The keeping of any animal no matter how large or small needs careful consideration and planning. This guide outlines the requirements and demands of duck and/or geese keeping and provides recommendations to aid the correct selection, husbandry and management.
Why ducks and geese?
Ducks and geese are kept for several reasons but traditionally they were kept for their produce i.e. their eggs and their meat.
Ducks and geese were either reared from fertilised eggs hatched by broody adults or in incubators or from bought in chicks.
As breeding developed ducks and geese were kept specifically for pedigree breeding and showing and although not companion animals affections for ducks and geese have always been apparent. Exotic breeds may an attractive addition to garden areas. Geese have also been kept as guards as they are very territorial and can be extremely aggressive.
What are my basic requirements?
Available land area per head of ducks or geese would be at least a large garden with advice being sought if large numbers are intended to be kept. Small areas of land need to be rested in rotation as areas can get very messy and need time to recover. Water helps with a duck pond being ideal and geese need a grazing area. An island in the water area would also be recommended.
Suitable housing for shelter and warmth is also necessary and ducklings and goslings in particular need additional accommodation with good ventilation and hygiene being essential. For egg laying a separate, clean nesting area is necessary. Adequate knowledge is one of the most important requirements covering a range of subjects including how to feed, a calendar of duck and geese husbandry and breeding. A contact to slaughter and process is also essential.
Other necessities are forms of restraint e.g. adequate fencing (fox, vermin and other predator proof) and electric fencing which must be sound together with the ability to repair and maintain them.
What breed should I choose?
If size is the determining factor of choice one of the smallest breeds is the Call Duck, with many small exotic breeds in addition. The need to contain ducks is also essential as ducks will fly away and pinioning may need to be considered for the exotic breeds. Availability from local breeders should also be taken into account as well as available budget, egg numbers and colour. Colour ranges from white to dark duck-egg blue. Other breeders in the area may also have pedigree or breeds with specific genetic preservation issues or rare breeds, such as Sebastopols and Cayugas.
For attractiveness many fancy breeds are available and if meat production is the determining factor then Aylesbury ducks may be the most suitable.
What about feeding and management?
Availability of poultry layers pellets, duck pellets and mixed corn is crucial and you must identify a feed supplier for year round feed supplies. Feeds with no cocidiostats are crucial in the feeding of ducks and geese. Oyster shell is required for shell quality. Bedding of either shavings or straw is also necessary.
A feeding timetable also needs consideration. Will keeping ducks and geese fit in with full or part time employment and who will provide holiday relief? Will feeding times be convenient and help at hand seven days a week to do this? The feeding regimes of different ages of ducks and geese and particularly ducklings and goslings are a factor as are seasonal variations where lighting may be required for dark winter periods.
Recommended equipment includes:
Common ailments and conditions to look out for include:
- Preventative medicine eg worming and parasite control throughout the year.
- Medicinal and non medicinal products are available.
- Egg bound
- Vitamin deficiencies (supplements are available including poultry spice and tonic)
- Bird flu, Fowl Pest and Newcastle diseases which are all notifiable.
- Access to veterinary care and an animal health plan are recommended.
The Great Britain Poultry Register is a record of large numbers of poultry in Great Britain. By law you must register if you own or are responsible for a poultry premises with 50 or more birds. This includes ducks and geese. This requirement also applies even if the premises is only stocked with 50 or more birds for part of the year. At present, premises with fewer than 50 birds are not required to register, but keepers are encouraged to do so voluntarily.
This does not necessarily mean 50 of one species (although this may be the case) but 50 overall, for example if you have 30 chickens, 15 geese, 4 ducks and 1 rhea you need to register.
This decision to restrict the requirement to register to flocks of 50 or more birds is because it is considered that smaller flocks are less likely to play a significant role in the spread of disease. It is a priority to focus on gathering information from these larger flocks. However, it is possible for owners of smaller flocks to register.
This can be done on line at defra.gov.uk. The sale of produce also requires regulation through farm assurance, food hygiene regulations, local authority registration for farmers market and slaughter requirements.