Management in commercial duck production
Review of species-specific management in commercial duck production, including the reception of ducklings, and the feeding and housing in commercial meat duck farming.
This article provides a brief review of species-specific management in commercial duck production, including the reception of ducklings, and the feeding and housing in commercial meat duck farming.
The world population of ducks was estimated at 1.15 billions in 2017. By that time, 88% of the total population was present in Asia, which is the main meat producer and consumer area.
China is the world’s largest duck producer and concentrates 60% of world production and 80% of regional duck meat production. Other countries with the largest population of ducks are Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. France is the main European producer.
Ducks are generally rustic animals that have a lower incidence of diseases than other domestic birds. The length of the production cycle on commercial duck production depends on the breed, market, final product required, and production system used.
For example, the Pekin duck grows faster than other breeds, animals of both sexes have an average weight 3 kg at 7 weeks of life in intensive production. Differently, Muscovy breed has a slower initial development and it can take around 11 weeks to reach the slaughter weight (around 2 kg in females and 4 kg in males). This breed has better nutritional efficiency and less subcutaneous fat.
Ducks can easily adapt to simple, low-investment facilities. However, more attention should be paid to other details, such as litter condition, since their droppings are more pasty than ther birds’. There are notable differences between intensive and semi-extensive productive systems in terms of productivity.
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RECEPTION IN COMMERCIAL DUCK PRODUCTION
The first month of life of ducks in commercial breeding is key to achieving the final objectives. Birds under commercial duck production, either intended for meat or foie gras, receive the same management during the first month of life.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS IN THE RECEPTION OF DUCKS
Environmental conditions must be controlled with an automated system, since ducklings cannot initially regulate their body temperature.
The room temperature should be around 28°C at the moment of the reception to avoid prostration and starvation problems of ducklings. Heat lamps are used for this purpose. Space in the room should be limited in a circle around the lamps.
The behaviour of ducklings should be evaluated to regulate the temperature by raising or lowering the lamp according to their needs. The litter should help to maintain the dryness and comfort of the animals at the reception.
In the following days, as the animals grow and acquire more thermoregulatory capacity, the temperature is adjusted downward to avoid situations of heat stress.
FEEDING AT THE RECEPTION OF DUCKS
At reception, the goal is to get the animals to start drinking and eating as soon as possible within 36 hours of their birth. This objective is essential to achieve a correct development of the digestive system and an adequate weight in the first week of life, which will be reflected in the slaughter weight and mortality of the ducks.
Anatomy of the peak of ducks is adapted to feeding underwater and it hinders the feeding in intensive production. This fact produces a high feed waste compared to other species, especially in young animals. In addition, ducks do not tolerate milled feed because it adheres to the peak when mixed with saliva. Therefore, feed is usually provided as pellets or crumbs to avoid the impact on feed intake and to reduce feed waste.
Ducks, due to their ancestral conditions, ingest large amounts of water, up to four and five times more than their feed intake, and approximately double that of broilers. Therefore, their faeces are more watery and wet litters are common compared to other species. In addition, the wet litter can be the ideal environment of contamination of feet injuries and also the slippery surface that may cause locomotive lesions.
Due to the aforementioned, it is important to provide fresh feed to the animals and ensure that feed is changed twice a day or even more often. The presence of feed in the feeders between each meal should also be avoided. These practices will prevent fungal contamination of feed and litter. The feeding and drinking areas should be cleaned and the litter should be changed frequently, at least twice a week.
Circular drinking systems can be placed with rehydrating solutions based on salts and sugars. A few days after the arrival, feeders and drinking system can be replaced from circular ones to other more closed designs.
MANAGEMENT IN COMMERCIAL DUCK PRODUCTION
Cloacal sexing must be carried out, since feather sexing is not possible. It is a more laborious and invasive method that can stress animals and increase neonatal mortality. Therefore, in duck breeds with little sex dimorphism, such as the Pekin duck, sexing is not usually done in commercial duck production.
On the contrary, the differences between sexes begin at 3 weeks of age in the Muscovy breed. In addition, competitiveness for feed can have a negative effect on the females if the production is mixed, so it is recommended to raise females and males separately.
Peak trimming is also performed in some breeds, particularly in Muscovy ducks, due to their dominance.
FEED IN COMMERCIAL DUCK PRODUCTION
Feed formulation in commercial duck production is conditioned by the final objectives to be achieved (final weight and days of the cycle are variable according to local market demand). It is important to know the growth curve and adjust it to the requirements. If animals grow too fast, they can develop locomotion and lameness problems. The decision should also be based on cost and ingredient availability.
