Effects of protein level in feed on the efficiency of raising meat ducks
Ducks are often fed similarly to chickens, but nutrition studies have identified protein levels as the most important factor affecting growth productivity and duck raising costs.
Protein as the primary factor determining the cost.
Research on duck nutrition to date remains limited, particularly published widespread studies. Guidelines for duck care and feeding are often based on chickens rather than on ducks’ nutritional needs. Therefore, further research into ducks’ distinct nutrition to develop suitable diets will make an important contribution to sustainably improving livestock farming efficiency. This also applies to large-scale production models.
The duck meat market is growing strongly not only in Asia but also in Europe and US in recent times. The international and Vietnam’s duck meat exports demand are fueling the boom in duck farming. In this context, duck farming requires appropriate nutrition guidelines, particularly dietary protein levels. This key factor will directly impact production costs, as protein is the component influencing feed costs.
Therefore, research determining ducks’ protein requirements can optimize nutrition and help reduce costs and increase profits for farmers towards sustainable livestock industry development.
Crude protein levels
In intensive livestock farming systems and areas where protein-rich ingredients are of high-quality, most ducks are raised on a single diet from hatch to market at around 14-15% crude protein. While still meeting development needs, this significantly slows growth. Specifically, a commercial study has shown that ducks fed a 16% crude protein diet (from hatching to market) will take over 3 days longer to reach a weight equivalent to ducks fed 21% protein during the first two weeks after hatching and 16% afterwards. Furthermore, a free-choice feeding experiment found non-selected duck breeds needed 18% crude protein for growth while selected breeds required at least 21% protein levels to fully express their development potential. This clearly demonstrated early nutritional regimens, especially protein, have long-term impacts determining farming efficiency.
In practice, assuming a two-phase feeding program for commercial meat ducks (0-14 and 14-42 days of age, to a market weight of 3.2kg), with average metabolism energy levels of: 12-13MJ/kg (2866-3105 kcal/kg), the following crude protein levels could be proposed:
Duck grower feed = 20-22%
Duck finisher feed = 17-19%
However, these guidelines are generic. Feed Conversion Ratio may vary depending on actual energy levels. Cost per kilo of growth therefore depends on cost per Megajoules unit of energy exchanged. In some cases, the cheapest feed may not be most profitable while moderately priced feed could provide the best solution. It should be emphasized that ducks can tolerate significant fluctuations in energy content in their diets compared to chickens. They can utilize higher fiber ingredient ratios which, under certain conditions, may be more cost effective than common ingredients like corn and soybean.
As ducks are favored for both fat and meat content, optimum balance between breast fat and lean is critical to ensure consumer acceptability. Protein to energy ratio significantly impacts this balance across all breeds, especially during finishing. As the ratio increases (more energy for the same protein or less protein), breast fat content increases in a linear fashion. In practice, some commercial farms use an equation system to determine actual energy in feed rations and required protein levels to achieve desired breast composition at market. This is quite specific for each breed and system but illustrates nutrition complexity for ducks.