Last month, Colleen painted a bucolic picture of life with chickens that had me seriously considering adding a few to my backyard barnyard. Then I remembered why I have ducks.
For me, the absolute number one selling feature of ducks is that they adore slugs and snails. Now, when I find a slug in my garden (which is rarer all the time), instead of swearing under my breath, I call my ducks, and watch them flap over to enjoy their favourite treat. My Muscovies also eat mosquitoes and wasps out of the air. They are fantastic garden companions—I wouldn’t let them in when I have young lettuces or strawberries but at the right time they do a very efficient job of cleaning up. They eat almost any pest, and don’t scratch, so they generally don’t disturb garden plants, and are actually quite gentle. One result of their voracious appetite for garden pests is that they forage a fair portion of their diets, which keeps down the feed bill. And unlike chickens, their manure doesn’t need to ‘rest’ before you apply it to the garden.
While duck eggs may not be to everyone’s taste, to me they’re just more of the best parts of an egg. They’re bigger and richer than chicken eggs, with a higher proportion of yolk per egg. Ounce per ounce, they have twice as much iron (and twice the fat and higher cholesterol). They bake up especially light and airy and are coveted by bakers as a result. And they stay fresh longer because of their thicker shells. Unlike chickens, most duck breeds don’t stop laying in the winter, and they’re productive for a longer period of their lifespan.
Ducks are often recommended as good ‘starter poultry’ because they are quite easy to care for. They are less susceptible to disease than chickens, and usually recover on their own if they do get sick. They are more cold, wet, and heat tolerant, and need less daylight. While some duck breeds need ample water, my ‘Scovies and Runner are perfectly happy with a 6.5-gallon tub.
Ducks have no pecking order and are quite social and friendly both with each other and with people. Unlike geese, they aren’t aggressive even though some breeds, like my Indian Runner drake, are frankly “all bark and no bite”, chasing me away from his hens. He has no claws to speak of, and his beak is round, so flapping and quacking at me is the worst he can muster.
Ducks are much less noisy than chickens, and drakes have no dawn crow to wake the neighbours. Their quietness can actually be a problem if you have a prowling racoon—I’ve found having a chatty drake gives me a lot more clues as to the general happiness of the flock than when I had only hens.
A final selling feature is that, to me, ducks are just so pretty. They really do move ‘all in a row’ and I love watching their parade around the yard. They manage to pull off noble and cute in one waddle.
Also, did I mention they eat slugs?