Raising show ducks has become a popular hobby for many people all over the world. However, there are some things you should know before you jump in headfirst.
First and foremost, raising ducks is not like raising chickens or geese. Ducks have unique crane requirements, and those care requirements are amplified when you are raising animals for exhibition. You will need to take certain steps to ensure that your ducks remain healthy and ready for the show ring.
That said, raising show ducks is a great way to produce some of the most beautiful and colorful ducks. Many breeds will work for a show, so you’ll be able to choose your favorite and go from there.
Ready to start raising show ducks? Here are some tips to help you get started.
Choosing the Right Breed of Show Ducks
When it comes to raising show ducks, the most successful and enjoyable experience starts with choosing the right breed. Do some research into the many types of duck breeds available to you, but ultimately, choose one that meets your preferences and needs.
Then, you can start looking around for ducks. Although you can purchase your exhibition ducks from any hatchery or local farm, your best bet will be to purchase your ducks from a breeder who specializes in show breeds.
Buying from a hatchery or a feed store is fine in most cases – but keep in mind that these ducklings are bred for quantity over quality. The same goes for auctions. The vast majority of ducks found at auctions are there because their owners don’t want them.
Personality Traits of Show Ducks
They might lay poorly, be sick, or have a bad temperament – all of these are characteristics you don’t want in your show bucks.
Only a breeder will know exactly what characteristics your ducks should have to conform to standards. They’ll know what your duck should look like so that you can qualify for shows.
When it comes to selecting the right breed, know that you need to be a bit finicky. You might love your docile hen Dorothy, but if she doesn’t have parentage that you can determine with official papers, you probably can’t use her as an exhibition bird.
Poultry Association Standard of Perfection for Show Ducks
More often than not, hybrid or mixed breed birds cannot be used in competitions.
You Must show that your bird meets definitions for a breed recognized by the American Poultry Association’s Standards of Perfection – so in most cases, purebred only. Although this might seem a bit “snooty,” the reason for making this the rule is that there needs to be a standardized way to assess birds’ characteristics in the competition.
Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock when it comes to buying your ducks. Exhibition-quality birds almost always fetch higher prices than their counterparts.
To find breeders in your area, you can go to the breed’s national club website, check for a list of breeders, and then contact the breeders who happen to be closer to you.
One final tip for choosing your ducks? Try to rein yourself in. It can be super exciting to raise ducks, especially show ducks, but you need to avoid buying more ducks than you can reasonably care for. You’ll need to make sure you can keep your animals down to a number that you can reasonably house, care for, and nurture.
The Best Show Ducks by Breed
You can raise any duck, as long as it is a recognized breed, for exhibition.
Some of the most common include Khaki Campbells, Pekins, Saxonies, Indian Runners, Mallards, and Swedish ducks.
Out of these, the Swedish duck breed is by far the most popular for showing. Native to Pomerania, an area comprising territories in northern Europe and Scandinavia that were once under the control of Sweden, Swedish ducks first came to the United States in the late 1800s.
These ducks aren’t the best layers, but they’re decent, producing around 180 white eggs each year.
You can find the Swedish duck in variations like blue, silver (also known as splash), and black. They have slate bills and white bibs, making them both attractive and popular species for exhibition. These ducks are calm, hardy, and great foragers, too.
A heavy breed, Swedish ducks typically weigh around six pounds apiece.
Saxonies are popular show ducks, too. These are relatively new in the United States, so you may have some trouble finding them – they’re worth looking for, though.
Alert and energetic ducks, they do take some practice when it comes to handling them! They show well, though, with oatmeal or fawn coloration that makes them quite striking to look at. They also are decent layers, producing up to 200 white eggs each year.
Of course, the Pekin duck is a classic choice, too. This duck breed is native to Beijing and is known for being calm and hardy. They are easy to handle, which is why many people choose to raise these ducks as pets.
They can also be raised for eggs and meat, producing up to 200 large white eggs each year and a finished carcass for meat around eight or nine pounds.
Indian Runners are also good exhibition animals. Although they tend to be a bit more rambunctious, they are friendly and rarely swim – that means you won’t have quite as much trouble keeping them clean!
They do still need water for bathing, and they also appreciate plenty of room to roam. They’re excellent foragers who lay up to 200 green or white eggs each year.
Of course, you could also raise Mallards. Just be careful that you choose a Mallard that is of clear lineage since most domestic duck breeds are derived from Mallards, and therefore there is a lot of genetic scrambling that can take place!
These birds are prone to flightiness, too, so make sure you have an enclosed run to keep these birds contained.
How to Raise Show Ducks
Preparing to Welcome Your Ducks
You’ll need to keep several things in mind when you’re getting ready to bring your ducks home.
