Raising Ducks in Your Backyard

We started with a pair of adult ducks – male and female. We kept them in a bamboo fenced area of about 20 square meters. We clipped their wings so they wouldn’t fly over the fence. We provided a large basin of water for them to swim in. We built a small scrap wood shelter for them too. We fed them chicken pellets, pig pellets, kitchen scraps. Our free range native chickens sometimes ate with the two ducks and we had no troubles with that. We even kept a piglet in that area for a while.

After a few weeks, the hen started laying eggs under the bamboo grove. We got excited! To protect the nest, we placed a roof made of wood and tarp over it. By then the ducks have become accustomed to their new home so we removed the bamboo fence. They roamed freely in an open area of about 1,500 square meters. But they always stayed near where we fed them. After 35 days, 12 ducklings hatched and all grew up to become our first flock of ducks. There were no fatalities.

Should you decide to raise ducks in your backyard, here are some tips to help you get started. These ideas may be suitable for backyard settings with an area of about 25 to 1000 square meters, a natural environment, not concrete, for a flock of 2 to 25 ducks.

Before Getting Your Ducks…

Plan ahead. Consider the following.

Protect Your Plants

Little ducklings won’t be a problem. But as they get older, from 4 weeks on-wards, they will start feasting on your plants. A group of 6-8 week old ducklings can kill a banana plant, demolish a gabi patch and dig up camote, ubi, singkamas tubers. If you have a leafy vegetable patch, the ducks will eat the veggies. They will kill squash fruits and flowers. So you will need to protect your plants if you want to let your ducks roam freely in your garden.

Young ducks attacking corn plants.

Fence your plants with bamboo, scrap wood, chicken wire or netting. The fencing doesn’t need to be very high. A foot high will do. Raised vegetable plots also discourage ducks from attacking. To prevent ducks from attacking the soft trunk of banana and stems of gabi plants, you may also grow thick and sturdy ornamentals around the base of these plants. Twigs, branches, and mulch from grass and dry leaves may also discourage ducks from entering a no-go zone.

Ducks foraging kangkong and camote tops.

Alternatively, you can fence your ducks in a part of your backyard, away from the most precious plants in your garden. A fence about a foot high should be sufficient. If ducks fly over, trim their wings. Be sure that ducks have enough space to wander around. Unless you have lots of ducks in a small space, they aren’t really motivated or determined enough to destroy most ornamentals. Ducks can’t reach the fruits of shrubs and fruit trees. Grass should be okay, but in a small space with a lot of ducks, grass can be killed by ducks trampling and by the build up of effluent.

Protect Your Ducks

When you bring home your ducks, they will want to escape and go back to where they came from. You’ll need to get them accustomed to their new home. You can do this by caging or fencing them in your preferred location for the first 2-4 weeks. Ducks will stay where they are fed, watered and treated well.

At the same time, caging or fencing will protect your vulnerable ducklings from predators such as cats, dogs, large lizards, snakes and birds of prey.

Food and Water

Give your ducks and ducklings water as soon as they arrive. After an hour or so, you can start giving them food. For ducklings, chick booster pellets, crumble or piglet starter is fine. Don’t give pollard, hog mash or rice hull. It will clog up their crops and kill them. If you notice something is wrong with their crops, give them a bowl of sand and water. The sand may help them unclog their crops.

Adult ducks can eat commercial duck feed. If duck feed isn’t available, chicken or pig pellets is fine. Kitchen scraps, grated coconuts, hog mash, pollard, azolla, duckweed, banana trunks, de-boned fish trimmings, etc. are all fine. Ducks also eat mosquitoes and other insects. Give the ducks a varied diet, not just commercial feeds. If you have lots of surplus food, you won’t need commercial feeds at all.

Basically, ducklings and young ducks will need 18-25% or more protein in their diet, while adult ducks can do fine with 12-14% protein.

Feed adult ducks twice a day – early morning and late afternoon. Ducklings can be fed three times a day. However, ducks will look for food almost all day.

