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
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
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?
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