Concept of Duck Farming and Its Role in Poverty Eradication and Post-Flood Rehabilitation

Ram Singh, Sarita Kaushal, Antra Gupta, Gunjan Sharma and GV Punith Kumar

Animal Nutrition Division, ICAR-National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal-132001 (Haryana), India


The extent of devastation, destruction and disaster due to flood has been realised in many parts of the country on several occasions. The breach in Kosi (often referred to as Sorrow of Bihar) embankment drowned several towns and numerous villages coming in the way of its newly acquired course in the past. The unprecedented damage and loss to land, crops, homes, human and livestock lives and infrastructure due to flood accounted to be massive. Consequent to the flood misery, the role of government, non-government organisation (NGO), public and private agencies becomes very challenging especially in chalking out the rescue, relief operation and rehabilitation programmes. Among many efforts to rehabilitate the flood grief stricken people, the job of animal husbandry officials is to contribute immensely to mitigate flood misery. Ensuring supplemental income by diversification of agricultural operations is a viable option to improve the economic and nutritional status of rural poor people.

Geographical rearing of ducks:

The term “Poultry” denotes all domesticated species of birds including chickens, ducks, turkeys, quails, pigeons, guinea fowls and ratites such as ostrich and emu. Archaeological evidence indicated that chickens were domesticated as early as 5400 B.C. even though distribution throughout the world originated from the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley during 2500-2100 B.C. The first use of domesticated birds was cultural in religion and superstition, in decorative arts and for entertainment. They were used as a source of food by human only much later of their domestication. Presently, the role of poultry farming in income generation, employment propagation, supply of animal protein for human and poverty eradication has gained a height. Landless, marginal farmers, unemployed youths and distressed women can be engaged through motivation towards poultry rearing. The development however has been confined primarily to chickens and the ducks have been second major alternate birds after chickens for egg and meat production. This is very worthy to note that the ducks and geese love water and belongs to group “Water Fowls”. India, the land of diversity, has 5700 km of coastal line and a vast area of low and marshy lands. The Desi type of ducks are reared mainly for eggs and concentrated in several states viz. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Manipur, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Tripura. In India, the ducks are mainly kept by the people belonging to lower strata of the society as a source of income. But the current scenario has changed to some extent as big farmers are also adopting the duck farming as business.

Plus points for duck raising over chicken farming:

  • Ducks are more ideal for coastal areas, marshy wetlands, waterways and ponds.
  • Very suitable for mixed farming with paddy.
  • Require less care and management.
  • Can sustain on foraging, eating insects, snails, weeds, etc.
  • Easy to adapt for moving in group, going to ponds and coming back to homes.
  • Prolific layers, even native ducks lay about 160-180 eggs in a year.
  • Eggs are 15-20 g heavier than chicken eggs.
  • Continue to lay in second year of production and thus reducing cost of inputs.
  • Lay most eggs during night and early in the day.
  • Hardy and resistant to most of the avian diseases.

How ducks help in improving situation:

  • The ducks swim in the water, collect small fish and snails and aquatic weeds from water areas.
  • Require little or no additional feed to fetch maximum profit for the owner.
  • Unlike chickens, the ducks are economical even in small scale and on scavenging system primarily due to need of less attention and management.
  • During post flood period, even the areas with water logged for longer duration can be very suitable for duck production.
  • When the excess rainy season causes the water logging and ultimately causing damage to crops, the duck rearing thrives here well for more period.
  • Increase soil fertility.
  • Rearing 20 ducks in an acre agri-land compensates 16% N, 23% P and 10% K.

Performance of Broiler ducks:

  • Day old weight: 60 g
  • Body weight at 4 wks: 1.2 to 1.4 kg
  • Body weight at 6 wks: 2.0 to 2.2 kg
  • Feed consumption upto 6 wks: 4.5 to 4.7 kg
  • Mortality upto 6 wks: 2 to 3%

Performance of Layer ducks:

  • Age at first egg: 120 days
  • Age at 50% production: 140 days
  • Annual egg production: 300 eggs
  • Egg weight at 40 wks: 60 to 66 g
  • Body weight at 40 wks: 1.8 kg
  • Daily feed consumption per bird: 120 to 150 g
  • Duckling mortality (0-8 wks): 2 to 3%
  • Grower mortality (9-20 wks): 0.5 to 1%
  • Layer mortality (21-72 wks): 5 to 7%

Breeds and sexing:

Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell are prolific layer breeds, whereas the table meat variety includes Aylesbury, Muscovy and White Pekin. The young ducks are known as ducklings. The sexing between males (drake) and female (duck) can be distinguished at about 6 wks of age by seeing the drake feathers. The drakes belch and ducks whimper; these are the sounds made by ducks, whereas in chickens, the cocks crow and hens cackle.

