How I've raised muscovy ducklings with natural incubation

By Henrik Petersson · Jan 28, 2018 · ·
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  1. Henrik Petersson
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    For the sake of overview, I'll divide this article into sections, each with a headline in bold.

    How do muscovy ducks differ from other ducks?

    I'll start with this important topic, because there seems to be a big misunderstanding out there that muscovy ducks are simply one breed among others of the common duck. A very simple misunderstanding to make - after all, muscovy ducks are referred to as "a breed of duck" in most articles online, and sorted as such. This is a mistake and it has to end! Calling muscovy duck "a breed of duck" is like calling donkey "a breed of horse". For like donkeys and horses, muscovy ducks and common ducks are two different species. The muscovy duck stems from the wild bird of the same name that lives in South and Central America; the common duck stems from the mallard.

    I deliberately used donkeys and horses as a comparison, for muscovy ducks and common ducks can interbreed, which produces offspring called mule ducks, who like mules are almost always sterile.

    How is this relevant in an article on raising muscovy ducklings? Mostly in two respects: 1) muscovy eggs take five weeks to hatch, as opposed to four with common duck eggs, and 2) muscovy ducklings grow much slower than common ducklings, which gives them slightly different nutritional needs, among other things (more on that later).

    Some terminology:

    Muscovy duck = member of the species muscovy duck (Cairina moschata).
    Common duck = member of the species most often referred to only as duck, which is the same species as the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).
    Drake = male duck (of any species).
    Myscovy drake = male muscovy duck.
    Hen = female duck.
    Muscovy hen = female muscovy duck.
    Duckling = duck child.
    Muscovy duckling = muscovy duck child.
    Myscovy = short for muscovy duck.
    Scovy = short for muscovy duck.

    On to the subject at hand.

    When do the hens sit on eggs?

    2-3 times a year, from spring to late summer.

    How do I make the hens sit on eggs?
    With our muscovy hens, you pretty much need a crowbar to make them not sit on eggs.

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    Sitting duck. Mess with her at your own peril!

    How do I make a good nest for them?
    Following a piece of advice from a guy on a Swedish site, I made a huge nest - 40 by 60 cm (16 by 24 inches). The opening was deliberately made small - 20 by 20 cm (8 by 8 inches) in order to keep the drake out (I'd read that the drake can destroy the ducklings).

    I read that wild muscovy ducks often lay eggs in hollowed trees, and the ducklings have to climb out, so do not be afraid of making the opening too high up on the wall. In fact, my scovies love it when I have tons of bedding in the nest - they like to sit in a deep hollow, plus they expertly cover up all the eggs when they temporarily leave them - and if you put the opening high on the wall, the bedding won't fall out.

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    The nest, with the roof taken off, with partly concealed eggs. The mother has taken a break from sitting and is out to eat.

    Once, when the nest was fully occupied, one hen sat on and hatched eggs underneath the little antechamber in front of the pop door of the coop. For some reason (lack of space?) she only sat on 8 eggs.

    I've also had a hen who started to dig out nests under the porch, but she stopped short of laying.

    How many eggs will they lay and how many of them will hatch?
    They lay a lot of eggs (sometimes over 30) and a lot of them hatch (upwards of 100 %). Now, we've always had some trouble of muscovy hens stealing each others eggs and fighting over who gets to sit our only nest, which has probably reduced hatching success (stolen eggs have gotten cold and died, etc). So for us, only something like 70 % of eggs have hatched.

    Where do they sleep once they're all hatched?

    Depends. With the ducklings hatched in the nest, they and their mother have always slept outdoors once they have left then nest and the coop. But I don't think that's due to an instinct not to sleep in the nest for more than a day; rather, I think the ducklings are simply to stupid to figure out how to go up the little ramp into the coop and navigate all the way back into the nest. Why do I think that? Well, remember the hen who hatched eggs under the antechamber? She and her ducklings kept sleeping there every night for weeks. And when the mother stopped sleeping there, the half-grown ducklings kept doing it. Even when they were so big that the antechamber only covered half of their bodies (it looked kind of funny to see their butts sticking out from under there).

    However, sleeping under the blue sky during the Swedish spring or summer is no problem for muscovy ducklings - the mother covers them. Even if there are more than 20 of them, they won't freeze.

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    Mother resting outside with 23 ducklings underneath her.

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    Mother trying to lure her chicks out from the coop for the first time. After many hours, they managed it.


    What do the eat and drink?

    Ours have thrived on the same feed the adults eat - basic chicken pellets and water. Make sure the water buckets are low enough for them to reach it. Chicken pellets are a bit big for hatchlings to comfortably eat, so you may have to crush it, or soak it into a porridge-like substance.

