Animal Care Series:

 

 

Muscovy Duck

Care Practices

 

California Poultry Workgroup

University of California – Cooperative Extension


FOREWORD
 
Muscovy Duck Care Practices” is one of a series of University of California publications addressing the issue of animal care relating to food production in California.  This publication is a joint effort of the Poultry Workgroup, Cooperative Extension, and industry representatives.

 

Muscovy Duck Care Practices” was edited by Francine Bradley, Carol Cardona , Ralph Ernst, Pam Hullinger, Joan Jeffrey and Joy Mench.

 
The author is Joanna Gourley, UC Davis Animal Science and Management Major.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

The author would like to thank Olivier Rochard and the management staff of Grimaud Farms for cooperation and assistance in preparing this publication.

 

Photo credit to Pam Hullinger, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Division of Animal Industry, Animal Health Branch, 1220 N Street, Sacramento CA 95814.

 


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTION

 

MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

            Employee Training and Monitoring

            Record Keeping

 

HATCHING AND SERVICING DUCKLINGS

            Egg Storage and Preparation

            Incubation

            Hatchery Processing of Ducklings

            Egg and Cull Disposal

 

BROODING AND GROWING

            Brooding Temperature

            Brooder Rings

            Feed and Water

            Monitoring

 

BREEDING STOCK

            Housing

            Nests

            Feed and water

            Lighting

            Egg Collection and Handling

 

ENVIRONMENT

            Housing

            Ventilation

            Air Quality

            Flooring and Litter

            Stocking Density

            Feed and Water

Lighting

Range Rearing

 

HEALTH MAINTENANCE PROGRAMS

            Biosecurity

            Cleaning and Disinfecting

            Immunization

            Medications

            Beak and Claw Trimming

            Disposal of Dead Birds

 

METHODS OF EUTHANASIA FOR CULLS

            Cervical Dislocation

            Maceration

 

HANDLING AND TRANSPORTATION

            Catching and Loading

            Transportation

 

PROCESSING

            Unloading

            Shackling and   Slaughter

 


INTRODUCTION

 

This document is intended to be a guide for the humane rearing of commercial Muscovy ducks.  It has been developed with the welfare of the ducks as a priority.  Welfare has been shown to impact hatchability, livability and overall carcass quality.  Provision of a comfortable, well-managed environment for farm-reared ducks is in the best interests of the birds and the owners.

 

Raising ducks requires knowledge of their behavior and proper production techniques. More detailed information on rearing ducks can be obtained from the University of California Cooperative Extension, experienced industry representatives, books and other publications. Anyone planning to raise Muscovy ducks should familiarize themselves with appropriate husbandry techniques prior to obtaining any ducklings.

 

MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

 

Employee Training and Monitoring

 

            Duck caretakers should be trained in bio-security, duck behavior, brooder management, house ventilation, flock health management, litter management and emergency procedures.  This training should include the rationale for all procedures. Emergency procedures should be clearly posted and should include emergency contacts and telephone numbers.  Employees should have access to managers or emergency services at all times.

 

Record Keeping

 

            Good records are essential to successful duck production. Records should be kept on hatchability, mortality, culling levels, reasons for culling, feed consumption, rodent control, vaccinations, farm visitors and any other flock information that is available.  Records should be used on a regular basis to identify problems and determine the success of bird management programs.

 

HATCHING AND SERVICING DUCKLINGS

 

Egg Storage and Preparation

 

            Duck hatching eggs should be stored at a temperature of 55 to 65oF (12-18o C) with a relative humidity of 70-80%.  Eggs should be stored on clean egg flats with the large end up.  Prolonged storage (more than 7 days) will result in a linear decrease in percent hatch. Eggs that are misshapen, abnormally large or small, visibly cracked, or excessively dirty should be removed prior to storage and not incubated.


 Incubation

 

The hatchery should be properly ventilated to assure good hatches.  Incubators should be tested prior to setting eggs to assure that optimum conditions are maintained. Muscovy ducks require an incubation period of 35 days. Eggs should be set with the large end up or in a horizontal position depending on the type of incubator trays used.  It is suggested that hatcheries use the manufacturer’s recommended temperature and humidity settings for duck eggs until experience is gained.  Most machines are equipped with automatic turning devices and they should be set to turn the eggs every hour.  If the eggs must be turned manually, it should be done 3 or more (an odd number) times per day.

