Improving Pekin duck management

Recent research demonstrates ways to manage Pekin duck production more effectively
calendar icon 5 June 2023
clock icon 4 minute read

At the 2023 International Poultry Scientific Forum, four studies focused on Pekin duck management. Three of the studies were done at Texas A&M University, College Station, under the supervision of Gregory Archer, associate professor, Poultry Science Department.

Organic acid supplementation

Jessica Rocha, Texas A&M University, evaluated the effect of supplementing drinking water with organic acid on Pekin duck performance and welfare.

Two treatments were tested with 9 replicate groups, each containing 126, day-of-hatch Pekin ducks. The treatments were: Unsupplemented water (Con) and organic acid supplemented water (OA).

At day 35, the ducks with the organic acid treatment had higher body weight (3.52 kg) and better feed conversion (1.427) than those with unsupplemented water, which weighed 3.20 and had a 1.561 feed conversion ratio.

The research concluded that organic acid supplementation in the water improved duck growth, feed efficiency and welfare.

Lighting sources

A study done by Abbigail LeBlanc, graduate student at Texas A&M University, evaluated the effects of various lighting treatments on Pekin duck performance and welfare. Four treatments were tested with 9 replicate groups, each containing 126, day-of-hatch Pekin ducks.

The treatments were: Full spectrum LED lighting (FS); white LED lighting (white); LED lantern lighting (lantern) and monochromatic green LED lighting (green).

At day 35, there was no difference in feed conversion ratios between the treatments, which averaged 1.526.

At day 35 ducks in the green and white light treatments had higher body weights (3.28 kg and 3.27 kg respectively) than the lantern and full spectrum treatments (3.16 kg and 3.11 kg respectively).

In conclusion, the green and white light treatments improved Pekin duck performance and welfare over the lantern and full spectrum treatments. These results continue to illustrate the importance of lighting on poultry performance and welfare, explained the researchers.

Duck leg health

Leg health is a constant welfare concern in poultry production. Typically, poultry have feed and water located so they do not have to walk far to reach one or the other, which may promote poor leg health.

Kyle Trejo, Texas A&M University, evaluated increasing walking alone or in combination with an obstacle and the effects on growth and leg health in ducks. Pekin ducks were reared under one of four conditions from day of hatch until market weight at day 35.

  • Short pen (2 meters long) with feed and water in close proximity (control)
  • Long pen (6 meters long) with feed and water at opposite ends (walk)
  • Long pen with a step over an obstacle in the middle of the pen (obst)
  • Long pen with a ramp in the middle of the pen (ramp)

Stocking density was the same in all treatments. Feed consumption, body weight, feed conversion, and tibia ash and breaking strength were all measured.

Ducks demonstrated differences between treatments in feed consumption, body weight, breaking strength and feed conversion.

The control birds consumed more feed (125 g/d), weighed less at day 35 (2.98 kg), had higher feed conversion ratio (1.80) and lower tibia breaking strength (27 g) than the other three treatments. The other three treatments averaged 107 g/d in feed consumption, 3.28 kg body weight at day 35, a 1.39 feed consumption ratio, and a breaking strength of 34 g).

No differences were observed between the walk, obstacle, or ramp treatments.

These results indicate that encouraging ducks to walk between feed and water with or without additional obstacles can improve overall production and leg health, according to the researchers.

Vocalizations as a welfare indicator

Sounds have been shown to affect the behavior and overall welfare of birds in captivity. The goal of this research was to develop duck vocalizations that could be used as a type of environmental enrichment in commercial duck barns.

However, a repertoire of duck vocalizations needed to be developed first, noted Jenna Schober and Jeff Lucas at Purdue University, under the supervision of Gregory Fraley, Endowed Chair of Poultry Science.

Twenty-three (19 hens and 4 drakes) Pekin ducks ranging from 35 to 45 weeks old were used to develop a vocal repertoire. The ducks were put in a soundproof chamber, and their vocalizations and behaviors were recorded.

A range of 1 to 4 ducks of mixed sex ratios were put into the chamber for several minutes to record initial vocalizations and to acclimate the ducks to the sound chamber.

Once acclimated, different enrichment or aversive stimuli were used to encourage new vocalizations. Each stimulus was recorded for 20-30 minutes.

Vocalizations were characterized based on the number of pulses, amplitude, frequency and frequency modulation.

The results showed that ducks can produce up to 36 different vocalizations. Analysis indicated that the environmental stimuli had no effect on the vocal repertoire produced by the ducks.

The results suggest that hens use a unique set of vocalizations not recorded from males.

The vocal repertoire of the ducks increased with an increase in the number of hens in the chamber. The number of drakes had no effect on repertoire diversity.

These results will allow the researchers to determine how playbacks of these vocalizations can affect ducks’ physiology, such as heart and respiratory rate, or pupillary light reflex.

From there, sounds can be evaluated to see which may produce calming effects on ducks or as an indicator of overall barn welfare, noted the researchers.

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