Everything You Need to Know About Pekin Ducks
Pekin ducks are a type of large-breed, white-feathered, dabbling duck that was domesticated over 2000 years ago. Although the location of their origin is often disputed, most agree it was probably somewhere in Southeast Asia. Due to selective breeding, these birds produce larger eggs and more meat than most other ducks and have a visual appearance that appeases the eye. Over the years, Pekins have become one of the most common production ducks in the world.
Most Pekins are large and white with orange beaks. These hearty, friendly birds were bred specifically for meat and egg production and have become almost synonymous with the word duck today. They are calm-natured and a little bit skittish, but they make excellent pets due to their unique personalities and overall durability. Raising Pekins is easier than raising most other breeds of domestic duck because of their strong immune systems and ability to survive in extreme conditions.
Pekin Basics Covered in This Article
- Breed Varieties
Both the Aflac duck and Donald Duck are Pekins! As you may have noticed, both have white feathers and orange beaks.
What Do They Eat?
Ducks are scavengers, and they will eat just about anything that will fit into their mouths. Pekins are dabbling ducks, which means they get their food from land and the water's surface rather than by diving underwater. To get the maximum lifespan from this feathered creature, it's important to help it eat healthily. Although ducks will not overeat, they will devour unhealthy junk food. So, what do ducks eat?
The Wild Diet
In the wild, depending on the time of year and location, ducks eat a wide variety of things. So many, in fact, that any list would just be too long. Instead, here are a few random healthier items to help you get an idea of how broad a wild duck's typical diet can be. In the wild, ducks eat many aquatic organisms like fish, frogs, and algae. They also forage for nuts, berries, and seeds. Worms, crickets, flies, and mosquitos are also on the menu.
The Domestic Diet
A domestic duck can usually roam free on a farm and find most of its food on its own. That said, a healthy duck's diet still needs to be supplemented with traditional poultry feed. Poultry feed is usually cheap and readily available at any pet or feed store. To determine the type of feed that you will need, you will have to decide what your duck's purpose is.
For Good Eggs: If you want healthy eggs, the girls need a "layer feed." Layer feed is rich in calcium and the vitamins poultry need to produce beautiful eggs. Boys, on the other hand, need a healthy, protein-rich diet with intermittent calcium supplements to ensure fertile eggs.
For Pet Ducks: Pets are a bit different. Free-ranging ducks are great at finding food, so supplementing meals with chicken scratch or corn is usually sufficient. Be careful with corn, however. If too much is consumed, ducks can become overweight. Corn and protein are better for the winter months. Corn helps add an extra layer of fat, while protein provides the energy to stay warm.
For Babies: Baby ducks need a type of food referred to as "chick starter." Chick starter provides the protein and vitamins babies need to live strong, healthy lives. Avoid medicated food for ducklings; ducks have strong immune systems, and the extra medicine could weaken them.
How Do I Set Up Their Pen?
Whether you want to keep Pekins as pets, for eggs, for meat, or for some other purpose, you'll need to make sure their living environment is suited to their needs.
Temperature and Enclosure
Ducks are hardy creatures and can survive extreme hot and cold temperatures. In the winter, they need a draft-free shelter with hay on the floor. In the summer, they need shade and extra water.
Water and Swimming
Contrary to popular belief, ducks do not need water to swim in; they only need water deep enough to clean out their bills. Most ducks do love to swim, so providing a place for them to do so is definitely a good idea—it just isn't technically necessary. Cleanliness and predators are the main things you need to watch out for.
Cleanliness and Sanitization
Ducks poop! Pens can get messy fast, so keeping the coop and pen clean is of utmost importance to avoid sickness outbreaks and keep healthy ducks. I can't stress how important it is to keep the feed containers, pen, and coop clean. A healthy duck is a happy duck.
To keep the coop free from predators, you have to understand what predators you might encounter. For instance, protecting your Pekins from the neighbors' dog or a raccoon is different than protecting the coop from a bear or a pack of coyotes. Know the predators in your area and adjust accordingly.
How to Breed Pekins
Pekins rarely sit on their eggs, so an alternative incubation method is usually required. Often, an incubator or broody hen will get the job done. Pekin eggs, like those of most descendants of the mallard, take approximately 28 days to hatch and require consistent temperature and humidity as well as the tedious turning of the egg throughout the day. This is why an automatic incubator is often the preferred choice for Pekin eggs.
