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ducks in the garden - will they eat my plants?

 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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I have read about ducks in the garden in various posts but I didn't want to hijack a thread so I'm starting a new one.

Do ducks really free range in the garden without tearing up and eating all of the plants?  I have read about it many places but I want to hear from 'real' people that are practicing this.

I can envision ducks eating my carrots, blue berries, and lettuce greens to the ground.  What are your experiences?

I like the idea of having little two-legged exterminators roaming around.  I also have a really good method for cooking duck.
 
                                    
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Well, those plastic ducks they sell at sporting goods stores as decoys won't bother your plants.  Any other type of domestic duck will wreak havoc in a garden in short order.  I've currently got 20 ducks and 3 new goslings, along with turkeys, chickens, and quail.  They are very destructive and do it very fast.

Where I could see them being extremely useful would be to clean up gardens in the spring pre-planting and again in the fall to go through and scavenge the remains.  They would do a pretty good job of removing all of the edible (to them) plant matter as well as any insects, slugs, etc. they find.  They would leave behind mostly just things that are inedible to them, either toxic, distasteful, or too tough or woody.

I guess I should also add this -- there may be certain situations where they could be used safely.  For example, I could see them probably being useful to remove soft weeds from around taller, more established corn stalks.  They do have their preferences as well -- it may be safe to turn them loose around certain plants on a short term basis if something more tasty is present.  But, when they exhaust the supply of preferred plant matter, they will turn to other things.  And, they are also indiscriminate about where they walk, where they dig, and where they poo, so they really won't care if they trample something even if they don't like to eat it.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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Thank you!
I knew it sounded too good to be true. 
 
Burra Maluca
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Mine love lettuces.  And whole strawberry plants, pulled up and swallowed roots 'n all.  They don't eat them all at once though.  One will keep them happy for a hour or so, then they'll waddle over very purposefully and pull up another one and waddle back with all the roots dangling spaghetti style out of their beaks. 

Mine are now banned from the veg garden!
 
                                    
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Well, I learned this lesson the hard way.  In my case, it was just getting a few ducks for my ornamental pond.  I thought it would be nice to have a couple of ducks swimming around with the koi.  That lasted about 2 days -- the trashed the plants, fouled the water and harassed the fish.  So now, they have a plastic kiddie pool that I can dump out and clean daily, and the pond plants did recover in short order.  But they are BANNED from the pond and gardens.  I don't let them "free range" anyway, I live on a primary road, don't have a fence, and there are just way too many predators anyway, including a redtail hawk that loves to sit on the telephone pole or in my black walnut tree and crane its neck vainly trying to find a way to get into those pens with all of those tasty looking birds.
 
Jahnavi Veronica
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Location: Vancouver, WA
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Our ducks(seven) wander through the potato patch and never touch the plants, they might be breaking a young stalk now and then, but so far most of them have come up unharmed and look happy.

They'll eat brassica sprouts, but don't seem to go after the Kale once its up, and they barely touch alliums

They will destroy everything if they are too confined, if allowed a lot of space they'll eat what they prefer first, the high calorie worms and slugs and bugs, with some salad, mainly grass and some dandelions.

our ducks free range on a large space, so they're pretty happy, confined animals destroy everything. especially human animals

 
                                    
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I suppose the size of the garden vs the number of ducks will make a difference.  If they have a lot of acreage to roam they obviously will be less concentrated in any one spot.

Ah, if only I had a lot of acreage!
 
                                        
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What about chickens?  We just got in 15 pullets and 10 straight run and the garden lies just south of the chicken coop.  We have 4 acres and they will have access to pretty much all of it including the goat pen and the pond (which lie to the north and west of the chicken coop, respectively).  We plan to free range, so do I need to fence the chickens out of the garden area?
 
jacque greenleaf
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"We plan to free range, so do I need to fence the chickens out of the garden area?"

yes, you do! what they don't pull up or eat, they will destroy by making dust baths.

but when you need to clean up a bed, they are very useful.
 
Anna Carter
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Location: Lacey, Wa
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I got ducks to eat the slugs because even if they do want to eat the plants, they are easier to fence out than slugs.  And, they give me eggs and meat!
 
John Polk
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If you let ducks or chickens into your garden, I would suggest installing a good sound system so you can play them this:

the end result will be the same.