So, to keep your ducks away from your plants, you can give them something to forage on. Look at what you have in surplus. Papaya? Bananas? Coconuts? Just cut them open and leave on the ground for the ducks to find. We love coconuts – we cut them open and leave on the ground and the ducks will spend many happy hours on those. The coconuts will also attract flies and other insects which the ducks will love to eat.

 

Rest and Recreation

It is imperative that you provide water for bathing. Ducks need to clean themselves and swim. In a small backyard, a basin of water will do. A plastic container cut in half also works fine. Have several of these if you have lots of ducks. Larger yards can have a pond built especially for ducks. Design ponds that have drainage or overflow and are easy to clean. Duck ponds can be 6 inches to 3 feet deep or preferably sloping, and should be about 1 square meter area per duck.

In this video (below), we use the shallow plastic lid of a bucket as swimming basin for ducklings. There are 8 newly hatched ducklings with their mother. Don’t use a deep basin in such a case. If you do, the mother will attempt to swim in the basin and she will crush and drown her ducklings. If you want the mother to swim with her ducklings you must build a pool that is large enough for all of them.

In this video (below), a duck bathes in a tray of water. This shallow basin poses less danger than a basin that is deep. Ducklings can get trapped and drown in a deep basin.

Nesting

Ducks will mate and start laying eggs at around 6-8 months of age. They will look for nesting places in their environment. In our experience, ducks will lay their eggs on the ground away from view. They will not lay eggs in elevated nesting boxes lined with cloths, sacks, dry grass etc. like chickens do.

In these photos (below), we use scrap wood as nesting houses for ducks. Our ducks love these. We have nesting houses under the house, under the dirty kitchen and under a bamboo grove. Put nesting houses in locations that don’t get flooded.

 

A brooding duck hen is very vulnerable. Give her privacy, keep her nesting area secure, away from aggressive drakes and predators. If snakes and monitor lizards are a constant problem, you may need to secure the entire duck area with netting. If you have an aggressive drake, separate him from the vulnerable hens and ducklings. A hen will sometimes kill her newly hatched ducklings if she feels threatened.

In the photo below, a duck has made a coconut tree stump as her nest. This wasn’t a safe place because it is frequented by monitor lizards that eat duck eggs.

Ducks have different rearing behaviours, some make very good mothers while others don’t. Most ducks make good mothers if kept in a safe environment.

Duck Behaviour and Socialisation

When introducing new ducks to an existing flock, segregate the new ducks for a while. If you introduce a new drake to a flock with a drake, they will fight to establish hierarchy.  The advantage of a large backyard space is that ducks can flee from aggression and the likelihood of injury and fatality is minimised. Once hierarchy is established there will be very little if any fighting.

In the video below, if there is ample space, ducklings can escape from aggression.

Ducks are notorious for their aggressive mating behaviour. Drakes can kill duck hens and her ducklings. If you have a flock of ducks, don’t let the hens sit on eggs or rear ducklings all at the same time. There will be no hens for the drake and he will attempt to mate with brooding hens, breaking eggs and killing small ducklings.

In our experience, ducks socialise fine with native chickens in a free range environment. As long as there’s enough space, animals can escape from fights and aggression. Otherwise, they get trapped. Native chickens can be quite aggressive – in fact, they are much more aggressive than ducks. A hen with chicks or a rooster can peck a small duckling and kill it. So if you keep ducks in a small confined space, keep them separate from native chickens.

In the video below, a duck protects her ducklings from piglets foraging in the garden.

Messy Ducks?

Ducks are messy. They poop all the time. And the poop is a huge stream of muck. This isn’t too bad on a surface of rough grass and weeds, but can be dangerously slippery on concrete, compacted soil and walkways. I’ve had a few accidents slipping on duck poop. It can get quite dangerous during the rainy season too.

