Here’s the list of homestead things we were hoping to accomplish in 2014:
Install Solar Panels. Plant Suburban Food Forest
- Build Pond – working on it.
- Get Bees – too late; pushed to 2015.
The solar panels are churning out a ton of power (nearly 40 kWh on a lovely sunny day), the trees, shrubs and edible groundcovers of the food forest are settling in nicely, the pond excavation is going well – it’s about 18 inches deep at this point.
And I just impulse-bought some ducks.
Wait, hold the phone, Erica! You never impulse buy an animal! You’re the one who wrote that pissy post about people not taking on poultry without thinking it through, remember?
Yeah, I know. The truth is, we have been thinking about adding ducks to the working garden for nearly a year. We’ve been researching breeds, and we’ve been slowly hand-digging a pond for our eventual duck-friends. We decided to bring in a few quackers for one primary reason: slug and snail control. I could start a small escargot business with the number of snails that call my yard home, and my budget for Sluggo every year to deal with the slimy mollusks before they deal with my veggies is rather ridiculous.
Ducks, everyone assures me, are the solution for slugs. And you get duck eggs, which are amaze-balls and make the best creme brulee ever. So if you think about it, ducks turn slugs into creme brulee. Just. Like. Magic.
We had planned on buying Welsh Harlequin ducklings mail order, but while at the Mother Earth News Fair this past weekend, I attended a presentation called Raising Ducks: The Power of Ducks in a Permaculture Design.
This slideshow talk from Evan and Rachel, the owners of Boondockers Farm outside Portland, was the hit of the fair circuit for me. Evan and Rachel detailed their experience raising and breeding the critically endangered Ancona ducks. I came away smitten by these splotchy, quiet, productive, hardy ducks.
stalked followed up with Evan and Rachel back at their farm booth after the presentation, they had a bunch of Ancona ducklings and three adult breeding pairs (one male, one female, sold together) for sale.
I needed these ducks. Some women need $400 shoes. Some need monthly spa facials. I needed ducks.
I texted my husband: “Honey, I’m going to buy two ducks.”
He texted back, “Is this a well thought-out decision?”
“Not in the slightest.”
So I bought a couple – Evan helped me pick out a male and female – and we brought them home from the fair in a cardboard box. My husband is a very tolerant man.
There is nothing cuter than baby ducklings, but I opted to buy a grown, mating pair for a few reasons.
- I don’t really have time to brood ducks right now.
- I knew adult ducks could be co-housed with my hens in a poultry set-up that already works until the separate duck-house and pond are completed.
- The female of the pair was already laying.
- Egg production is less critical to me than mollusk control, so a sole egg-layer doesn’t bother me. Eggs are truly, just bonus.
- My recent experiment with our broody hen has me convinced that letting a good animal mama raise babies is far better than me doing that work. If this pair proves up to the task of making and raising babies, so much the better – I’ll be helping keep the genetics of this rare breed going and I’ll have pure-line ducklings to sell. If they don’t, then I have very cute slug control.
- I was able to observe these two ducks for a bit and saw they were very, very quiet. That’s important because I’m in town and we must be good neighbors.
If you want more info about the Ancona breed of duck, or keeping ducks in general, the Boondocker’s Farm website has some great info.
Aren’t they cute?13
OMG. So Adorable! I want some, but will resist, because I’m not in the place for them. I’ll just ogle yours for a bit. Hope they’re everything you hope they’ll be!
Oh man, I really want runner ducks but have resisted so far! (is it an impulse buy when you have been pining for ducks for years??) I’m hesitant in housing two kinds of poultry, so it will be interesting to see how it goes for you. Also, they are beautiful!
Love them! I with they would also eat moles…then I might be able to sell the idea to my husband.
You know you’re going to have to change “chickens” in your Nav Bar to “Poultry”. You’re welcome. I’m helpful that way. And I haven’t even had my coffee yet this morning.
Embrace the moles. Mole hills are a great source of potting compost. We had a great crop of tomatoes last year raised in beds of 80% molehills mixed with well rotted manure.
Mike @ Gentleman Homestead says
You know, that’s a brilliant idea I never thought of. Thanks.
Le Femme Farmer says
The problem is the solution! A permaculturist I presume…
LOL! Now that cracks me up. I can always use some good more potting compost. Unfortunately, the husband is a “grass yard” man. I’m even fighting with him about where I can put some raised bed because, “that’s where I’m going to plant some more yard!” Maybe I should start siding with the moles! I’ll let them drive him crazy until he gives up and lets me put in all my raised beds!
Laura @ Raise Your Garden says
So glad your husband is a tolerant man with the ducks and so happy for you that you now have ducks. You needed them. I see it.
