Large by duck standards, Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata) make excellent pets for those with adequate space to house them. Muscovy care is similar to that of mallard-derived breeds such as pekin ducks and Indian runner ducks, though Muscovy ducks are more susceptible to low temperatures than most other ducks are because they hail from tropical regions.
How to Raise Muscovy Ducks
Brooding the Babies
After the ducks hatch, you will need to place them in a small enclosure, called a brooding chamber. A child's plastic swimming pool or a large plastic storage box, filled with dry wood shavings or newspaper, makes a suitable brooding chamber for hatchlings. Suspend a heat lamp over one end so the ducks can thermoregulate. Use a digital thermometer to measure ambient temperature.
For the first three days of ducklings' lives, their habitat's ambient air temperatures should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Gradually reduce the temperatures as the ducks mature by reducing the bulb wattage or raising the heat lamp. By the end of the first week, the ambient temperatures should be about 82 degrees. Continue to lower the temperature of the enclosure; by the end of their first month of life, the temperatures should be in the high 60s to low 70s. Maintain these temperatures until the ducks are about two months old, at which time they can withstand temperatures in the mid 50s Fahrenheit.
A top may be necessary to keep predators and pets out of the brooder, or to keep ducklings in. It should allow free circulation of air and should be secure around the edges. You can move ducklings outside during warm temperatures, but return them to their brooder at night until they are old enough to withstand typical nighttime temperatures.
Water for Wading
Like all other ducks, Muscovy ducks require copious amounts of drinking water. Because ducks foul their water quickly, frequent water changes are necessary. You can provide mature ducks with some type of pond or pool for swimming. They will likely appreciate the opportunity to swim and use it frequently, but a body of water is not imperative for good health. Use caution when allowing hatchlings to swim, as they may become chilled quickly. Be sure your pets can enter and exit any water body easily.
Feeding Your Flock
Omnivores, Muscovy ducks require a combination of commercial duck food, live insects, fruits and vegetables. Provide hatchlings with commercial starter pellets or mash. Make sure it's 18 percent to 20 percent protein. After about three weeks, switch the young ducks to a 14-percent-protein maintenance feed. Once the ducks enter their 14th week of life, females require pellets that are 16 percent to 17 percent protein and that have extra calcium, for their laying needs. Feed mature males a maintenance ration that's 14 percent protein.
If kept outdoors, adult Muscovy ducks will capture their own insects and other invertebrates. You can offer them commercially produced insects, such as mealworms or crickets, periodically. Provide adults with fruits and vegetables, such as berries, corn, shredded carrots and leafy greens once per week. Cut fruits and vegetables into pieces no larger than your duck's beak.
Enclosure or Free-Range
Some Muscovy duck keepers contain their flocks in an enclosed area; others allow their ducks to range freely over a large area. Both approaches have merits. Enclosed ducks are less likely to wander off, fly away or become snacks for predators. By contrast, free-range ducks have access to a much larger activity area, which allows them to forage for more natural foods and attain more exercise.
The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is among authorities advocating that a minimum of 3 square feet of floor space is necessary for every mature duck in a flock. And that's for producing ducks, not pets -- your pet Muscovy ducks will benefit from much more space than that. Whether they're within an enclosure or not, strive to give your ducks the largest possible activity area possible.
If your ducks live outside, they require a shelter in which they can spend their nights. The shelter must keep the ducks dry and warm, and it must provide enough space – the ducks should be able to extend their wings inside the shelter. It is wise to contain the birds inside the shelter during the night. Ensure that the shelter does not have any holes that would allow predators, such as snakes, weasels or rats, to access your pets. Cover the floor of the shelter with wood shavings or packed dirt, and clean it regularly. Muscovy ducks appreciate elevated roosts on which they can sleep.