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August 27, 2011

"Domestic Duck Production, Science and Practice" - The Book

I didn't know about this book until a customer told me about it. I am happy he did as we are
changing some of our management practices because of it.  Domestic Duck Production, Science and Practice is a book written for commercial producers. Much of the information concerns raising ducks for meat but the section on breeder management applies whether you have Pekin breeders to produce meat ducklings or Golden 300 Hybrids, White Layers or Khaki Campbells for egg production. Even if you are only a serious hobbyist, there will be information in this book that will make you say “Really?” and you will realize there might be a better way to care for your ducks.

The main change we are making because of this book is our use of light. Historically we have grown our ducks on natural day length and then increased the day length to 17 hours between 20 to 25 weeks of age to bring them into egg production. The authors' recommendation is to maintain the ducks on 17 hours of light their entire life and bring them into production with an increase in quality and quantity of feed when they are sexually mature. “Excellent results have been obtained by maintaining meat strain ducks and drakes on a constant photoperiod of 17 hours from day-old until the end of the breeding cycle. Since this programme is simple and applicable at all latitudes it deserves to be adopted as the standard method for rearing Pekin breeding stock.”
Research supports all the information in this book with some of that research being done by the authors.  There is a list of references at the end of each chapter if you want to do further research on a specific topic. There are many graphs showing the results of the research and quite a few formulas showing the effects of different variables on weight, age of maturity, etc.

This graph shows the increased egg production from Pekin breeders that were fed 80% of full feed (Controlled growth) up to 18 weeks versus those that were fed all they wanted (Ad libitum feed) their entire life.

The chapters in Domestic Duck Production, Science and Practice are:
History and Biology of the Domestic Duck
Systems of Production
Housing and Environment
Husbandry of Table Duckling
Nutrition and Factors Affecting Body Composition
Rearing of Parent Stock
Management of Breeding Ducks
Fertility and Hatchability
Genetic Improvement

This drawing shows the ideal duck feeder to prevent waste.  Divide these numbers by
25.4 to get inches.

A few other "Did you know?" items in this book:
  1. Prior to egg production, female mallards eat a diet predominantely composed of animal foods to satisfy their demand for protein for egg production. Males, in contrast, subsist mainly on a vegetable diet.
  2. Average weight of a 7 week Pekin in 1928 was 3.6 lbs. In 2011 it was 8.1 lbs.
  3. In Asia, ducks are grown in buildings above lakes stocked with fish. The slotted floors allow the droppings to feed the algae which feed the fish. Up to 2000 ducks can be grown on each 2.5 acres of pond using this method.
  4. There is true value in keeping the bedding thick in cold climates as the composting generates heat which reduces the heating bill and/or feed consumption.
The problem with a specialized book such as this is that there are few potential buyers and they have to charge more for the book. Yes, the price is $109.95 but for those of you earning money from your ducks, this can be paid back quickly with the valuable information in it. If you are a commercial producer, the other book we recommend is Nutrition and Management of Ducks by Dr. William Dean and Dr. Milton Scott, which emphasizes the nutrition of ducks. Both books can be ordered in the book section on our website.

Do you have any waterfowl books that you have found valuable but we do not sell?

August 17, 2011

Best Bedding Materials For Waterfowl

Ducks and geese use more bedding (or litter) than chickens as their droppings are wetter and they make more of a mess with their drinking water.  Therefore, you may be adding bedding on a daily basis if you have a high concentration of birds in your pens.  Bedding can become an expensive part of your hobby or business due to the cost of the material and the labor to add and remove it.

No matter what type of bedding you use, you must ensure it has no mold in it and it stays dry before use.  The moisture from ducks and geese can produce a perfect environment for mold growth in your bedding.  Aspergillosis, the most common mold, can be devastating in a flock of poultry if it starts growing in your bedding.

Shavings is a very good bedding.  If it is dry, it does an excellent job of absorbing moisture.  It is also easy to clean out of your building - whether with a shovel or a tractor.  Unfortunately it is fairly expensive.  It can be purchased in bulk (loose) if you use large quantities or in bundles if you don't.  There are different qualities of shavings - the best is dry and in thin slices.  Thicker chunks of wood do not absorb moisture as well and do not break down in the soil as fast either.  We have used a variety of woods with no apparent difference among them.   We have even used redwood with our laying ducks - though that tends to stain the eggs which is not good if you are selling the eggs for eating!

You do not want to use shavings with large amounts of sawdust if it is for day old birds.  They may eat the shavings which does not provide them any needed nutrients and may kill them if it swells in their gut and blocks all passage.  This is rarely a problem with ducklings or goslings over one week of age.  If shavings are expensive and straw is cheap, put the shavings in the nests and straw in the pen as clean eggs are critical whether you are eating them or hatching them.

Straw is the most common type of bedding used.  The advantage of straw is that is is typically inexpensive and available almost everywhere.  Ducks and geese also love to dig through freshly spread  straw looking for unharvested grain and other tidbits.  The two main disadvantages of straw are that it is more difficult to remove from a building and it does not absorb moisture well.  We have chopped it in the past and this helps with both of these problems (see the picture above).  By chopping the straw, you are exposing more cut stem which can better absorb moisture and by making smaller pieces it easier to remove from your pen.

In our outdoor goose nests, we use a combination of straw and wood shavings.  If we only use straw, it does not absorb moisture well.  If we use shavings only, the geese dig through it to make their nest and the eggs end up being laid on dirt and all the shavings are outside the nest.

