Everything You Need to Know About Waterfowl

Which Breeds Make the Best Pets

Look at the colors and descriptions. Which appeal to you? For ducks, the larger breeds (Pekin, Rouen, Blue Swedish, Buff, Cayuga) are normally the calmest. Remember that the Mallard and Muscovy can fly. Get several different breeds for a variety of colors and shapes. For geese, there are no hard rules, but the Large Dewlap Toulouse, Sebastopol, Canada, Buff, Tufted Buff, Pilgrim and Roman Tufted seem the calmest. Chinese and African are the noisiest.

When to Move Them Outside

This depends on the weather. If it is warm, they can probably venture outside during the warmer part of the day at one week of age. Keep them in a small area so they can get back to a warm, protected area if they need. They need to be protected from rain until they are about six weeks of age when they are almost completely feathered. If the weather is not warm, you may need to keep them confined until they are six to seven weeks of age. The best thing is to watch them. If they appear cold or huddle together, bring them back inside.

When They Become Completely Feathered

By seven weeks, they should be covered with feathers. Rouens and Mallard males will not get their brightly colored feathers until about 15 weeks of age. Until then, males and females look alike.

When They Start Swimming

It is safest to wait until they are five weeks or more of age. Oftentimes they can handle it at an earlier age if provided water that is easy to enter and exit, that is shallow while the rest of their pen is dry.

When They Start Laying Eggs

Ducks are sexually mature at 20-24 weeks of age. If they have the correct feed and lighting, they will start laying then. Otherwise, they will start as soon as the days begin to lengthen and it warms up. Normally geese start laying the next spring. Occasionally they will lay a few eggs in the fall. When they start mating and laying, make sure you switch to a breeder/layer feed with more protein, calcium, and vitamins.

How to Get Them to Lay Eggs in Nests and Sit on Them

The best nest provides protection from rain and sun and gives the female a sense of security. It should have three walls, a roof, and a low front to keep the nesting material in the nest box. For ducks it should be about 15”x 15” and for geese it should be at least 24” x 24”. Fill it with straw, wood shavings or rice hulls. You can put a chicken or fake egg in it to further entice them but you cannot force them to sit on their eggs. The Muscovy, Mallard and Khaki Campbell are very good at sitting on their own eggs. For the other breeds, it depends on the individual bird. Most goose breeds will sit on their own eggs. They do not start sitting on the eggs until the nest is full, normally 12-15 eggs.

Life Expectancy

Ducks can live to 7-10 years and geese normally live 10-15 years. The main cause of death seems to be dogs or predators.

How to Tell Males from Females

For ducks, the male is slightly larger with a heavier neck and head. They will also develop a curly feather on their tail. The easiest way to tell them apart is with their voice. Males have a deep, raspy voice. Females have the typical “Quack”. For geese, the males walk a bit prouder and strut around a bit more. Their voice is also louder and shriller, and they are slightly larger than the females. The only way to know for sure is to vent sex them which is difficult without a bit of training.

Appropriate Number of Males and Females

For ducks it depends on the space they have and the flock size. If you have 10 or less, you can have pairs. Over this, you need to provide plenty of room or reduce the number of males. Unless you have a large pen with plenty of hiding areas, the ratio should be one male for every three to five females if your flock is over 25. The problem with too many males is they will become very aggressive sexually and will harm some of the weaker females. Geese can be kept as pairs with far fewer problems. In a large commercial operation, however, you would have one gander for every 2.5 to 3.5 females.

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