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Another duck question...

 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 374
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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I really want to raise a few ducks because I have heard they will eat insects in the garden with less destruction to the garden than chickens usually do. Is that true? I am leaning toward the Khaki Campbells because they are supposed to be really good layers, but what other breeds are hardy, lay well and do a good job at bug control. I don't have a slug problem, but the squash bugs and blister beetles are a regular scourge here in the Ozarks. Chickens will not touch the blister beetles and in fact, I have yet to find anything that will eat them. (I suspect they are toxic to most animals, but don't know for sure -- they are nasty little buggers and will raise quite a welt on the skin when handled).

I would also like to know just how important a pond is and how big it needs to be for say, a half dozen to dozen ducks and possibly a couple of geese. I want to build a pond anyway, but may not have it right away, so would be interested in hearing your experiences of ducks with and without a pool/pond.
 
Julie Helms
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Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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To address the pond part of your question... When we had ducks and no pond, we gave them a kiddie pool. You would need at least two for a dozen ducks. They do get fouled fairly quickly and are a pain in the winter with freezing so it isn't ideal, but it seems to give them some pleasure.
 
C.J. Murray
Posts: 92
Location: 5,500 ft. desert. 13" annual precip.
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My son wanted ducks and geese when he was young so he worked and earned the money to buy them. At one point, due to their reproductive efforts he had around 20 ducks and 5 geese. We tried a small pond here but it very quickly was fouled. My son taught them where a neighboring irrigation pond was located and they would go over there. Pretty soon the neighbors became addicted to seeing them walk to the pond and back.

If there is one thing I can say I learned from the experience it would be that ducks and geese are creatures of the water and they are not living a fulfilled life without that element. We never figured out what to do in the dead of winter when everything was frozen solid. My son would put some water in a kiddie pool occasionally on warm winter days to give them someplace to “live joyously”.

One other item they derived great pleasure from: ripe cherry tomatoes. Once we learned how much they enjoyed them we’d plant 6-10 plants for them. They’d wander through that patch as a group and find the ripe ones and we’d watch the bump slide down their throats. They really didn’t bother much else in the small garden we grew by the house. Grasshoppers are a problem here but not with ducks and geese around. I don’t know that they helped me any with squash bugs. However, had I staked the squash they may have as it would have been easier foraging.
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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It is true, water is a big part of a ducks life. I set up a kiddy pool on the lawn in the summer, I dump it almost daily as fertilized lawn water saving me watering by hand. As they say the devil is in the details.... when I dump the water the ducks cannot be around until it is soaked in or they will damage the lawn looking for worms in the soften soil. It only take a minute to soak in though.

In the winter I skip the pool, living in Oregon several puddles show up all winter long and that's enough 'new water' to keep them until summer. I always have a couple of buckets of clean water around for drinking and washing their heads in (very important for the health of ducks). Julie is right, for a dozen ducks you'll want a couple of pools, placed away from their hang out area, this way they will forage for bugs on route to the water and back. Make sure you have fresh, unfrozen buckets of water in the winter, plus swales/puddles in the spring and fall and your ducks will do fine.

I really want to raise a few ducks because I have heard they will eat insects in the garden with less destruction to the garden than chickens usually do. Is that true?


Yes. {edit} Ooops I forgot, ducks will run-over any pants just coming up. They have a blind spot in front of them.
I'd say no plant shorter than neck level. And they will nibble some veggies plants down, if the plants are small this will take them out.
So timing is everything. I set up semi circle wire around new spring plants in the path of the ducks just so they can grow getting big enough to body-block the duck.
I let the ducks into the garden area all spring to overwhelm the new crop of bugs. Once I plant the seeds or seedlings the ducks run the perimeter outside the garden fence. Once the veggies are as big as the ducks they are allowed back in for short visits, or over night (ducks are calmer, forage less at night).

I am leaning toward the Khaki Campbells because they are supposed to be really good layers, but what other breeds are hardy, lay well and do a good job at bug control.


Khaki's are half Indiana Runner and half Mallard and can breed with both, not all breeds can interbreed. Indian Runners are skinny and not much good for meat, but they are the best egg layers and bug eaters, this is where the Campbells get it. The Mallard's are meatier, good moms, but they love to fly (away?) and not so great at laying. This is why Campbells are popular - meat plus laying and they will raise young three out of four seasons if the conditions are right. I keep Runners, which only sit a nest once a year in the early spring, and are not the best attentive mothers - but this works great when egg collecting is what you want.