 

For still-air incubators the temperature within the incubator should be maintained at approximately 102oF (39oC) with 60 to 65% relative humidity.  The thermometer should be placed at average egg height. Water pans should be filled just prior to use and water replaced every 3 to 4 days throughout the incubation period. The eggs should be placed horizontally and turned 180 degrees on the long axis, 3 or more times per day (an odd number).  In forced-air incubators a dry bulb temperature of 99.5oF (37.5oC) and a wet bulb temperature of 88oF (31.5oC; equivalent to 65% relative humidity) are recommended.

 

Eggs should be transferred to hatching machines approximately 3 days prior to hatch (this can be done anytime after 24 days if desired).  Recommended settings during hatch are 98.5oF (37oC) temperature and a wet-bulb temperature of 88oF (31oC; equivalent to 66% relative humidity).  Eggs should not be turned in the hatchers.  Hatchers should be cleaned and disinfected after each hatch. Setters can be cleaned less frequently but should still be cleaned on a regular basis.

  

Hatchery Processing of Ducklings

 

            After hatching ducklings should be removed from the machine promptly (when 95% are dry) to prevent dehydration.  They are very sensitive and should be handled carefully.  Place ducklings in fresh disposable boxes or clean and disinfected plastic boxes. Boxes should be lined with new pads that provide good traction to prevent injury.  The boxes should provide adequate ventilation to prevent heat stress.  The duckling holding room should be maintained at 75oF (23.9oC) and 75% relative humidity.

 

Vehicles used to transport ducklings should provide adequate ventilation, temperature and humidity levels throughout the trip.  Delivery times should be scheduled with weather conditions in mind.  During hot weather, delivery should begin as early as possible to prevent heat stress.  During loading and unloading, the ducklings should be monitored for signs of heat stress (panting, dropping wings or prostration) and any problems should be remedied quickly.  The truck and any equipment used for loading and unloading should be cleaned between uses.

           

            Vaccinations may be given at the hatchery.   Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for handling, preparing and administering the vaccine.

 

Egg and Cull Disposal

 

            Any unhatched eggs or cull ducklings must be humanely euthanized immediately after the hatch is pulled.  Acceptable methods include cervical dislocation and maceration.  Methods that involve suffocation, drowning or contact with irritating chemicals should not be used.  Employees must be properly trained and monitored to assure humane euthanasia.

 

 

BROODING AND GROWING

 

Brooding Temperature

 

            Muscovy ducklings are particularly sensitive to cold and require an ambient air temperature of 85 to 90oF (29.4 to 32.2oC) for the first 3 days. The temperature can be gradually reduced to approximately 82oF (28o C) by the end of the first week. Temperature can be reduced weekly until 28 days when it should be maintained between 63 oF and 70 oF (17.5o C and 21o C). All equipment necessary to heat the house should be started at least 24 hours prior to the arrival of the ducklings to ensure conditions are optimal when they are placed.

 

Brooder Rings

 

            It is best to confine the ducklings to a smaller space using a brooder ring until they become adjusted to their environment and learn the location of water, heat and feed. Rings can be constructed out of metal, wire or other material that can be easily cleaned and sanitized or disposable corrugated cardboard.  The material should be 12 to 15 inches high and should form a ring around the heat source, feeders and watering devices without leaving any corners where ducklings might pile and smother.  The ring’s diameter should be increased and joined to other rings to form larger circles as the birds grow.  At 7 to 10 days of age the rings can be removed and the birds allowed access to the entire pen.

 

Feed and Water

 

            Drinking water is one of the most critical needs of a duckling.  Water containers should be filled at least 24 hours prior to placement of the birds to allow the water to reach room temperature.  The height of all watering devices should be adjusted as the birds grow to ensure ease of access.  Since ducks are waterfowl, they need to be able to immerse their bills in water.  This is important for proper hygiene and the health of their nostrils and eyes.  The watering devices should not be large enough to allow them to put their entire body into the water.  This will cause the water to get dirty and become contaminated.  Adequate watering space should be provided (75 inches trough access space, 10 cups or 15 nipples/ 100 ducks up to 7 weeks of age).  Watering equipment should be cleaned frequently.

 

            Feeders should provide 75 inches of trough access per 100 ducks up to 7 weeks of age.  Feed can be provided immediately upon arrival of the birds or shortly after to encourage the birds to locate the water first.  Feed should be provided on a free choice basis.  The ration should provide adequate levels of nutrients to ensure optimum growth and development.  Any caked or stale feed should be removed to prevent bacterial and mold growth.

