Search Metzer Farms

March 16, 2018

Feed Mill

For both commercial farms and backyard hobbyists, feed mills are a necessity of life. Feed mills are able to consistently produce quality feed for our animals with the nutrition they need. But what actually occurs in a feed mill?

L A Hearne has been our source of feed for over 30 years and we were recently invited for a tour of their mill located in King City, California. Their manager, Mike Hearne, was very enthusiastic about showing us around, starting with the outside of the mill.

Marc Metzer on left, Mike Hearne on right
Every Thursday a train car rolls in with a delivery of corn which is emptied into a vent under the rails. The corn is then transferred to their grain storage building which contains different kinds of grain including corn, oats, barley, and rice.

Train car that carries the feed.
The mill caters to hundreds of customers including feed stores and other commercial growers, all with different feed needs for different animals ranging from our ducks, to horses, to rabbits! The feed is usually sold in bulk to commercial customers and put in 20, 50 and 80 pound bags for their feed store customers. All our feed is delivered in bulk - meaning it is augered directly from the feed truck into our feed tanks, and each truck has 24 tons of feed.
Feed truck delivering feed to our farm!

Bag for rabbit feed!

Some of the grain storage.
Determining what grain and additives to use and in what quantities in a feed ration is a fairly complex process with several factors needed to be taken into consideration. We will cover this in another post in the future.

Feed is made in batches of two tons. Prior to being ground and mixed, all the grains are sent through a sifter to remove any broken pieces of grain and any contaminates. The sifted grains are then sent into a grinder in preparation to be turned into pellets. Different vitamins and minerals are placed in bags beforehand, ready to be mixed into the ground grains. We were lucky to be visiting that day as they were mixing our feed!

Mixer in the floor mixing ground grains.
Vitamins and minerals going into our feed!

Mike showing Marc the mixer.
The complete, ground ration is called a mash. For some chicken and swine feed, this is the product’s final form. For others, the mash is flash steamed to increase the temperature and then, pushed through a pellet die, kind of like frosting through a piping tip. As the ropes of feed emerges from the die a knife cuts it into pellets of the desired length. By flash steaming the feed, all of the bacteria is destroyed, leaving a clean food source.

Pellet die prepped.
Feed being pushed through the die and forming pellets.
The pellets are then sent through a dryer to remove any leftover moisture, preventing mold. For more information on mash, pellets, and crumble feed, take a look at our post on the different forms of feed.

The final product is then packaged and shipped to customers and feed stores.

Mike manning the sewing machine.
Bag of feed heading for the shipping dock.

Thank you LA Hearne for a tour of your mill! Keep up the good work and see you next week!

March 09, 2018

Mallard Ducks

The most popular and well-known duck is probably the Mallard. They can be found just about anywhere in the world. Mallards are so common that when most think of a duck, they imagine a Mallard.

The Mallard is the origin of all domestic duck breeds other than the Muscovy. According to Charles Darwin, of all wild ducks, only the male Mallard has the distinctive curl in the tail feathers. As all male domestic ducks have these curly feathers, he came to the conclusion that all domestic breeds originated from the Mallard. From the big, meaty Pekin to the skinny, upright Runner duck - their ancestor is the Mallard breed.

They are a very popular hunting bird as they are so abundant throughout the US. Their meat is considered very flavorful.

They can lay between 60 to 120 eggs a year on a farm. In the wild they will lay 10-15 eggs in a nest. If their first brood is raised early or their nest is destroyed, they can lay a second set of eggs. Compared to domestic breeds their egg production is low, but their fertility is one of the best we have - about 90%.

Mallards are beautiful birds. Females are a speckled brown, but the males sport striking green heads, a white collar around the neck, gray on the belly, and cinnamon chests when they are adults. However, until males start to get their colorful feathers at 12 weeks of age, they are the same coloring as the females. By 16 weeks the males are fully feathered and retain these colors until the end of the breeding season when they molt into more drab, less brightly colored feathers. After 3-4 months, their beautiful feathers grow back and these are retained until their molt the next summer.

Today, the Mallard is considered an invasive wild species in some areas as it is able to mate with other indigenous ducks thereby producing new hybrids and eventually diluting the pure native breed until purebreds are rare. Wildlife authorities in both Hawaii and Florida do not allow the importation of Mallards in fear of them hybridizing their native duck population. In Hawaii, the native duck is the Koloa duck which is on the endangered list, and in Florida it is the Mottled duck.