I have wild ducks living in my backyard and they get married and parade their families around. I love them! I am never able to eat duck, can’t do it.
Kristen M. says
My husband and I got three Pekin-Muscovy crosses back in February. No eggs since they are sterile, but we love having them!
Mike @ Gentleman Homestead says
Can you share more about your co-habitation? (That sounds all formal, doesn’t it?) Can you share more about your inter-poultry shacking up? Can I ask how many total birds you’re up to now in your 8×12 coop/run?
I’ve been researching having ducks for awhile and haven’t pulled the trigger yet because I figured I’d be building another structure. I know nothing about shacking up. Thanks!
Have you ever tried beer traps for the slugs? I always keep the dregs from the home brew and set up a few around the veg beds and it works great for us. The rest of the garden benefits from the slugs and snails breaking down the rotting vegetation and the vegs beds are slug free (apart from the odd tee-totaller who gets picked off by midnight scissor patrols).
Good choice on getting Welsh ducks though (we call then hwyaden in their motherland in case you’re interested).
These adorable creatures must be free to go find the slugs in their hiding places, right? Will they be trained to NOT eat the same tasty things the slugs are dining on?
Kathryn marsh says
They snuffle through the grass to eat slugs and bugs.
Laura Miller says
Ahhh, but they WILL hit the “salad bar” after they have eaten all the slugs and bugs. I turn them loose in the greenhouse every couple of weeks but I stay in there with them and and as soon as they start looking at the greens, I shoo them out!
Congratulations on your new ducks! I have my own war going on the slugs & snails so I understand your pain!
Between you and WaldenEffect.com, the universe (or maybe just the internet) is telling me I need ducks.
Laura Miller says
Great choice of ducks and great people to get them from! I got mine two years ago from Boondockers and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made! The duck straw makes the base for some of the world’s best compost, they will totally de-slug your yard and they are great entertainment -quiet too unless a predator is around.
I’m currently using them to prepare next years garden beds – I LOVE the amount of work these guys do. I put down cardboard where the new bed will go in, throw a pretty good layer of straw on top and voila – in a few months, I have clay soil turned into lovely worm fill soil and the ducks love having straw to muddle in. (I do add more straw as each layer decomposes.)
Another little aside – they WILL reduce your mole problem by 90% or so. They dig holes in your yard with their beaks looking for grubs and worms. That is mole food and after the first year you have them, you will notice a huge decrease in mole hills because the moles main food supply is being utilized by your ducks!
Just keep them out of your garden beds, cause they will go for the “salad bar” if they run out of slugs, bugs and other thugs.
For duck fencing, I use cedar lattice, cut in half so it’s 2’x 8′ and I reinforce the top and bottom with 1″x 2″, a vertical piece in the middle and 3′ stakes for the side pieces. Makes for great movable fencing so I can let the ducks clean up the beds after I harvest.
I could go on and on about how much work the ducks do that I don’t have to now, but it would take up too much room!!
Enjoy your new partners in gardening!
We bought four Ancona from Boondockers Farms a few years ago. Best animal choice we’ve made for our urban lot. The chickens had destroyed one section of our lawn and the ducks renewed it to lush grass in no time, not to mention the reduction in slugs for the veggie garden.
The eggs are amazing. It sounds funny, but I enjoyed them hard boiled or in Carol Deppe’s Perfect pumpkin pie. Oh so good! We ended up with one to many boys, so we butchered one. Best fowl I’ve ever had and the fat for saute veggies blew our mind!
Enjoy the new adventure.
They are very pretty Erica, congrats!
Slug control. Unfortunately my slug problem is in the part of the yard that the foul aren’t really allowed to wander. Maybe I can have evening outings with them. My daughter has nagged me for years about wanting ducks.
I let me ducks run in the evenings in the yard when I’m out to watch them. They have done wonders for cleaning up the yard of slugs and they are a hoot to watch. Try it!
Ducks are great but make a mess out of the chicken run. Build their area fast. I have had Khaki Campbells forever but this year I got Black Cayugas from Holderread Preservation Farm. Awesome !
Le Femme Farmer says
Congrats on the ducks! I guess I have a teensy bit more will power than you as I did not come home from the fair with a box of Ancona ducks or ducklings.
I was at the duck talk too – way in the back, standing three people deep outside the shade of the tent straining to see the pictures and hanging on their every word . It doesn’t pay to be late but I was chatting with the earthen floor people and lost track of time! so much great information, so little time (and seating)…
My husband and I met you on Saturday at the seed booth – he was the one that rattled on about cocktails – elderberry syrup with soda and gin ring any bells? Anyhow – great to have met you!