Rearing system:

There are three types of rearing system for ducks in India.

1. Backyard/free range/scavenging system:

This system is very popular for dual purposes, i.e. egg and meat in many parts of the country. It needs low inputs of feed, housing and management but a large area of land for grazing. The flock size may be 1 to 20. They are sheltered at night within Katcha house made up of bamboo and/or mud. At morning, they have access to canals, ponds, or rivers where they can consume insects, small fish, snails, tender grasses which fulfill their nutritional requirement. After coming back to home the ducks are given broken rice, rice polish and kitchen garbage waste.

2. Integrated system:

Farmers can integrate ducks in many combinations such as pigs-ducks-chickens-vegetable-fruit-aquaculture, pigs-ducks-goat-rice-vegetable-aquaculture, pigs-ducks-Cattle-vegetable- aquaculture. For example, a system comprise ducks, fish, water plants and fruit trees, where the dark feces become feed for fish and fertilizer for plants and trees, while the ducks can utilise part of the plants and fish as feed. Other system based on duck keeping with paddy cultivation which has been shown to reduce or eliminate insects, pests and weeds and to increase rice yields. In case of using insecticides/pesticides in paddy fields, the ducks may be poisoned and therefore proper care is needed during this operation. The fish-duck raising is very beneficial. Where 200 tilapia fish are raised per 100 m², a maximum of 35 ducks per 100 m² water surface are kept.

3. Confinement/intensive/semi-intensive system:

In this system, the ducks are kept in total confinement and all facilities are provided in a sheltered area or pen or well ventilated house with litter on floor. A well balanced ration and water pans are required. The ducklings are reared under this system upto 6 to 8 weeks of age i.e. ideal age for marketing. During day time, ducks are allowed to run into shallow water channels to dip their heads and splash water on the bodies. The system is expensive in relation to free range or backyard farming. Intensive system is mostly followed by government farms, large-scale private farms and by some NGOs.

Incubation and Hatching:

  • Incubation period in ducks is 28 days i.e. 7 days more than chickens.
  • The Muscovy ducks require 35 days for incubation.
  • A mating ratio of 6-8 ducks per drake in layer breeding and 4-6 ducks broiler breeding.
  • Hatching eggs are collected 15 days after drakes are allowed to mate.
  • Temperature should be 37°C to 37.5°C with humidity of 70-75%.
  • High humidity by sprinkling eggs with lukewarm water on alternate day during 2 to 4 wks.
  • Turning of duck eggs at 180° and not at 90° as in the case of chickens.
  • Generally lower hatchability in ducks than chickens.


  • Brooding is similar to chicken and ducklings do not require swimming water.
  • Ducklings can be allowed on free range after 3 wks of age.
  • Upto 3 wks of age, any brooder house meant for chickens can be used for rearing of ducklings.
  • A 250 capacity chick brooder is suitable for 150 ducklings.
  • Brooding temperature should be 29-35°C for 1st wk and reduction in temperature by 3°C (5°F) every wk, until the ducklings require no heat.

Housing Ducks:

  • In free-range, the ducks need no proper house, whereas intensive or semi-intensive involves either floor or cage house.
  • The flood house may be a deep litter or wire floored house.
  • The welded wire (1.25 cm x 1.25 cm of 8 gauges) can be fixed leaving a gap of 10 cm on the concrete flooring,
  • After brooding (4 wks), they are reared on welded wire (2.5 cm x 2.5 cm of 8 gauges).
  • Where swimming facility can be provided, pond (usually made of concrete) dimensions can be 1 meter wide, 20 to 30 cm deep and length depending on number of birds.

Floor, Feeder and Drinker space requirements:

Age/SystemFloor space (cm2/bird) Feeder space (cm/bird) Drinking space cm/bird 
(Intensive system)Egg typeMeat typeEgg typeMeat typeEgg typeMeat type
0-3 wk8009005523
4-8 wk1600180081035
9-20 wk24002700101256

Feeding and Nutrition:

Little attention on feeding is given during free-range system of rearing. Duck feeds comprise of paddy grains, small fish, insects, snails, earthworms, tender grasses/leaves, aquatic weeds etc. During evening the supplementary partial feed includes paddy grains, rice bran/polish, wheat bran, kitchen waste, thrashed fish/snails, wheat bran etc. Damp or wet mash feed at 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

  • Ducks prefer pellets because they can easily eat them pellet size generally used is 0.3 cm for starter ration and 0.5 cm for other feeds.
  • For meat-type ducks, starter, grower and finisher rations are given during first 2 weeks, 3 to 6 weeks and 7th week to market, respectively.
  • Layer ration is provided one month prior to the expected onset of lay. Feed restriction is also similar to that in chickens. The feed conversion ratio (FCR) in meat-type ducks is around 3.0.
  • Water consumption of ducks depends on age at 1, 4 and 8 weeks of age, they consume water at a rate of 28, 120 and 330 ml/duck/day, respectively.