We discovered that one way to minimize the muck is to acidify the duck’s drinking water. We haven’t tried vinegar but what we’ve found citric acid to be quite effective. 1-2 teaspoons in a liter of water seem sufficient, just don’t put more than 5% in the water. Proper acidification improves gut health and digestion, resulting in more solid poop and healthier ducks. It also reduces irritating odors. Experiment and see what works for your ducks.

We also noticed that acidification results to thickening of blood. If you find this a problem when you slaughter ducks (and chickens), withhold the acidification in water for 2-3 days before slaughter.

Disease

Over the past years of keeping ducks, we have never had disease. We never saw the need to use antibiotics or multivitamins. Our duck fatalities were all due to drake aggression, accidental trampling in a feeding frenzy, ducks going into the pigpen and getting eaten by pigs and overfeeding of very young ducklings.

Strangely, we also noticed that since introducing ducks into our flock of native chickens, we’ve had a marked decrease in disease amongst the native chickens. We can only speculate that the ducks have brought in immunity to pathogens amongst our native chickens. We are yet to find studies that confirm or explain our experience.

Good Luck and Enjoy Your Ducks!

As long as your ducks are not overcrowded and are treated well, they should be fine. Ducks are sturdy, very robust animals. They are one of the easiest animals to keep in a backyard setting.

We hope that this bit of information helps you in your backyard duck-raising journey. Just leave a comment if you have any questions and we’ll do our best to answer them.

Duck Patrol

We keep ducks and native chickens together free range. Ducks rarely wander far from where they are fed and watered. Chickens can be more troublesome. Older roosters chase away the younger ones, hens pick fights with each other and with the ducks, killing chicks and ducklings that get caught in between.

But over the years, things have become more or less established, particularly, the hierarchy amongst the fowls. For one, there is less aggression amongst the ducks and between ducks and chickens. However, aggression amongst the chickens hasn’t really changed much, except for one thing: the ducks are putting a stop to it.

In the video above, a younger rooster challenges the older white rooster to a fight. A female duck steps in to stop the fight and she gets attacked by the younger rooster. So the drake steps in and the younger rooster runs off.

In the video above, two hens are fighting while some of the ducks look on. A female duck with 7 ducklings couldn’t stand it and decides to step in to stop the fight. The fighting doesn’t stop so she returns and manages to drive off the two hens.

And now, quite a common occurrence in the behaviour of young roosters recently, since the hens are often all already taken by the alpha rooster:

Ducklings, Fingers Crossed

Our duck population is now down to only 4 ducks — one drake (Daddy Duck) and three duck hens, two of which are white and one is brown with a beak deformity, we call her Twisty.

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Duck and Hen stand-off. The hens have learned to engage in less fighting.

Twisty was given to us in exchange for one of our ducks some 2 years ago. Because she was only a little duckling then, we didn’t notice her deformity until later. The owner told us that Twisty’s siblings have all died because they were unable to feed themselves. We managed to keep Twisty alive by feeding her separately from the other ducks. She is able to eat better if given food in a deep container. Otherwise, it is impossible for her to pick up food from the ground with her beak.

twistydeformity

A few months ago we took the risk of letting Twisty sit on her eggs. We assumed she would have deformed ducklings but we already knew a way of keeping them alive by separating them and using deep feeding trays. We wouldn’t let them breed anyhow but would just cull them when they get big. But that never happened. Twisty’s eggs never hatched. It is possible that Twisty is infertile, the work of natural selection. So from now on we will keep Twisty just for the eggs, she’s a very good layer.

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The other two ducks successfully hatched their eggs this week – one duck has 3 ducklings and the other has 7. Hopefully, this will be the start of a new younger generation of ducks for us to revitalise the dwindling population. I’ve learned that it is best to keep a young population of duck hens, no more than 3 years old.

Slowing Down on the Ducks

Here is a video from four months back. We had two ducks hatch eggs, a total of 12 ducklings. From this we ended up with only 6 ducklings. Mortality rate remains high. The fatalities were due to trampling by other ducks during fights and feeding, and savaging by pigs.