 

            Placement of the feeders and watering devices is important for litter maintenance.  It may be desirable to move them daily to prevent build up of caked litter.  Litter under feeders and watering devices should be monitored and caked litter removed and replaced.  It may be preferred to place watering devices and feeders on raised slatted or wire flooring to prevent the problems associated with wet litter. 

 

Monitoring

 

            Ducklings should be checked at least twice a day for the first week to ensure adequate access to feed and water.  Particular attention should be paid to duck behavior to assess if the temperature is comfortable.  If radiant heaters are used the duckings should form a ring under the heater.  If they crowd to the center it is an indication that the temperature is to low.  If the entire pen is heated the ducklings should spread out uniformly.  If they crowd together in groups or one side of the pen it is an indication that the temperature is too low or that the pen is drafty.  After the first week, the ducks should be inspected at least daily.  If injuries occur, efforts should be made to determine the cause and make any adjustments possible to prevent future incidences.  Caretakers should move through pens carefully while monitoring for sick or injured birds.  Culls should be removed to a hospital pen or humanely euthanized.

 

 

BREEDING STOCK

 

Breeding stock is started in the same way as market ducks.  Additional housing space should be provided during the development period.

 

Housing

 

            Breeder ducks may be kept in litter floor houses or houses with access to outside runs.  If outside runs are used ducks should be confined indoors during the night to protect them from predators.  If feed is provided inside, water must also be provided.  Otherwise it is acceptable to allow the ducks to go without water during the night.  Each duck should be allotted 4 to 6 ft2 of space.  There should be a ratio of one male per 3 to 4 females.

 

Nests

 

            Nests should be provided to prevent the ducks from laying eggs on the floor where they have a greater chance of becoming contaminated, cracked or broken.  One nest should be provided for each four or five females.  Clean, dry nest pads or litter should be provided in the nests and changed often to keep eggs clean.  Nests should be large enough to provide an environment where the duck can feel safe.  Suggested dimensions are 12 in wide, 18 in deep and 12 in high. A small 2-inch high board can be placed across the front to retain nest litter.

 

Feed and water

 

            Ducks should be fed a maintenance ration from 8 weeks to an age of 5 ½ to 7 months depending upon when lay will be initiated.  The maintenance diet should be formulated to provide adequate nutrient levels for uniform flock growth and development without excessive fat.  At 5 ½ to 7 months, a breeder diet should be provided starting 1 month prior to the time hatching eggs are required.  The breeder ration should provide adequate nutrients to ensure breeder health, egg quality and good hatchability.  Feed can be provided free choice or in measured quantities.  If feed is not provided free choice, care should be taken to ensure uniform feed consumption among individuals.  Water must be available whenever feed is provided, but need not be available at all times.  Care should be taken to assure that ducks consume adequate water.

 

Lighting

 

            Ducks are usually stimulated to come into full lay at approximately 7 months of age. The most appropriate age to light stimulate ducks may vary with genetic strain.  Consult the breeding company for their recommendations.  Proper age at light stimulation will ensure adequate body development and optimal health during egg production.  A 14 hour day length is sufficient to stimulate full production.  Light stimulate drakes one to two weeks before ducks to assure good fertility.

 

Recycling (molting) of Breeders

 

            Feed can be withheld for a period up to 48 hours but water should  always be available during recycling.  Samples of ducks should be weighed frequently to assure that weight loss is within target guidelines.  Flock mortality should be monitored closely during any recycling program.  Any increase in mortality should be investigated promptly. 

 

Egg Collection and Handling

 

            Since ducks lay their eggs early in the day, collection should take place in early morning.  A second or third collection may be desirable at hourly intervals.  Another collection can take place just before the birds are confined indoors for the night if they have access to outside runs.  Muscovy ducks are very broody, so it is important to collect the eggs often.  For egg handling and storing procedures consult:  HATCHING AND SERVICING DUCKLINGS page 5.

 

ENVIRONMENT

 

Housing

 

            Housing is provided as protection from the extremes of the environment that could cause mortality, reduced growth, immunosuppression, reduced fertility or reduced egg production.