I’m very curious to read how you’re co-habitating the duck pair and chickens! Do you have some kind of fence separating them in the main coop? I really want ducks (and a pair would be perfect since you *can* have male ducks in the city), but already have a flock of chickens, and I’ve been warned by duck keepers that if a male duck doesn’t have enough duck hens to maintain his fancy, he’ll try to mate with the chicken hens. Because of, well, his unusual penis, it can cause internal bleeding and death for the chicken.
I could just have a couple duck hens, but my other concern is the amount of mess they’d make on a tiny 5,000 sq ft city lot that has a lot more going on (garden beds and such), so I’m really interested to see how it works for you. The breeds I was considering, based purely on profiles I’ve read of them and their beauty, came down to Anconas, Welsh Harlequins, and Silver Appleyards. Good luck!
Kathy Kent says
Just beautiful! Congrats on the addition to your family 🙂
You mentioned your food forest plantings … can you do a post showing your layout and listing the plant types? I think a lot of us are dabbling in the multi-story interplanted perennial-style approach – would be interesting to compare notes.
Agree! Very interested in successful food forest solutions & comparing notes with others 😉 <3
You’re a million steps ahead of me (still working to get HOA approval for fencing)
so I am living vicariously through your descriptions and photos. Thanks for getting ducks!!
Also, I second Patrick’s post: Please tell us about your food forest.
Congratulations! They are a lot of fun and certainly do help with the slug control. I have 3 Welsh Harlequins and wanted to second what another commenter said about the drakes trying to mate with your chickens. That happened to us recently and the drake nearly killed my little Silkie hen. We now have the ducks in a separate yard and they are never allowed to free range when the chickens are out. They were co-habitated until age 18 months or so before he ever tried it, so just a word of caution.
Crunchy Chicken says
You know where to send those extra duck babies when the time comes…
So incredibly darling. I would love to put my number down for babies, too, should we have a home for some by then. Ack! SO CUTE!
Diana Marmont says
How did I miss the DUCKS???? Oh wait, I did skip the poultry house because I was still bumming about the loss of my hen the week before. Your ducks are super cute and if you do end up with ducklings to sell, well… I might just find myself in the market for ducks sooner or later. 😉 I would have come home with goats if there had been someone selling goats… and that would have been a totally unthought out decision, but still would have been awesome! 😉
It was so nice talking to you at the fair. There’s just never enough time to do and see everything. If you’re still up for getting together to talk more, I’m game! 🙂
Amy H says
Congrats! I saw you “thinking” in front of the ducks at the fair on Sunday and knew you were a done for. 🙂 We just acquired 3 Magpie ducklings (our first ducks) almost 2 weeks ago and so far think they’re great. They’re pretty similar to Anconas. I too can’t wait for their assistance on slug control.
Bees! The beekeeper in me is excited you are considering bees. While you are correct it is too late to get bees this year it is totally not too late to start learning about them. I took a class the winter before I got bees and I recommend it. I would also recommend (hindsight being 20/20 and all) that you go inspect a beehive this summer. All the classes and Internet forums in the world can’t make up for getting to see a hive up close. Go find your local bee club. Mine has ‘open hive’ once a month all summer. This is when a beekeeper opens their yard to visitors and a bunch of experienced Beekeepers go through it with everyone there. We welcome new-bees at these! (either bring a bug net or let them know you’ll need a bee veil to borrow) If you can get some hands on time this summer it will all make so much more sense when you get bees next spring!
I already have ducks (Runner crosses and Muscovies), but I totally covet your Anconas! Maybe next year. I’ve got 2 girls setting on nests right now, so hoping I’ll be overrun with ducklings soon. I’ll have to try the creme brule, but I know the duck eggs make the most fantastic pasta ever!
Evangeline M says
“I needed these ducks. Some women need $400 shoes. Some need monthly spa facials. I needed ducks.”
I can totally relate to that phrase! Before I splurge on something non-garden related I consider how many plants/seed packets that money would buy and half the time it convinces me to put my wallet away and save it for next year’s garden fund.
Thanks for the inspiration – we have a national forest backing up our little farm/ranch, so I could have a pond area for some ducks, but there’s a reasonably high chance for cougars, bears, and such making snackies from them. I already got turned down when I suggested a few hens, so lotsa luck on ducks, I already know. BUT – I could then say I will happily give up on ducks, if I can just get a cute little Kubota tractor to maintain the blackberry forest and tame the pastures. Think it might work?
The Couch Potato says
That’s super great! I really hope you get ducklings.
