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Lucky Ducks!
Windward Notes by Walt Patrick

We're having lots of fun with the garden this year. It's still mostly an experimental program, but it's fun to see some of the kinks working out. One of the key experiments we're working on is the utilization of domestic fowl for the control of insect damage on garden plants.

Our ducks love bugs of all sorts, but they also enjoy snacking on succulent plants such as cabbage and beets. We've solved that problem by making small mobile pens that we can use to keep the ducks out of the cabbage, while still giving them full access to things like onions and potatoes.

I'm pleased to relate that we have a large potato patch in full growth and bloom, without hardly any leaf damage at all. The birds are keeping the insects in check without the use of any insecticides.

We're finding that the India runner ducks are working out best because their web feet aren't suitable to scratching around, so they're not disturbing the roots of the plants in the way that the chickens tend to. Lost an entire patch of strawberries that way last year; chalk it up as part of the tuition charged for hands-on learning.

For those unfamiliar with India runners, they're the ducks that Daffy Duck was modeled after. They're raised around the world as egg layers, producing more than 170 eggs per hen per year. India runner eggs are hard to distinguish from our chicken eggs, but part of that is because our chicken eggs are especially rich due to their free range diet. Between the Aracannas, the Rhode Island reds and the ducks, the egg rack in the fridge holds quite a colorful selection.

The original batch of ducks we purchased some six years ago were incubator chicks, and they didn't have much left in the way of maternal instincts. Of those original ducklings, only two were interested in setting a clutch of eggs. We've consistently saved the hen-chicks from those founding mothers, and by now we've pretty much restored the ability of our hens to set a nest and hatch a brood.

This year, we've had at least eight duck hens go the distance, producing more than fifty ducklings. Since half of those are boy ducks who'll be invited to dinner in the fall, the over all production in meat, eggs and feather down will form a notable contribution to our program, all in addition to the added productivity in the garden.

We even have two hens "ducking" it out for Mother-of-the-Year. After laying and hatching one brood of ducklings, both hopped back on the nest and turned out a second brood.

That's turned out to be a bit of a problem since both nests hatched out at the same time. Ducklings aren't too good at keeping straight which duck is their momma duck, but they're really good at sticking with the other ducklings. The result is that one momma duck gets completely surrounded by more than twenty chicks, while the other stands there quacking her lonely heart out, doubtlessly feeling betrayed and abandoned.

Given the steady development of Gina's flock, it's looking like she's is going to be well started in the organic, fertile duck egg business by next season. There's a large Asian community here in the Pacific Northwest, and a steady market for ducks and duck eggs. Living off the beaten path requires that one be a little creative at finding a special niche. Ranching ducks may not be as glamorous as ranching cattle, but .....

P.S. There's been a resolution of sorts of the problem caused by two nests hatching out at the same time. The chicks have formed one vast super-clutch, and the two hens have agreed to team up to watch over the combined herd of chicks. It's a non-traditional sort of arrangement for them, but if the chicks won't separate, what's a momma duck to do?

Windward is a cooperative association of individuals dedicated to developing, communicating, and implementing the principles of self-reliance and providing assistance to people in transition. Visit their website: www.windward.org or email: windward@gorge.net

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