 

Appropriate building design should consider the local climate and temperature.  Insulation may be necessary to maintain the desired temperature range within the house.  Materials used in construction of the interior surfaces should be easily cleaned and sanitized.  The house should be free from any sharp edges, corners or other protrusions, which might injure the birds.  The house should be well maintained and necessary repairs should be done in a timely manner.  Muscovy ducks are particularly sensitive to cold temperatures.  Heaters or provisions for cooling may be necessary to maintain temperature within an optimum range.  Heat stress may be reduced by using roof sprinklers, inside foggers, fans that move air over the ducks, ceiling insulation or evaporative pad cooling.  The behavior of ducks is an excellent indication of the comfort of the environment.  Ducks that are too cold will huddle close together.  If they are too hot, they will open their beaks, pant and spread their wings. 

 

Ventilation

 

            Ventilation is necessary to remove moisture, carbon dioxide and ammonia and provide oxygen. The ammonia level should not exceed 25 ppm.  Long-term exposure to ammonia in excess of this level will cause damage to the lungs, trachea and eyes.  Ammonia levels should be assessed at the level of the ducks.  It is important that uniform ventilation is provided without cold drafts on young ducklings.

 

Air Quality

 

            Air quality is an important consideration for the ducks and workers.  Poor air quality can lead to health problems such as deterioration of the lungs, trachea and eyes.  Air quality is a more serious concern in closed houses with high stocking density.  Airborne contaminants should never exceed the limits recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

 

            Dust and ammonia are the most obvious of the airborne contaminants in duck houses.  Dust results from manure, feed, litter and dander.  The permissible exposure limit set by Cal/OSHA for total dust is 10 mg/m3 and for respirable dust is 5 mg/m3.  Ammonia exposure limits for workers established by Cal/OSHA are 25 ppm for an 8-hour TWA (time weighted average) exposure and 35 ppm for a 15-minute short-term exposure.

 

            Endotoxins (toxins derived from bacteria) are also an important consideration for the safety of workers.  No acceptable limits have been set by Cal/OSHA but managers should be alert for symptoms of excessive exposure in workers.  These symptoms include, cough, chest tightness, diarrhea, eye irritation, fatigue, fever, headache, nasal irritation, nausea and phlegm.

 

            Levels of ammonia and dust should be closely monitored and maintained below acceptable limits.  Employee exposure to excessive levels should be minimized and respiratory protection (a two-strap, OSHA approved dust mask) should be provided if necessary.

           

Flooring and Litter

 

Concrete floors are preferred but packed earthen floors can also be used.  Floors should be graded to prevent pooling of water.

 

            Many types of litter may be used, including wood shavings, rice hulls and chopped straw.  The material used should be absorbent and not easily packed down.  Enough litter should be provided to absorb the feces moisture.  Maintaining good litter condition is important to bird health.  If the litter is too dry, it can become dusty and cause respiratory problems.  If the litter is too wet, caking occurs and can result in footpad lesions and breast blisters, which are uncomfortable for the animal and adversely, affect carcass quality.  Moisture level is of particular importance to Muscovy ducks.  Since they are waterfowl, Muscovy ducks require water for grooming.  This process leads to splashing and spilled water around the watering equipment.  Also, duck feces are considerably wetter than the feces of other poultry.  Litter should be raked over to break up any clumps and layers of fresh litter should be added as needed.  Locating watering devices and feeders on raised, slatted or wire floors will reduce wet litter problems.

 

Stocking Density

           

            Males and females should be grown in separate pens.  Ducks grow rapidly and overcrowding can develop quickly.  Overcrowding should be avoided since it can cause wet litter, uneven and poor growth and increased feather picking.  For heavy strains, the stocking density can range from 2 to 3 ft2 for males and from 1 to 2 ft2 for females.  In determining stocking density, the flooring type, equipment, ventilation and climate should be considered.  Males and females can be placed in separate houses or in separate pens within the same house.  If the later approach is used, males should be allowed access to the entire house when females are removed for processing before males.

 

Feed and Water

 

Ducks should receive diets that provide nutrient levels appropriate for their age and reproductive condition.  Additional feeding and watering equipment may be needed as the birds grow to ensure all birds receive adequate nutrients (see Feed and Water page 7 for detailed recommendations).  Feed and water intake should be monitored as an indicator of flock health and any abrupt changes should be investigated. Young ducks can be fed mash or crumbled feed.  Pelleted feeds are often used for older ducks because they have been shown to reduce waste, improve feed efficiency and increase growth response.

