Duck houses or shelters for small flocks usually do not require mechanical ventilation as used in modern commercial duck buildings. However some ventilation is always necessary when ducks are kept in a house enclosed on all sides. Window openings, and ridge ventilation may provide adequate air exchange. If larger flocks are kept in totally enclosed houses, the use of ventilation fans may be necessary. Proper ventilation of commercial duck buildings requires the expertise of an agricultural engineer or someone with knowledge and experience in designing and ventilating poultry buildings. Modern duck buildings must be adequately insulated for ventilations systems to work properly.
The length of the laying period of ducks can be increased considerably if supplemental lighting is provided. If supplemental light is not provided, egg production will be seasonal and dependent on changes in natural daylength. Adding artificial light to extend the daily light period to 14-17 hours, and preventing any decrease in day length, will provide adequate light stimulation for ducks to lay continuously for 7-12 months, depending upon their ability to lay, and other conditions.
If ducks are confined to a building at night and allowed outdoors during the day (or if confined to non-lightproof housing), the usual practice is to turn artificial lights on at a set time before sunrise, off at a set time after sunrise, then on again before sunset and off after sunset, maintaining a constant light period (14 hours, for example) and a constant dark period (10 hours in this case) each day. Such a lighting regimen is usually implemented with the aid of electric time clocks that turn lights on and off at set times.
A light intensity of about 10 lux (1 foot candle) at the duck’s eye level is sufficient to stimulate adequate sexual response in both drakes and ducks. In practice, however, breeding and laying ducks are commonly lit to provide 20-30 lux at duck level. Artificial lighting is less important for growing ducks. Ducks are nocturnal, and can find feed and water in the dark. However artificial light is important the first few days to assist ducklings in getting started drinking and eating.
Totally confined ducks being grown-out for marketing, as in commercial production, are usually provided some light every day. It is also beneficial to provide dim light by means of low wattage bulbs during dark periods to help prevent stampeding if the flock is disturbed and to discourage feather pecking. During the development period of breeder-layer ducks, it is desirable to avoid either increases or decreases in day-length as much as possible.
Encourage ducks to use nests because cleaner eggs result and fewer breakages occur. Furthermore, eggs laid in nests are not exposed to sun or damp. This may be difficult with breeds other than Muscovies.
Nests should be clean, dry, comfortable and only large enough to be used by one duck at a time. Build them from timber and place them in rows along the walls. A suitable size is 30 cm by 30 cm by about 40 cm deep. Nesting material should be placed in the nest to a depth of about 7 cm. Use shavings, sawdust, sand or shell grit. Broody ducks will further line their nests with their own body feathers.
If you wish to follow a system of progeny testing, use trap nests to facilitate identification of eggs laid by individual ducks. Identify and discard ducks that continually lay almond-shaped eggs or other misshapen eggs. Individual duck production can also be recorded. In intensive buildings, encourage Pekin ducks to lay in nests by providing open-framed nest boxes on the side of the walls. The nest boxes must be at floor level, as ducks will not use elevated nests.
Duck Housing Design
Elaborate sheds are not necessary, but you should observe the general principles of poultry house design. Breeders may be housed either intensively or semi-intensively:
- intensive housing – the birds are housed indoors for the duration of the season;
- semi-intensive housing – the birds have access to outside runs during the day, but are locked indoors at night and during adverse weather conditions.
For each type of housing:
- The housing must be clean, dry, adequately ventilated and able to keep out beating rain.
- Allow each breeder an area of at least 0.2 m2 of floor space inside the shed (i.e. 5 birds/m2).
- Cover the shed floor with litter for the comfort of the birds, to absorb moisture and to prevent egg breakage – wood shavings are probably the most suitable, but any soft absorbent material to a depth of about 7–8 cm is satisfactory.
The area selected for sheds should be gently sloping. If the site is too hilly, sheds will be difficult to build; if the site is too flat, drainage will be impeded. The shed should face north to north-east and should be at least 2 m high at the back, to give enough head room. Since ducks are very susceptible to excessive sun, provide adequate shade.
For a systematic farm layout, first draw up a ground plan and spend some time thinking about the plan and shed design. This will enable you to make modifications. When planning the farm, allow for housing growers and adults separately, and make sure there is no drainage from the adult housing area to growers. Whatever housing is chosen, a cheap and effective type of shed is one with a skillion roof.
The ideal method of housing breeding stock is in a building which has both litter and slatted or wire floor areas. This greatly reduces the amount of wet litter and improves overall production. Feeders and waterers are placed on the slats. The litter area is used by the ducks for mating and for laying eggs. A combination of litter and slats prevents possible leg damage to heavy breeding ducks, which may occur if they are housed on slats only.