Selecting Your Birds
The first step of raising ducks and/or geese is to decide what you are raising them for. Certain breeds of ducks and geese are bred for certain reasons. The three main purposes that waterfowl are raised for are egg production, meat production, and exhibition (ornamental). Depending on what you wish your backyard flock to produce, you need to choose what breed of duck or geese you should obtain.
Geese are classified into three main categories, called "classes" depending on the weight of the bird. These classes are Heavy, Medium, and Light. Geese in the Heavy class weigh around 18-26 pounds, ones in the Medium class are about 12-18 pounds, and birds in the Light class weigh 4-12 pounds. Ducks are classified in a similar way to which geese are, by their weight, into four classes: Heavy, Medium, Light, and Bantam. Ducks in the Heavy class weigh around 8-12 pounds, ones in the Medium class are about 7-9 pounds, birds in the Light class weigh 3-5 pounds, while ducks in the Bantam class are around 1.5-4 pounds.
Geese raised primarily for meat production include the Embden and African (Heavy class) and the Pilgrim, American Buff, and Saddleback Pomeranian (Medium Class). For smaller carcasses, geese in the Light class, such as Chinese and Canada geese, are slaughtered. Breeds of ducks that are raised for meat purposes are in the Heavy class. They are Aylesbury, Muscovy (Pato), Pekin, and Rouen. The other breed is the Buff, which is in the Medium class.
Geese used for ornamental purposes usually have some unique characteristics to their physical appearance. Toulouse geese are massive and possess a large dewlap, Sebastopol have reverse curling of their body feathers, a Tufted Roman goose displays a large tuft of feathers on its head. Most breeds of duck are also used for exhibition, and, like geese, display specific, distinctive features that act as a identification for the breed, such as crests (Crested), stance or carriage (Runner), beetle-green sheen (Cayuga and East India), or an overall "rubber duck" appearance (Call).
Most geese have poor egg-laying abilities, producing an average of 20-50 eggs per year. They usually only lay around the time of breeding season, in order to reproduce. However, there is one goose breed, the Chinese goose, that is sometimes used for egg-production, and lays an impressive 60-100 eggs per year. Ducks tend to have better laying abilities than geese, on average producing 60-120 eggs per year. Muscovy, Pekin, and Runner are examples of ducks often used for laying purposes, however, the leading duck in egg production is by far the Khaki Campbell, which produces an astonishing 200-300 eggs per year.
Incubation of Waterfowl Eggs
Most domestic waterfowl lack the instinct to go broody, incubate and brood eggs properly (though some have reported that the Muscovy duck and broody chickens are good "foster mothers"), and so artificial incubation is usually taken up by breeders. To incubate waterfowl eggs, follow the incubator manufacturer's instructions and recommended settings. Machines have different temperature and humidity scales.
Monitor the temperature for about 24 hours before setting in the eggs. In a still-air incubator, the temperature level with the top of the eggs should be kept at 102 degrees Fahrenheit. In forced-air incubators (one with a constantly running fan), the temperature should remain at 99.5 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, waterfowl tend to require more moisture during incubation, as eggs lose moisture due to evaporation, so it helps to sprinkle the eggs daily with warm water, or to put a pan of water in the incubator. The pan should be as large as the tray of eggs, and add a sponge to the pan to increase surface area of evaporation. Try to main the humidity at 60%-70% during incubation, and increase to 70%-80% at hatching time.
If you hand-turn eggs in the incubator, mark one side with an "X" and one side with an "O" to keep track of the turning schedule. Turn eggs three times daily. Eggs in automatic incubators should be turned every three hours. Candle eggs after 10 days of incubation, and remove those that are rotten or infertile.
Stop turning eggs 2-3 days before hatching, and do not open incubator until hatch is complete, and make sure the brooder is ready. Ducklings or goslings that hatch later than the usual incubation period are weak and should not be saved for breeding. Heredity factors are often partial for late hatchers.
Remove ducklings and goslings from the incubator after their down is dried and place them in the brooder.
Note: Ducklings imprint, or identify as their parent, the first object or person they see, as proven by Konrad Lorenz (1903 - 1989)
Brooding Ducklings and Goslings
Ducklings and goslings can be brooded much like baby chicks, except they more floor and feeder space due to their quick development and require heat for a much shorter time than chicks. The brooding house should be dry and clean, with plenty of fresh air (with no drafts). The floor must be covered with at least 2-3 inches of litter. Crushed corncobs, wood shavings, sawdust, and straw work well. Do not use fine litter until waterfowl can distinguish it from their feed. Make sure the litter is free of molds, and change when it is wet or dirty.
For space, provide each bird with 0.5 square foot for the first 2 weeks. Then, double the space provided every 2 weeks until 3 square feet per duck and 6 square feet per goose, or until birds are placed outside. Make sure to cover the corners, so the young birds do not suffocate if they wedge together.
The heating requirements for waterfowl are similar to that of baby chicks. At the first week, the temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower the temperature 5 degrees per week until it is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or until birds are placed outside. Determine the temperature 3 inches above the litter for ducklings, six inches for goslings. At six weeks, the birds should be fully-feathered and able to care for themselves. Good managers watch their birds closely. Birds that are huddled under the heat source are too cold. If they are spread out away from the heat source and are drowsy, they are too warm. If they form a wedge, there is a draft.
In floor pens, it is a good option to put in a brooder guard, which is a 12-inch-high circular barrier, with a diameter of 6-8 feet, designed to keep birds near the heat source, and prevent them from huddling in cold corners. Remove guard after a week.
Clean food and water should be available to birds at all times. Equipment for chickens can be used is the openings are large enough for waterfowls' heads and deep enough so they can flush out their eyes. Increase feeder and waterer space frequently. The rations for waterfowl should be as followed:
0 to 3 weeks - Starter
After 3 weeks - Grower
When full grown - Breeder
0 to 6 weeks - Starter
After 6 weeks - Grower
When full grown - Breeder
A starter mash that is specifically for waterfowl should be used, if available.When birds are 3 weeks of age, they can be given small leafy greens. To prevent digestive problems, feed grit a week before allowing access green plants.
Do not let young waterfowl swim or become wet for the first 3 weeks. Young birds that become wet chill easily, tend to crowd, and flip onto their backs resulting in death.
Sexing Young Waterfowl
Ducks are easier to visually sex than geese. All drakes, except the Muscovy, have small feathers on the top of their tail that curl forward toward their head, called "drake feathers". Female ducks lack these feathers. The call of the mature drake is soft and horse, while the females' are a loud, quaking noise.
There are also many differences between the appearances of drakes and ducks. Sexually mature grey (mallard-colored) drakes have iridescent green feathering on their head and upper neck, while females do not. Muscovy ducks are the hardest duck breed to sex. The males do not have drake feathers. Neither sex has a pronounced voice. However, males are twice as large as females and have more and larger caruncles (the red, fleshy, wart-like tissues around eyes). Geese do not have many of this sex-distinguishing features. Pilgrim ganders have white plumage while the females have white and grey. Amongst breeds with knobs on the head, such as Chinese and African, the ganders' knobs are much larger.
A method known as vent sexing is the most reliable way to sex geese. It may also be used for ducks. Turn the bird on it's back, hold back its tail, and apply direct pressure with your fingers on the sides of of the vent to expose the sex organs. The corkscrew-like organ of a male is somewhat difficult to reveal. The bird may still be male even if the organ does not appear. Only the presense of rosette organ can positively indicate the bird is a female.