If you are a farmer or a gardener or have a stream or pond on your property, ducks can be valuable aids in natural pest control and are a solution to anyone who has struggled to find safe methods to control the harm done by the garden and farm pests.
Ducks consume slugs, snails, grubs and insects, including but not limited to mosquito pupae, Japanese beetle larvae, potato beetles and grasshoppers.
In areas that are plagued by liver flukes, ducks can solve the problem by feeding on the snails -that are the intermediate host of this troublesome parasite of mammals.
With the variety of diseases that mosquitoes can spread among avian and mammalian species; the duck’s ability to stop mosquitoes at the non-feeding pupa stage is a significant benefit to gardeners and farmers who are exploring creative solutions beyond hand picking beetles or drowning slugs to solve pest problems.
In recent years, free-range chickens have been welcomed into ornamental and edible landscapes where they aided with pest control; they however, often damage the plant material they are tasked with protecting are very noisy in the process.
The ducks present themselves as a valuable solution to pests and are not limited to pest control.
Benefits of having ducks as pest control.
- Ducks provide valuable plant food through their manure and feathers (worms find molted feathers delicious and in turn consume them); and also fertilizers through digested slugs.
- It is a natural method of control; reducing the use of chemicals that could be harmful to other invertebrates or the wider environment.
- Garden-raised ducks can provide nutritious meat and eggs for the table; having feasted on garden pests (slugs and snails).
- They adapt well to practically all climates including the dry deserts, cold north, and the wet tropical rainforests.
- They can be highly entertaining, providing hours of feathery fun and many people find them to be good garden and farmstead companions.
- Ducks are valuable and attractive additions to a farm, landscape, and/or homestead.
- They won’t obliterate the slug population in one night, as might occur with chemicals (nematode treatment) or pellets.
- Ducks are resistant to many diseases and parasites as compared to chickens and some other birds.
- Unlike chickens and guineas — that seem to have a back for being much better to escape artists than ducks — most ducks can be easily penned with 18- to 24-inch high barriers.
- Ducks love the wet and forage best in the rain, just about the time when the slugs are out and happily crawling over your garden.
- You won’t need to mow your lawn as frequently; the ducks will keep it short.
How about the downsides of using ducks as pest control?
- Ducks prefer slugs and snails but they may eat some of your leafy vegetables; they will also trample small seedlings.
- Duck gives out slimy poop, and poo everywhere!
- They make a mess of your wildlife pond and can eat your frogs (which were/are themselves, slug control).
Some people prefer having their duck’s free-range in their garden. They might temporarily fence the vulnerable plants and might grow the vegetables in raised beds to prevent ducks from foraging on them.
However, some people only allow their duck access to the garden, while supervised, or for a limited/temporary time.
What breed of ducks should I employ?
Notably, some breeds of duck have more taste for slugs (and less taste for vegetables) than others. That being said the most recommended breeds are the Indian Runner and the Khaki Campbell.
Some sources suggest that the Indian Runners are better foragers than the Khaki Campbells, and that the Khaki Campbell will make more of a mess in the pond and the garden than the Indian Runner.
However, those who keep both breeds in their vineyard find little to choose between them. Both breeds are good egg layers, though the Khaki Campbell is more prolific to the Indian Runner.
On the other hand, while both breeds generally do not fly, Khaki Campbell are more prone to flight and are more likely to get into the habit of flapping over low fences.
Another option is the Call duck. Although, they produce fewer eggs, and may not eat so many slugs, they are a small duck. They (their size) can work well in a small garden and can even be matched with a wildlife pond, if it is fairly large.
Some make use of the Muscovy as well.
Note: there are many breeds of ducks raised by breeders in the United States. Various breeds are favored for peculiar traits including but not restricted to: appearance, personality and temperament, meat and egg production, size, noise, mothering, heritage, as well as foraging ability. With a bit of more extensive research at local libraries or on the internet, it is pretty easy to fulfill your priorities with the proper breed of duck.
Here is an example of a vine where Indian Runner ducks are employed
At the Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, people are wild for ducks. They use ducks as pest control to combat the slugs, snails, and other pests that eat the grapevines. It in turn decreases the vineyard’s need for pesticides.
But it works twofold – the ducks not only eat the pests, but their waste also acts as a fertilizer for the vineyard, thus reducing the need for fertilizers as well. In fact, the ducks have had such an important environmental impact on the vineyard, that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has awarded Vergenoegd Wine Estate a biodiversity certification!
Guests can also visit the heat-controlled nursery to see the ducklings, a tour which has gained recognition amongst children and adults alike. Since 1984, the nursery has kept the flock at a medium population size after the vineyard started using ducks for pest control.
On the Vergenoegd’s ‘Meet Our Ducks’ page, the wine estate explains what makes their ducks so special. “Indian runner ducks are an unusual breed. They stand upright like penguins and instead of toddling, they run. The Indian Runner Ducks don’t lie fly and they normally lay their eggs as they walk as opposed to laying eggs in nests. They hardly make any noise. They are the perfect breed to use in the vines, since they are mostly preoccupied with foraging snails and slugs and love to spend their days snacking away. One man’s pest is another duck’s snack.”
Nicole Arnold, a staff member at the Vergenoegd estate, summed up the ducks’ work, saying the ducks act as living pesticides, while helping harvest the best grapes for the Runner Duck wine company. “They are working ducks who contribute towards our aim to implement more environmentally friendly farming practices. They also contribute towards the fertilization of the vineyards.”
Training your Ducks to become slug machines
Ducks can be trained, as they are creatures of habit. To make them become slug hunting machines, you need to get them started early:
1. Feed them slugs and snails as treats (cracking the snail shells at first so they can eat them) then once they are adults they can swallow the snails whole.
2. Make a unique noise (like a coockoo, qwaakaa, or whatever) when you give them a treat. This will ensure that they learn to associate this noise with food (see the video below)
3. Take them out to the garden with you and show them where to look for slugs and snails (by looking for snails yourself). That way, they’ll learn where to look.
Ducks make good pets too.