Good rearing behaviour in ducks seems to be inherited. Some ducks are better than others. One duck managed to keep 6 out of 8 ducks alive. While the other duck had all her ducklings killed within a few days because she insisted on bringing them to the boar. Not very smart.

Ducks have not been laying much as well. This may be due to two factors: first is insufficient nutrition and second is the disturbance caused by roof renovation from March until May. I have taken measures to provide better higher protein feeds although things have not completely settled down yet. One duck has started laying eggs.

I am not devoting a lot of time to the ducks. I spend more time looking after a boar and two sows. I am still hopeful that the ducks will manage – will learn – to look after themselves insofar as breeding is concerned.

Cooking them Old Ducks

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This is duck breast – cooked in its own fat ala duck confit – then seared in a non-stick pan to crisp the skin. Instead of a soggy, bland stew, duck confit is – in my opinion – the best way to cook a duck more than 6 months old. At this age, the meat of the duck begins to toughen. By cooking in its own fat is it possible to realise superb tenderness and taste. Below I describe how I prepared this way of cooking duck.

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Half of the duck breast served with rice and the Bohol-anon ‘law-uy’, simple foraged vegetable greens.
  1. For this batch, I use 3 large adult ducks, age 6 months to over 1 year. You must select duck that is very fat to produce the appropriate amount of fat. The dressed weight of the duck is 1.7 to 2.5kg. Better if you can get bigger than 2 kg.
  2. The duck is washed and cleaned. I rub the skin of the duck with salt to clean it thoroughly. Then I cut the duck into large pieces: wings, breasts, legs, backbone, neck. I cut at the joints and never break any bones.
  3. The fat and skin of the duck is removed and set aside as these will be used to render duck fat. However, DO NOT remove the skin on the breasts and legs. The skin on these portions of duck must be kept on to keep the meat moist, flavourful and to produce the crisp skin that is most sought after in duck dishes.
  4. The duck pieces are salted and rubbed with herbs and spices. I used thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, pepper. For each kilo of duck, I used only 1 tsp of salt. I did not use a lot of salt because this dish is not a way to preserve the duck for extended period of time. If your purpose is to preserve the duck, then you must follow the French way of making duck confit.
  5. I placed the duck pieces in a sealed plastic container and kept it in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You can marinate longer if you wish, for example, overnight.
  6. A good stainless steel or cast iron pot may be used, large enough to put all the duck inside. Begin by placing the pieces of duck skin and fat in the pot first. Next, place the duck wings, neck, and backbone. These are pieces of duck that has fat and skin and will be rendered. Keep the breasts and legs for later cooking. In the pot pour a cup of water.
  7. Start to render the duck fat by heating at medium high. Keep the pot covered at all times. When the water starts to boil, lower the heat to keep simmering. Keep the pot covered at all times. In my experience, the fat is fully rendered in 15 to 30 minutes! It is fast if you have a good fat duck and good pot.
  8. Transfer all the duck fat to another pot where you will cook the duck breasts and legs. I had enough duck fat to cover all the legs and breasts of 3 ducks. Place the duck breasts and legs into the oil. Place one head of crushed garlic in the pot.
  9. Cover the pot and cook over medium high heat until he oil boils. When the oil boils, lower the heat to maintain simmering. Simmer for 1 hour and turn off the heat and let sit – DO NOT OPEN THE LID OF THE POT – for another hour. The duck will continue cooking.
  10. Open the pot and inspect the duck meat.Use a fork to check if it is tender enough. Otherwise, simmer again in oil.
  11. The duck may be kept this way in oil in the pot and reheated everyday to keep from spoiling. The duck should keep well for several days but no more than 1 week.
  12. To prepare the duck, all I do is scoop out some duck fat into a non-stick pan. Then I place the duck breast/legs with the skin down and cook until the skin is brown and crisp. Place the duck breast/legs on a plate and garnish with vegetables or serve with stew.

