Livestock Research for Rural Development 21 (10) 2009 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Status of indigenous ducks in Tamil Nadu, India: a traditional perspective

K Gajendran and S M K Karthickeyan*

Madras Veterinary College, Chennai – 600 007, India
* Livestock Research Station, Kattupakkam – 603 203, Tamil Nadu, India


Indigenous ducks of Tamil Nadu are sturdy and prolific, reared traditionally by the poor farmers for their livelihood. Inland water ways and lengthy coastal line act as excellent natural habitats for ducks to be adapted under range system of management. There was instability in the trend of duck population over the years. The duck flocks are highly concentrated in the paddy (Oryza sativa) growing and water shed areas of the state because of their nomadic existence. Even though a well recognized breed of layer duck, Khaki Campbell, is available in India, indigenous ducks are preferred by the farmers for ease in maintenance under range system and bigger size of eggs  (62 g).  The hatching operations are still primitive and natural with the total exclusion of artificial incubation. The management of ducklings and adult ducks involved utilization of indigenous technical knowledge as practiced from time immemorial. 


The egg production is found to be between 160-200 eggs per annum. The mean body weights at hatch and at 24 weeks were 36.88 0.70 and 1454.69 29.82 g respectively. The duck flocks are often migrated to nearby districts in search of fresh forage and water resources as each district in Tamilnadu has different cropping patterns and monsoon conditions. Duck plaque is the major disease threat. Despite various development measures, financial constraints of duck farmers, dependency in marketing, migration for fresh feeding resources, lack of timely vaccination against duck plague and lack of preference of duck eggs over chicken are the constraints in the development of this unexplored species.

Key words: Indigenous ducks, management, status, Tamil Nadu


In India, duck is one of the indigenous species of poultry, reared traditionally by the poor farmers for their livelihood. Ducks are prolific. One important point to note in duck farming is that it has not undergone any process of industrialization or commercialization so far as that of chicken; but its growth and popularity are slow and steady and can be explored better as it is one of the promising species for future. Ducks are best maintained on free-range system because they are good foragers and they find a considerable proportion of their own feed if allowed to range freely. In most of the developing countries like India, the traditional system of duck keeping is still dominant. Even after four decades of modernization of commercial chicken production, still the duck production in India remains unchanged as a traditional enterprise.


Though, various duck breeds like Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner, White Pekin and Muscovy are available in different research stations, only the indigenous ducks are still preferred by the farmers and proved to be a sustainable livelihood preposition for several poor rural farmers under present system of management. The indigenous ducks are also called as desi ducks. Hence, the paper discusses the overview of the status and practices followed with some technological interventions made to improve the livelihood of duck farmers in the state of Tamilnadu.


Population dynamics and distribution


The extensive coast line (4000 km long) with many inland water bodies in several parts of the country offer excellent natural habitat of ducks. Duck population in India was reported (FAO 2003) to be 22.1, 62.6, 82.5, 95.5 and 107.0 millions during the years 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 respectively with the annual growth rate (1992-2002) of 16.8 per cent. But in the state of Tamil Nadu, the total duck population was 0.25 million (17th Livestock Census 2003) which was only 0.29 per cent of the total poultry population. The duck population in Tamil Nadu showed an increasing trend from 0.22 million in 1951 to 0.49 in 1994 with a compound growth rate of 1.89 per cent per annum. However, this positive trend was not seen throughout the reference period (1951-1994) as there were negative trends during 1956-61, 1977-82 and 1982-89 inter-census periods. Similarly, there was a decline in the duck population during 2003. Among various districts of the state, Vellore, Thiruvallur, Villupuram and Kancheepuram districts dominated the show with their respective proportion being 19.94, 16.93, 14.72 and 9.67 per cent. The increase or decrease in the duck population can also be correlated to the change in the cropping pattern since the farmers are switching over to cash crops such as banana and sugarcane resulting in shrinkage of paddy growing areas.


Socio-economic status of duck farmers


There is a well-knit tie-up between the farmers and the duck egg vendors. Since, the duck farmers belong to agricultural landless labourers and thrive on duck farming as their only source of income, they avail ducklings from the egg vendors on loan basis and repay in the form of eggs and spent ducks. The infrastructure facilities such as supply of ducks and ducklings, transportation of birds for foraging, marketing of eggs and vaccination arrangements are made to farmers by the egg vendors and financiers. Therefore, a peculiar lender-debtor relationship exists between them. The farmers are also exploited by the vendors at each and every stage of operation. This perhaps, has led to the duck farmers remaining poor for generations. 


