This time of year, if the temperature is right, we can hear the first of the season’s honeybees out buzzing around. The frogs are starting to chirrup in the lengthening twilit evenings, and the chickens are clucking and scratching and crowing all the day long. But there is one sound lacking here on the farm, and without it this place just doesn’t feel or sound complete.
I’m talking about the quacks and burbles of ducks.
When I was a little girl, my mother would regale my sister and I with tales of hatching a duckling in her kitchen oven when she was a child, and how wonderful and sweet that pet duck was. He would follow her around and wag his little tail whenever she gave him treats. I was captivated by this story, and by ducks themselves. There’s just something about them, from their smiling bills to their happy bottom-heavy waddle.
I just love ducks!
I also love that I get to tell you that this spring we’ll be adding ducklings to our farm, including one of each type of:
- Welsh Harlequin
- Silver Appleyard
- Fawn and White Runner
- Chocolate Runner
- Blue Swedish
I’ve reserved a late March hatching of eight eggs and I honestly just can’t wait!
Why are we getting ducks?
There are lots of reasons why adding ducks to a homestead is a good idea, not least of which is because they’re just so adorable as babies and entertaining as adults. There are some great websites out there that go into all this in a little more detail, but here are the main reasons we’re getting ducks:
Eggs: Ducks produce far more eggs than the average chicken, as many as 350 per year from the more prolific breeds. As an added plus, those eggs are bigger and have higher nutritional values than chicken eggs. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a duck egg, so I don’t know what I’ll think of the taste. But my tentative plan is to use them in my burgeoning baking hobby, as their higher fat content should make baked goods fluffier and richer.
Pest Control: “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” — Bill Mollison. I can’t remember the first time I heard that quote, but I do know that it’s genius. The chickens have been OK when it comes to eating pests, but they disdain slugs, caterpillars and many of the other bugs that wreak havoc in the garden. They are darn picky. Not so, ducks. They will happily and enthusiastically eat all those buggies that the chickens won’t, especially the slugs.
Gentler on Land: This is the big, number one reason we’re getting ducks (besides the cuteness and indulging my childhood fantasies)! The chickens are no better than pests themselves when it comes to destroying the vegetable garden, or any landscaping, or just the lawn. They’re not picky when it comes to scratching things up and they do it exceptionally well. Now, I know that ducks, too, can destroy delicate seedlings in the garden, and will make mud holes anywhere given half the chance. But overall, everything I’ve read agrees that ducks are much less destructive.
Hardiness: I live and garden on the northern Oregon coast. I’m a bit inland from the ocean, but not enough to make any real difference in the weather. It can be wet and cold and miserable here for more than half the year. The chickens hate it. Hate it. There are some days they don’t come out of their coop at all – they just huddle together in their filth – which can obviously negatively affect their health. We always have to keep an eye out for sickness and signs that the chickens are suffering from any infections. Ducks, on the other hand, have an internal temperature of 107 degrees (Fahrenheit), which means that their bodies are pretty much inhospitable to parasites and bacteria. And bad weather doesn’t phase them. It’s raining outside? Perfect! It’s cold outside? Who cares! Ducks just go with the flow.
Now don’t worry! The chickens aren’t going anywhere! Well, OK, to be perfectly honest we are going to move them down to the lower field, where the orchard will be. All fenced in it will be about half an acre or more, and it will give them much more room to roam. They’ll still get loads of delicious table scraps, and we’ll still use their eggs.
Meanwhile, we’ll convert their current coop and run to accommodate the ducks, and we’ll be able to give the ducks straight access into the garden once the plants have reached a certain height. That way they can do their pest control thing, and keep me company with their chortles, quacks and honks.
The perfect soundtrack to working on the farm.
Will anyone else be starting a flock (or is it a brace?) of ducks this spring? Does anyone who already has ducks have any pointers for an excited new owner?!