 

Lighting

 

            Lighting can be supplied by natural light or artificial lamps.  Light intensity should be adequate for the caretaker to work effectively and to examine the birds for signs of illness or behavioral abnormality.  During the first week, a minimum of 1 to 2 foot candles of light intensity should be provided for 23 hours a day. This allows the birds time to adjust to their environment and learn where the feeders and watering devices are located.  Two hours of darkness should be provided on the first day of week 2 with 2-hour additions each day until a 16-hour day-length is reached. From week 4 to processing, 14 hours of light and 10 hours of dark should be provided at minimum of 1 foot-candle of intensity. If cannibalism begins to occur prior to scheduled bill trimming, reduction of light intensity can be temporarily used in an effort to reduce the problem.

 

Range Rearing

 

            Ducks can be successfully reared on range, provided the range area is properly maintained and shelter, feed and water are available.  This system can only be used during mild weather.  There are different types of free-range systems. The traditional system involves rearing ducks completely on pasture.  Feed should be provided as a supplement to the pasture in order to ensure proper nutrition.  Shelter from wind, rain and sun should be provided.  Ducks should be confined to the shelters at night as protection from predators.  Moveable shelters are preferred to prevent overgrazing and ducks should be moved to fresh range at regular intervals.  When first placed on range young ducklings should be carefully monitored to assure they are not chilled.

 

            Another range system allows ducks access to outside runs or pens that are attached to the building.  Doors to the run should be opened only during the daytime when weather permits.  Each of these systems can be an effective type of enrichment without excessive cost. With range systems there is increased risk of death or injury from predation as well as exposure to wild birds and vermin, which may carry disease.  There is little risk of escape by flight of heavy-type Muscovy ducks.

 

HEALTH MAINTENANCE PROGRAMS

 

            Production animals are exposed to disease-causing agents daily but a good health maintenance program can prevent disease and death caused by these agents.  All managers and employees of Muscovy production facilities should be trained in effective bio-security procedures.

 

Biosecurity

 

Biosecurity procedures are designed to prevent the introduction to or spread of disease onto a farm.  Biosecurity is a low cost and effective form of disease prevention and is essential to the success of any animal health program.  A biosecurity plan should be developed with the assistance of a veterinarian or health management professional.  Employees should thoroughly understand biosecurity and be fully trained in biosecurity procedures.  Some of the core concepts of biosecurity are:

 

·        Only visitors with a definite and necessary purpose should be allowed on the farm. Any persons making deliveries or pick-ups should and  never be in direct contact with ducks.  Farm visitors should be required to sign a logbook and this record should be retained.

 

·        Movement of workers between houses, other production sites and between different age groups of ducks should be minimized.  If necessary, the movement of people and equipment between age groups should only occur from the youngest flock to the oldest and never in reverse order.  Equipment should be cleaned and disinfected between uses if it is used in more than one house.

 

·        Protective clothing, boots and hairnets should be required for visitors before entry into any house.  Footbaths with adequate disinfectant should be provided for visitors and employees.  Boot scrubbing stations are also beneficial.  The water and disinfectant in these baths should be changed frequently to ensure effectiveness.  If higher security is desired showers and farm-owned clothing can be provided for visitors and employees.

 

·        A regular schedule of cleaning and disinfecting should be developed and followed carefully (For details see Cleaning and Disinfecting).

 

·        Any trucks, which must come onto the premises, should have their wheels washed before entry and exit with a disinfecting solution.

 

·        When selecting the farm location one should take into consideration other poultry production sites in the area.  Adequate separation from other poultry units will help prevent disease transfer. It is preferable for the facility to be away from main highways and outside of wild bird flyways.

 

·        Employees should not have contact with any other poultry and should not be allowed to keep poultry or other birds. Visitors should not have been in contact with other poultry during the previous 24 hours and should be required to shower and change their clothing and shoes before visiting.

 

·        Exposure to rodents, wild birds and any other animals should be prevented, if possible.  Buildings and fences should be maintained in good condition to prevent the entry by vertebrate pests.  Weeds immediately surrounding the house should be cut down to ground level or killed with an herbicide to reduce harborage.  Traps and baits should be used to control rodents.  Inside bait stations should be designed to prevent duck access.  Traps should be checked and re-baited on a regular schedule.

 

·        Farm pets should not be allowed to contact the ducks and preferably should be kept off the premises completely.

 

·        Alarms should be used to alert mangers of power or equipment failure, including alarms for power outage, high or low temperature, and fan failure.

