Duck and Geese Husbandry

Having a flock of ducks or geese running around the farmstead is truly an
amusing and heartening sight. These birds offer many benefits to the small-scale
farmer, including meat, weed control, and — in the case of geese — even a
natural alarm system. After the first few weeks of life, ducks and geese are easy
keepers and make great foragers for bugs and weeds.
Ducks are much smaller than most geese. When full grown, a duck can weigh
from 4 to 11 pounds and can live as long as 12 years. Geese are large birds that
weigh as much as 30 pounds when mature, and they live much longer than ducks
— up to 25 years. Geese are loyal family members and prefer to choose a mate
for life. They are protective of their flock, which makes them great farm
Ducks can provide reliable source of eggs and meat. Like chickens, some breeds
have been bred to be exceptional layers of eggs, while other breeds have been
developed to provide substantial quantities of meat. If you plan to collect eggs
from your waterfowl, ducks would be the best choice. Two breeds, the Indian
Runner and Khaki Campbell, are best known for their prolific egg production.
Geese do not lay as many eggs as ducks, but the Emden breed will lay around
three dozen eggs during the breeding season.
Although the eggs of ducks and geese can be eaten just like chicken eggs, goose
eggs generally are not consumed in the United States. Eggs from geese are large,
and compared to chickens, geese lay far fewer eggs. This makes them unpopular
for commercial production. Few recipes call for them. Most likely, there will not
be a market for the eggs produced by your ducks or geese, but your family may
enjoy eating them. Duck eggs have a higher yolk fat content and white protein
content than chicken eggs, so when cooked, the whites do not become as stiff as
chicken eggs. If the duck has been eating a lot of algae, worms, or grubs, the
eggs may have a slightly musty taste. Eggs should be collected twice daily,
washed in warm water, and promptly stored in the refrigerator.
Duck meat is higher in iron, niacin, and selenium than many other types of meat.

Good duck meat breeds include Pekin, Rouen, Muscovy, and Aylesbury. The
meat from both ducks and geese is all dark meat and is richer than chicken or
turkey due to the higher fat content — this gives the meat a distinctive taste
popular in many gourmet restaurants. Ethnic markets are particularly interested
in obtaining a steady supply of quality duck and goose meat. Geese have
provided a rich source of protein for centuries, with many people enjoying the
meat and liver. But even more so, a roasted goose has long been a traditional
Christmas dinner over the centuries. Foie gras is made from the fattened livers of
force-fed geese and is especially common in French cultures. Goose meat breeds
include the Emden, Toulouse, Chinese, and Africans.
Unlike other poultry species, domesticated waterfowl are mostly disease
resistant. However, like the young of any animal species, ducklings and goslings
need to be kept dry and warm when they are covered in down. Once the young
are fully feathered, they enjoy being outdoors in all but the coldest of weather.
They do keep a layer of down under their feathers, which insulates them from
cold. In addition, they have an oil gland at the base of the tail. They will rub their
chins and cheeks over the gland to collect the oil, which they will then rub onto
their feathers. This oil makes their outer feathers waterproof. Mothers will rub
some of the oil from her oil gland onto the down of her young until they are able
to perform this function on their own. Ducks and geese need to keep their
feathers in tip-top condition to keep them dry and warm, so these animals spend
a substantial amount of time preening.

Geese will need shelter during subzero weather and protection from aggressive
predators such as coyotes. Ducks and geese will also need shade during hot
weather. Ducks should be brought into a shelter every night as smaller predators
such as raccoons, foxes, and weasels can decimate a flock in a few hours. Geese
naturally flock together and will return to a home base each night, even when
they wander more than a mile away from home. Vehicles also take their toll on a
flock, so if you plan to keep waterfowl, they will need to be kept away from
Geese are not as vulnerable to predators as ducks and some other poultry are
because of their size, but they do enjoy having a shelter available at night.

Young geese are still susceptible to predators. As the larger breeds grow,
predators become less of a threat due to the weight of the birds. Dogs and
coyotes may kill smaller geese, or they may scare larger geese. When scared,
geese will huddle together, and this may cause some geese to be smothered to
death. A fenced area with 5-foot-tall fencing makes a good night resting spot for
the geese. Be sure to provide your geese with feed and access to a water source
in their resting spot. Alternatively, the geese can be locked inside a sturdy
building at night to protect them from predators. This is particularly important in
geese less than 5 months old when they are still smaller. Geese younger than 8
weeks of age should not be left out at night on the pasture and should be herded
inside a secure shelter for safekeeping from poor weather and predators.

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