All the farmers engaged in duck rearing gained their knowledge traditionally from their ancestors. In a recent study (Gajendran et al 2005a), it was found that most of the farmers (95 %) were illiterates while the remaining were educated up to primary school level. Twenty five percentages of duck farmers in Cauvery river delta region (Thanjavur district), few farmers in Villupuram and Kancheepuram districts, who belong to marginal group, involve in duck layer enterprise, as a seasonal business. 


Flock size


The flock strength of ducks is usually measured in dozen units by the farmers. The common unit size is 12 dozens with a range of five to 25 dozens with drake and duck ratio of 1:12, reared by well-trained farmers under range system of management. Occasionally, a flock size of 500-800 ducks are also seen in the area. The duck flocks are kept on free range system by feeding on post-harvested paddy fields, ponds, lakes and rivers (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Ducks and ducklings foraging in the waterways and post-harvested fields

The concentration of duck flocks are more in Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Villupuram, Tirunelveli, Madurai, Thanjavur, and Trichirapalli districts; as these districts are known for paddy cultivation and contain adequate water resources for wading and feeding on snails and fishes.


Breed / genetic group


In Tamilnadu, all the farmers maintain only non-descript type of ducks with wide phenotypic variations (Figure 2). This variation perhaps be due to the absence of any specific selection and breeding system applied in the flocks. In addition, because of the nomadic existence of duck farming, there is every chance of mixing of germplasm from different parts of the state and neighboring states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh as well. In the Southern districts of Tamilnadu, the farmers choose replacement stocks from “Kollam” area in Kerala state (hence called Kollam variety); while in the Northern districts of Tamilnadu, the farmers prefer to purchase stocks from “Arni” area (Arni variety).

Figure 2.  Indigenous ducks with varying phenotypes

Even though, Khaki Campbell ducks are capable of laying as many as 300 eggs per annum, the duck farmers expressed satisfaction only with non-descript ducks, which usually lay up to 160-200 eggs per annum, because of the large size of eggs, hardiness and maintenance under minimum input system of management. Moreover, their feelings are also valid as the Khaki Campbell may not fit into range system of rearing, practised in Tamilnadu. The economics of raising Khaki Campbell under range system may in all possibility cannot be matched with the performance of desi ducks which are given the minimum housing and feeding facilities. The production performances and body weight of indigenous ducks are furnished in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1.  Average production performance of indigenous ducks of Tamil Nadu (n = 100)

Sl. No.




Age at sexual maturity

24 weeks


Attainment of 50 % production

28 weeks


Duck housed egg production

31.71 %


Duck day egg production

33.99 %


Average egg weight

62.15 0.51 g

Table 2.  Mean S.E. of body weight of indigenous ducks

Sl. No.


Body weight, in gram


At hatch

36.88 0.70



1156.00 56.23



1465.02 23.87


At maturity

1454.69 29.82

It was observed that egg production was highly irregular in indigenous ducks. The duck housed egg production was found to range from 13.78 to 50.94 per cent, while duck day egg production was 25.37 to 54.40 per cent. The average egg weight was 62 g with the minimum and maximum values of 49.50 0.49 and 69.95 0.53 g observed at 24 and 72 weeks respectively.


Incubation and hatching


Broody hens are widely used for hatching, thereby acting as “live incubators’. Artificial incubation is not at all practised. About 15-20 duck eggs are set per broody hen for 28 days. Mud pots and bamboo baskets are used for hatching purpose (Figures 3) with paddy straws as bedding material.

Figure 3.  Mud pots and bamboo baskets in hatching operation. Also note hatching duck eggs in a traditional three-tier system

The hatching season was found to be in two different spells; one in June to August to coincide with South-West monsoon and the second in September to November to coincide with North-East monsoon. The first season is the best as the duck farmers experience low mortality and high productivity in the ducklings hatched out. No selection, cleaning and fumigation of duck eggs were practised. The interventions carried out on these aspects proved to be effective in bringing out the results as follows:


Usually the hatchability per cent was found to range from 60.5 to 62.5 with a mean of 61.5 1.96 (Gajendran et al 2005b). Effect of selection of hatching duck eggs was studied. In the medium-sized duck eggs (50-57g; as per ‘Agmark’ standards), the hatchability was recorded as 84.67 per cent, followed by small-sized (43-50g) eggs (64.47 %) and large-sized (57-70g) eggs (49.51%). The farmers practiced conventional candling operation on the 5th day of incubation using kerosene lamp (Figure 4) and obtained 61.5 per cent of hatchability. While adopting the technology of candling with electric candlers, hatchability percentage increased to 81 that increased the accuracy and prevented the rejection of fertile eggs as seen in the conventional candling.