 

·        Market ducks should be housed on an all-in-all-out basis.

 

·        Different ages of birds should not be housed in the same building.

 

·        All dead birds should be removed from each house and/or yard at least once daily.

 

·        Ducks should be monitored daily for signs of disease and sick birds separated from the flock and held in isolation or euthanized immediately.

 

·        Whenever possible, disease-free stock should be used. 

 

·        Signs should be posted to deter people from entering unauthorized areas.  Houses should be locked to prevent unauthorized entry.  Perimeter fencing of the property is recommended to provide additional security.

 

Cleaning and Disinfecting

 

            Cleaning and disinfecting the house and all equipment is one of the most important aspects of disease prevention.  The house and equipment should be completely cleaned and disinfected at least once a year.  Water lines should be flushed and disinfected periodically.  The watering devices should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected frequently.

 

            Complete cleaning and disinfecting of the house and equipment should include the following aspects:

 

·        Removal of debris – All litter should be completely removed from houses.  Spider webs, dirt and other dry debris should be knocked down from surfaces and completely removed.

·        Cleaning of surfaces – All inside surfaces and equipment should be thoroughly washed, preferably with a high-pressure sprayer. Everything should be allowed to dry for at least 24-36 hours prior to disinfection.

·        Disinfection of surfaces – Several types of disinfectants are approved for poultry house use. They differ in cost, characteristics and ability to kill different pathogens. All surfaces must be clean for disinfection to be successful. When you select a disinfectant consider water hardness, application method, disease agent of concern, corrosiveness, and safety precautions required for applicators.

 

Immunization

 

Immunization for the prevention or suppression of infectious disease is an integral part of a flock health program.  Immunity is of two broad types: passive or active.  Passive immunity in a duckling is a result of maternal exposure to antigens (vaccination or natural exposure).  Maternal antibodies temporarily protect the duckling for one to three weeks after hatch depending on the disease agent and the level of antibodies in the dam. 

 

Active immunity occurs after direct exposure to an antigen, which leads to an immune response.  Exposure could be in the form of a vaccine or through infection.  Exposure through vaccination is controlled to produce immunity without causing overt disease as can result from unplanned exposure. Response to the controlled exposure may be in the form of antibodies and/or defense cells, which will protect the bird from the exposure to the disease in the future. Generally, vaccinations are given more than once. This extends the length and level of protection received against the disease and creates a high level of protection.  Active immunity can induced by inoculation of ducks with either live or killed disease agents.  Killed agents are given as killed vaccines and must be injected.  Live vaccines are administered by a variety of methods including injection, eye drop, spray, or drinking water.

 

An immunization program should be developed based on the diseases the ducks are likely to encounter.  An effective program should be developed with a veterinarian or other duck health care professional.  Maternal immunity in ducklings and any possible vaccine interactions should be considered when developing a program.  Instructions from the vaccine manufacturer on handling, preparation and administration should be followed exactly.  Antibody levels in serum from a selected few birds should be monitored before and after vaccination to determine the success of the program.  Immunizations are never a substitute for strict bio-security.  Vaccinations are less effective if birds have high levels of exposure to disease causing agents, are stressed, housed under unsanitary conditions, or have inadequate nutrition.  Since vaccination is itself an expense and a stress on the birds, it should only be used when it is known the birds are at risk of infection or an outbreak has occurred previously on the farm.

 

Medications

 

            Like vaccination, medication is a stress and should be used judiciously.  Antibiotics should only be used to control a specific bacterial agent and not for growth promoting purposes.  Preventative medications in the feed can be an effective method of controlling some diseases.  If preventative medications are used, follow the manufacturers directions for use levels and withdrawal times or the directions of a licensed veterinarian.

 

Beak and Claw Trimming

           

            Beak trimming is a common method of controlling feather pecking and cannibalism in poultry.  Muscovy ducks have a problem with feather pecking.  Pecking generally begins around three weeks of age when the adult plumage begins to grow.  Trimming the bill is stressful and probably causes some pain. Unfortunately, with Muscovy ducks, no other viable alternatives exist at this time.  Trimming results in a slight shortening of the upper bill relative to the lower (Figure 1).  This keeps the duck from being able to grasp feathers or flesh during pecking.

 

Figure 1.  Freshly trimmed beak compared to untrimmed beak of 21 day old Muscovy.

 

 

Figure 2.  Tip of beak removed during trimming.