    Also, we free-range ours and they love to eat grass and chase after tiny bugs.

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    Ducklings eating chick starter. However, it's probably a very bad idea to feed this to scovies beyond week one or two - read on!

    Do not feed them layer feed, which probably contains too much calcium for growing ducklings. Chickens can develop gout from ingesting too much calcium when growing, and my guess is that other birds can too. Put a bowl of crushed oyster shell in the pen if you want to make sure your hens don't develop calcium deficiency.

    I've read recommendations to feed common ducklings chick starter feed the first weeks. However, this does not apply to muscovy ducks, since, as mentioned, they grow a lot slower than common ones. If you do feed scovie ducklings starter feed, I highly recommend to stop after a week or two. If you continue after that, they may develop the dreaded angel wing condition, which is when the wing-tip grows too fast, which causes the wing to bend outward. This can be reversed, but can be a terrible hassle and usually involves catching your unwilling, struggling ducklings and fixating their wings to their bodies somehow, often having to re-do it every few days.

    We did the mistake of feeding one batch of scovie ducklings chick starter for three weeks. Over half of the 22 siblings developed angel wing, the worst ones looking like shown below:

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    I should add that many breeders give their scovies starter feed for several weeks without a trace of angel wing. The ducks probably need a genetic predisposition to develop it. If so, one could probably breed the angel wing gene out of one's flock by deliberately feeding them high-protein food like chick starter as young, and then cull any that develop angel wing. We like our parent scovies too much to do that.

    So what did we do to our angel-winged ducklings? They ended up as stew.

    Are muscovies good mothers?

    Yes. They are every bit as good mothers as chicken hens. If you provide food, drinking water and a bathing area, the mother will do the rest.

    When do the mothers wean their young?

    At about eight weeks of age. The weaning doesn't happen overnight, but is gradual.

    Once weaned, the mother won't miss them much and they are legible for selling and/or eating. They will have full feathering by then and not need the mother to protect them from harsh weather.

    When can they bathe?

    With our first batch of young ones, a duckling started to bathe the first day out of the coop. Me and my sister immediately got worried; we'd read somewhere that ducklings should wait several days before they could bathe, due to not having developed some protective covering or other, and debated wether we should kidnap the duckling and give it a good wipe-down. However, we left it as it was, and it turned out just fine. In other words, if their mother is with them, they can start bathing as soon as they want to.

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    Still from a video I shot of ducklings swimming, flapping their wings, diving far underneath the surface and even looping underwater!

    Incidentally, I've noted that muscovies raised at home, where we have rather a big pond, are much more inclined to swim than their parents, who we bought from a farm that didn't have any pond. So it seems that the "bathiness" of muscovy ducks depend on how much they get to bathe as kids.

    Do you have to keep the drake away from them?

    I'd read horror-stories of how muscovy drakes can kill the ducklings. We took the chance and didn't separate our drake from the young ones, and it worked out perfectly. He's never touched them, other than to give them an educative nibble in order to show them their place when they've been in the way.

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    Drake among the ducklings, minding his own business.

    Predators and other dangers

    We are fairly free from predators where I live, but there are occasional stray cats and dogs, jays and magpies, potential dangers for the ducklings. Even so, we've never lost one to a predator, even though they've free ranged every day. Note that they have always been locked up in the pen at night.

    Sadly, we did loose one of our fist batch to drowning. We had a small plastic tub in the duck pen for the adults to dip their heads in. The tub was too high for the ducklings to enter... Until one morning, when I found one drowned in it. It had finally managed to jump into in, and not managed to get out. After that, we always put big rocks or similar in water containers like that.

    How tame do they get and how do I tame them?

    It's pretty similar to chickens; it's a breeze to get them tame enough to eat from you hand, but getting them to let you touch them is a whole different ball game.

    From the beginning, the ducklings will shun you, but if you approach them carefully with food in your hands, it will only take a few days before they eat from your hands. With our ducks, most of our adult hens aren't that tame... Which means the ducklings are often tamer than their mother! It's kind of comical to see her stand there and hiss two feet away, while her offspring plunge their heads into my hands without a shred of fear.

    [​IMG]

    Remember how I said that the ducks we raise ourselves love to bathe a lot more than their parents? I also find that they get a lot more tame than their parents. You can get our first-generation scovies to eat from our hands, but if you stoop feeding them like that for a few weeks, they resort to shyness again, and you have to start over... I find that scovies hand-tamed since ducklinghood get a lot more tame as adults.

    When can I sex them?

    It depends on the individual duck. With scovies, the first visible sex difference is the size difference. The problem, however, is that the smaller drakes aren't much bigger than the bigger hens... So when you have 20 ducklings, you're gonna have some ducklings at either end of the size spectrum that are very easily sexed, and some in the middle that are harder. We sell the biggest and the smallest ones first, in order not to give customers ducks of the wrong sex!

