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May 25, 2018

Male vs Female: How to Identify Adult Ducks


A common question we get is if a duck is a male or female. This can be determined using a few different methods. Most ducks can be identified by using a couple of physical attributes while others can be identified by their coloring.

Size

Simply put, male ducks are usually bigger than females. The size of the head and body are usually bigger and bulkier. Of course, there are exceptions such as with an abnormally small male or abnormally large female, but this is a good general start.

 

 

 



Tail

A male duck of all common breeds (except the Muscovy) grows a distinctly curled feather in its tail. The lack of a curly feather, however, does not indicate a female as it could have been pulled or molted. However, a curly feather does indicate a male. The curly feather appears within about eight weeks.


As an interesting aside, the reason all domestic male ducks (besides the Muscovy) have curly feathers is because they all originated from the Mallard breed and Mallard males have a curly feather on their tail. You look at all other wild ducks - Teals, Wood, Mandarin, Shoveler, Canvasback, etc - and none of the males have a curly feather on their tail. Only the Mallard male has a curly feather - so that is one of the reasons we know that all domestic ducks where the male has a curly feather originate from Mallards.

Voice

Sadly, the cute chirp of a duckling starts to change within several weeks. By eight to ten weeks males have a deep, raspy voice while females maintain the loud QUACK. For practice you can listen to our video of male and female duck’s voices.


Coloring

There are breeds of ducks that are sex-linked in their coloring. The best examples are the Mallard and Rouen breeds. Both males and females start as a black and yellow ducklings and turn brown once they get their first feathers. But when they start to get another set of feathers at about 12 weeks, the males begin to get their green heads, cinnamon chest and silver belly. For some other breeds like the Buff, Fawn and White Runner, Khaki Campbell, Welsh Harlequin and Silver Appleyard, the males will have a different coloration in their head and/or body feathers, though not as striking as the Mallard and Rouen.

Some breeds have a different colored bill for males and females. This is true of the Khaki Campbell and Welsh Harlequin where the males have lighter colored bill than the females.

If All Else Fails

If you still cannot determine the sex by the size, tail, voice, or coloring, there is vent sexing. We will be covering this in a future post, so stay tuned.

March 23, 2018

Golden 300 Hybrid and White Layer Ducks


Golden 300 Hybrid ducks
The Golden 300 Hybrid was developed by us in 1996 in order to meet customer demand for ducks that produce a high volume of eggs but are calmer than the Khaki Campbell. Several years after that the White Layer was developed as customers wanted a duck that had a lighter colored embryo for balut purposes.

White Layer ducks
The Golden 300 and the White Layer are our top egg layers, capable of laying 230 eggs in 40 weeks of production or 290 eggs if they lay for a full year. The only difference we have found between these two strains is the White Layer lays about 1-2% blue/green eggs and the Golden 300 lays about 5% of blue/green eggs. Otherwise they are identical in terms of egg production, egg size, shell strength, etc.

We crossed different breeds of ducks together to make the Golden 300, the breeds of which are a secret! Since the Golden 300 and White Layer are composed of different breeds, they have quite a bit of hybrid vigor and typically have less mortality and live longer than most other breeds. Their eggs are not as large as a Pekin but they produce many more and … produce much less manure!

Male Golden 300 Hybrid ducklings
As ducklings, the sex of the Golden 300 can be determined by their down color. Female ducklings are shades of brown including light brown, chocolate brown, and combinations of brown and yellow, while males are shades of black ranging from stark black to different patterns of black and yellow. As adults, the female can range in color from a light brown to a dark brown with patches of white. Adult males have a much darker plumage ranging in color from all black to black with a white chest to almost a male Rouen appearance. The White Layer, on the other hand, has to be vent sexed as both male and female are yellow as ducklings and white as adults.

If you produce babies from our Golden 300 they will not retain these characteristics of females being brown and males being black. You will hatch all colors, including white, with no relationship between the color and the sex. The White Layer, however, breeds true, meaning the White Layers will produce more white ducks.

Typically they also have great temperaments making them good as pets. We have had some customers, however, that tell us their White Layers and Golden 300 are very nervous and we have had other customers tell us their birds are calm. This is puzzling to us as the genetics does not change. So what causes this wide swings in temperament?

Female Golden 300 Hybrid ducklings
I phoned Dave Holderread, waterfowl breeder and author, and he also agreed that some birds can be nervous and others calm from the same breed. His only guess is that there is a period in their early lives where they are very susceptible to and impressionable by fear. They are scared by a dog, or they are caught and handled by a person, or light movements at night scare them and they are not only terrified but are nervous from that point on.

Can we tell you when that susceptible period is? No. Can we tell you when that period ends? No. All we can say is to allow them to have plenty of room to move away from you in their pen (if they are running or flapping you are moving too close or too fast), warn them you are coming (rattle your keys, whistle, sing, knock on the door or simply talk to them as you approach) and do not overcrowd them. You can always give your birds treats from the very beginning but you cannot count on the treats to totally overcome a traumatic event that makes them overly nervous.

