Raising ducks offers Whitley County farmer some freedom

Ducks_Whitley CFB_MillerDennisDucks have round bills and chickens have sharp beaks. Whitley County farmer Dennis Miller says he’d much rather get pecked by a round bill.

Miller raises Pekin ducks for Maple Leaf Farms on his farm in Churubusco, Indiana. His operation was featured in a video in the Farm Bureau Building at the Indiana State Fair this summer.

Miller runs a two-stage duck barn. When the ducks arrive on Miller’s farm, they’ve just hatched the night before, meaning Miller is the first to care for them. For the first couple of weeks, the ducks are kept in the nursery area which he heats to at least 80 degrees. At 18 or 19 days, the ducks move into the second stage and a new location, which he calls the “grow out” area.

“The next group of babies will come in about a week before the older ones are ready to go out,” said Miller. “During that time, we can have 18,000 birds there – 9,000 big ones and 9,000 chicks.”

Nine tons of starter feed is enough to feed the 9,000 chicks for about 12 days. Then 5 tons of grower feed, a larger pellet, feeds them for the next 18 days or so.

Miller makes it easy for the ducks to eat and drink with automatic feeders and fresh water lines that run the length of the building and have an access point every 9 inches.

He usually tends to the ducks three times a day – morning, noon and evening. He “walks through” the ducks every day around noon to check their health and encourage them to move around.

Ducks_Whitley CFB_ducklings“One thing about walking a flock is that it gets them up, away from the walls and moving,” explained Miller. “When a duck gets up and moves, it goes to the bathroom and then goes to look for something to eat.”

The ducks leave Miller’s farm at 36 or 37 days old and are usually 6 to 7 pounds at that time.

One thing that Miller appreciates is that the ducks are fairly self-sustaining. His schedule requires that he stay close to the farm but allows him the freedom to spend much of his time doing other activities.

“Running the duck farm is something we can kind of do on the side,” he explained. “But it does take daily chores. We have to be here every day to walk through them, take care of them and make sure they are provided for.”