The commercially available ducks in your local grocery store are frequently called “Long Island Ducklings” because commercial duck farming arose on Long Island. The ducks are the Pekin breed, originally from China, and were selected to grow very rapidly, have a large breast and mild flavor. These commercial ducks, like commercial chickens, are raised indoors in large buildings. The birds are typically raised on metal or plastic mesh floors, and drink water through small metal nipples originally developed for chickens. The birds grow rapidly, and are harvested at 7 weeks of age. The timing is important, because after 7 weeks, removing feathers and down is more difficult. The birds are kept clean, dry, well fed, and watered. However, they never get to be ducks. When ducks are raised by their mothers, they naturally live outside from the time they are born, and she protects them from rain and cold by huddling them beneath her body and wings. When ducklings are raised without their mothers, they need protection from cold or wet weather until they are about 6 weeks old and fully feathered. Remember that the Pekin ducks are normally harvested at 7 weeks of age.
One obvious reason why ducklings grown commercially are given water in nipples and not in troughs or bowls is that ducks are incredibly messy birds. They love to play in water, and they especially love to play in mud. They put their bills deep into water, cleaning their nares (nostrils). This keeps their eyes and noses clean. Ducks can live without dunking their bills, but they are happier and healthier when they can do so. Ducks are also champion poo-ers, hence the advantage of slotted wire or plastic flooring. Our brooders have raised slated floors, but older birds are completely free to wander during the day, and at night are sheltered in wood sheds with hay for bedding.
Our first birds were Muscovy ducklings. They lived in a pen in our study at night, and spent their days out of doors in large mobile pens on grass. They had free access to food and water in bowls or simple feeders. Every evening we carried them 1 or 2 at a time indoors, and talked to them. Every morning, we carried them outside to their pen. Meanwhile, we built a shed to house them. They moved into the shed at about 2 months of age. We taught them to go into the shed at night when we said “nighty night”. During the day, they had the run of the yard and woods over several acres. They liked to hang out on the patio outside our kitchen, waiting for left over vegetables and fruit, and would tap on the glass doors with their bills to get our attention. Muscovy are very friendly and personable ducks. They are calm, and nearly silent. The exception is a nesting mother, or a mother with ducklings. It is a very bad idea to try and touch a Muscovy duckling if the mother is anywhere near, and she is always near. Our Muscovy practice communal child rearing, often two hens will raise a group of up to 20 ducklings together, their own ducklings and other ducklings that gravitate to the good mothers.
From those original birds, and from six hens purchased to provide genetic diversity, we now have a colony of approximately 60 birds, some of which are pictured on our Muscovy Page. Our birds are not from the Muscovy lines typically raised as meat birds. Commercial Muscovy lines are white, and selected for rapid growth. Our birds are predominately chocolates and blues, and we select breeding stock for their temperament and parenting ability first, coloration and size are also factors.