People ask how much egg production will drop in the second generation if our Golden 300 or White Layers are used as breeders. We do not know for sure but our guess is the progeny will lay 5-8% fewer eggs than the birds you purchased from us. We are also asked how much production drops in their second and third years of production. The rule of thumb is a drop of about 8-10% per year.
White Layer duckling
You cannot find a better egg laying duck than the Golden 300 or White Layer. Whether you just want a few ducks for your own family’s needs or you want a commercial flock to sell eggs to farmers markets, bakeries and restaurants, the Golden 300 and White Layer are the ducks for you.


Breed
Temperament
Weight
Egg Production
Mothering
Bluish Eggs
Egg Size
Golden 300 Hybrid
Calm
4.5-5.75 pounds
200-290/year
Fair
5%
75-90 grams
Fertility
APA Class
Foraging Ability
Conservation Status
Our Show Quality
Flying Ability
Origin
93%
NA
Good
No Rank
Not Shown
None
Metzer Farms



Breed
Temperament
Weight
Egg Production
Mothering
Bluish Eggs
Egg Size
White Layer
Calm
4.5-5.75pounds
200-290/year
Fair
1-2%
75-90 grams
Fertility
APA Class
Foraging Ability
Conservation Status
Our Show Quality
Flying Ability
Origin
93%
NA
Good
No Rank
Not for Exhibition
None
Metzer Farms





March 16, 2018

Feed Mill




For both commercial farms and backyard hobbyists, feed mills are a necessity of life. Feed mills are able to consistently produce quality feed for our animals with the nutrition they need. But what actually occurs in a feed mill?

L A Hearne has been our source of feed for over 30 years and we were recently invited for a tour of their mill located in King City, California. Their manager, Mike Hearne, was very enthusiastic about showing us around, starting with the outside of the mill.


Marc Metzer on left, Mike Hearne on right
Every Thursday a train car rolls in with a delivery of corn which is emptied into a vent under the rails. The corn is then transferred to their grain storage building which contains different kinds of grain including corn, oats, barley, and rice.


Train car that carries the feed.
The mill caters to hundreds of customers including feed stores and other commercial growers, all with different feed needs for different animals ranging from our ducks, to horses, to rabbits! The feed is usually sold in bulk to commercial customers and put in 20, 50 and 80 pound bags for their feed store customers. All our feed is delivered in bulk - meaning it is augered directly from the feed truck into our feed tanks, and each truck has 24 tons of feed.
Feed truck delivering feed to our farm!

Bag for rabbit feed!

Some of the grain storage.
Determining what grain and additives to use and in what quantities in a feed ration is a fairly complex process with several factors needed to be taken into consideration. We will cover this in another post in the future.

Feed is made in batches of two tons. Prior to being ground and mixed, all the grains are sent through a sifter to remove any broken pieces of grain and any contaminates. The sifted grains are then sent into a grinder in preparation to be turned into pellets. Different vitamins and minerals are placed in bags beforehand, ready to be mixed into the ground grains. We were lucky to be visiting that day as they were mixing our feed!


Mixer in the floor mixing ground grains.
Vitamins and minerals going into our feed!

Mike showing Marc the mixer.
The complete, ground ration is called a mash. For some chicken and swine feed, this is the product’s final form. For others, the mash is flash steamed to increase the temperature and then, pushed through a pellet die, kind of like frosting through a piping tip. As the ropes of feed emerges from the die a knife cuts it into pellets of the desired length. By flash steaming the feed, all of the bacteria is destroyed, leaving a clean food source.


Pellet die prepped.
Feed being pushed through the die and forming pellets.
The pellets are then sent through a dryer to remove any leftover moisture, preventing mold. For more information on mash, pellets, and crumble feed, take a look at our post on the different forms of feed.

The final product is then packaged and shipped to customers and feed stores.


Mike manning the sewing machine.
Bag of feed heading for the shipping dock.

Thank you LA Hearne for a tour of your mill! Keep up the good work and see you next week!



March 09, 2018

Mallard Ducks




The most popular and well-known duck is probably the Mallard. They can be found just about anywhere in the world. Mallards are so common that when most think of a duck, they imagine a Mallard.

The Mallard is the origin of all domestic duck breeds other than the Muscovy. According to Charles Darwin, of all wild ducks, only the male Mallard has the distinctive curl in the tail feathers. As all male domestic ducks have these curly feathers, he came to the conclusion that all domestic breeds originated from the Mallard. From the big, meaty Pekin to the skinny, upright Runner duck - their ancestor is the Mallard breed.

They are a very popular hunting bird as they are so abundant throughout the US. Their meat is considered very flavorful.