Ducks can adjust feed intake based on the energy concentration of the diet. Therefore, formulations of medium or low energy can be used depending on the cost per kcal of metabolizable energy (ME) from 4 weeks of life, taking advantage of cheaper cereal by-products, obtaining good yields. Due to the type of growth, ducks usually have a conversion rate close to 3.
Ducks have superior compensatory growth capacity than other birds, so growth losses at the start of the cycle can be recovered from 4 weeks of age. Hence, their growth can be adjusted to avoid a greater incidence of locomotive problems.
In general, starter feeds for the first two weeks of life are usually very rich in protein (20-22%) and prepared as pellets of 2-3 mm in diameter and less than 10 mm in length. The bibliography indicates that the initial protein supply can be reduced thanks to the compensatory growth that ducks can carry out later. Although, it should be noted that initial protein concentration maximizes the productive parameters of ducklings, and a protein deficiency in this stage can increase the problems of itching and cannibalism.
Protein concentration of the diet ranges between 12 and 18% from 3 weeks of age till the end of the cycle. Due to the wide range of energy concentrations used in the species, the protein needs are expressed per unit of energy and not in absolute values.
Duck requirements in vitamins, trace minerals and aminoacids, especially methionine and lysine as limiting aminoacids, have been poorly studied and, generally, the values used are extrapolated from the chicken data. Ducks are known to require more vitamin A and nicotinic acid than broilers. The lack of specific information for the species, together with the greater growth than chickens, makes the safety margins of these ingredients to be broader than in chickens.
Ducks are particularly sensitive to the deficiency of available phosphorus in the diet and, therefore, the inclusion of exogenous phytases in the diet is common, using the equivalence established for broilers.
HOUSING IN COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION
Commercial duck production is carried out in extensive, semi-extensive and intensive systems. Extensive production is frequent in Asia, while in Europe the intensive system predominates. This fact may be related to the climate, the labour and land extension required.
Intensive duck production has grown significantly in China and Southeast Asia, the United States, Latin America, especially in Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, and Europe, in countries such as France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Intensive systems have the following advantages: higher number of ducks produced, cleaner environment, since ducks do not have access to water for bathing, better control of environmental conditions and better biosecurity to avoid infectious diseases transmitted by wild animals. The density of animals in duck production is of 5-6 animals/m2, much lower than in broilers (15-20 birds/m2).
The farm floor can be made of litter, slats or a combination of the two types. The materials frequently used as litter are straw, shavings and rice husks, depending on availability.
Facilities with litter require more work, personnel, and materials to keep them clean and dry. If management is poor, foot pad lesions may appear. If maintenance is adequate, there are usually fewer joint problems. Facilities with slats suppose less daily work and a cleaner environment, although it can lead to more joint problems.
In free-range, semi-extensive or extensive production systems, animals often have access to water for bathing. These systems are more influenced by environmental temperature, they have a higher risk of mortality from predators and higher risk of infection of diseases transmitted by wild animals, such as avian influenza. Despite this, the economic investment of the facilities is low, the lighting costs are lower, the ducks have better bone density because they have greater mobility, and the feeding costs are reduced, since the feed can be supplemented with the intake of animals present in water ponds, such as insects, frogs, fish, or snakes. Performance in this type of production can also be satisfactory.
Ducks have the instinct to go into the water if they have access to it. Ducklings younger than one month of life should not have access to water because their plumage does not have the ability to repel water like adults and they could quickly lose their body temperature and vitality.
If the animals have access to an open-air park, it should be properly fenced and closed to avoid wild predators. It is advisable that birds go outside from 15-20 days of life, from mid-morning to afternoon, to ensure mobility and improve the closed environment of the facilities. They can finish their growth housed permanently in the park.
Commercial duck production is carried out in extensive, semi-extensive and intensive systems. Extensive systems are frequent in Asia, while in Europe the intensive system predominates.
Ducks are generally rustic animals which have a lower incidence of disease than other domestic birds. They can easily adapt to simple, low-investment facilities, and can show satisfactory performance under these conditions.
The reception of the animals is a critical point in the production cycle. Comfort conditions must be ensured so that ducklings can start eating and drinking as soon as possible, to ensure a good weight at one week of life and reduce neonatal mortality.
Proper cleaning of the drinking systems, feeders and flooring is essential in this species, since a poor state of the facilities can offer the ideal conditions for the growth of pathogens.
The length of the cycle on commercial duck production depends on the breed, market, final product required, and production system used. Ducks are able to adjust feed intake based on the energy concentration of the formulation and they have better compensatory growth than other birds. Therefore, in formulations with a medium or low energy can be used in part of the cycle without excessively affecting conversion rates and performance.