Ducks

24.05.17

Since domestication some 4,000 years ago, ducks have been used for their meat, eggs and feathers. While in Western countries duck meat is more likely to be found on the menus of fine restaurants, in Asia it is an important source of protein.

Overview

The duck meat industry in Australia is relatively new, with significant expansion occurring in the 1970s and 80s. In Australia, 95% of meat ducks produced will be consumed domestically. The main domestic market for whole ducks is the Asian restaurant trade, however, duck meat consumption is rising in Australia with an increasing demand for specialty cuts from restaurants and, most recently, supermarkets. The duck egg industry is very small with mostly small operators producing opportunistically for specialist outlets.

Broiler ducks are raised and reared like meat chickens thus requiring similar structures and operations, although for biosecurity reasons they should not be farmed together. Most ducks are grown under contract, with contracts established between a grower and processor. However, there are some duck producers providing specialty products directly to niche markets.

Australia’s growing demand for duck, as well as its proximity to major markets in Asia, suggests the industry will continue to expand.

Facts and figures

  • The Australian duck meat industry is a maturing industry that began expansion in the 1970s and 80s
  • While duck consumption rates in Australia are quite low, demand is growing rapidly at around 10% annually
  • Australia slaughters around eight million birds per annum with an approximate value of AU$100 million
  • Two companies in Australia account for 85% of duck meat production
  • Commercial duck enterprises are similar in many ways to commercial poultry enterprises
  • The Pekin duck is the preferred breed for commercial duck production in Australia
  • Ducks are generally grown under contract with a processor
  • Ducks are relatively resistant to most avian diseases and consequently there is a limited vaccination program

Production status

In Australia, production is rapidly increasing, fuelled by a dramatic increase in the demand for duck meat. By global standards, Australia’s commercial industry is still small with major expansions taking place only since the 1970s and 80s.

It has been estimated that the industry slaughters around eight million birds annually and is worth approximately AU$100 million per annum. Two companies undertake 85% of this production.

Poultry consumption in Australia was estimated by ABARES to be 37.4kgs per person. Duck meat consumption figures are a minor part of that, with ABARES estimating consumption as approximately 0.5kg per person per annum. While duck consumption figures are small, the growing demand for duck meat in Australia means the industry is expanding at around 10% per annum.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

In Australia, 95% of meat ducks produced will be consumed domestically with the main market being whole birds for the Asian restaurant trade. More recently, duck cuts such as the breast and legs destined for home-based preparation, have become available in supermarkets.

Duck meat can be described as dark, tender meat with a mild flavour. Like chicken, the breast muscle is lighter and has a milder flavour than the leg muscle.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

With two processors controlling 85% of production, the growing regions for ducks tend to centre on the locations of those companies, which currently are the Sydney Basin and the Wimmera region of Victoria. A problem facing growers in the Sydney Basin is that production expansion is prevented by various legislative and council constraints. This will most likely lead to further expansion being moved to more regional areas outside the Sydney area. This may present opportunities for duck production in these more regional districts.

Smaller, niche producers supply small processing plants in other regions, including Newcastle and New South Wales.

Climate

Ducks are grown in well-ventilated sheds (similar to conventional broiler sheds) or fully enclosed climate-controlled sheds. Ducks can withstand most temperatures, but it should be noted that growth slows in hot summer climates, resulting in an additional four to six days to reach optimum weight, which impacts on production efficiencies. Therefore, ideally new entrants to the industry tend to opt for climate-controlled sheds to enable stable production rates.

Housing

The major requirements are:

  • adequate ventilation
  • protection from predators
  • dry bedding
  • protection from rain and prevailing winds
  • adequate space.

Breeders may be housed under intensive or semi-intensive conditions, but for commercial production, the intensive housing of ducks is preferred although wet litter can be a problem and must be closely managed.

Maximum recommended stocking densities for ducks in confinement are:

  • ducklings at 8 weeks: 8 birds/m2
  • ducklings to 10 days: 50 birds/m2
  • breeders: 5 birds/m2

Maximum recommended stocking densities for ducks in runs are:

  • ducklings at eight weeks: 5,000 birds/ha
  • breeders: 4,000 birds/ha.

Note: lighter stocking densities are necessary for heavier breeds such as muscovies.

Egg laying ducks will nest almost anywhere but prefer secluded areas with nest boxes on the floor of the shed or behind screened areas along a wall. Nesting compartments should measure at least 30x40cm with a 40cm high wall and an open front. One nest to three ducks is sufficient if eggs are to be incubated artificially but at least one nest per duck will be necessary with natural incubation. Ducks are affected by changes in day length and using artificial lighting to create a 15-hour day encourages and maintains constant egg production throughout the year.

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry 4th edition gives guidance on handling and stocking density as well as further information on the keeping of all poultry.

Feed requirements

The feed requirements for ducks with good genetics, are similar to those of meat breeds of chickens. While nutritional requirements differ for each growing stage, feed tends to include a mix of crushed grain (wheat and sorghum), bran, pollard, meat meal, soybean meal and other protein meals.

If growing ducks on contract to a processor, an appropriate feed mix will be stipulated in the contract and normally will be purchased from the processor’s designated feed mill. Ducks also need access to plenty of fresh drinking water.

Breeds and breeding

The Pekin duck (Anas domesticus) originates from China and is the preferred breed for commercial meat production in Australia due to its rapid growth rates. The Pekin duck has a large body, orange feet and beak, and creamy white feathers. It is considered to be a multi-purpose breed because it also has a high level of egg production. Nearly all the Pekin hybrid strains used in commercial production have been imported from the UK or Europe.

The Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) originates from South America and is the only domesticated breed not derived from the Mallard; in fact they are genetically more similar to geese. Features that distinguish the Muscovy include its bare face and the red caruncles positioned around the eyes and beak. Muscovy meat, while highly sought after in markets like France, is being phased out in Australia in favour of the faster growing Pekin.

Muscovies can be crossbred to create sterile hybrids which are known for their meat and fatty liver production. These are known as mullard or mule ducks and their lean meat is a marketing advantage in health-conscious societies.

Indian Runners (Anas platyrhynchos) are used for their prolific egg production; around 365 eggs in a year. The breed originates from Asia and can be identified by its tall, upright stance.

Khaki Campbells (Anas platyrhynchos) are predominately used for egg production, but are also good meat birds. The most distinguishing feature of this breed is its khaki colour. Khaki Campbells may produce up to 344 eggs in a year.

Sourcing stock

Ducks are typically grown under contract between a processing company (known as a processor) and individual farmers (also called growers).

Growers receive day-old ducklings from the processor under contract, which are delivered to the grower’s farm. The grower purchases feed from a mill designated by the processor. When the ducks are ready for slaughter, they are sold back to the processor and the grower is paid per kilogram of liveweight.

Under the contract, the grower is responsible for complying with legislative requirements in relation to the operation of the farm and for any environmental and welfare issues while growing the ducks.

The large processors are very protective of their genetic stock and will not supply hatched ducklings to anyone who is not a contracted grower. However, there are a number of small independent breeders of meat ducks that supply small producers with growing stock.

Health care, pests and diseases

Ducks are fairly disease resistant when good husbandry and management techniques are practised, therefore there is no vaccination program recommended for farmed ducks.

Outbreaks of diseases such as salmonella, Escherichia coli and Pasteurella multocidia sometimes occur but these are quickly brought under control. The most serious disease for intensively-reared ducks on multi-age farms is Rimerella (Pasteurella) anatipestifer which causes tremors and incoordination.

The Farm Biosecurity Manual for the Duck Meat Industry details measures to minimise the risk of introduction and spread of disease.

Infrastructure Requirements

Meat ducks are raised and reared like broiler chickens, thus requiring similar structures in terms of housing, which can be naturally ventilated sheds or environmentally controlled tunnel-ventilated sheds. Storage and handling equipment for feed materials; and equipment for catching and transporting ducks will be required.

If operating as a contract grower, the ducks will be transported to the processor when they reach the desired weight; therefore no processing infrastructure is required on farm. Some smaller, niche growers may have small processing facilities on site.

Processing & Selling

Ducks destined for the whole duck market are grown to a liveweight of 2.9kg, which under commercial conditions in Australia takes approximately six to seven weeks. When they reach their desired weight, ducks are transported to processors where they are slaughtered, plucked, cleaned, cooled and graded. The ducks are then either packaged and frozen or chilled, or processed further into various products prior to packaging and sale.

The processing of the duck is similar to that of chicken, except for the waxing of the duck for the removal of fine feathers.

There are two major processors in Australia, one in the Wimmera region of Victoria and another in the Sydney Basin, in New South Wales.

A number of independent producers operate in niche markets such as free range and supplying specialty restaurants. Stock tends to be supplied by independent breeders and producers usually have a small processing plant on the farm site.

Markets & Marketing

Two companies are responsible for supplying 85% of the Australian duck market.  One is based in the Wimmera region of Victoria and the other in the Sydney Basin.

Most of the duck processed in Australia is consumed domestically. The main market for whole ducks is the Asian restaurant trade, however, there is an increasing demand for duck cuts pre-packaged for home-based preparation, including ready-to-cook cuts, sausages, heat-and-serve meals and smoked products.

The two major companies responsible for duck production in Australia have branded products for sale to both commercial and retail customers.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

With most growers contracting to major processors, many conventional risks associated with start-up enterprises can be avoided. However, duck production is more labour intensive than other poultry/broiler production as ducks create more wet litter which must be regularly monitored in order to maintain litter quality.

Biosecurity has been identified as a risk due to the intensive nature of the industry, however, ducks are more disease resistant than other poultry when good husbandry practices are followed. For biosecurity reasons, ducks and chickens should not be farmed together.

Regulatory considerations

The same regulatory and approvals processes that apply to farming other poultry also apply to the establishment of a commercial duck enterprise. State departments of primary industry can assist new entrants understand the planning, environmental and welfare standards required to gain approval to operate.

Publications

Publications/information

Commercial Duck Production for Bird Welfare Environmental Benefits and Efficiency RIRDC Report (2010)

Introduction to Commercial Duck Farming NSW Department of Primary Industries

Introduction to duck raising NSW Department of Primary Industries

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry 4th edition

Other resources

Poultry Hub Developed by the Poultry CRC

Farm Biosecurity Manual for the Duck Meat Industry

Animal Health Australia

Poultry species NSW Department of Primary Industries

Industry Bodies

Australian Duck Meat Association — the association does not have a website but can be contacted via Pepe’s Ducks

Image Gallery

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Ducklings in conventional housing for commercial production

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Pekin ducks accessing feed in conventional housing (source Pepe's Ducks)

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Pekin ducks in conventional housing for commercial production

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Muscovy duck