Requirements of some important Practical Nutrients for Ducks-

NutrientsStarter (0-8 wks)Grower (9-20 wks)Layer/Breeder (21wks-Above)
ME, Kcal/kg280026002700
Phosphorus, non-phytin,%0.400.300.40
Sodium, %0.15
Vit. A, IU/Kg300040006000
Vit. D2, ICU/Kg4009001200
Vit. E, mg/kg151010
Riboflavin, mg/kg6.05.05.0

Ducks are waterfowl and scavengers by nature and are relatively resistant to many common diseases of birds. However, following are the important diseases of ducks.


This condition occurs when ducks inhale spores produced by the Aspergillus species. (A. fumigatus is the common species) that grows on damp straw or feed. These inhaled spores cause multiple nodules or plaques in the lungs and air sacs. Common signs include gasping, listlessness and dehydration. This disease is not to be confused with aflatoxin poisoning. The best solution to prevent Aspergillosis is to avoid using mouldy straw and preventing feed from getting wet.

Mycotoxicosis in ducks:

Serious hepatic lesions and significant death rate was reported in ducklings (1 to 7 day old) fed with a concentration of 300 to 600 ppb of AFB1 for 7 to14 days. Ducklings (one day old) fed on a feed contaminated with 305 ppb of AFB1 and 20 ppb of AFG1 reported 43.33 and 10% deaths at 19 and 42 days of age, respectively. The intoxicated birds showed a delay in development hyperkeratosis of the cornea and oral mucosa, malformations and bone fragility, leg paralysis, inflammatory edema of the eyelids, dermatitis, and scarce feathering. The ducklings suffered massive avitaminosis and a deficiency in Ca, P and Mn absorption. Necropsy of ducks indicated an enlarged, fatty and friable liver, pale yellowish in colour, massive necrosis, jaundice, and cirrhosis. The liver and some muscles had petechial hemorrhages and necrotic focus. Deterioration of the hepatic cells, as well as fibrosis and hyperplasia of the bile duct was also reported. The surface of some of the liver’s was granulated and there was scattered lymphatic nodules. Atrophy of the Bursa of Fabricius and thymus was observed. Feed contaminated with 2000 ppb OTA fed to khaki Campbell ducks from birth until 18 days of age resulted in delayed development, enlarged livers and kidneys, and regression of the thymus. Microscopic features reported an accumulation of glycogen in the liver, and an infiltration of lymphoid cells in the kidneys. Feed intake and body weight gain decreased significantly in one day old white Pekin ducks  fed on 100, 200 or 400 ppm levels of fumonisin B1 for 21 days. Liver, heart, kidney, pancreas and proventriculus absolute weights increased. A moderate hepatocellular hyperplasia in liver and gallbladder was also reported. The relationship between sphinganine/shingosine increased significantly. Feed contaminated with deoxynivalenol (DON) or vomitoxin (5800 ppb) fed to wild ducks kept in captivity for a period of 14 days did not result in feed/wheat refusal, and there was no significant difference in serum protein, calcium, glucose, creatinine kinase, aspartate aminotransferase, or uric acid levels. Feed contaminated with 250, 500 or 1000 ppb of T-2 toxin fed to day old Muscovy ducklings for a period of 7 days resulted in oral lesions produced by all levels of T-2 contamination after 16 hours of consuming the contaminated feed. Similarly, feed contaminated with 2000 ppb T-2 toxin fed to 6-week old ducks for 9 days caused significant development in ulceration and erosion of the esophagus and oral cavity. A decrease in body weight, thymus, spleen and bursa weight was also recorded. Diacetoxyscirpenol (DAS) contaminated feed at 250, 500 or 1000 ppb levels fed to day-old Muscovy ducklings for 7 days induced oral lesions 16 hours after consumption of contaminated feed.


