their care during the drying
period. They should be spread on paper in thin layers, kept
indoors and shaken frequently until thoroughly dried. Many
of the pillows found on Toowoomba have been stuffed with
home-grown down and there are none better.

Aside from supplying delicious meat for the table and
valuable feathers, geese have a number of additional
attributes. They are excellent replacements for watch dogs
for they will raise a thunderous racket in the event of
prowlers. They are interesting birds to have on the farm
and they become very affectionate and are one of the most
friendly of all the home barnyard animals.

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