Ducks - The quiet backyard layerDucks are amazing. You’ll be hard pressed to find a hardier bird for your backyard. Ducks eat a myriad amount of pests in your garden (but never a perfect ripe tomato)! If your neighbors are close, ducks maybe a more quiet choice than a hen. Speaking of hens, ducks can outlay chicken hens. I started with ducks when my hens got me in trouble. They have wanderlust when liberated to free run for a bit, and were not above crossing the road. And, as it turns out, they were not as hardy as one might hope. They were finicky layers, and seemed to have a very loud voice to announce they’d laid their egg. I could not have a rooster at all. I needed a solution, as I wanted eggs, but fewer troubles with the layers. I also wanted fertile eggs. Male ducks, drakes, are much quieter than roosters. They do not crow. I gave my mom my hens, and she traded me a trio of Khaki Campbell ducks she purchased at an auction. I was dubious, as I was afraid the eggs would taste off, and that the ducks might be bad layers. A good book soon set my fears to rest for the care and feeding, but my experiences with those ducks has changed my attitude forever. Ducks are better than chickens for the city egg eater. My Khakis started laying as soon as they relaxed. I found 2 eggs daily within a few weeks after the ducks arrived and relaxed. Their eggs were every bit as big as the jumbo eggs I’d been enjoying from Black Australorps and Buff Orpingtons. Taste wise, nobody knew the difference when I used the last of the chicken eggs, and we started eating duck eggs. My baking rises higher now, though, due to the unique chemistry of the duck egg. The rumors were not true, a duck fed hen layer, has eggs that taste just like chicken eggs; no “off” flavor, like I’d been told. They may be very slightly firmer, but if you like fried eggs or quiche, you are going to be very happy. I have seldom lost a duck to anything besides the same predators that attempted to prey on chickens. I rarely have a duck hen go off laying (they can lay every day for a full year), and the usual ailments of digestion and poultry disease are limited. I don’t think I’ve ever came out and just found one mysteriously dead. They do have delicate feet, so I’d reconsider if you have lots of cactus in their pen, or if they are going to get shards of wood, glass, bramble, or shale in their feet. Ducks are easy to house. In the safety of a fenced back yard, they may be free to roam. In less secure locations, a small duck “tractor” complete with a roof to keep out neighbors pets, can be moved about at your convenience. Plan on using 10 square feet per duck for yard. I like to shut most of my ducks up every night in a small building (or large dog house). When you let them out in the morning, they will have laid for you most likely. To keep eggs coming in fall and winter, simply give your ducks a 25 watt bulb from the time you shut them up at dusk, until their release in the morning. Finally, let me say for you gardening BYC members, ducks are your ally. They don’t peck holes in your prize produce (like that cantaloupe you’ve been waiting on, or the tomato that is almost perfectly ripe). Instead, they traverse with vested interest looking for succulent nibbles like cabbage worms, tomato horn worms, beetles, moths (hello squash vine borer sufferers), and their favorites....slugs and snails which they hunt down, quite without mercy. I actually allow a trio to live in my fenced in garden. They capture insects early in the morning, lay me an egg, and retire to the pool under the oak tree until afternoon nibble time. Nothing like gathering eggs and tomato's on a bright morning. In fact, I think its just ducky!