Of course, all the typical requirements for raising ducks apply when you raise show ducks. You’ll need a brooder box for your young ducklings along with waterers.
Three-gallon waterers tend to work well, heat lamps, hanging feeders or troughs, and a duck house for when your ducklings are large enough to go outside.
At a bare minimum, provide each duck with around three square feet per bird. About ten days before your birds arrive, prepare your duck house (or brooder, if you are receiving ducklings) and make sure it is warm.
For a border, you should set up your heat lamps so that they stay at a temperature of around 90 degrees (slightly higher for the first week).
Of course, don’t forget the bedding and bathing water, either!
Bringing Your Ducks Home
Give your ducks some time to get used to their new surroundings. If you add these ducks to an established flock, you may want to quarantine them for around 30 days.
This will give you an idea of whether your ducks are suffering from any health issues before intermingling them with the rest of the group.
Then, introduce your ducks slowly to the rest of the flock. Don’t just toss them in the run together and hope for the best. Instead, do things gradually and in small increments. This can avoid the vast majority of bullying behaviors.
A few words of caution when introducing new ducks.
Although it is wonderful to do this with non-exhibition ducks, ducks raised for a show should not intermingle with ducks of other breeds. Let them mix, and you can kiss your purebred genetics goodbye.
You also need to keep varieties separate if you have multiple varieties of the same breed.
You will also want to limit socializing with other birds. Ducks are social animals, establishing their own pecking order just as chickens do.
Unfortunately, this can lead to some issues with dominance and aggression in the flock. While that’s fine for a regular flock of ducks, it can cause some cosmetic and health issues for your birds – so it’s something to be aware of.
Think Twice About Free Ranging
Many people in the duck exhibition circuit recommend limiting free-ranging, too. This can be a tough one to justify – after all, don’t ducks do best when allowed to access fresh air, forage, and sunlight?
They do – and free-ranging can allow for a much healthier bird. However, there is some risk involved here. Remember Murphy’s Law – if it can happen, it will happen. Let your duck out for a stroll, and there’s a chance she’ll come back limping because she tripped over a log.
Just one errant stroll can be disastrous for a show bird – so while it’s not something to eliminate, it’s something to keep in mind.
Find a Show
Once your ducks are settled in, you may want to start looking for a show. Start with local shows first before you branch off to ones that you might have to travel to. As you gain more experience, you can bring your ducks further and further away.
After you’ve found a show, you will need to complete an entry form with all of your details. These will need to be mailed in or submitted online and often require some fees.
While you’re in the process of registering for a show, you may also want to consider joining a local poultry club or association.
Prepare for the Show
Once you have signed up for a show, you need to put in some work into making sure your ducks are exhibition-ready.
Although much of this has to do with your ducks’ physical appearance, it is also important to make sure they are used to being handled.
It would help if you got yourself prepared, too. There are plenty of issues that can lead to an animal being disqualified – and they’re more common than you think!
For one, you’ll need to make sure you properly identified your duck’s gender. This is a prevalent mistake that’s easy to prevent. Read up and make sure you’ve correctly identified your duck!
Of course, you will also need to wash and clean your ducks thoroughly. After they’ve been bathed, make sure you keep them in a clean area where they can’t get covered in mud or manure.
Pen the Ducks
On the day of the show, you will take your ducks to be penned (sometimes this happens a bit before the show, too). Bring some Vaseline or baby oil and thoroughly lubricate the legs, feet, and bills of your ducks.
Then, you’ll submit your papers and head out! Your work is done.
Pick Your Ducks Up
After the show is over, all that’s left is to collect your ducks and head on home. You’ll need to pick up your paper from a member who is working at unpenning the birds. They’ll check you out and give you your awards, which hopefully you have won!
You may be expected to help clean out the pens after you finish packing up your ducks. Of course, once you get your ducks home and unloaded, some extra treats are for your star birds!
The Weakest Link of Show Ducks?
Nobody likes to think about – but that should be considered when you are raising ducks for show – that you may have to eliminate the weakest link.
Birds that are not healthy or are not meeting show standards for your breed may need to be removed from your flock.
As you get better at raising exhibition-quality birds, you will come to develop an eye for imperfections. You can remove individuals that don’t have traits that conform to breed standards.
Many people’s solution is to cull these birds. But you don’t have to grab the ax if that’s not something you’re comfortable doing. You may consider rehoming your birds.
These ducks might be considered imperfect by exhibition standards. But they can instead be sold as pets or egg layers to people who want to keep ducks.
Ultimately, with a little bit of hard work and know-how, you can raise a flock of show ducks that’s sure to win the blue ribbon at every competition you enter!