I Have no idea about blister beetles. However I bet you could raise ducklings to like the taste by feeding smashed ones from the get go, creating your own blister beetle eaters. It would be a fun experiment anyway.

I want to build a pond anyway, but may not have it right away, so would be interested in hearing your experiences of ducks with and without a pool/pond.


They will muck any water, because they constantly clean mud from their bills and nose holes. I would say not to provide anything of an in between size (horse trough, etc.), either keep it small and dump-able (kiddy pool) or larger, self cleaning (non-stagnate pond), with reeds, water movement, water flow in flow out.... etc. However, if it freezes where you live the pond won't be usable in the winter anyway so no rush on that If you do not get winter rain then you will need to provide some source of unfrozen water. It doesn't have to be much, just enough to completely dunk their heads.

Last of all, ducks tend to mate in water, or at least that's what they want to do. So if your hoping for eggs to hatch you will need to provide water they can stand in, even if that's only a puddle or inverted trash can lid w/ water.




 
Honora Holmes
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We have Khaki Campbells. I don't really think they are easier on the garden than chickens personally. They will obliterate green leafies. They love my tomatoes and will steal them all. They love green bean plants too and will wipe those out not by trampling them but by eating the plants down. I was hoping against hope they'd be easier on the garden than some of the other ducks we've had but they aren't. Maybe with a lot more guidance and training it would work out better but honestly I have too many things going on to do that. I'm planning to fence in our back vegetable garden area entirely next month and also fence in a larger area for the ducks. They really ruined large sections of my garden last year. I still love the ducks and think they are worth having but IME they won't eat the bugs without enjoying most of the other veg too. I've heard guineas will eat the bugs and leave the plants. So far I have had terrible luck getting them to even survive. I have one lone guinea and I had hoped to get her IN the garden and get a few more guineas next year. But the noise so far is pretty hideous and we might not be able to do that.
 
Jami McBride
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Yea Honora, my ducks will eat any tomatoes they can reach. But I trim the bottom of my tomato plants to allow air movement and prevent molds and fungus, so there are not low hanging tomatoes most of the time, and they don't eat the green parts. Like I said I wouldn't leave them in the garden long. Hungry ducks will eat potato greens, foxglove, lemon balm, and a few zucchini leaves.
 
John Polk
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If egg laying and bug-patrol is your top priority, I would stick with the Campbells and Runners. Generally, the Campbells are the best layers, and very docile. The Runners are next best for laying, but are much more excitable. Either one will give you about a 4 pound bird.

If you want meat, good choices would be Muscovies, or Pekins. Either one will grow to 10-12 pounds. The Muskovy is calmer and quieter, but has a tendency to fly. If you can keep them from flying as chicks, they probably won't as they mature. They are from a tropical region, so may not do so well in a northern winter. Muscovies are large...and have BIG feet...they will trample young seedlings. They are the best choice if you do not have a pond/pool, as they don't seem to be as interested in swimming as other breeds.

If you have ever had duck in a restaurant, you've probably had Pekin duck.

By all means, keep them out of the garden until the plants have grown enough to fend for themselves. Ducks will not scratch up plants, as will chickens, but they will trample tiny seedlings.
 
Mick Cressman
Posts: 23
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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My wife and I started raising ducks last year, so we are still learning, but we have found that yes, ducks are easier on the garden...depending on your gardening and management style. Ducks will destroy anything leafy and succulent, and they can destroy alliums merely by trampling. We had a tremendous slug problem in 2010, so in 2011 we ran ducks through the garden area from the time they could be outside until planting. We had almost zero slug damage all year! Then, we waited until the end of the season to run them in the garden again. They ate low hanging fruit (mostly gooseberries) and cleaned up lots of vegetation...vegetable and weed alike, but the only damage they really did was to our beds of garlic and onions, and that entirely from trampling. The breeds we have are khaki campbells and Welsh Harlequin. The Welsh Harlequins are marginally larger than the khakis, but both are active foragers and excellent egg layers. The WH are beautiful though, please look into them as they are a critically rare breed in this country as well.

I would argue than both khakis and WH are too small to effectively use for meat, I got tired of killing, dressing, and plucking or skinning for the amount of meat I got. So we have geese for meat now, and they are a beautiful and comical addition to our flock, and do a great job of keeping weeds down (just make sure you give the comfrey a chance to recover! They are only animals I have ever seen capable of killing comfrey!)