They can lay between 60 to 120 eggs a year on a farm. In the wild they will lay 10-15 eggs in a nest. If their first brood is raised early or their nest is destroyed, they can lay a second set of eggs. Compared to domestic breeds their egg production is low, but their fertility is one of the best we have - about 90%.



Mallards are beautiful birds. Females are a speckled brown, but the males sport striking green heads, a white collar around the neck, gray on the belly, and cinnamon chests when they are adults. However, until males start to get their colorful feathers at 12 weeks of age, they are the same coloring as the females. By 16 weeks the males are fully feathered and retain these colors until the end of the breeding season when they molt into more drab, less brightly colored feathers. After 3-4 months, their beautiful feathers grow back and these are retained until their molt the next summer.

Today, the Mallard is considered an invasive wild species in some areas as it is able to mate with other indigenous ducks thereby producing new hybrids and eventually diluting the pure native breed until purebreds are rare. Wildlife authorities in both Hawaii and Florida do not allow the importation of Mallards in fear of them hybridizing their native duck population. In Hawaii, the native duck is the Koloa duck which is on the endangered list, and in Florida it is the Mottled duck.

The vast majority of wild Mallards migrate. In the summer they can be found in the northern parts of the US and all of Canada. When fall arrives and food becomes scarce, they fly south to more temperate climates such as the southern US and parts of Mexico. Come spring, they again return to their nesting grounds.

This migration pattern can be divided in to four different flyways or flight paths: Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic Flyways. Scientists believe they use a combination of polarized light, stars, and landmarks to find their way during migration. Nature’s own GPS!

There are, of course, exceptions. There are plenty of areas that do not have a winter - where the water does not freeze over and there are enough food resources year round. In these areas many Mallards decide to take up year round residence. This includes Hawaii’s Koloa and Florida’s Mottled ducks which are both categorized as non-migratory.

If you release Mallards that have not been hatched and grown in the wild, it is highly unlikely they will migrate. Studies show they go no further than five miles from where they were released. Though your released birds may fly away, the Mallard’s ability to fly and escape predators makes them much more likely to survive than any domestic ducks released into ponds and streams. If, however, you do not want your Mallards to fly, you can trim their wing feathers as show in our feather trimming blog post.

Mallards are beautiful birds. Enjoy them in your pen, barnyard, garden or pond.

Breed
Temperament
Weight
Egg Production
Mothering
Bluish Eggs
Egg Size
Mallard
Calm
2.25-2.5 pounds
60-120/year
Very Good
70%
65-75 grams
Fertility
APA Class
Foraging Ability
Conservation Status
Our Show Quality
Flying Ability
Origin
90%
Bantam
Very Good
Abundant
Too "Chunky"
Very Good
Native to North America









March 02, 2018

What Causes Runts?


The word ‘runt’ has a lot of negative connotation to it. Runts are thought of as weak and sickly. I’m here to tell you that this is not true! The official Google definition of a runt is “an animal that is smaller than average”. A runt is just a smaller version of the same breed. That doesn’t mean it is sick or weak, just small.

What causes this? Our veterinarian’s theory is that it has to do with the flora in the gut. Everyone has bacteria in their stomach, both good and bad. The good bacteria colonizes in the stomach and helps with digestion. Runts, however, do not seem to have as much good bacteria or it has the wrong kind of bacteria colonizing in its gut. This means that it doesn’t digest its food as well and therefore does not grow as fast as its siblings.

There is a way to fix this. By providing the correct probiotics, runts are capable of catching up in growth with the rest of the flock. You can find probiotic supplement packs at your local feed store or Amazon. The probiotics help to develop the good bacteria in the bird’s gut that will help with digestion and facilitate growth. You can mix this in the communal feed as the extra probiotics may benefit your other birds, too.

Other potential causes include hatching from small eggs, viral infection, genetics, coccidiosis, and bacterial infection during incubation. While these are valid causes, our veterinarian believes they cause far fewer runts than improper bacteria in the gut.

For further information, Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, has an article in his Chicken Whisperer Magazine that goes further into probiotics for poultry. While this article is about chickens, the same applies to ducks and geese.

The main question is what this means for you. If you are a commercial producer, we suggest culling the runts if only because their growth rate will be off of your expected processing date. For example, Pekin are ready for processing at 7 weeks, but your runt may not catch up until about week 12.

The following picture is from one of our customers, a Hutterite colony in Montana in 2014. They and other colonies order Pekin ducklings by the thousands and you can clearly see in the photo that there were several ducklings that were not growing as fast as the others. They were 4 weeks and 4 days of age for the picture. When it came time for processing at 12 weeks, however, they could not tell which had been the runts!

If your main concern is egg production, a runt’s egg production start will probably be delayed. If the runt is treated, however, and catches up in growth, they should be on time to start laying with the rest of the flock.

Both the meat and eggs are still good to eat. Remember, a runt is simply smaller.

Whether your birds are pets or not, make sure you keep them all fed, watered, and warm. It will take time for them to catch up in growth, but it will be worth it in the end.