Figure 4.  Candling duck egg with a kerosene and using an improvised electric candler

The same broody hens are rotated for two hatches continuously. The broody hens are vaccinated against Ranikhet disease and deloused before incubation. It is reported that an average of 70-80 per cent of hatchability over the total eggs set is achieved by the farmers under this kind of incubation. A specialized method (Chinese method) of hatching duck eggs by using roasted paddy husk to provide the warmth or incubation temperature to the eggs was also witnessed in Tiruvallur district. Now-a-days, few farmers have shifted to incubators for hatching operation.



Management of ducklings


The ducklings are supplied to the farmers by the local egg vendors. The woven coconut leaves are used as a guard to accommodate the ducklings. Chopped paddy straw and sand are used as litter material which also gives warmth to the ducklings. Sometimes lorry tyres are also used to brood the ducklings (Figure 5) in a close confinement. Instead of coconut leaves, guards are made of bamboo sticks i.e. six hundred sticks are woven together with 1” interlacing space for 20 dozen ducklings.

Figure 5.  Brooding ducklings with pneumatic tyre as well in a simple enclosure made of clothing materials

The structures can be easily dismantled and taken to places wherever they migrate for feeding. Seldom, artificial warmth is provided either by hovers or electrical bulbs. Usually, the ducklings are stocked quite large in numbers, so that their metabolic heat will protect them from chilling. The ducklings are fed with raw rice (Oryza sativa) flour (for first three days) mixed with enough water, followed by broken rice and then replaced with rice alone (up to 10 days). Ducklings are allowed in water from 3rd day onwards. Sometimes, small chopped fresh water fishes or snails collected from various sources are also fed to the ducklings. At the age of 35 days, hand-feeding is stopped and they are taken for grazing in the fields. Instead of rice, ragi (Eleusine coracana) and bajra (Pennisetum americanum) are also fed in some places. 


Management of adult ducks


The nomadic style of duck farming needs no permanent or heavy structural housing except a few in some places (Figure 6). The ducks are kept during night hours in the enclosures, made of closely woven bamboo sticks and plastic wire net in a raised platform.

Figure 6.  Permanent duck house made of thatched roof and a temporary enclosure using bamboo sticks

The adult ducks are fed mainly on post-harvested paddy fields for grains and on ponds and channels for snails and fishes. The foraging areas are booked in advance by the farmers and the land owners are paid some remuneration. The farmers opined that the ducks obtain sufficient snails, fingerlings, weeds, algae and fallen grains in swamps and post-harvested paddy fields to fulfill their nutrient requirements. At present, four to five acres of post-harvested paddy fields are required per day for every 1000 ducks.


During the lean season, hand feeding of ducks with paddy and Sorghum (Sorghum bicolar) grains is practised. In some places, the core of palmyrah (Borassus flabellifer) is also fed. This is only for maintenance of ducks and the egg production is affected as a result of deficient feeding resources. Similarly in all the developing countries, the ducks are raised in a low lying marshy land, where snails, oysters, algae, small fishes, etc. are available in abundance. Further, the rice fields with fallen grains and other feed resources are available after harvest for feeding ducks.


Egg production


The indigenous ducks start laying eggs by about 12 midnight onwards and complete laying eggs before 6.00 am. The egg production is reported to be between 160-200 eggs per annum. Usually, one drake for every one dozen ducks is allowed for good fertility. The adult flocks are kept for a maximum of two to three years and after which they are disposed off for meat purpose.




The duck moults once in six months, they moult during lean season when the feed and water are limited. It is a vacation moult than an annual regular moult. The duration of moulting lasts for 45 days. Sometimes, to shorten the duration of moulting, the farmers pull the feathers manually at the beginning to allow for quick regeneration, thereby the ducks are brought back to production at an early date.


Health cover / disease prevalence


The major disease threat among the duck farmers is duck plaque. Up to 90-100 per cent mortality was observed by the farmers due to duck plaque in earlier days (i.e. before 1980s). But now, they are well aware of the vaccination against the disease using the vaccine (live attenuated) from Indian Veterinary Preventive Medicine (IVPM), Ranipet, Tamil Nadu which otherwise would lead to a major havoc.


Next to duck plaque are fowl pox, Coryza and swelling of hock joint in ducklings. Ranikhet disease, duck cholera and duck viral hepatitis are also noticed. A study on parasitic prevalence indicated the presence of helminthes such as Echinostoma, Capillaria, Notocotylus, Coccidia, Railletiena, Choanataenia, Hymenolepis and Cotugnia species in field ducks.




The duck flocks are of migratory in nature as they are taken to different nearby districts in search of post-harvested paddy fields and water resources. From the Northern districts of Tamilnadu, the duck flocks are taken to Pondichery, a nearby Union Territory; from Central Tamilnadu to Thanjavur (Cauvery river bed area); and from Southern districts to Kanyakumari district. The duration for the duck flocks remaining in the migratory places is three to four months time depending upon rain and availability of harvested fields in their original habitat. Because of this reason, the duck population in some of these districts is often changing i.e. decreasing or increasing. Each district in Tamilnadu has different cropping patterns depending upon the monsoon conditions which lead to the shift in the population trends among different districts.