The vast majority of wild Mallards migrate. In the summer they can be found in the northern parts of the US and all of Canada. When fall arrives and food becomes scarce, they fly south to more temperate climates such as the southern US and parts of Mexico. Come spring, they again return to their nesting grounds.

This migration pattern can be divided in to four different flyways or flight paths: Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic Flyways. Scientists believe they use a combination of polarized light, stars, and landmarks to find their way during migration. Nature’s own GPS!

There are, of course, exceptions. There are plenty of areas that do not have a winter - where the water does not freeze over and there are enough food resources year round. In these areas many Mallards decide to take up year round residence. This includes Hawaii’s Koloa and Florida’s Mottled ducks which are both categorized as non-migratory.

If you release Mallards that have not been hatched and grown in the wild, it is highly unlikely they will migrate. Studies show they go no further than five miles from where they were released. Though your released birds may fly away, the Mallard’s ability to fly and escape predators makes them much more likely to survive than any domestic ducks released into ponds and streams. If, however, you do not want your Mallards to fly, you can trim their wing feathers as show in our feather trimming blog post.

Mallards are beautiful birds. Enjoy them in your pen, barnyard, garden or pond.

Egg Production
Bluish Eggs
Egg Size
2.25-2.5 pounds
Very Good
65-75 grams
APA Class
Foraging Ability
Conservation Status
Our Show Quality
Flying Ability
Very Good
Too "Chunky"
Very Good
Native to North America

March 02, 2018

What Causes Runts?

The word ‘runt’ has a lot of negative connotation to it. Runts are thought of as weak and sickly. I’m here to tell you that this is not true! The official Google definition of a runt is “an animal that is smaller than average”. A runt is just a smaller version of the same breed. That doesn’t mean it is sick or weak, just small.

What causes this? Our veterinarian’s theory is that it has to do with the flora in the gut. Everyone has bacteria in their stomach, both good and bad. The good bacteria colonizes in the stomach and helps with digestion. Runts, however, do not seem to have as much good bacteria or it has the wrong kind of bacteria colonizing in its gut. This means that it doesn’t digest its food as well and therefore does not grow as fast as its siblings.

There is a way to fix this. By providing the correct probiotics, runts are capable of catching up in growth with the rest of the flock. You can find probiotic supplement packs at your local feed store or Amazon. The probiotics help to develop the good bacteria in the bird’s gut that will help with digestion and facilitate growth. You can mix this in the communal feed as the extra probiotics may benefit your other birds, too.

Other potential causes include hatching from small eggs, viral infection, genetics, coccidiosis, and bacterial infection during incubation. While these are valid causes, our veterinarian believes they cause far fewer runts than improper bacteria in the gut.

For further information, Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, has an article in his Chicken Whisperer Magazine that goes further into probiotics for poultry. While this article is about chickens, the same applies to ducks and geese.

The main question is what this means for you. If you are a commercial producer, we suggest culling the runts if only because their growth rate will be off of your expected processing date. For example, Pekin are ready for processing at 7 weeks, but your runt may not catch up until about week 12.

The following picture is from one of our customers, a Hutterite colony in Montana in 2014. They and other colonies order Pekin ducklings by the thousands and you can clearly see in the photo that there were several ducklings that were not growing as fast as the others. They were 4 weeks and 4 days of age for the picture. When it came time for processing at 12 weeks, however, they could not tell which had been the runts!

If your main concern is egg production, a runt’s egg production start will probably be delayed. If the runt is treated, however, and catches up in growth, they should be on time to start laying with the rest of the flock.

Both the meat and eggs are still good to eat. Remember, a runt is simply smaller.

Whether your birds are pets or not, make sure you keep them all fed, watered, and warm. It will take time for them to catch up in growth, but it will be worth it in the end.

February 23, 2018

Pekin Ducks

Pekin Ducklings
The Pekin duck has a long history with records in China going as far back as the 1300s. It was introduced to Great Britain in 1872 and then the United State in 1873. It has since taken over the US market as the go-to commercial meat duck.

