Select stock from flocks hatched in April and May. Using males from early flocks will help insure their readiness for mating for the start of the following year. Choose vigorous birds with good weight, conformation, and feathering before marketing the young flock. Keep one male for each 5 to 6 females. Young birds should be selected only from families with good egg production, hatchability, and fertility records.
Identification of males and females is necessary when selecting birds for breeder flocks and for exhibition. Even in breeds that have a sex-differentiated color pattern, both sexes may resemble each other in their summer plumage. Ducks and geese can be sexed by everting the vent and examining the reproductive organs (see Raising Geese, FS-1190.) This practice requires some experience and may be more easily done with day-old birds or during the breeding season. In some breeds mature males develop characteristic curled feathers at the base of the tail. After about 6 weeks of age, the sounds ducks make can be a clue to their sex. Females have a more definite sharp quack, while males have a sound which is not nearly so loud or harsh but more of a muffled sound.
Birds held for breeders must be kept from becoming too fat. The breeder-developer ration fed during the holding period should contain less energy than starter and grower rations. If the grower ration is continued during the holding period, gradually restrict feed to about 70 percent of the amount fed at the start.
Change to a breeder-laying ration about 1 month before egg production starts. Don't bring birds into production before 7 months of age. Feeding oystershell is optional to improve eggshell quality. Increasing day length with lighting stimulates egg production. Provide a 14-hour day 3 weeks before the desired egg production date. The flock should be laying at a high rate of production within 5 to 6 weeks. Meat-type breeds should remain above 50 percent production for about 5 months.
Provide breeders with a clean, dry, well-ventilated shed or house. Allow 5 to 6 feet of floor space per bird. Birds are often confined at night to get a maximum number of eggs and then allowed daytime access to the yard. Provide floor level nest boxes. Most eggs are laid in early morning. Gather eggs about 7 a.m. and let the birds out of the house. If some birds stay on the nests, a second collection can be made later in the day. Clean, dry litter and nesting material will help produce clean eggs.
Soiled eggs should be cleaned soon after gathering. They should be washed in warm water (at least 20 degrees F warmer than the eggs) containing an egg cleaning and sanitizing compound used according to the manufacturer's instructions. Store eggs for hatching at 55 degrees F and a relative humidity of 75 percent. Eggs stored longer than 2 weeks may decline in hatchability. If stored more than a week, turn eggs daily to prevent yolks from sticking to shells.