The result is absolutely tender, absolutely delicious duck. It is not necessary to have young fattened duck for this way of cooking duck. Try it. Bon appétit!

Duck Patrol

When ducks gather round something, you better have a look…

Duck Burgers

A few days ago, I got some ground beef and ground pork from the supermarket. I wanted to make some burger patties. They are great served with salad vegetables. Here, the burger patties are served with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, onions and grilled red bell peppers.

fatsburgers

The spices and seasonings added to making these patties are:

Flour or oatmeal or bread
Egg, salt, pepper and sugar
Curry powder blend (yellow)
Fresh milk or cream
Dijon mustard
Soy sauce
Minced onion
DIY Nutritional Yeast (instead of MSG)
Phosphate dissolved in water and a bit of salt

Mix with 500 grams of ground pork and 500 grams of ground beef.

Sugar and phosphate should be kept at a minimum (1/2 tsp). You can opt not to use phosphate which may result in a drier meat burger. If you do use phosphate, remember that maximum usage levels in meat products are 0.5% (8 oz per 100 lbs, 500 grams per 100 kg) of your finished products.

Now what is DIY nutritional yeast? “Nutritional Yeast” is available in shops and is often used as an ingredient in cheese-like sauces in vegan dishes. If you cant find it you can make your own. It is simply active dry yeast that was made to rise then cooked until dry in a non-stick pan. The thin crepe-like yeast is then crumbled and kept in a sealed container until use. The taste of “nutritional yeast” is very similar to the unami taste of monosodium glutamate. Therefore it is a great and healthier flavour enhancer.

The result are delicious, tender, juicy burgers! And of course I just had to try making these burgers using duck!

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Pork/Beef Burgers on the left and Duck burgers on the right!

I took out some duck from the confit pot, took the meat off the bones. To this is added the phosphate dissolved in water and placed in a chopper (or blender/food processor). The processed duck meat will look a bit like pâté. Place the processed duck meat and add the rest of the ingredients. Take a teaspoon of the mixture and fry it and taste. Add necessary ingredients to suit your taste.

Place the mixture in the fridge to firm up, then shape into patties and fry. Keep the rest of the patties in the freezer.

The burgers are fantastic! I love them and I’ll make thicker ones to go wth bread. Although the taste of the two different types of burgers are quite similar because of the same spices used, the textures are different. Duck burgers have a more chewy texture, a bit like using corned beef or pulled pork to make burgers. I am thinking that perhaps it is better to chop the meat with a knife rather than mincing them in a food processor. Next time!

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Making Balut from Muscovy Duck Eggs

 

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I finally did it! Made my own balut! A duck hen has been sitting on a nest of eggs and for some reason she decided to push out two eggs. So I took the eggs and tried candling them with a small LED flashlight in a dark room (the bathroom, actually). I saw just next to the air sac what seemed to be large dark areas, the embryo of the egg.

Turning these eggs into balut is easy — just boil them! Hard boiled! Here are the results. Cracked open, they look like balut, smell like balut and taste like balut, delicious! I was wondering of Muscovy duck eggs could be made into balut, since most of what I read say it has to be the mallard. Well, these eggs are good enough!

I think that the main reason why mallards (and pekin ducks) are often used for balut is that the hens are not as broody as the Muscovy duck hen. The Muscovy will try to hatch out ALL her eggs and she will get upset if anybody keeps stealing her eggs!

Anyway, if you’re new to balut, you can learn more about it on Wikipedia! Oh, by the way, don’t look at the photos below if you’re squeamish! ?

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The Versatile Duck

Since butchering 8 ducks two weeks ago, I’ve been able to explore more duck dishes, certainly, finding the best and most convenient way of cooking duck. Since being busy with sow Number 1 and her piglets, I don’t really have the time to prepare and cook complicated duck dishes.

The most convenient way to keep duck is by cooking and preserving it in oil. The French call it “confit.” Here, the duck fat is rendered and this fat is used to cook and preserve the duck. If not enough fat is produced, it is acceptable to use suitable cooking oil.

