All You Need to Know About Pekin Ducks
Pekin ducks belong to a large breed of ducks, which originated more than 2000 years ago, presumably in Peking, China, or somewhere in Southeast Asia. Physically, they’re large, with white plumage and orange beaks, making them very pleasing to the eye. Despite being excellent pets, Pekin ducks are also highly sought after in haute cuisine. NOTE: When we’re talking about the dish, we use the term Peking duck.
The size of their eggs and the quality and amount of meat for human consumption depends on their breeding. In addition, they’re known to have a strong immune system and a great ability to survive even in very extreme conditions. For this reason, the mass production of the Pekin duck is one of the largest, most common, and most profitable in the world.
Pekin duck food
First of all, it should be noted that Pekin ducks are scavengers, and they feed on multiple sources. In their natural habitat, they forage on land and on the surface of the water; they don’t dive for food.
Their wild diet depends on the time of year, but it’s generally based on marine animals, such as fish and frogs, as well as aquatic organisms, such as algae. From the land, they consume nuts, berries, and seeds, although their diet may also include worms and insects.
On the other hand, domestic Pekin ducks are fed on commercial bird food served on a farm. However, their diet may vary depending on the bird’s intended purpose:
- To lay good eggs: There’s a so-called “layer feed”, rich in calcium and vitamins. For male ducks, the feed contains a high source of protein and intermittent calcium supplements to ensure fertility.
- For pet ducks: These usually eat what they find on the farm, plus chicken or corn. However, the latter can make them fat quickly, so it’s best to offer it during the winter.
- For baby ducks: There’s the so-called “chicken feed”, a starter full of protein and vitamins to ensure strength and health at the start of their lives.
Care of Pekin ducks
Regardless of what the purpose of the Pekin ducks is, their general care includes the following.
Temperature and enclosure
Although their breed is able to withstand extreme temperatures, in the winter it’s essential to build them a shelter with hay on the floor, where no drafts can enter. In the summer, on the other hand, they need extra water and shade.
It has become a popular belief that ducks need a large pond to swim freely. The truth is that the minimum they require is a body of water deep enough to clean themselves. Being predatory animals, hygiene is an important part of their routine.
Cleaning and disinfection
Pekin ducks, like any other breed, aren’t exempt from contracting diseases. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to keep the pen and coop clean, as they could get sick through their feces.
Safety from predators
Although they’re predators, Pekin ducks are also vulnerable to more skilled hunters. It’s important to know what other species roam near their habitat, such as dogs from neighboring farms, raccoons, or, in more serious cases, bears, foxes, coyotes, among others. Whatever the case, it’s important to take measures to avoid being hunted.
How to raise Pekin ducks
The breeding of Pekin ducks is a very profitable industry, however, they have to be kept in very specific conditions. Pekin ducks rarely hatch their eggs, so it’s usual to use alternative methods such as incubators to care for the future chicks, although laying hens can also be useful for hatching eggs.
Pekin duck eggs take about 28 days to hatch, and, to do so, they need to be kept in a place with a constant temperature and humidity. In addition, they also require turning the egg throughout the day, so the automatic incubator is the most effective option for hatcheries.
As for the mating process, it’s fine for one male duck to be in with five females. It isn’t a good idea to put too many males together because they could become aggressive and hurt the females. The process is much gentler for everyone if it takes place inside a small pool, where the females will be more relaxed.
How to tell if a Pekin duck is male or female
It’s almost impossible to tell the sex of a Peking duck before it’s eight weeks old. The easiest way to tell if it’s male or female without hurting it (e.g., by sexual ventilation) is to listen carefully to its quacking; males quack more quietly, while females quack louder.
Another way in which a male duck can be recognized is by a curly feather at the end of the tail, but this isn’t a very accurate indicator.
Breeds similar to Pekin ducks
Some breeds are very similar to the Pekin duck, even to the extent that they can be confused. Here are some of them.
This is the most common domestic duck in the United States. This very large, vigorous bird was introduced to the country in 1873 by James E. Palmer. It’s also commonly seen in parks, ponds, and on commercial farms.
American Peking ducks lay about 200 eggs per year, and, for breeding, their keepers usually use the incubator.
Aylesbury ducks are, in appearance, very similar to Pekin ducks, but they’re native to Aylesbury, England. As for its culinary use, the Aylesbury is considered one of the most delicious ducks in existence, as its meat is very abundant and less fatty than that of the Pekin duck.
Imported by Walter Steward in 1872, the German Pekin duck is a variation of the Peking duck after its arrival in Germany from France and the United Kingdom. However, it’s an endangered species as it hasn’t been bred for commercial purposes in Germany since the end of World War II. Its posture is upright, very similar to that of the Indian racing duck, and the few in existence are pets or specimens exhibited at shows.
This is the result of crossing a meaty Pekingese and a medium-sized Pekingese. It’s the largest Pekin breed in existence, but it has a genetic problem. Its excessive growth isn’t proportional to the weight that its legs can support, so its life cycle is shorter than that of other varieties of Peking ducks.
Grimaud Hybrid Pekin
Its appearance is very similar to that of the American Pekin, except that it was created through genetic modification by Grimaud Frères in France. The purpose of this breed is to obtain fertile eggs. As it’s a patented creation, it’s very difficult to get information about the breed, except what has been made known through the creator’s website.
As you’ll have seen, Peking ducks have characteristics that make them a very interesting and special part of the animal kingdom.It might interest you...