Fatal last words much of the time, it seems. I live on 5 acres of land and love to garden. The year 2009 was the year of the grasshopper--thousands of them. What to do? Fighting the infestation of hoppers with pesticides is often a lost cause. When I was in high school, my mother had ducks and we would turn them loose in the garden to eat bugs. Yes! Ducks! Wait, how does one procure ducks? Turns out the local feed store had a bulletin board. We ended up with a Pekin and 2 black ducks, all adults. This was less than successful as the Pekin was injured and the black ducks killed him. However, the black ducks made it through the hopper season fairly well and my garden survived, so we decided to try again next year.
Second year, we decided to go with ducklings because they would be easier to train than adults. We ordered four Rouen ducks and brought them home in April. It was a series of trial and error housing and healing them (leg injuries), but the ducklings made it to adulthood and we put them outside in their pen. Sadly, one died trying to get out of the kiddie pool, so we removed the pool. Then the neighbor's dogs killed 2 more. We were left with one very lonely duck. The neighbor dog got in the pen again, but once again the duck survived. We named him "Lucky". Lucky went to live with someone who had many other ducks, as he seemed so lonely after his mates were killed. I put out grasshopper bait for the rest of the summer.
Year three: A new design for brooding which allowed us to just lift the walls a bit and move the walls to the other side. This way, we could set up new substrate on the open side, then slowly move the walls to the other side without having to catch the ducks and move them over. We also added a cover over part of the pen so dogs couldn't jump in. We brought home six ducklings, Rouens again. They grew to adulthood and were excellent at bug and weed control. When fall arrived, they went to the freezer.
Year Four: We switched to Pekins. I liked the Pekin we had the first year. We ordered five, which turned out to be a good thing because they were so much larger than the Rouens. They outgrew the brooder quickly. Luckily the weather was warm and they could go out to the pen very early in the spring. Pekins are funny--they follow each other everywhere. They were also excellent layers. Come fall, we ended up giving them away because they were such good eggs layers (we had planned to eat them).
Year Five: The ranch store said they could not get Pekins this year. So we drove 150 miles in answer to an ad selling Muscovy ducks. One of the ducks my mother had was a Muscovy, so I knew what they looked like. We ended up with five females and a male. I really think the male is ugly, but he kind of grows on you. These ducks were very quiet and very easily trained. We did clip their wings. We tried to move them to a new pen, but they did not want to move. So it was back to the original pen. During this acquisition of the Muscovies and getting them set up, the farm store called and told us the had our Pekins. The ones who's order we cancelled. However, since I like Pekins, we went and fetched the ducklings. They grew up just fine and are now in a pen attached to that of the Muscovies. All eleven free range during the day.
The Muscovies have tried to sit on eggs several times and one is now living under our shed with the eggs she refuses to leave, so this is something new. We'll see where it leads. We had always gotten rid of the ducks in the fall--no more bugs. However, I kind of like the Muscovies and we are considering wintering them over this year. More adventures, I'm sure.
Our duck pen has evolved:
Over time, we added the wind protection, a cover on one side and then finally the entire pen is covered. I used chicken wire (1") and then there's snow fence over that. The top is snow fence on one side and chicken wire on the other. The pen did collapse in a heavy, wet snow, but we reinforced it this year and it should be fine. Each year we get more and more experienced with the ducks and things seem to go much smoother.
Over time, we became much better at dealing with limping ducks—isolating the injured duck and getting it to rest the leg. We learned how to train the ducks, even the ones aquired as adults, to herd to wherever we want them. They are now trained to the point I can round them up all by myself whenever needed. They are much, much easier to deal with now. They're fun and entertaining, rather than something I worry about or stress over. I guess I'm now just hooked on ducks!