EDITED to update YouTube link
 
            
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My experience has been a bit better than other folks. 

I have a small urban yard, roughly 50ft by 75 ft.  It is densely planted with vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees etc.  I've had chickens for the last couple years; they have since been confined to a coop & run after wreaking havoc throughout the yard.

This year I introduced two khaki campbell ducks to the yard.  They've been given free access to the entire yard, including the vegetable gardens.  They have an in-ground pond, roughly 5ft x 3ft, from 1 to 3ft deep, which was dug exclusively for them.  The pond has a number of potted plants in it, mostly rushes.  My objective in introducing the ducks was to control the slug population; the eggs are a nice side effect.

The ducks are destructive but much, much less than the chickens.  They only target a few plants for consumption: new fern growth, forget-me-nots, and the occasional parsley are all the ducks usually eat.  They steal a flower here and there, especially on my current bushes, but it's fairly rare.  They never touch my lettuces, brassicas, chard, alliums, etc.  The bigger issue is treading over small plants.  Their large webbed feet will squish any plant which isn't at big as the duck.  I've devised two solutions: in the veggie garden, I fence off sections which have been recently planted.  Once the plants are big enough, I remove the fence.  For the flower beds, I now grow plants in a cold frame until they are large enough to be directly planted among the ducks.

My slug problem has diminished significantly since introducing the ducks.  In my opinion, they extra work I need to do to protect small plants is well worth the return the ducks have provided me.

In summary, I would say that ducks can be destructive in a typical garden or yard.  However, it takes just a little bit of observation and planning to circumvent the damage the ducks may cause; once you understand their behavior, it's quite easy to maintain a nice garden or yard in which ducks are allowed to roam free. 
 
            
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I forgot to mention... most domestic ducks cannot fly or jump.  Therefor an 18-24" fence will deter a duck from entering an area.  This makes is extremely easy to fence off areas of a garden which are currently under cultivation.
 
Joe Skeletor
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Location: Blue Island, Illinois - Zone 6a - (Lake Effect) - surrounded by zone 5b
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John Polk wrote:
If you let ducks or chickens into your garden, I would suggest installing a good sound system so you can play them this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGxpEGbwjbw&feature=related
the end result will be the same.



The mental image of ducks marching into the garden to this song was hilarious. Good one! - Joe
 
Burra Maluca
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RyanJ wrote:
I forgot to mention... most domestic ducks cannot fly or jump. 


They may not be able to jump *over* things, but they sure can jump *up* to reach things.  Our poultry area includes several young fruit trees and the rotten things managed to jump vertically and strip all the cherries of one of the baby trees.  They also got out a week or so back when we were moving the fence to enlarge their compound, and despite now having access to two acres, they went straight for the veg garden and decimated a patch of beans.  (I still hear that soundtrack every time I see them marching in formation...)

The compound is intact again now so the ducks are behaving themselves, and I thought the figs on the baby fig tree were safe as they are slightly higher than the cherries were.  But it seems that geese can jump higher than ducks can. 

Oh well, I guess that for now the neighbours' fruit donations will keep me going.  And in a few years my poor baby trees will have grown enough so that I can have at least some of the fruit before the critters get it... 
 
lindy saler
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Ok - I have read all the posts on this subject and am wondering about my particular situation. I probably am buying a town block which is surrounded on 2 sides by a creek. I am thinking a couple of ducks would be good for the vegie garden (they would have free access to it) Because they will have the mud around the creek plus lots of critters to eat I was hoping that, if I protect young seedlings, my garden wouldn't get too beaten up by them. Also, I know Pekin ducks have been used in China for centuries to fight against pests in agriculture. Does anyone know if they are less destructive to vegies than other breeds or have you any other suggestions, thoughts??
 
Saybian Morgan
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lindy they destroy by bulldozing, and rooting for bugs that flips plants. Large plants and deep mulch help allot, since ducks like muscovy are mostly looking for insect's when there smashing stuff. They do a good job when use's at times of the year, if you have creeks yeah they will generally come to the garden to nap n crap, just remember a sitting duck is bait for allot of things if you clip their wings. If you don't clip them your birds may fly south.
 
Dale Bunger
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We have had free range chickens for several years and this is our first year with the free ranging ducks. We have had the following experience.

