HERE are detailed the essential requirements of the various species of birds kept as poultry from the point of view of those with no experience who wish to raise birds from eggs for their own use or for private disposal. Henco they are treated from the point of view of the beginner not from that of the expert poultry-fancier or even of the poulterer.
They have their own standards – large size, exactness of marking, colour of legs, etc., which are often of no practical import-ance, while some most useful birds are left in the background altogether, as has been the case with Redcap fowls, Muscovy ducks and Chinese geese, while colour-varieties of popular mongrel breeds of fowls and ducks are multiplied unnecessarily.
IN the case of the common duck, we are dealing with the tamo descendants of one of our own best-known wild birds, the mallard or common wild duck, so familiar as a protected bird in parks. In this state it weighs about three pounds, and the drake has a very rich, handsome plumage; the two little curls in the tail remain in tame drakes of all colours, except during the summer months, when drakes go into duck plumage. They can still be distinguished then, however, by their hoarse, faint voices, for only the duck gives the well-known quack out loud.
The duck is much more sociable than the fowl or even the turkey, and is a greedy and omnivorous forager on land as well as water, and by night as well as daj; but in the tame state it has lost to a great extent the maternal instinct and seldom goes broody, so that eggs are usually put hens, which rear the ducklings well.
It has also lost its vigorous powers of flight, and a single breadth of wire-netting or some wicker hurdles will keep tame duelcs within bounds. Thus tbey are easily penned wherever they are wanted to destroy vermin and weeds, and they can also be driven like turkeys. Water in a vessel of sufficient depth to enable them to immerse their heads com-pletely should always be supplied, or they will get sore eyes; they should also have a bath large enough to give them a complete wash, or their plumago will lose its proverbial water-shedding power, involving risk of chills.
A sponge-bath or a shallow tank on low wheels will suffice for this, with a slatted duck-board to help access; something that can be moved about and readily filled or emptied is better than a small dug-out pond which soon becomes the centre of a quagmire, even if it be self-flushed; of course this is presuming that the ducks have not access to a stream or pond, which they will much appreciate, though they can do quite well without it; ample foraging-ground, especially grass, is quite as important.
For small permanent earth runs, ducks are most unsuitable; tbey make in such places a great deal of mess, noise, smell, and suffer from want of exercise, as they do not scratch like fowls.
They only need housing where there is fear of foxes; their home should be even more freely ventilated than a fowl-house, and needs frequent removal of the litter, which must not be allowed to become damp. No perches or rests are needed, but a good wide entrance with duckboard to give a gentle ascent if the house is movable and raised, as it ought to be.
The supply of grit and oyster shells should be given in the water, and also any corn that is used, but (lucks can be fed on mash entirely, and that of a bulky character, containing bran and boiled vegetables, as well as some meat or fish. One meal a day is enough for layers ahd breeders, and water should always be handy, as they need to rinso their bills frequently while eating mash.
If they have to be shut in at night this should be given in the evenings, but where they can be safely left out it is all to the good, as they can do much useful hunting-especially of slugs, at night when small life is abroad. In this ease the meal should be given in the morning.
If they have access to any natural body -of water they niust perforce be shut in till ten oclock in the morning, when they will have laid, otherwise many eggs will be laid when thoy are afloat and thus will be loat. In this case a water-vessel should 1)6 fixed on the wall at such a height that they cannot splash the water about.
Nutritious Ducks Eggs
Ducks eggs are much more important now than they were a generation ago, though ctill not so saleable as those of hens; but they are more economical in use, as one is equivalent to one-and-a-half hens eggs. Good laying ducks will lay as well as the best hens, and lay well for twice the number of years.
For commerce and rearing for table the duck has long been known. Ducklings need the warmth of a parent or brooder for only about two weeks and will fatten themselves if kept from swimming and from running about, too much, and supplied with frequent meals of mash, so that they are constantly eating or sleeping.
For laying ducks it is not necessary to have the companionship of a drake, but for breeders a drake should be provided for every half-dozen ducks in the lighter breeds, or every three or four in the heavier; and as drakes do not fight like cocks, more than one can be run in the same flock.
The eggs take four weeks to hatch, and the ducklings must at first be fed on the same food as recommended for young chicles, with plenty of water to wash it down, and a supply of duckweed if possible. Thoy take, however, very kindly to chickweed as a substitute, and must have some sort of tender greens. Their need for getting their heads under water must be recognized even at the earliest age, but in providing bathing-pans particular care must be taken to see that they can got in and out of them easily.
Range on natural water with hen fosters, who can only protect them on land, is risky, but they should have plenty of exercise on land in runs or without, as circumstances permit, if being reared as layers or breeders; it is only the table birds that need to be confined and pushed on with frequent meals, and these only should have fat in their mash. Corn need not be given to any growing ducks.
Light and Heavy Breeds
As in fowls, there are light and heavy breeds of ducks, the former being the best layers and the latter, of course, the best for table. The heavy white Aylesbury with the flesh coloured pink (which shows 837 pink even in the day-old duckling) is the best of these, making its weight earliest.
The best layer is the brown Khaki Campbell, a duck of ordinary shape and size; but the slim erect Runner comes very close to it in this, and owing to its speed on land and good foraging power is cheaper to keep; it is but little bigger than the wild duck. It was, in fact, with the renewed introduction of this breed – the penguin duck of Victorian fanciers – from the East Indies that the interest in laying ducks began. The birds are driven in their native country in flocks feeding themselves as they go, and covering several miles a day.
How to Handle Ducks
The ducklings are ready for killing when feathered and will lose weight for a time if kept on much after their wing-quills, which come last, have grown. At this time, too, the ducks stop squeaking and begin to quack, so that the sexes can be sorted out long before the drakes tail-curls appear.
In handling ducks, they should be grasped by the lower part of the neck – the legs are easily strained, and should not be used as handles.
Being native birds, and enjoying our damp climate, ducks ought to be cultivated more than they are, and everyone who has bad to do with them praises their good nature and docility as compared with fowls, though they are nervous and easily upset by unceremonious treatment.