Why Is Duck Meat Expensive?

Pekin drake in the grass

Duck is becoming more popular as a meat and as a bird to raise in backyards everywhere. Since ducks are starting to become more common, it makes you wonder, why is duck meat expensive?

Duck meat costs more (per pound) because the inputs required to raise the duck cost more (per duck) than they do for other commonly raised poultry, like chickens. For duck meat businesses to be profitable, these costs must be passed on to the consumer, which results in a higher price per pound of duck meat.

We’ll be comparing ducks raised for meat to chickens raised for meat to give you an idea of the costs involved and why ducks and duck meat tend to be more expensive than other poultry, like chicken.

If you are looking for a full budget of costs for raising ducks for meat, read my article Is Raising Your Own Meat Ducks Worth It?

Ducks require more space than chickens to grow

Ducklings need 25% more space to grow than chickens, per bird. (This chart on Metzer Farms is where I got the 25% figure.)

While this is not a big deal if you are raising a few ducks for yourself, when you are talking about duck raising at scale, a 25% difference in the birds you can have in the same area is a huge difference.

It’s more than just floor or pen space, it’s also all of the other things that you need to provide to the birds to get them to marketable size and condition. Think of things like bedding, feeder space, waterer space, etc.

Ducks take longer than chickens to grow

Another small but noticeable difference in ducklings is that compared to meat chickens, like broilers, ducklings are going to take at least a week longer to grow to marketable size.

Normally, a meat chicken takes 42 days to grow to marketable weight, whereas a meat duck takes 49 days. That’s a week’s difference, which has the ducks taking 14.3% longer to raise.

While, once again a week is not a huge deal when you are growing a batch of ducklings out for yourself, it is a definite consideration when you are running a business raising ducks.

This extra week must be priced in to the final cost the consumer pays or the farm raising the ducks is losing money.

Ducklings are more expensive to buy

Here are the prices from our local hatchery on ducklings compared to meat chickens. We’ll use Pekin ducklings and Cornish Cross broilers, since they are the most likely breeds to be used for meat and the fastest growers of each bird.

I don’t know what the commercial farms are paying per bird, but these prices will give you an idea of what the day old birds cost and how bulk orders will lower the price per bird substantially.

Day old Pekin ducklings are $7.41 each for small orders and can be purchased for as low as $3.86 each for orders of 1,300 ducklings.

Day old Cornish Cross broilers (the white meat birds) are $2.82 each for smaller orders with prices as low as $1.85 for orders of 100 chicks.

You can see from the prices above that while both ducklings and chicks have a bulk purchasing discount available, there is a big price difference for getting the birds to begin with.

For smaller orders, the ducklings are 2.62 times the cost of the chicks, for the larger orders that price difference drops down to 2.08 times the cost of chicks.

This means that the cost to start a batch of ducklings to grow for meat is more than 2 times the cost to start the same size batch of meat chickens.

Ducks in a flock
Here are some of our ducks running away from me trying to take their picture! There are some purebred ducks here and crossbreds, which are a mix of different breeds.

Ducklings take more feed than chickens to reach marketable weight

Ducklings take 18 pounds of feed each to get to market weight, but meat chickens take 15 pounds of feed each. This means that for every one pound of feed a chicken needs, a duckling will need 1.2 pounds to get the same growth.

The feed used will be very similar, since both these birds will have similar needs as far as protein to keep up with their fast growth.

This means that the cost of the feed per pound to feed ducks or chickens is close to the same, the difference is in the amount of feed needed over the total life of the bird.

For instance, if you are getting your feed for $0.36 per pound, this is a common price in our area for 50 pound bags of feed, you would pay $5.40 per chicken for feed but end up paying $6.48 per duck for feed.

In this example we are using the exact same feed per bird, the only difference is the the total pounds of that feed that are needed.

To be fair, the large poultry farms, whether they are raising ducks or chickens, would pay significantly less per pound for feed than the prices in the example above. Even so, the ducks would still cost more to raise to marketable weight.

Duck processing is more difficult and costly

On to the biggie regarding meat ducks and, in my opinion, the main reason for duck meat to be more expensive than chicken: processing. Processing ducks is much more involved than processing chickens.

Neither one is hard to do, but ducks require more work to get the feathers all plucked in order to make the sellable carcass to look great. This is simply because ducks have more feathers, tons more feathers, than chickens.

Since processing ducks is more involved than processing chickens, it will cost more to have done for you. In our area, the cost to have a duck processed for you is $9.50 each, while the cost to have a chicken done is $3.50 each.

