Thinking about getting some Muscovy ducks around your place? Well, then, what could be more adorable than a flock of fuzzy little Muscovy ducklings? If this is your first foray into raising ducks, you can buy your first baby ducks from a local breeder, feed store, hatchery or animal auction. You might want to avoid buying a commercial strain of Muscovies bred solely for meat production, as they might have lost their self-reliant traits.
At about five months, Muscovy females mature and will lay up to three clutches of eggs a year. The females of this duck species are known for being good brooders and protective mothers, so many owners have their ducks do the setting rather than incubating the eggs artificially. Corine de Wit of Reva, Va., began raising ducklings of this species in the 1970s, when she lived in what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. De Wit, who keeps about 50 Muscovies, says that the mama Muscovy does such an excellent job, it’s just not worth it to pull the eggs. After hatchings occur, you should take care that the baby ducks receive extra protection from predators that may include crows, weasels, dogs and even Muscovy drakes. “As soon as a mom is spotted with ‘yellows,’ we catch them all up (she follows), and put them in a duckling pen that’s placed within the night pen,” de Wit says. “This is a 3-by-6-by-2-foot-tall cage with small chicken wire on the sides and top, and a hinged lid. The mother enjoys protection from drakes and family squabbles, but still has company. The young family stays in there four to six weeks — until they don’t fit anymore — and then they’re set loose. Mortality is greatly reduced this way.”
Brian Witt of Cassatt, S.C., secretary/treasurer of the International Muscovy Breeders Association, was attracted to the Muscovy ducks partly by their size and soft calls. Brian and his wife, Wanda, keep several hundred Muscovies for showing and selective breeding. They also sell many for the meat. When it comes to hatching duck eggs, the Witts encourage the female Muscovies to incubate their own eggs — until just before hatching. They then relocate the eggs to protect the ducklings from being killed by fire ants, a pest common in the South. The Muscovy ducklings live in brooders until they’re 1 month old; then they relocate to outdoor pens protected by electric fencing.
Wherever the small Muscovy ducklings are reared, whether by their mother or in a brooder box, they’ll need fresh, clean water for drinking. Also, water pans shouldn’t be large enough that the female can climb in with her chicks and accidentally hurt or drown them.
When you’re raising ducklings, you’ll need to know what to feed them. Young Muscovy ducklings can eat moistened, nonmedicated chick-starter crumbles or crushed waterfowl pellets, and cut fresh grass, dark lettuce or chard. Another tip for creating a healthy duck diet: A mesh bag filled with leftover fruit and hung out of reach is ideal in attracting small flies for the young birds to eat. And Muscovy ducklings can become tame if they are frequently hand-fed a tiny amount of bread or other tasty treat.
Young Muscovy ducklings are very susceptible to chilling, so if they’re kept in a brooder box, keep it at 85 to 90 degrees during the first week. The temperature can then be lowered gradually, by 5-degree intervals, over the following weeks. The temperature can be checked with a brooder thermometer and the baby ducks will offer signs if they are too cold (they will huddle together) or if they are too hot (they will pant and avoid the light). The bedding should be kept clean, and the absorbent wood shavings or straw should be changed frequently and be kept mold-free.
Never raise a Muscovy duckling alone, de Wit advises, mentioning her African-born foundation drake, Couak, who grew up with no other ducks. “He imprinted on me,” she says. “Never having to interact with his species while growing up, he was incapable of doing so as an adult. He became vicious and bad-tempered, attacking everyone in my family constantly.”
If you would like Muscovy ducklings to become attached to you, rear three or four together, de Wit suggests. The Muscovies will become imprinted on you and others like themselves, plus these pet ducks will be company for each other when you’re not around.
It won’t be long until you’re treated to one of the most amazing rural scenes: a tiny flock of tail-wagging Muscovies meandering through the green grass. Now that is a lovely sight.
Cherie Langlois is a freelance writer who enjoys raising Muscovy ducks and watching their antics on her Washington state farm.
To learn more about this duck species, read "Marvelous Muscovies" at Mother Earth News.