Poultry — Ducks & Geese

Introduction

Using these notes

These notes:

    • have been written to be consistent with community, industry and research and teaching based animal welfare legislation
    • apply to all schools in NSW, government and non-government
    • contain standards (in a red box at the beginning of each section) and guidelines. The standards must be met by schools, in accordance with the requirements of the Animal Research Authority. The guidelines are the desirable practices to achieve desirable animal welfare outcomes
    • reflect available scientific knowledge, current practice and community expectations.

Each section of these notes lists any approved activities, with their approved categories, that are applicable to ducks and geese. A complete list of the approved activities for all species can be found in Approved activities.

Category 4 and 5 activities may be undertaken by students only if prior written approval from the SACEC has been obtained using Application form 1.

Before a teacher demonstrates a category 5 activity to students, the teacher must have written certification from the SACEC. Certification is sought using Application form 4.

 

Varietal range differences

A variety of breeds of ducks and geese are used in schools. Some duck breeds are used for meat and others are used for egg production. Geese are only used for meat production.

Common goose breeds include:

    • Toulouse
    • Emden
    • Chinese
    • African
    • Roman/German
    • Sebastopal.

Common duck breeds include:

    • Muscovy
    • Aylesbury
    • Pekin
    • Rouen
    • Indian Runner
    • Khaki Campbell.

Schools that wish to maintain a duck or goose enterprise need to select a breed suitable for what they which to produce, their local climatic conditions, facilities available and accessibility of markets for any outputs.

Poultry breeds

Duck breeds

Goose breeds

 

Physical characteristics

Size: Geese: up to 90cm Ducks: up to 60cm
Weight: Geese:

    • Gander 4-14kg
    • Goose 4-9kg

Ducks:

    • Drakes 1-5kg
    • Ducks 0.8-4kg
Age at adult size: 6-12 months
Weight at birth: 50gm
Incubation period: Ducks: 28 days Muscovy Ducks: 35 days Geese: 35 days
Range of breeding ages: Ducks: from 6 months Geese: from 12 months
Healthy characteristics: Body temperature: 40º–42ºC Heart rate: 180–340 beats per minute

 

Vision

Ducks and geese have good daytime vision, which allows them to identify predators and danger during the day. They do not have as sensitive vision at night, which is why animals like ducks are geese are commonly preyed upon during the night time. This is also why fowls are inactive at night and will rarely fly in the dark. Due to their poor night vision, waterfowl are very vulnerable to predators and require protection at all times, but especially at night.

 

Hearing

Due to waterfowls being prey animals, they have very sensitive hearing, which enables them to hear and identify predators or danger. Ducks and geese have a variety of different calls, which they use to communicate with one another and alert each other of approaching danger. Waterfowl’s calls and noises will depict their level of stress or calm and will have an immediate effect on the rest of the flock.

 

Behavioural characteristics

Ducks and geese are social, curious animals. They are intelligent animals and thrive with environmental enrichment that mimics their natural habitat such as ponds, mud, dirt and vegetation to forage and dig in. Ducks and geese like to waddle around and peck in the dirt, investigating their surroundings and fossicking for grubs and insects. They enjoy being in flocks of other birds and should never be kept in isolation.

It is important to take these behavioural needs into consideration when housing ducks and geese. Even though they can be housed in intensive conditions, from an animal welfare and behavioural point of view it is far better for the birds to be housed in open spaces, amongst a flock of other birds, with environmental stimulation rather than in small cages. A free ranging or large pen system is ideal to address behavioural needs where the animals have plenty of space to roam, flap their wings, have access to fresh air, vegetation and can participate in natural behaviours. All waterfowl should also have access to some sort of pond or large tub of water that they can swim in or at least fully immerse their head and shake water over themselves. Access to water allows waterfowl to participate in natural behaviours, reducing the risk of abnormal behaviours like headshaking and preening. Access to water also increases feather health and maintenance.

Ducks and geese can become particularly territorial during breeding season. Caution should always be used when entering a pen with male ducks and geese, especially around mating time. Female ducks and geese will also become territorial especially when they are incubating a clutch of eggs or have ducklings or goslings. Try not to disturb a female when she has young, as she may become aggressive and distressed. Males will often forcibly mate with females, causing distress and often injury. For this reason during mating season, flocks of ducks and geese, which include males, need to be closely monitored and intervention must occur if males are causing stress to females. They may need to be separated during breeding season if females are at risk of distress and injury.

Waterfowl develop their own personal space referred to as their flight zone. A group of waterfowl have a collective flight zone depicted by their individual characteristics, breed, age, environment and previous handling experiences. If an animal’s flight zone is penetrated, the animals move away to regain a more comfortable distance from the intruder. Water fowls raised in a pen with close contact to people will have a smaller flight zone and be calmer when being handled as opposed to fowls raised in a free ranging area with minimal contact with people. It is common for waterfowls that have been hand raised to be very tame and comfortable being picked up, groomed and patted.

Due to waterfowls most commonly being housed in pens and large enclosures, the need for them to be herded is minimal, making their flight zone not as influential as other farm animals. The flight zone does become influential when waterfowls need to be caught for husbandry procedures, showing, moving them and locking them into smaller pens or cages. Waterfowls kept in a free ranging setup may also have to be herded into smaller enclosures at night for extra protection or for easy catching.

 

Temperament

In general, ducks and geese used in schools have been extensively handled and are quite comfortable with people being close by and in the pens. Many waterfowls used in schools will be comfortable with being picked up, patted and groomed due to extensive handling. When ducks and geese are hand raised from hatching they become very tame and will eat out of a handlers hand and usually mob the handler when they enter the cage in hope of food. Waterfowl should never be kept in isolation as a pet as they are very sociable animals and thrive off both social and environmental enrichment.

Ducks and geese are susceptible to behavioural problems related to a lack of stimulation. Feather pecking, preening and headshaking are issues commonly suffered by birds that do not have enough stimulation. Ducks and geese are intelligent animals and need stimulation which can be provided by natural vegetation and environment, toys and chains attached to the pen that they can tug and pull at as well as ponds or large water troughs where they can play and dive in the water.