Ducks are known to be easy to raise, hardy poultry. They are more resistant to disease than fowl or other poultry. Even when kept in less than ideal conditions, ducks hardly ever succumb to ailments.
Unfortunately it has become the case that the continuation of some rare breeds is threatened as the commercial industry relies on the few breeds which can be farmed – housed together in an often cramp and restricted living space.
There are approximately 23 breeds (and their crosses) to choose from 4 weight classes. Like in fowl, classes exist of Bantam, Light, Medium and Heavy Weight birds.
The most popular ducks are the Aylesbury, the Khaki Campbell, the Indian Runner, the Cayuga, the Rouen, the Pekin and the Orpington.
The Aylesbury is the most popular table bird as it is mature by 8 10 weeks and the flavour of the bird is very good. Its major disadvantage is low egg yield, however when crossbred with a Pekin, egg production improves considerably. The Aylesbury lays blue green eggs and their plumage is white. The Pekin is a very hardy duck and a thrifty forager for food. Pekins develop into excellent table birds and are dependable egg layers. Its colour is a uniform cream with a bright orange beak, shanks and feet. The Pekin lays a blue egg.
The Khaki Campbell is a cross between an Indian Runner having good egg production and a very hardy Rouen. It can lay up to 300 eggs per year but is small framed and therefore is not a good meat producer. This breed is can also be quite nervous and tend not to sit on their eggs well. The drakes are a khaki colour all over except for the head and tail which are bronze green. The females are khaki all over with a few lighter feathers on their backs and wings.
The Rouen's plumage is very like the wild Mallard. The male undergoes colour changes from a bottle green head and stern with brown markings, to a drab mottled brown not unlike the female's colouring. The Rouen is an excellent table bird and is often crossed with an Aylesbury. It lays a blue egg.
The Indian Runner was formerly classed as the top egg layer. It has a high erect body with a flat skull. There are 5 varieties black, chocolate, fawn and white, and white.
The Cayuga combines good laying and table qualities. It has a deep greenish black plumage with the stature of an Aylesbury. Eggs are dark green.
Orphington ducks are cream coloured. They are less popular than they used to be. They are a dual purpose bird laying a white egg. They also make very good free ranging birds.
Should you decide to breed ducks, the mating ratio is 1 drake to 4 ducks for an Aylesbury flock, while the ratio for Pekins is 1 drake to 6 ducks. If you find that one of your ducks is not assuming its maternal role, then you can raise the ducklings under a broody hen or by using an incubator. Eggs have an incubation period of 28 days. Chick incubators are suitable for ducks however the temperature need not be quite as high. The eggs need to be turned 3 times a day and a liberal allowance of water is required. No artificial heat is required after the ducklings reach 3 weeks of age.
Duck meat is a specialised area and there are many large commercial duck growing enterprises. For the smaller grower, wanting to sell birds commercially, you would need to develop a niche market or else you will be competing in an industry that has very well established markets and marketing programs.
The Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner are the better egg laying breeds.