Botulism is a disease caused by the ingestion of a toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. The organism is common in nature and is widely dispersed in soils. Ingestion of the organism is not harmful. It becomes dangerous only when conditions are favourable for its growth and subsequent toxin formation. The organism grows best under high humidity and relatively high temperature and in an environment containing decaying organic material (plant or animal). The organism cannot multiply in the absence of air. Stagnant pools or damp areas with buried decaying matter are danger areas for toxin production. Botulism results after the decaying animal or plant material containing the toxin is consumed. Decaying carcass is a frequent source of toxin, as are many insects feeding in the same tissue. The insects may contain enough toxin to cause the disease in any ingesting bird. Water sources may become contaminated and provide a reservoir for the disease as the toxin is water soluble. Weakness is generally the first sign of the illness and is followed by progressive flaccid paralysis of the legs, wings and neck. When neck muscles are affected the head hangs limp, thus causing a condition referred to as “limberneck”. Affected birds may have a peculiar trembling, loose feathers that are pulled out easily and dull partly closed eyes. Because of the paralysis, birds are unable to swallow and mucous accumulates in the mouth. Affected birds may lie in a profound coma appearing lifeless for several hours before death. Prevention should be aimed at eliminating sources of toxin production and preventing access of birds to such materials. These practices include prompt removal of all dead animals, debeaking the birds, controlling fly and insect population and avoiding access to decaying organic material. Mild laxative may be used for birds that have been exposed but do not show disease symptoms. Epsom salts (500 gm / 100 birds) may be mixed in feed. Adding 5gm of Epsom salt in 30 ml of water and placing in the crops of sick birds has proved beneficial. The disadvantage is that antitoxin is difficult to obtain and is very expensive.

Pasteurella infections:

Infection with Pasteurella multocida (Fowl cholera) is very common across the world. Signs of acute outbreaks can be sudden death in large numbers of birds. In chronic infection, signs of depression, conjunctivitis and dyspnoea may occur. Rats are known to be a reservoir for P. multocida and transfer between birds can occur through infected water and around feed troughs. Chronic cases may respond to tetracyclines. Vaccination using multi-strain inactivated vaccines can be effective in preventing infection, although autogenous vaccines are usually more successful. The depopulation of the affected site, thorough cleansing and disinfection of the buildings and equipment and rodent elimination are the best long term controls of this disease. Riemerella anatipestifer causes disease in ducks throughout the world. Formely known as Pasteurella anatipestifer this organism usually causes disease in young ducklings aged between 2 and 6 weeks. The organism is transmitted through the egg and lateral transmission occurs via the respiratory route stress factors such as moving birds and environmental variations have also additive effects. Signs include head shaking, lethargy and an abnormal gait. Post mortem signs in acute cases include enlargement of the liver and spleen; and lung congestion. In chronic cases, pericarditis and air sacculitis with a caseous deposit was found. Treatment with a range of antibiotics has been found to be successful. Prevention is best achieved with good hygiene and by avoiding stress in the flock.

Duck virus hepatitis (DVH):

DVH affects young ducklings between 2 and 21 days of age. It usually presents as an acute disease, affected birds dying within a few hours of showing clinical signs. Birds usually die in good condition, with their heads stretched upwards in opisthotonus. Post mortem signs include an enlarged liver with petechial and ecchymotic haemorrhages. These clinical findings are diagnostic. The disease can be controlled by using a live vaccine in the foot in one-day-old ducks.

Duck virus enteritis (DVE, Duck plague):

The clinical signs of infection include conjunctivitis, nasal discharge, inappetence, soiled vents and watery diarrhoea. The disease spread more rapidly when birds have access to swimming water. Vascular damage characterises this condition with haemorrhages on the heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs and kidneys. Haemorrhages are also very common on the mucosal surface of the alimentary tract. Yellow diphtheritic plaques develop in the oesophagus and cloaca, which are fairly diagnostic of the disease. A live vaccine inoculated into susceptible stock gives reasonable protection.

Sticky Eye / Eye Infection:

Debris, a scratch, or rough mating can cause eye infections in ducks. Their sinuses run down the back of their head, so often eye and respiratory issues go hand in hand with ducks. Symptoms of an eye infection include a closed eye, bubbling eye, redness and tearing. Cleansing the eye with saline and then providing duck an access to the nice, deep water bowl to submerge her entire head can serve the purpose. A more serious infection might require Vet-Treatment, a natural camphor-based solution that can be added to the water or applied to the nostril.


  • Lack of scientific knowledge
  • Non availability of quality ducklings
  • Non availability of feed
  • Absence of proper bio security measures
  • Lack of financial resources
  • Lack of an organized marketing system
  • Inadequate development programme by government
  • Susceptibility to mycotoxicosis


The duck farming bears many plus points over rearing of chickens. The profit comes more when the ducks are raised under backyard or free-range or scavenging system. There are many constraints to the development of small holder duck production that need to be addressed. One can get technical support and day old ducklings from Directorate of Poultry Research, Regional Centre, Bhubaneswar (Orissa) and Central Duck Breeding Farm, Hessarghatta Bangalore (Karnataka). There is a need to introduce some more development programmes by the Government and NGO to promote the duck farming in order to eradicate the poverty and rehabilitate the affected people as a post-flood scenario.

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