How to feed breeder ducks to maximise the viability of their eggs and the quality of their ducklings?

Reputed to be excellent laying hens, Pekin ducks are particularly suitable for farming breeder ducks. In order to further improve their performance, high-quality nutrition is essential for the optimal production of viable eggs and high-quality ducklings. Expert in breeder ducks, we tell you more.

The diet required by Peking ducks can be split into several phases during the breeding process. Whilst all are important, the start-up phase is proven to be crucial. The first three days of their lives determine their breeding potential, therefore particular attention must be given to their nutrition at this early stage. As they grow extremely quickly, extra vigilance is required for Pekin ducks.

The start-up phase

Starter feed, sold as crumbs for better absorption, should contain raw materials that are easy to digest. Experts of Grimaud Frères advise that ducklings should be given a diet composed of highly digestible nutrients and additives, especially chelated minerals which are easier for them to digest. Chelates combine trace elements with proteins, which provides two key advantages: it increases the rate of absorption to 60% and reduces the amount of waste going back into the environment. This starter feed diet should be provided for between 8 to 10 days, whilst the duckling is developing its nervous system and starting to grow its bones. Then, it enters the growth phase. One should not hesitate to invest in this feed.

The growth phase

When entering the growth phase, the feed changes, it takes the form of pellets, a shape suited to the duck’s beak, which makes it easier to ingest. The pellets also prevent the segregation of vitamin and trace mineral intakes in the feed in the form of a fine particles not consumed by the ducklings. Nutrition during this phase should meet the primary needs of ducks, it is at this time that they finish building their nervous and skeletal systems, and build their muscular mass. Take care, the aim is not to fatten them up excessively as an excess of fat would have a negative effect on their reproduction. Growth feed should be provided for up to 8 to 10 weeks, before moving to the breeding phase.

The breeding phase

The aim of this new stage in the lifecycle of a Pekin duck is to maintain the capital obtained during the start-up and growth phases, and to prepare the animals for breeding. The feed provided to ducks is slightly less concentrated, the idea is to further strengthen their skeleton by providing them with the right calcium intake. Thus, a breeder with good bone reserves will lay eggs with hard shells, which will determine the quality of future ducklings. It is at the end of this breeding phase that the growth potential of the female duck’s ovarian cluster and duck testicles is established, which will inevitably influence how successfully they reproduce in the future.

It is also important not to deviate from growth targets. The aim is to give the right food intake based on growth curves, otherwise, the development of the Pekin duck’s body composition will not be as expected. A diet which does not follow this curve could have significant consequences for breeding. This can result in deficiencies, causing ossification problems, which will then affect the quality of the shells at the time of laying. Conversely, overweight females will have difficulties laying, and males that are too fat will have fertility problems. In all events, if the feed given to ducks is not of a high quality, breeders will be faced with poor egg productivity and hatchability issues. With the right feed, Grimaud Frères experts guarantee that a female has the potential to produce 252 eggs and 206 ducklings over a laying period of 45 weeks.

The laying phase

When female ducks enter the laying period, their diet varies. Their needs will not be the same at the beginning and end of laying.  At the start, the ducks still need to grow, so provide them with a feed that is richer in protein and with a higher energy intake. At the end of laying, the amount of protein is reduced and calcium is increased. Be careful if males and females are kept together, they will eat the same diet, therefore do not increase the calcium too much, this could be detrimental to sperm production, and the ducks could become less fertile.

Feed for high-quality future ducklings

Although, first and foremost, a specially designed feed meets the physiological needs of breeding ducks, we also aim to try to transfer as many nutrients to the egg as possible to increase the viability and quality of the ducklings before their birth. As the duckling will feed on the yolk of the egg, it is necessary to maximise the quality of the required nutritional intake and above all, not to neglect the quality and the quantity of vitamin intakes and amino acids. Grimaud Frères recommend, in particular, incorporating a vitamin of the type HY-D into feed. This vitamin is directly absorbed by the liver, which combined with canthaxanthin antioxidants improves hatchability, the quality of embryos and therefore, of ducklings. In this way, the duckling leaves the egg on the right foot right from the start!  

Above all, it must not be forgotten that the first food that is essential to the life of all living things, and in particular ducks, is water and that the quality of that water is paramount.

The effect of feed from a health perspective

In order to secure production at the time of laying, additives can be used to reduce pathogenic flora in the parents’ digestive tract and therefore, improve the bacteriological quality of the eggs and later, the ducklings. By improving digestive flora, by lowering the pH of the digestive tract with essential oils and/or protected acids, the proliferation of gram-negative bacteria such as coliforms, salmonella and other Pseudomonas is greatly reduced, and the risk of vertical transmission or being transmitted through eggs is greatly decreased.

In addition, to limit the risk of livestock contamination through food, it is possible to use heat-treated food, i.e. food that has been heated to destroy any possible salmonella present in the raw materials. A way of ensuring the duck feed is safe and ensuring high-quality chicks.  

Above all else, the best way to protect health lies in the selection of the raw materials that are used to make the feed. Good knowledge of nutritional values as well as the fungal quality of the latter are basic elements in producing good feed.

 Changing their diet according to their environment

The ways of feeding a farm of breeder ducks may differ depending on the country or region you live in and its weather conditions. There isn’t just one way to do it. There are likely to be differences in their diet due to the climate, the environment and farming conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to know how to adapt feed to the needs of ducks in a particular environment. Differences can also come from the raw materials used, which are not strictly the same in one part of the world as another, as Robert Wehrlen, the parental production manager, states :

“At Grimaud Frères, we keep an open mind, it’s always interesting to analyse different processes to get the best out of them. We also have an expert nutritionist and all the skills required to help you adapt these dietary recommendations to your needs, regardless of the condition of your land. In accordance with the different stages described above, Grimaud Frères understand the needs of ducks, which we put at the disposal of our customers in order to guarantee them successful breeding.”

Robert Wehrlen

Parental production manager, Grimaud Frères

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