The mating ritual of a breeding duck can be hard to watch. It helps to make sure the girls are happy. Five girls should be assigned to one boy. Too many boys can make for a situation where the males get aggressive and hurt the hens. A small pool of water makes this experience much more desirable for the little ladies.
Since Pekins are descendants of the mallard duck, they can breed with just about any domestic duck in the world. I love watching baby ducks run around the yard and am always excited to see what new type of birds or eggs I will get! If you intend to breed show-quality birds, keep in mind that you must be prepared to cull the flock of the young ducks at an early age.
Is My Duck Male or Female?
Baby ducks are nearly impossible to sex before eight weeks of age. There is a method called sex venting that can be done within the first 24 hours, but it is often misunderstood and can hurt or kill a baby duck if done improperly.
The easiest way to tell if your Pekin duck is a male or female is by its quack. Girls have a loud honk, and boys have a quieter quack. Male ducks also have a drake feather, which is a curled feather at the end of the tail. This alone, however, isn't enough information for accurate sexing. Watch the video below for a more in-depth explanation.
The Different Varieties of Pekin Explained
Although some of these ducks are not technically Pekins, they are often confused with Pekins and have nearly identical features and traits. Refer to the included images for a visual reference to these varieties.
The American Pekin is a large, hearty bird that doesn't feel as fragile as other common domestic ducks. They were introduced to America from China in 1873 by James E. Palmer, who started the American flock with six hens and three drakes. Palmer loaded fifteen birds on the ship, and only nine made the trip across the pond. Over half of America's commercial ducks today are Pekins!
These ducks are seen throughout the U.S. at ponds, commercial farms, and backyard farms. They also exist as pets, and some even live independently in parks. The American Pekin duck lays about 200 eggs per year and is rarely broody; the eggs generally need to be incubated by keepers. Sexing is often difficult until maturity. Drakes do possess a drake feather, which is a single curled feather on the tail. The female has a much louder quack than the drake.
Aylesbury ducks, although extremely similar in appearance, aren’t actually Pekins. These ducks get their name from the town they originated in—Aylesbury, England. Since at least the 1690s, Aylesbury and the surrounding areas have bred ducks. Given the similarities, this breed seems to have been inspired by the Chinese Pekin.
Originally, the preferred duck was a hearty white meat bird with clean feathers. This led to selective breeding, and by the early 1800s, Aylesbury ducks were a sought-after meat bird being shipped throughout England (including London) regularly. Aylesbury ducks were considered more flavorful and less fatty than Pekin ducks. An abundance of inbreeding combined with the World Wars led to the Aylesbury's decline. There is only one major flock left in England today.
The German Pekin is the result of Chinese Pekins being bred with upright Japanese ducks from Dutch ships. This gave the German Pekin an upright stance, much like an Indian Runner Duck but with a much stockier appearance.
Pekin ducks arrived in Germany from France and the UK shortly after they were imported by Walter Steward in 1872, and the German version of Pekin was born. The Pekin duck didn't make it back to the United Kingdom until 1970. Aylesbury is the preferred duck meat choice in the UK to this day.
Germany has not farmed the German Pekin commercially since the Second World War, and it is now listed on the critically endangered species list. Today, these birds are primarily kept as pets and displayed in shows.
Jumbo Pekins are bred by crossing a meaty strain Pekin drake with a medium-sized Pekin hen. These birds are the largest Pekins you can get, and they are often a preferred choice for meat birds because of their size and fertility rates. Because these ducks grow so fast, their legs aren't built to hold their own weight, which reduces their life cycle and productivity. People do not usually keep them as pets for this reason.
White Crested Duck
A domestic White Crested Duck looks nearly identical to a Pekin duck, but it's not exactly a Pekin. Domestic Crested Ducks most likely originated in the East Indies. They were depicted in paintings there over 2000 years ago.
So, how do these guys get their cute little hairdos? It's a deformity of the skull caused by a genetic mutation called "hemizygous." This gene causes a sharp decrease in hatchability rates; one-third of the ducklings that survive incubation do not have a crested head. Please note that there is a difference between wild and domestic crested ducks. Wild crested ducks don't have that cute little fluff ball on their heads.
Grimaud Hybrid Pekins
These ducks have an American Pekin-like appearance and are created in France by a man named Grimaud Freres. Grimaud ducks are genetically modified to be fertile, high-output egg-layers with an improved feed conversion ratio as meat birds. Due to the proprietary nature, little is known about this breed other than what's posted on Mr. Freres' website.
Egg and Weight Comparison by Breed Variety
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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