The process of making duck confit involves salting the duck with salt and a variety of herbs, keeping that overnight or so, then cooking in oil. In my case, not having the leisure of such preparations, I simply cut up the duck and put it in a pot of coconut oil.

A small amount of aromatic herb is placed in the oil — some thyme, star anise and a bit of laurel leaf. A bit of salt and pepper. And that’s it — the pot is heated up every now and then over the next couple of weeks, adding new duck in as the pot is emptied, keeping the oil and adding extra oil if necessary.

The best thing about this method is that you can take out a bit of duck meat and prepare that in any way you wish. Because the duck has been cooked in oil until tender, it doesn’t take much time to whip out a duck dish.

duckstewwithvegetables

duckconfitpanfriedwithkashmirchillies

duckbreastwithtomatosauce

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ducklegsliverwithnoodles

 

Some of the dishes I’ve prepared are these (see photos). The easiest is to get some duck legs or breast and braise that in oil, tomatoes, salt and pepper, or some kashmir chilies. I have also made duck stew with vegetables which has a brown duck sauce base and some potatoes and carrots. Here, the duck meat can be shreds of meat off the backbone, wings and neck.

One of my favourite experiments is “corned duck.” I love corned beef and I really just had to create that same taste and texture with duck meat. I selected duck breast now truly tender from cooking in oil. This meat is flaked and set aside. Next is chop up some onions which will be browned in oil to caramelise. You can add garlic here if you wish. Next, the shredded duck breast is added together with salt, pepper, a bit of sage, a bit of allspice powder and star anise. The result is absolutely fantastic. Duck meat resembles beef and using shredded duck meat with spices commonly used in corned beef or salted beef preparations produce such a remarkable dish. I love the long shreds of duck meat! I only regret that I didn’t have enough duck fat to add to this!

Other ways of cooking duck I’ve tried are: duck curry, duck noodle soup and duck spring rolls. All coming from a pot of duck confit!

So there — over the last 2 weeks we’ve cooked and consumed 4 ducks and served guests as well. We still have 4 more ducks to go and I don’t get tired of eating duck because it can be prepared in a variety of ways. Bon appétit!

The Retarded Ducklings

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These are 5-week old ducklings and they look horrific. There were 17 of these hatched and as of today there are 5 ducklings left. How can such a thing happen?

Three weeks ago our sow Number 1 farrowed. This meant all of my attention went to Number 1 and her piglets. I also became very busy with the boar Bootleg who became sick and didn’t eat for nearly 5 days. With all of my time devoted to the pigs, I delegated the feeding of ducklings to someone else.

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The result are these. These ducklings were overfed. Their crops expanded bigger than their bodies. These ducklings were also overfed with adult duck food: hog mash with rice hull mixed with chopped banana trunks. Such types of food given at enormous quantities block and damage the crops of these birds. This result to a distorted growth and shape of the ducklings and an appearance that make them look stunted or retarded. Their eyes are sunken and stark as if they were mad.

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A couple of months ago, I was able to salvage a group of ducklings from a similar morbid fate. I saw the signs of overfeeding: blocked crops larger than their bodies, stark look in their eyes, wet and unruly feathers. If not too late, the ducklings may be rescued by changing their feed immediately to one that is easily digestible, for example, a simple pelleted feed base that has at least 14% protein. To help the ducklings unblock their crops, I placed a small basin of sand and water in their pen. Ducks use sand and small rocks to aid in digesting and grinding food in their crops.

However, 12 of these duckling were beyond repair. The remaining 5 don’t look any better. I didn’t see the problem sooner. For some reason, no matter how many times we explain, our caretaker couldn’t quite understand why animals shouldn’t be overfed. Out of a great love for the creatures, she became quite capable of killing them.

So, if you’re keeping ducklings, don’t overfeed them. Ducks are natural gluttons and they will gorge themselves, something which can be fatal to young ducklings.

As they say, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. You can’t go on a holiday.