Free ranging chickens will destroy almost any type of garden area due to their scratching and desire to create a dust bath. Given several acres of land, they will find where you have planted things to do this, probably because the soil is already somewhat loose and they like to scratch through the mulch. In fact, I think our chickens are now conditioned to search out areas mulched in straw as a starting point for their scratching

This works great after a crop has been harvested, since they pick up any left-over bits and do a nice job of breaking down the organic matter and adding a little fertilizer in the process, but he only real success we have had around "living" plants is in a tree nursery. They do a nice job of knocking down the grass in between the trees without doing any damage to the trees themselves. They are much more selective than me with a string trimmer... (These trees are all over 3' tall at this point).

The ducks are much less destructive around most plants since they move through an area in a group with their head down looking for bugs. The problem is with the smaller plants and once again, the attaction to mulch.

We put in a 40' row of beans under a nice oat straw mulch and they went right down the row, grubbing out every bean plant as they fluffed up the mulch looking for bugs.
They also like strawberries and new asparagus shoots, but they know when it is getting woody and will leave it alone after that, so as long as you keep them out for a few weeks in the spring, they are good to go.
They like new corn, but will leave it alone after it is about 1ft high.
They go up and down our hop rows, fluffing the mulch and leaving the hops alone.
They walk around the potato towers and once again grub around the bottom, but don't touch the plants.
They walk the grape vines, fluffing the mulch but leaving even the newly planted grapes alone.

Other observations,

The ducks stay together as a group much better than the chickens.
They are easier to herd to/from an area because they are a little slower moving and once again, travel as a group.
They don't jump over fences, even small 2 foot temporary fencing. This is good when trying to keep them out of an area for a short period of time and makes it easy to step over for people.
They will hang by the pool and love a little shade, but ours routinely walk the length of our property, heads down, ruffling through the grass in an orderly line like a search party.
Watching them swim in a pool and talk amoungst themselves is worth the price of admission.

We also installed several pools and pond liners, uphill from our garden area, with drains and ball valves. (I think this was in a geoff lawton video?) Every few days, I connect a hose to this and let gravity help me water my grapes, asparagus, and other plants while I clean the pond for the ducks. This simple system has made the whole pond thing go from "pain in the @ss" to "totally free fertilized water"

Overall, I think that having ducks around a (larger)garden is beneficial and can be "managed" much easier through temperary fencing, etc. and are useful around many plants while they are growing.
However, they are much messier in a small area and would struggle in a confined area.

For reference, the ducks we have are Silver Appleyards and were hatched this spring.
 
John Polk
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One other thought on ducks: while they will not scratch out seedlings as a chicken will, the larger meat breeds will stomp many smaller plants. If you let the larger ducks loose in a garden, think "Sasquatch" (Big Foot).



 
Saybian Morgan
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On the comment of them not hoping fences, I think it might depend on the breed, my muscovies flew/walked up a 4 foot open roofed duck tractor. They will stay in a fenced area as long as they can't expand there wings and go up the fence, I use sticks along the fence to stop them and sometimes the sticks grow into tree's. Meat ducks also have a way of big breasting a weak fence down to the ground by leaning on it as they climb, mine use to go under the fence at first till i made a "J" shaped fence and let the grass stitch it into the ground. Free range birds work best in a woody system of tree's and shrubs, herbaceous gardens are to paradisaical for them to control themselves.
 
Connie Farmer
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I read something a year or so ago about putting a duck on a leash and taking it around the garden to eat bugs that way. It sounds do-able to me if you have a severe slug problem. Not that I've ever tried to train a duck to a leash lol
 
Angelika Maier
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I agree that chicken and ducks need to be confined. In one of the permie books is a picture of a yard divided in four, one is for the critters and they rotate while the other sections are cropped. I haven't tried that though. And you might have an orchard and trees do really good with a bit of poop, especially citrus, loquats.
 
Debra Russell
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I'm new here and haven't quite figured out how to post pictures here yet. So I will add a link with information I would like to share. I personally have been very success in managing ducks in my urban garden. Please read my experience with images here http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/successfully-managing-ducks-in-the-garden The creation of the duck yard/garden is outlined here http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/ducks-in-the-garden
 
Rus Williams
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Debra, those are two really nice posts you link to. We'll be getting a couple of ducks in the spring and I've been reading up on keeping them. Thanks for sharing your insights, especially on how they like to eat.
 
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