Apart from migration of ducks to neighboring districts, inter-state movement to nearby states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is also witnessed. There are specialized trucks for transportation of ducks with tier system arrangements and about 150-200 dozens of ducks are transported at a time (Figure 7).

Figure 7.  A specially modified truck for transporting ducks in search of fresh feeding resources.
Duckling seen in the bamboo baskets transported through cycles for marketing



A part of the requirements of Kerala state is met by the duck eggs produced from Tamilnadu, even though Kerala is a duck producing state. Considering the appearance of atomistically competitive seller and buyer groups, product differentiation and the degree of market intelligence, duck egg market in Tamil Nadu is considered as “pure competitive market”. A total of five channels were identified through which the duck eggs were moved from producer (farmer) to the ultimate consumer as follows:

Channel I           :      Producer – Trader – Wholesaler (consumption centre) – Retailer – Consumer  

Channel II         :      Producer – Trader – Retailer (consumption centre) – Consumer  

Channel III        :      Producer – Wholesaler – Secondary wholesaler (consumption centre) –

                                               Retailer – Consumer  

Channel IV        :      Producer – Wholesaler – Retailer (consumption centre) – Consumer  

Channel V         :      Producer – Consumer     

Of the five channels, the quantum of eggs transacted through first channel was high while the volume transacted through fifth channel was meager.


Improvement measures


Duck development programmes commenced on a small scale in India during the early 1960s (Government of India 2006). A few extension / demonstration centres were established to popularize improved varieties of ducks. In mid 1960s, the Regional Duck Breeding Farm at Haringhatta, West Bengal was established to multiply and supply improved varieties of ducks to farmers. Under Rural Development Programmes, large farms of improved varieties of ducks were encouraged in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Orrisa and West Bengal states.


The National Commission on Agriculture (1976) recommended to initiate systematic research on duck husbandry to develop expertise to operate large-scale duck farms with superior quality exotic ducks and to tackle the problem of the odour of duck eggs through management practices. The Central Duck Breeding Farm, Hassarghatta, Bangalore was established and become functional since 1982.


In Tamil Nadu, a new Duck Research and Development Centre was established in 1986 at Trichy, Cuddalore and Kattupakkam (under Tamil Nadu Agricultural University) to train and demonstrate duck husbandry practices to the farmers. In 1991, a Duck Research Centre and in 1994 Integrated Duck-cum-Fish culture were developed at Livestock Research Station, Kattupakkam under Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. In 1998, a Government of India sponsored Scheme on “Market survey on availability and acceptability of duck eggs and meat in Tamil Nadu” was operated to explore the marketing potentialities. In 1999, Productivity Enhancement of Ducks, a National Agricultural Technology Project, was carried out to identify the problems in duck husbandry and to technologically intervene on hatching, disease control, feeding and management. Since 2006, the senior author is operating a research work on “Strategies for enhancing traditional duck production system” under the Emeritus Scientist Scheme for the benefit of duck farmers in the under-privileged districts and tsunami-affected areas in Tamil Nadu.    


Constraints in duck farming


  1. Financial constraint for duck farmers as they depend solely on egg vendors / private money lenders for all the operational expenses in duck farming

  2. Marked influence in the egg production is also resulted in the application of pesticides in agricultural fields causing damage to the snails, tadpole and earth worm population (the main    proteinaceous feeding resource).

  3. Marketing is yet another constraint which makes the farmers totally dependant on the middlemen or financiers

  4. Local consumption of duck eggs and meat is very less

  5. Considerable loss in profit margin due to migration of birds.





Census 2003 17th Livestock Census. <> (Assessed on 5th May, 2008)


FAO 2003 Selected Indicators of Food and Agricultural Development in Asia-Pacific Region 1992-2002. FAO of United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and Pacific, Bangkok.


Government of India 2006 Report on Basic Animal Husbandry Statistics. Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, AHS Series – 10.


Gajendran K, Muthusamy P, Karthickeyan S M K and Omprakash A V 2005a Duck farming in Kancheepuram and Villupuram districts of Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu Journal of Veterinary and Animal Sciences 1:22-25.


Gajendran K, Muthusamy P, Omprakash A V, Karthickeyan S M K and Haribaskar M 2005b Production performance of non-descript ducks in semi-intensive type of rearing. Tamilnadu Journal of Veterinary and Animal Sciences 1:60-62.


Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation 1976 Report of the National Commission on Agriculture – 1976. Part I and VII.

Received 27 July 2009; Accepted 16 August 2009; Published 1 October 2009

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