Pekin duck embryos take around 28 days to develop in the egg at 99.5°F (37.5°C) and 55-75% humidity. A heartbeat can usually be seen by the third day of incubation when candling the egg.
The eggs must be regularly turned during incubation. This occurs in nature when the female duck shifts her position while sitting on the eggs. For artificial incubation, machines are available which will constantly turn the eggs.
When being artificially incubated, the eggs are moved to a "hatcher" three days before they are due to hatch. This has a slightly lower temperature and higher humidity which increases the survivability of the hatchlings while their protective down develops.
Compared with other birds, duck eggs are relatively easy to hatch as they are very forgiving of variations in temperature and humidity.
Hatchlings and young ducklings
Pekin hatchlings have bright yellow plumage with an orange bill, shanks, and feet. Hatchlings should not be given free access to swimming water unless they have been hatched naturally by other ducks. The feathers of a young duckling are not sufficiently developed to properly protect them for extended periods in the water and they do not produce enough preen oil to waterproof this plumage. In the wild, a mother duck will monitor the time her ducklings spend in the water as well as supplying additional preen oil to supplement what is produced by the hatchlings.
It can be difficult to determine the gender of the young ducklings due to the lack of external genitalia or other differences. Venting is one common method. This entails gently squeezing the duckling to cause faeces to be expelled, which forces the cloaca to open slightly, permitting the sexer to view the sexual organs. However, these are almost undifferentiated in hatchlings.
As a male duck matures it acquires a curled tail feather called a drake feather, and their vocalisations become much weaker, they also contain 1 black feather on their back underneath their wings. Coversely, the female develops a loud quack. Venting is also easier when the ducks' genitals are fully mature but is not necessary because of the readily apparent external differences between males and females.
Fully mature adult Pekin ducks weigh between 8 and 11 pounds (3.6 and 5 kilograms) in captivity. Their average lifespan (if not eaten at an early age) is about 9 to 12 years. Their external feathers are white sometimes with a yellowish tinge. This is more obvious with ducks that have been reared indoors and not exposed to sunlight. The ducks have a more upright stance than dabbling ducks, and possess an upturned rump.
An adult Pekin will lay an average of 200 eggs per year if it does not try to, or is prevented from, hatching them. They will normally only lay one egg on any given day. They will lay their eggs in what they consider to be safe place and will often lay where another duck has already laid. Ducks can be tricked into laying eggs where desired by placing a golf ball or similar object in a place where they might normally lay.
Pekin ducks are less "broody" than other ducks which means that they are less likely to sit on their eggs until they hatch. Hens can be used to sit on the duck eggs, or they can be incubated artificially.
Pekin ducks, for the most part, are too heavy to get airborne. However, individual ducks may be lighter and capable of short flight, so clipping their flight feathers or (pinioning) their wings will ensure that they will not be able to fly away. They are gregarious and will usually group together.
As with most waterfowl, the Pekin duck has feet that are perfect for paddling through water but less suited to walking around on the ground. They are happiest when they have free access to water in which to swim and mate. When catching a Pekin duck it is important not to grab it by the legs but rather to grasp by the neck which is less likely to break.
Butchering and eating
Pekin ducks are ready for butchering at 6 to 8 weeks of age with 7 weeks considered optimum. The prime commercial weight is considered to be 6-6.5 pounds (2.7-3 kilograms). They produce more meat that is desirable for eating than other breeds of duck. Its meat is very tender and mild and well-suited for a range of dishes.
Pekin duck meat is a good source of iron, niacin (B3) and selenium. A boneless, skinless duck breast has about 40% less fat, and 10% less calories than boneless, skinless chicken breast, however has a far greater cholestoral count according to the Culver Duck Farms Nutritional Comparision Table which compares duck with chicken, pork, beef, and turkey