    But I would say you'll start to see a difference around six to ten weeks.

    When do they start flying?

    Our adult scovies are indeed great flyers, the hens easily being able to land on the roof of a one-storey building. We've never figured out at which age the young ones start to fly, since we've always sold or eaten them before that.

    What are good names for them?

    Elon Muscovy, Donald Duck.

    Sorry if that was too much info. Also I want to add the disclaimer that I'm neither educated in nor have worked with ducks or any other animals, I'm merely a passionate bird keeper and forum dweller.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. jen61871
    "Fabulous Article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jun 1, 2018
    I thoroughly enjoyed this article and learned a lot I didn't already know.
    You can tell he knows what he's talking about, and I like that. Gives me confidence in what he has to say.
    Here's the picture of my girl nesting right now I forgot to add to my comment. She made that cute nest herself! IMG_0209.JPG
    Henrik Petersson likes this.

Comments

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  1. jen61871
    Wow! GREAT article! We have 7 muscovy ducks. 6 hens and one drake. 3 we got last summer as ducklings (their all white) and 4 more (that look like your's) this year. Well, after raising ducklings with chickens I was in for a huge shock when I brought the 4 pullets home not knowing a whole lot about muscovys even though I had 3, when no warning from the young man I bought them from. they flew one by one right out of the freshly cleaned run and my (new animal) coop. :barnie And they never did sleep in that coop lol They got my other 3 existing hen muscovys as wild as them so almost no one sleeps in the coop at night except sometimes I'll find a white one has spent the night in one of the coops.
    I also have a hen that is sitting for maybe 2 weeks now. She made her nest up I love it. So cute! Shockingly she made it in the big coop in the corner which normally like I said she doesn't even sleep in. I included a picture. I don't know how many eggs she's sitting on. I saw at least 5 when she moved a little. Can you touch the nest when she's not on it?
    I also decided to try my hand at incubating 6 eggs. do you know anything about that because I have a question about the weighing of gram percentages I desperately need the answer too today?!
    Again, awesome article!!!! I learned several new things :thumbsup
    1. Henrik Petersson
      Thank you so much! Interesting to hear your story!

      Yes, you can definitely touch the eggs and the nest when she's not on it. As you have probably seen, they like to cover up the eggs when they leave the nest. Whenever i disturb the nest with the eggs, I try to cover it up again afterwards, just in case she gets suspicious, haha.

      No, sorry, I know nothing about incubating in the incubator.
      jen61871 likes this.
  2. DragginA$$
    Thanks for the information! My momma duck has been sitting on her eggs for a couple weeks now. We are so excited!
      Henrik Petersson likes this.
  3. Wagging Tail Ranch
    We love our Muscovies! Our drake is the biggest comedian and always entertaining. He was hatched under a broody chicken with a few others. We tried to raise them "properly" but they were so precocious that we just gave up. I had them in a wooden brooder box and at 2 days old they climbed right over the top [12 inches!! They went up the cord from the peep pad], fell off the washer into a pile of laundry and I found them running around the laundry room. It was all over from there. We lost two to predators when they were roosting on the second story room of our house when they were about 4 months old, I think the neighborhood owl got them. After that, we have never seen them on the roof again and Daffy wouldn't come out of the fenced chicken yard for several months. I think they are much smarter than you would suspect because the ones that survived that attack and got away are very leary of anything in the sky. Just a note, we got half incubated eggs from a friend to put under our broody hen since we wanted to raise some but they take so long to incubate.
      Henrik Petersson likes this.
  4. Ducksandchickens
    Beautiful article!
      Henrik Petersson likes this.
  5. Soon2BChixMom
    I am strongly considering muscovy ducks! Do you think all muscovy drakes will do well with a brood of ducklings or is this a wait and see what happens with the individual drake?
    As far as feed, are the chicken pellets you refer to considered all-flock feed?
    Since I am getting closer to obtaining ducks, I have been re-reading threads/articles and trying to get all my research around...get my ducks in a row as the saying goes. :D
      Henrik Petersson likes this.
    1. Henrik Petersson
      I guess it's a wait-and-see! You can take measures if the drake is mean, though, such as screening the mother and ducklings off.

      Yes, it's an all-flock feed. Neither layer feed (with a lot of calcium) or chick feed (with a lot of protein).
      Soon2BChixMom likes this.
  6. Nardo
    Awesome write and good info. We had ducks when I was a kid and I would like to have some now, but my wife is not so keen on the idea. :) But we never had Moscovies.
      Henrik Petersson likes this.

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