Woot! We got runner ducklings a few weeks ago and now they’re about 2/3 grown and starting to patrol the garden. They get slugs and snails (shell and all!) and they love the mushrooms that pop up here and there, which is also great! They have eaten our bush peas, but I forgive them for that, especially since we have vining peas, too. They’ve nibbled a bit on our lettuce and our borage, too, but they leave pretty much everything else alone. Since I planted TONS of lettuce and they don’t eat all the borage, I can handle that, too. I’ll know next year to protect them from the ducks. They’re having a great time on this rainy day, too, which is something I hear chickens hate. Seattle living means their love of rain will come in handy for them all winter.
And they’re HILARIOUS! I love watching them.
Enjoy your new ducks!
Ellen Peavey says
I really want to try the Ancona ducks do they have to have water? I have two kiddy pools, the five ducks that I used to have before predators took them. Next time a bigger fence and a run that is fenced in to keep them from roaming, we have the woods in our back yard. I’m going to wait until next spring to order some of the Ancona’s, I had Mallards really loved them. Ellen from Georgia
I am excited to hear that you adore the Ancona breed. I have several as well and they are my favorite breed of duck ever. I also got some of mine from Boondockers Farm. As a word of caution, I would not recommend Boondockers Farm to anyone. They might have the original genetics, but their animals are poorly taken care of and many die due to neglect. I went to their farm to pick up my ducklings this year and what I saw shocked me. It is too terrible to put in your comments section, so if you’d like to hear about my experience there please let me know. I picked up my ducklings anyway as I had already paid for them. Two of my ducklings looked sickly right from the start and I lost them within an hour of purchase. I know numerous other people who have had similar traumatic experiences at their farm as well as sick ducks.
I’ve studied Anconas for years before getting into the breed. I also attended the Mother Earth News Fair this year. When we passed the Boondockers booth, I worked up the nerve to ask Evan why they had a whole pen of “Ancona”ducks for sale when they were clearly not Anconas. He boldly told me that they were cleaning house and that those were the duds that he was getting rid of. Luckily, you seemed to have purchased two of the ones that look more like Anconas than the others. However, as an “expert” on Anconas, I feel it is wrong and irresponsible for Evan to advertise incorrect specimens and crosses to people who are unfamiliar with the breed and charge $35 dollars for them. Sadly, they sold out by the end of the fair 🙁 How many people returned home thinking that they had just bought their first pair of Ancona breeding ducks when they were anything but? It’s just a shame. Please, please, please save yourself the heartache and do not recommend or purchase from this farm. They don’t care about saving the breed or caring for their animals or even you as a customer. They are just in it for the $
Tina and Killer says
You are one very amazing woman!
Just found your site, and am going to make some of your pectin-less jams
Thank you so much for sharing!
I have followed you with great delight for some time now. Last year you were the inspiration for our duck pond (we have Silver Apple Yard ducks). My husband did not thank you LOL (one more project) but the ducks (complete with ducklings) sure did! They were so thrilled. I am desperate to know how one builds the duck filtration system though. It is necessary indeed. Can you help me? I would greatly appreciate your help.
Corina Sahlin says
I’ve had my Ancona ducks for two years, and I am totally in love with them – most of the time… Just not when Donald Duck, the male, has his aggressive way with poor Daisy in the pond – I always worry he will drown her. Bastard!
I am currently hatching seven eggs in an incubator, or at least I hope they’ll hatch!
Anconas are THE BEST! Daisy Duck gives us one egg every single day. Yep. She’s a work horse, that one.
Roy Ramey says
I heard you on The Survival Podcast and loved your report. I am interested in adding ducks to my farm and would love to get the plans, photos, description or whatever you have about your “barrel duck pond filter.” Thanks. Roy
Am tempted to get ducks. Wife is leaning more towards chickens. Need to plan out the best enclosure for them, and also looking for some type of portable method where I could move them to different places on our property. Have a small pond area where ducks would love. The biggest concern is we have hawks, neighbor dogs, coyotes and other predators and are next to a bunch of woods so keeping them all safe is a key.
I live on the Coast and have found ducks are far superior to chickens….they lay more eggs, they LOVE rain and our weather, they are great foragers (read less feed cost) and the right breed is incredibly hawk smart. I have Ancona’s and I live next to a marsh also referred to as Hawk Heaven. Tons of redtails, eagles, Coopers hawks and even a kestrel. In almost four years I only lost two ducks out of 15 to hawks. Both were young males just coming into maturity and were so intent on pursuing the ladies, that they weren’t paying attention. Haven’t lost a bird in almost 3 years now.
The one thing they don’t really like is heat. As for pens, I have mine in a converted chain link dog kennel and for paddocks, I use electric poultry netting.
You can PM me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more info about my experiences.