Ducks in your garden Recent months have seen the demand for back-garden chickens soaring, with re-homing charities doing a roaring trade. If you have been tempted to have your own egg producers to safeguard against any future shortages in the shops, why not think about helping build the market for rare breed poultry? And rather than chickens, why not ducks? Some native breeds of duck will produce around 150 eggs a year. Duck eggs are almost 50% larger than large-sized hens’ eggs and have a large, golden yolk with a rich flavour and they are particularly good for baking. Eggs in general are an excellent source of high quality protein and, partly due to its size, a duck egg is slightly more nutritious than a chicken’s egg. Duck eggs have a wide range of vitamins and minerals and contain nearly an entire day’s worth of vitamin B12 needed for red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis and healthy nerve function. Gardener’s friend As well as providing tasty and nutritious eggs, ducks can be a gardener’s friend as they are very efficient at keeping down slugs and snails and, unlike chickens, they don’t scratch. Unless your garden is very well manicured, ducks will not do too much damage. They will inevitably trample and push around delicate plants, but you can protect these with netting. They will also act as effective lawn mowers and, if they are on grass in the summer, you won’t need to feed them extra greens – and ducks are excellent foragers, so if you have fruit trees they will happily clear up the windfalls. The downside is that in wet conditions, ducks will dig in grass and reduce it to muddy puddles if the drainage is not good or they are restricted to a small area. Taking to water Although, as everyone knows, ducks take to water, they don’t actually need a lot of it. A garden pond is not a pre-requisite; in fact, ducks can make a real mess of an ornamental pond and will also eat frogs, tadpoles and frogspawn in a wildlife area. A pond with running water is ideal, but otherwise something like a children’s paddling pool is fine and has the advantage that you can tip it out to clean it and move it around. If you just have a couple of ducks, even a washing-up bowl is sufficient as ducks don’t actually spend a lot of their time on water. Ducks are at risk from predators and will need housing that is rat and fox proof. Dry straw is probably the best bedding and any coop should be easy to clean as ducks are very messy. Simple, home-made housing can do very well for ducks as long as you take into account space per bird, type of floor, bedding, ventilation and access. Ducks don’t perch like chickens, so their coop should be flat based, with sufficient head room for them to stand up inside. Self-contained Unless you keep call ducks or bantams, they are too heavy to fly more than a couple of feet above the ground, so ordinary fencing or hedging will keep them contained (although this won’t protect from predators). Ducks are easy to pen and a barricade around 2ft (60cm) high will be enough to keep most breeds in place. They should not be kept in small pens and ideally they should have a minimum of 10m² per small duck and double that for the larger breeds. Ideal is a grassy enclosure that can be rested periodically. Although ducks will find a lot of their own food, particularly in the summer if they are given plenty of range, it is advisable to supplement with layers’ pellets in the morning and wheat, barley or mixed corn in the afternoon or early evening, according to the time of year. An afternoon feed of grain in a bowl or trough of clean water will please the ducks and foil the sparrows! Ducks running on grass will not need extra green stuff in the summer, but it helps general good health if you give your birds fresh greens several times a week in the winter. In general, if you are looking to keep ducks in your garden, the light breeds are probably the easiest, plus they are hardy and good layers. Most of these are on the Poultry at Risk list and you will find information on keeping ducks (or other waterfowl) at www.waterfowl.org.uk which has a range of ‘how to’ guides, plus a list of reputable breeders.