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Ducks on wood chips in orchard? Advice welcome...

 
Tyler Kumakura
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Looking for some advice from anyone with insight....

My plan this spring is to introduce 6 Welsh harlequin ducks into my 2 year old fruit tree orchard. It is heavily mulched with wood chips, is about 5,000 sf, and has a deer fence around it. My plan was to put a smaller electrified perimeter inside the deer fence and put their duck house inside of this. I would lock them up each night to keep the coons out. A few questions...

1) The wood mulch is 4-5 inches thick and has been down for a couple years. Any idea how much insect forage 6 ducks will get rooting around in this?

2) Good/bad idea to move my compost pile into the orchard (so they can eat the flies)?

3) What forages could I plant for the ducks to eat? I was thinking clover/comfrey...

4) Any duck-specific house/coop designs you would recommend?

5) I was considering a floorless mobile house/coop design that I moved around the orchard to encourage direct contact between the nitrogen-rich manure and the carbonaceous wood chips (with less cleanup). Any issue with letting them bed down right on the wood chips if I give them protection from the wind/snow? It does get below freezing consistently in the winter but I hear ducks are pretty hardy.

6) Any ways to encourage certain insects ducks particularly like to eat?

Thank you!!!
 
Ann Torrence
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Are your tree trunks wrapped? We haven't seen this with our ducks, but the geese billed the bark on some young trees, nearly killed them. For safety sake, I would do that before introducing ducks to an orchard. And be prepared to protect any ground cover plants. They also destroyed a mint plant in 10 minute.s

 
Kris schulenburg
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Our Indian Runners find a lot to eat in mulch and compost. It seems to break down faster with them digging through it. Have not had a problem with them damaging tree but wrapping trunks would be a good precaution. They love comfrey and clover and it will disappear if it does not get a recovery period. They go in their house to lay eggs but sit outside behind it in the coldest weather and do fine.
 
Aaron Barkel
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I'd keep the compost area in a separately fenced off area or the ducks will root through it and you'll be left with no compost. (Speaking from experience)
 
Miranda Converse
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Tyler Kumakura wrote:

4) Any duck-specific house/coop designs you would recommend?

5) I was considering a floorless mobile house/coop design that I moved around the orchard to encourage direct contact between the nitrogen-rich manure and the carbonaceous wood chips (with less cleanup). Any issue with letting them bed down right on the wood chips if I give them protection from the wind/snow? It does get below freezing consistently in the winter but I hear ducks are pretty hardy.

6) Any ways to encourage certain insects ducks particularly like to eat?

Thank you!!!


Duck housing can be fairly simple. At night I put them in an 8x20 pen with a three sided shelter raised off the ground. They prefer to sleep on the ground, even when it's raining.
I would worry about raccoons digging under a pen if there's no floor though. We had a chicken wire skirt around the perimeter of our pen to prevent digging but a raccoon still found a weak spot (the corners) and killed one of my ducks.

If you have frogs in your area, you could put in a small pond for them to breed. Ducks love tadpoles and it doesn't take a big pond for them to breed. The frogs filled my kiddie pool with tadpoles last year...not insects but close enough I suppose...
 
Guerric Kendall
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Wood mulch compacts as it decomposes, and the chips also interlock a bit as they settle. So I wouldn't expect them to find as much there as they would in a loose compost pile. Remember, they have dull bills, and even enough they can shovel a bit, they're not as efficient as chickens. Really, they're made to be around water... In the mud is where they can drill holes very easily and quickly.

It's a fine idea to wrap your trees, but I personally wouldn't do it. Ducks naturally find food in water, but geese are grazers with beaks made for tearing and ripping up grass. So I can see how their tastes would be very different. I've found that wrapping trees just gives a cozy place for mice and other small animals to girdle it. They aren't as prone to doing that if they have to be out in the open and vulnerable.

Also, if you're in a dry area, the insects will be deep in the mulch where the moisture is. That goes even more so if the spacing if your trees doesn't leave much shade. Often insects don't like direct sunlight.

Good idea on moving the compost pile in. They won't spread it out as quickly as chickens will, but they can reduce the fly count and get some good food.

Clover/comfrey will do. Essentially any green that a chicken will eat, so will a duck.

A duck tractor like that is a good idea, otherwise they'd just stick to their favorite spots in the orchard. They have no problem with freezing ground, and will often sit around in the snow if allowed to... Just sit there. Countercurrent blood flow systems in their feet allow them to deal with the cold contact much better. Then they can also sit down and cover their feet with feathers if it's too cold. And they've got the backup down and wings that shield their body from cold. Plus no combs that can freeze, like chickens do!

I'd only decide to put them in a coop if it gets below 0F/-18C. Up that number a little if you're raising muscovies since they're birds of tropical ancestry, unlike common mallard-derived ducks.
 
Thomas Partridge
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Your big issue is going to be the water. Make sure you put their waterer as far from trees as you can and put it up on a pallet or two (or something that keeps the waterer off the ground, wont get damaged by water, and drains. Ducks love to drill their beaks into the ground, try to make mud puddles, and basically do everything you don't want them to do with water. They are quite clever at figuring out ways to get water from one location to another location, so it is just easier to put the waterer in a location where you don't mind them drilling holes and making mud rather than try to prevent them from doing it. You have to find a happy middle ground, somewhere between it being convenient to do their drilling and still a situation where you can keep their water cleanish.

As for shelter, if you put up an electric net fence to keep predators out they really need very little. A wood box with a hole cut in the front is pretty much all they need. You could make it more attractive to the eye and last longer by painting it and perhaps building a big raised flower bed on the top of it, but ducks are pretty easy when it comes to housing. Mine would rather sleep outside than in the coop with my chickens so I have to herd them into the coop every night and if I forget I find them lounging around in a cluster around their lean-to.

As for what to eat. Ducks will eat bugs, but unlike chickens they generally don't go crazy for them. Mostly mine just root around in the grass, for young shoots, old cut grass, and various other things. They may find a good many creepy crawlies under the mulch and around a compost pile, but even if they were in abundance they would still prefer that make up only a small part of their diet. The problem is that it sounds like you have an area roughly similar to my area for my annual garden (50x100), you could support that many ducks on that amount of land with very little input (although egg production would be minimal) but I am not sure you will get decent growth rates if most of it is carpeted by thick mulch. The stuff that mulch is trying to prevent growing is pretty much their favorite food. I am not saying change your system, but you probably should be prepared to offer a reasonable amount of food to supplement what they find.
 
William Bronson
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Just curious, will they eat the fallen fruit? Also, why ducks instead of chickens?
 
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