Rice Hulls
The use of rice hulls is common wherever rice is grown.  It is also typically inexpensive but does not absorb moisture well and can be difficult to use because it blows easily.  In my opinion, the critical necessity of rice hulls is that it is clean and mold free.  Of course all bedding must be mold free but the two times we have tried rice hulls (because wood shavings were not available in the winter) we have experienced mold problems in our duck eggs.  As soon as we started bedding with rice hulls, we were candling out an additional 10-15% of our eggs due to mortality form mold growing in the eggs.  However, many people use rice hulls so it all depends on the cleanliness of your rice hull suppy.

Some feed stores sell bales of chopped or shredded newspaper.  The advantage of processed newspaper is that it absorbs moisture very well.  The disadvantage is that it does not hold its form when it gets wet.  It can become a very slick, wet surface with excess moisture.  When we were chopping our straw before for our duck buildings, we would chop a bale of straw and then a stack of newspaper.  The straw provided a fluffy structure and the newspaper did a good job of absorbing moisture. It was an excellent combination.

Ground Corn Cobs
Though we have not tried this product, we have read it can be used successfully for poultry bedding.  As this is ground into a variety of sizes, it has been recommended that you use the smaller sized pieces, 1/4" or less.  It has been shown that ground corn cobs will absorb more moisture per pound than shavings, straw, leaves or newspaper.

Other Products
We sell our manure/bedding to a composter and he suggested we try a product he gets from municipal green waste sites.  After branches and leaves and other plant materials are chopped, the material is screened by size.  We are now trying the smallest sized material.  The sample we received is dry but heavy.  He hopes we can use it as the pieces are smaller than shavings and break down more completely in his composting process - enabling him to make a more salable product.  In addition, it is much less expensive for us than wood shavings.  We will let you know how this product works.

Research has been done on cotton milling waste and leaves, with both showing promise as a poultry litter, too. 

Final Bedding Criteria
Absorbs moisture
Must be free of molds
Keep dry before use
Easy to handle and use
Is not harmful to the birds if it is eaten
Will decompose once it is removed from your pens

What works well for you and why?

August 10, 2011

What Temperatures Kill In An Incubator?

We all know the ideal temperature for incubators range from about 98 to 100.3 depending on the stage of incubation.  But what happens if your incubator becomes too hot or too cold?  Of course each circumstance is different but I can tell you some of my experiences and maybe this will help you in case you have a problem in the future.

Low Temperature:
We remove some of our fertile duck eggs at 17 days of incubation and sell them as balut (a Filipino and Vietnamese delicacy).  Recently we set aside 160 large balut on Thursday for a customer that was to pick them up on Friday.  On Saturday we realized they were not going to be picked up.  I decided to put them back in the incubator but first I checked their shell temperature.  The surface temperature of each egg was between 71 and 73 degrees.  Remember, these eggs had been out of the incubator for 48 hours in flats in a case at room temperature.

We monitored those eggs and ten days later 75% of them hatched!  They were a day late but we still hatched 120 ducklings!  This was only 13% less than if they had not sat out for two days.

These eggs were old enough that they were putting off more heat than they required, so development was slowed but not stopped.  So if for some reason your incubator has a problem and cools down for a period of time, don't worry.  It probably will not adversely affect your hatch.

High Temperatures
High temperatures in an incubator are an entirely different matter.   Injury or death depends on how hot it gets and how long it is hot.  Hot temperatures for brief periods usually cause no problem.  But sustained higher temperatures allow the entire interior of the egg to become hot and that is when injury and death occurs.  And if it is an older embryo, it is generating heat and this makes overheating even quicker.

There are no black and white limits with overheating.  Years ago I lost all the eggs in an incubator when it was 105 degrees for six hours.  But on another occasion, I had no losses when the incubator was 102 for four hours.  An interior temperature of 103 almost guarantees death.

Just recently we had a machine that was supposed to be 98.7 gradually increase to 104 degrees over 3.5 hours.  When it was discovered, we cooled the eggs as described below and the resulting hatch was completely normal.  The eggs were 24 days old at the time.

What To Do When You Discover Your Hot Incubator
Immediately cool the eggs with water.  If you have lots of eggs, spray with a garden sprayer or hose.  If you have just a few eggs, dunk each egg in cool, not cold, water.  Blow air over the eggs to more quickly cool them.  Each time the egg dries, wet it again.  Remember that as you cool the eggs, the shell will cool faster than the interior - but it is the embryo in the interior that must be cooled.  Therefore, you want to cool the shell lower than the ideal temperature.  And as I described above, don't be afraid of cooling them too much as temperatures below ideal will not be a problem.

If you have an infrared thermometer, I would cool the shell to 80-85 degrees.  If you do not have a thermometer, hold it against your eye lid.  Once it feels slightly cool, put it back in the incubator and turn it on (assuming you have fixed the problem in your incubator!).

Don't Give Up On The Eggs
Once you stabilize the temperature, wait a day and then candle the eggs.  If they have died, you will know as there will be no movement and all blood veins will have disintegrated.  Only then should you throw away your eggs.  If you are not sure, leave the eggs in the incubator.  You have little to lose keeping them in the incubator.

What experiences do you have after finding incubators colder or hotter than they should be?

August 02, 2011

New Poultry Event Calendar

We invite you to visit the new Poultry Event Calendar on our website.  There are 64 events currently listed.  We want to list every poultry event in the nation - from a local fair to a national conference.  But - we especially want your events!

We are looking for any fairs, shows, poultry festivals, clinics or workshops, or tours of urban poultry coops.  Anything pertaining to poultry from commercial to hobby is eligible.

On the page is a simple link to an event submission form.  All we need is a date, event name and location and contact name and phone number or email for more information.

We will advertise this Metzer Farms Calendar as the place to go for event information - so make sure your event is included!