That’s a huge difference in price, but one that has to be covered by the farm to sell meat to customers, especially if the customers are not buying on farm, like farmers markets or online orders.

These meat sales are retail sales, which means that the meat must be USDA approved at slaughter for it to be sold to you.

The approved slaughter facilities cost more, since they have to pay an inspector and are putting your duck in a customer ready package. Once again, all of these extra costs get passed on to the customer as in all businesses.

We do have a processor around here that will do poultry for you to take back home, but not for resale. This helps out anyone who wants to raise their own duck, but does not provide the processing for someone wanting to sell duck.

It makes sense why a processor would do birds for you (not to resell) only, it’s much less involved. These processors would not need to weigh or have the finished birds in sellable packing, all of which would add to the time and cost of processing.

Not all poultry processors will take ducks, some are chicken only

Another kind of crazy complication that duck raisers have is that not all bird slaughter facilities will do ducks, some only process chickens and occasionally turkeys, usually in the fall.

Especially in the past year or so, custom processors have reduced the number of services they provide in order to keep up with the skyrocketing demand from folks raising their own meat and wanting it to be processes for them.

Processors that are set up to do ducks and have space on their appointment schedule can be tough to find. This is yet another reason why when you buy duck meat, you are paying more than you would pay for chicken.

You can raise your own ducks for meat

Ducks are very backyard friendly, especially meat ducks! Even if you have a smaller yard or access to an unused green space, you can raise ducks yourself.

Ducks are pretty easy care and will stay in an area with a minimal fence and can be walked to grass and back in at night. Unlike chickens, ducks herd well. They also are great at coming when called, when you have trained them.

Ducks can also be raised in more of a chicken tractor type pen if that is more appropriate for your situation. If everyone is away for the day, having the ducklings contained might make more sense for their sake.

Some areas have problems with predation that make unsheltered ducks a poor idea. A chicken tractor for your ducklings would keep them safe, yet give them plenty of access to grass.

Pekin ducklings are grown in 7 weeks!

If you buy Pekin ducklings and feed them as directed, don’t cheap out here, they are fast growers which need good feed, you can go from day old ducklings to processed duck in 7 weeks. That’s pretty fast!

If you are willing to take it a step further, raise some of your own ducks and keep the ducklings. True you will still need to buy some feed for them, but you will not need to pay the $7.41 each to get them in the first place.

When you raise your own ducks, you separate yourself from the limitations of trying to get ducks when everyone else is getting them, as well.

Not only does this give you more flexibility in when you raise ducks, it also gives you more flexibility for when you process them.

Ducks do not need to be processed at 7 weeks, that’s just for market ducks. While it’s a good idea to keep track of their age, so you can work around the pin feathers coming in, ducks can be butchered at any time.

When you have your own backyard flock, you can choose to keep them running around until the time to put them in the freezer works better for you, and for your freezer space!

You can buy ducks from someone locally

Since locally grown meats are becoming more popular, you may be able to find a farm or backyard duck enthusiast around you that has duck in your price range.

These ducks are probably going to be available as live animals. You’ll need to figure out the processing for yourself, or make an appointment and have it done for you.

Ducks are an up and coming county fair project

Another option that may be available in your area is to consider the county fair. In some areas of the country, ducks are a popular fair project, other areas, not so much. You’ll have to check into it.

Of course you can buy the market ducks that are for sale at the fair market animal auction, that would help support the kids taking ducks to the fair.

The other option I’m thinking of is that you can buy the extra ducks that the kids raised. To have a pen of market ducks at the fair, you need 3 ducks that are very similar in size and weight.

To make this happen and to increase the chances of having a good selection of ducks to pick the fair pen out of, the kids would need to raise many more ducks than the final 3 they take to the fair.

What happens to the other ducks? Well, they would be sold off as it becomes apparent that they are not going to be the ones that make it to the final fair pen.

Or after the fair, any ducks that are left in at home will be kept for breeding stock, sold or processed. Most kids around here sell the extras for very reasonable prices.

Place a ducks wanted ad online or put up an ad at the feed store

So how do you get any of these ducks? Put a wanted ad online or put up something on the local farm store bulletin board.

A second option for the local ducks idea is the folks that bought ducklings in the spring, especially for Easter, then don’t want to keep them through the winter.

Or folks who bought enough ducklings earlier in the year so they could pick out a trio or a small flock to keep, but plan to sell the extras.

Usually ducklings are available unsexed meaning you pick out ducklings that all look the same and find out later which ones are male and which are female.

While these ducks will be older, meaning they will have more flavor and be bigger bodied but not as tender as the younger ducks, they are fine to eat and will be available in your area.

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