 

 

Only properly trained workers should perform bill trimming. Management should monitor the quality of the trimming to ensure the least discomfort possible for the birds.  Trimming should take place before the birds are three weeks of age.  Trimming can be done at the hatchery by searing the nail of the upper bill with an electric beak trimmer.  This method, however, may not be ideal since re-growth can occur and the process may need to be repeated.  Accuracy is also more difficult since the beak of a day-old duckling is small.  Trimming can also be done at 7 to 21 days of age.  The upper bill is cut at the mid-point of the nail; about ¼ inch is removed see figure 2).  This procedure can be done with an electric debeaker or very sharp straight scissors.  Feed but never water should be removed 1 day prior to trimming. Any culls should be removed and humanely euthanized.  Prior to trimming, Vitamin K can be given in the water to enhance blood clotting.  Good ventilation should be provided during trimming to prevent heat stress that can occur if ducks are held too densely in catching pens.  Feed and water should be provided for the birds immediately after trimming.  Feed intake may be reduced, but should return to normal within 24 hours.

 

Muscovy ducks are very strong and their nails are extremely sharp.  The nails can be trimmed to reduce scratching of pen mates or risk of injury to workers (Figure 3).  It can be performed as early as 10 days of age.  However, it may be more economical and less stressful to the birds if it is done at the same time as bill trimming.  This procedure can be done with little discomfort to the duck if performed properly.  The claw should be trimmed close to the base but extreme caution should be taken to ensure it is not trimmed too closely.  As with bill trimming, this procedure should be done by trained workers and strictly supervised by managers to ensure accuracy and the welfare of the birds.

 

Figure 3.  Nail of duckling one week after trimming.

 

 

Disposal of Dead Birds

 

           

Carcass disposal should be designed to prevent spread of disease and protect the environment.  The following are acceptable methods for disposal:

 

·        Rendering – This is a frequently used method of disposal. Ducks should be placed in fly-tight containers for pick-up by rendering trucks.  The pick up area should be located at the edge of the premises and downwind from houses if possible.  The containers should be kept out of the reach of the public with biohazard signs posted. Pick-up should be at least two times per week.

 

·        Composting – This can be an excellent method for disposal since the birds are recycled and used as fertilizer.  Detailed instructions for mortality composting are widely available.  Construction of an area with a concrete pad to prevent leaching and a rain shelter to prevent excessive wetting are necessary.  It is important to monitor the compost to ensure an adequate temperature is reached to destroy pathogens.  The compost facility should be located as far from poultry as feasible and in a downwind location.

 

·        Incineration – This is a less desirable method of disposal since it can be costly and does not handle sudden increases in mortality well.  It is effective for disease control.  Regulations on air pollution may prohibit this method or dictate the type of incinerator that can be used in some areas and proper ash disposal must be followed.

 

·        Disposal pits or burial – This method of disposal can only be used in areas where there is no threat of groundwater contamination.  Determining the acceptability of a site can be costly and may not be successful.  Burial is more flexible than pits, which perform best with constant levels of mortality and do not handle sudden increases in mortality well.

 

METHODS OF EUTHANASIA FOR CULLS

Methods used to kill culls should result in humane death, be safe for employees and avoid possible spread of pathogens.  Several methods are acceptable but maceration is often the most practical method for hatchery culls and embryos.   Cervical dislocation is usually the method of choice for ducks.

Cervical Dislocation

If carried out near the base of the birds skull, dislocation of the neck vertebrae from the cranium damages the lower brain region, causing rapid unconsciousness.  In order to be humane, dislocation must cause severance of the brain from the spinal cord and carotid arteries.  This is best achieved using a stretching motion rather than by crushing the vertebrae.  Training of personnel is critical.  Small ducks can be dislocated by applying a rotational movement to the neck.  Adult ducks should be held by the shanks with one hand and the head grasped immediately behind the skull with the other hand.  The neck is then extended and dislocated using a sharp downward and backward thrust.  Flapping and other body movements may persist for several minutes after cervical dislocation, although if the vertebrae have been properly dislocated these are reflex reactions.


Maceration

Maceration in a high-speed grinder results in rapid death, and is considered a humane method for disposing of cull ducklings and embryonated eggs.  Only grinders specifically designed for disposal of poultry, which have blades that turn at 5000 or more revolutions per minute, should be used for this purpose.  The grinder should be properly maintained and must not be overloaded, since birds may be incompletely macerated under these circumstances.

