Back in 2007, when we were making plans to build our homestead I started dreaming about finding a poultry garden partner. I researched about using poultry for bug control and everything I read said ducks were the best yard and garden bug patrol. Not sure what breed would be best, we decided to buy ducklings from 5 different breeds so we could do a “side by side” comparison so to speak.
In first year of keeping poultry we ordered Pekin, Saxony, Rouen, Khaki Campbell and Silver Appleyard ducklings in July. We wanted to compare the differences between popular laying duck breeds. We raised them in a stall and a pen until they were 8 weeks old and almost full grown. In September we started turning them out in our yard and each day we watched with amazement. They zigged, they zagged chasing bugs from first light until dark. Their relentless bug hunting did not slow down until after the first hard frost.
That fall we planted our first winter garden. It was in a 4’ wide raised bed and we could cover it with a low tunnel cover whenever the temperature was predicted to dip below freezing. We grew kale, lettuce, collards, spinach and radishes. We wondered what would happen when the bugs and green vegetation was all gone. Would the ducks eat the garden plants?
Each day they carefully worked through the greens picking off all the little annoying bugs that can live though the winter and chew up your brassicas. They did not touch any of the leaves until February when there was not one blade of green grass left in the yard. They nibbled on the kale and lettuce and left the radish greens alone. That February and early March it was cold enough to keep the plastic on the raised bed so the ducks moved on to digging through old leaves and under pine needs in search of anything still alive.
Spring came and the ducks started laying lots of tasty eggs. The only egg difference between eggs from the different breeds were the mega jumbo sized Pekin eggs. We couldn’t come close to closing an egg cartons when we filled it with Pekin eggs. They were so large we could only fit 6 eggs in a carton sized for a dozen jumbo chicken eggs.
We planted a Spring garden and the ducks continued to carefully patrol the beds without disturbing the plants. Each day they would cover every each of the yard, search through the mulch around the house and give the garden a quick check. They only took a break from bugging, every few hours to jump in the pool, for a quick dip and a drink.
In the evening they waited by the gate to be let in to the little paddock when we confined them each night to keep them safe from predators. They knew a reward of laying feed was waiting for them. They would lay in the paddock each morning before being set free to forage through the yard and gardens.
The ducks turned out to be perfect “garden partners”. Exceeding our expectations in every way. They wiped out the fleas, ticks, Japanese beetles, noseeums, mosquitoes and most of the garden related pests. For the first time we could enjoy walking in our yard without having to drowning ourselves in bug spray.
Nine years later we are still delighted with our “garden partners”. If we had to choose only one species of poultry to keep on our homestead it would definitely be ducks.