Ponds: we used masonry/mortar mixing tubs. Super cheap, not tacky colors like a kiddie pool, and sometimes I borrow them from our birds to use it to mix thinset or mortar. I also dug a pond and lined it with that rubber pond liner stuff. I made a gravity drain for it so I can drain it for the winter, and to take off the incredibly nutrient rich water...geoff lawton has a similar system, gravity fed and all that, except he uses an old bathtub. Smart. The ducks do not NEED water, but without it they will not preen the same way and I can't imagine they will be nearly as happy. They splash more than a bunch of children! At one week old they were swimming underwater and making a mess. Also, whenever a puddle shows up they enjoy it until it is drilled with holes and a mucky mess.

Lighter breeds of ducks do not NEED to breed in water, however I have always given water, and I have never seen them mate on dry land, however I gave my mother a trio of khakis, and they will occasionally mate out of water, even given the choice.




 
Honora Holmes
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Our Khaki Campbells will breed out of water as well.
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 374
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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Thanks for all the replies! You have pretty much confirmed what I already suspected about the need for water and the potential for damaging the garden. Since I do not have a pond yet AND so far (knock on wood) do not have a slug problem, but DO have lots of green things in my garden ducks would love to eat in lieu of slugs, I think I may have to forget about raising them at this point. Too bad too because I really love the idea of a few ducks waddling around! Oh well, I guess it is better to be realistic and practical. Since we are a vegetarian household, the garden is much more important than any eggs (and of course, meat) that ducks might provide.

To Jami McBride -- I understand what you were getting at, but I do want to mention that blister beetles are one species not to be treated lightly. I would definitely NOT recommend feeding them to any animal who does not voluntarily take them in their recognizable, whole and live form! These are incredibly noxious pests, and I have seen studies where as few as 7 of these inch-long beetles can kill a full grown horse if accidentally ingested in grass or hay. They emit a powerful acid that can literally raise blisters on your skin when touched. Often birds can eat things that mammals cannot, and ducks may possibly be immune to them, but I do know my chickens will have nothing to do with blister beetles, (even seeming to be a bit afraid of them) so all birds are not immune, to say the least. When dealing with any potentially venomous or toxic species, just as a precaution, I would never present it to any animal in disguised form (ground, smashed or cut up) unless I knew for sure that it was perfectly safe for them to ingest. You may just end up with a whole lot of dead ducklings.
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Thanks for the warning.... we have no such toxic pests here so there is no issue of me trying it out It was just a suggestion, sounds like you already know what can and cannot digest those beetles, that's good.

I love ducks ♥ can't wait to try geese.



 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 374
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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You don't know how lucky you are not to have these horrible things! Blister beetles -- once established -- are almost impossible to eradicate in an organic garden. They come in like the Mongol horde and literally devour everything in their path. But unlike similar plagues (locusts spring to mind), these guys are carrying chemical weapons that seem to make them completely invulnerable to counterattack by anything but a stronger chemical. Since we are 100% organic, that is out of the question, so I keep hoping I will come across something else -- like a handy predator -- to do the job. I have never had ducks, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that someone out there would tell me their ducks love them, but I admit I was not particularly hopeful. I have never seen any animal eat them -- not even wild birds. I only know about the effect on horses accidentally because someone around here who has horses mentioned it. I looked it up and found the study I was telling you about. I worry about my goats eating them because their main pasture is right next to the garden, but so far the blister beetles have not been tempted to cross over the barren strips where the goats like to lay up against the fence, to get to anything on the other side. I don't think goats would eat them on purpose. I just worry they might get them as they are browsing on low forbs. These beetles prefer to hide out on the undersides of plants or in the grass and leaf litter at the base during the day, so it would be easy for a grazing animal to eat them without knowing it.

So far the only remedy we have found is to keep several coffee cans of soapy water around the garden. When we see a blister beetle, we start looking closely and grab as many as we can find before they head for their hidey holes. We dump them in the soapy water, which pretty much kills them instantly. It works, but it is extremely labor intensive and you have to be on constant guard.

I imagine the ducks would eat squash bugs though because they are nowhere near as offensive. I have never actually seen a chicken eat one -- they do have a very strong odor, which may put them off -- but I believe the songbirds around here eat the nymphs off the leaves. At least, I see them darting in and out of the vines eating something. I assume it must be squash bugs because we never seem to have any other pest problems with our squash.
 
We don't have time for this. We've gotta save the moon! Or check this out:
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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