 

HANDLING AND TRANSPORTATION

 

            Muscovy ducks are a large and powerful with sharp claws. They should always be handled with caution to prevent injury to birds and workers.  Catchers should be properly trained before they are allowed to handle ducks.  Muscovy ducks are fast when they are young but become much slower as they grow due to their large breast size.  Handling is a stress on the birds and should only be done when absolutely necessary.  Rough handling, bruising and stress can adversely affect carcass quality.  Feed should be removed for 8 to 12 hours before slaughter to reduce carcass contamination.

 

Catching and Loading

 

            Birds should be caught and carried in a way that provides as much support as possible and prevents injury to the legs or wings.  Care should be taken to keep the birds as calm as possible during catching.  Lights can be reduced or catching can be done during the night to help keep the birds calm.  Noise levels should also be kept at a minimum.  Birds that become frightened can crowd together creating the potential for injury, scratching, heat stress or smothering.  Enough light should be provided to ensure worker safety.

 

            Crates, cages or bins should be constructed to prevent injury of birds.  Openings should be provided to allow adequate ventilation.  Material used to construct crates should be easily cleaned and sanitized, plastic is preferred.  Containers should be cleaned and disinfected between uses.  They should be well maintained and any repairs necessary should be made prior to use.  Containers should be constructed to prevent the birds from standing.  This will help prevent injury from the birds losing their balance during transportation.  Adequate space should be provided to allow all the birds to rest by sitting at the same time and adequate headspace should be provided.  Appropriate density of birds in containers should be varied with container size, bird size and environmental conditions.  The density used should allow adequate ventilation and prevent heat stress.  If necessary, fans or evaporative cooling should be utilized to maintain temperature within an acceptable range.  Loading should be done as quickly as possible without jeopardizing the health of the birds. The truck driver should check to assure container closure and secure the load before the trip begins.


Transportation

 

Transportation should be scheduled during the cool times of the day and traffic patterns should also be considered to avoid unnecessary delays.  The birds should spend as little time as possible in transit.  Temperature on the truck during transportation should also be closely monitored.  The driver is responsible for ensuring the health of the ducks during the entire trip.  Protection from extreme weather such as wind, rain and heat should be provided as necessary.  If delay due to traffic, inspection or other reason is unavoidable, adequate air circulation must be provided.  It is advisable to equip trucks with fans or evaporative cooling pads to provide adequate cooling and air movement when delay occurs.  The shortest route may not be the best path.  Other poultry facilities and urban areas should be avoided if possible.  It is advisable for the driver to have some form of communication such as a cell phone in case of prolonged delay or emergency.  It is also advisable for the drivers to be trained in humane methods of euthanasia in case there is an accident and ducks are injured. The truck should be cleaned and sanitized between each use.

 

PROCESSING

 

Processing plants should be designed to provide proper sanitation, minimize bird discomfort and maintain carcass quality.  Bird welfare and safety should not be sacrificed for speed.  Workers should be properly trained in the use of equipment and in proper procedures to protect bird welfare. Training is essential to ensure worker safety and the optimal quality of the carcass.

 

Unloading

 

            Coordination between the farm and the processing plant is essential to minimize the time the birds must wait to be unloaded.  The birds should be unloaded promptly and in a safe manner.  Stress to the bird immediately prior to slaughter can have an adverse effect on carcass quality. The unloading environment should be controlled to prevent the birds suffering from heat or cold stress.

 

Shackling

 

            Shackles of appropriate size should be used.  Hang ducks carefully by both legs to avoid bone breakage and injury.  The ducks should not be suspended for longer than 1 minute prior to stunning.

 

Stunning and Slaughter

 

            The purpose of stunning is to render the duck insensible to pain, thereby eliminating suffering.  Stunning also immobilizes the bird, which reduces injury and assures proper positioning for humane slaughter.  It may be accomplished with a hand held stunner or by passing the ducks through an electrified water bath.  The water bath must be adjusted to an appropriate height to ensure adequate contact.  The strength of the current must be monitored and adjusted as necessary in consideration of the equipment, age and size of the birds.  The birds should be in contact with the current for at least 4 seconds.  The birds should be killed within 60 seconds of stunning by severing both jugular veins and carotid arteries.  This can be done with a sharp hand-held knife or a mechanical knife.  It is important for killing knives to be sharpened at regular intervals.