The Pekin was bred for its meat, but can be considered a very good egg layer, too. Averaging 8 to 12 pounds in weight, it can lay 150 to 200 eggs per year, making it a great multi-purpose duck.

They are typically processed at six to seven weeks of age with its breast filet being about 21% of the carcass. As such, it has become a very popular commercial duck with a fast growth time and excellent feed conversion (only 2.4 pounds of feed per pound of live body weight gain). In culinary circles, it is the main ingredient for roasted Peking duck.

Female and male Pekin
The dinner table is not the only place the Pekin has become famous. The Aflac duck is a Pekin which originally came from our farm and the
was also the inspiration behind Donald Duck.

We have two names for our Pekin: the Pekin and Grimaud Hybrid Pekin. The Pekin and the Grimaud Hybrid Pekin are the exact same bird, exact same price, just under different names. We did this because some people know what a Pekin is, but not a Grimaud Hybrid, while others may want the Grimaud Hybrid specifically.

The Grimaud Hybrid is named as such because we purchase day-old breeders from Frimaud Freres in France every four months. It is called a hybrid since the Grimaud Hybrid is produced by crossing two strains of Pekin, one strain bred for high meat production and one strain bred for high egg production. By crossing females from the egg laying strain with the males from the meat production strain, you hatch a lot of ducklings that can be grown for meat.

Outside of the commercial market, advertisement, and entertainment industries, the Pekin is a very popular duck among kids and 4-H groups. It does well as a meat class bird at the county fair and is an amazing addition for any backyard hobbyist.

Egg Production
Bluish Eggs
Egg Size
8-12.25 pounds
90-100 grams
APA Class
Foraging Ability
Conservation Status
Our Show Quality
Flying Ability
Meat Class Only

Information from our Duck Comparison Table

February 16, 2018

Are my eggs fertile?

A common question that we get is if the eggs, whether they are the eggs they receive from us, eggs their own ducks are laying, or eggs they find out in the wild, are fertile. The simple answer is that we do not know.

One way to find out if your egg is fertile is to crack it open. While this does prevent you from incubating the egg, it does tell you if an egg is fertile. Maybe you just wanted to check to make sure your single male was fertile. It is also a great way to check fertility if you are eating some of your eggs. If you look closely at the yolk and see a white doughnut shaped spot, then the egg was fertile. If the white spot was solid and irregularly shaped, then it was infertile.

Fertile egg
Infertile egg

The only way to find out if your egg is fertile without cracking it open is to incubate and then candle the egg. This normally takes about six days before you can clearly see development in the egg. You can use our candling photos on our website to track the development of your eggs.

If you do not see development after six days, we suggest you continue incubating as it could be that your flashlight is not strong enough (see our candling page for explanation). If you don’t see anything by ten days, then you know for sure your eggs were either infertile or died very early in development.

We guarantee that 80% of our eggs will be fertile and alive at first candling. This does not mean that we guarantee 80% hatch as there is also a spike in mortality the two days before hatching.The most common times for the embryo to die are the first several days of incubation and the last several days before hatching. So an egg that died early in incubation was truly fertile as it started to grow, but oftentimes these early deaths and truly infertile eggs are called “infertile”. This early death can be caused by many things and is typically caused by incubator conditions - over which we have no control.  

The Power of Science

In the future, there is a possibility of identifying fertile eggs without breaking them open or incubating them. Several research teams have been developing processes to determine the fertility and even the sex of an egg without cracking it and before it goes into an incubator. Egg Farmers of Ontario in concert with Michael Ngadi from McGill University have found a way to determine fertility and sex of an egg using various light waves and are working to make it commercially available to hatcheries. At the same time, Vital Farms in the USA and Novatrans in Israel are looking to put their invention into commercial production which uses the gases exuded from an egg to determine fertility and sex.

This is exciting for large commercial hatcheries producing laying chicks as they do not have a market for the male chicks and currently put down the excess males after hatching. If they can determine the sex before incubation, the male eggs could be sold for consumption. Likewise, infertile eggs could be sold for consumption and money would not be spent on labor and equipment to incubate infertile eggs that have no chance of hatching. These processes should be available to large hatcheries within several years, but when this technology filters down to us and hobby hatcheries

is anyone’s guess. So until that happens you have to do what has been done for the past century - break the egg or incubate it to determine if it is fertile.