Janice Houghton-Wallace says why not keep ducks?

Ducks are lovely companions in the smallholding or garden and will thank you by providing eggs during the spring, summer and into autumn. The eggs make great cakes and are often sought after so when there are plenty, any extra could be sold at the gate.

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Duck eggs are sought after for baking

If you are gardening and the ducks are free ranging they will be constantly looking for worms, slugs, snails and other insects, which they love. Ducks are a wonderful pest control, helping to keep slugs and snails out of the vegetable patch. However, monitor them when they have free range where young salad vegetables are growing because they also love freshly growing lettuce and will trample on other plants to get to it!

Ducks are a delight to keep as they can be so companionable and are more biddable than chickens, in that they can be easily herded into their shed at night or to the area you wish them to be in. Just like chickens and other poultry though, they can become fox fodder if not properly protected and Mr. Fox certainly likes the taste of duck.

A well built duck house or secure shed overnight is a must and the size and type will depend on the breed and number of ducks kept. If you are lucky enough to have a pond it might be tempting to put a duck house in the middle of it. This would look attractive but foxes will swim if determined enough to get dinner and can simply walk across the pond if it is frozen.

If you do not have running water on the premises, such as a stream, then a child’s solid plastic paddling pool with do nicely. It will need to be cleaned out every few days because ducks do like bathing in clean water and they will also drink a lot from the pool as well. Make a small wooden ramp so that they can easily climb up and into the pool.

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Ducks enjoying a good bathe

They will amuse you with lots of bathing, splashing and playing in the water. Ducks are waterfowl and therefore love water and must have water to keep their eyes and feathers in top condition.

If you are keeping around 6 or so ducks it is a good idea to build a duck pen with rabbit wire netting, which is a smaller diameter than chicken wire. After making the sides, another length of wire either dug into the ground along the perimeter or fixed to the lower part of the fencing and then spread out along the ground so that grass can grow through it will prevent foxes from digging under to get into the pen. It would also need a wire netting roof covering as foxes can climb wire. In the corner of the pen would sit their housing. Special duck houses can be bought but a large dog kennel with a door to the front and a little ventilation at the top is also useful. Ducks do not need perches like chickens but do like a dry, clean shavings bed.

The birds will quickly denude any pen of grass but it would be a safe place to enclose them if they cannot be supervised. Ideally they do need to dabble around in grass to eat it and find worms. Ducks also need space and do not like to be housed unless it is inclement weather or regulations require it. Any housing should be spacious with sufficient room for a bathing pool. A freshly cut sod of grass would occupy them and provide some greenery intake.

Clean the ducks out regularly as they quickly make their litter very messy.

Just like other poultry ducks need specific feed for the species and in lay need a waterfowl breeder or layer pellet and plenty of clean drinking water. These pellets should be fed dry in troughs but water must be nearby for them to be able to swallow the pellets properly. Never shut ducks in housing with dry feed and no water as they can suffocate. Wheat is a main source of feed and my ducks like this given in a trough containing some water. They dabble about in it whilst taking up the wheat.

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A Blue fawn Call duck female

Ducks are naturally healthy and hardy creatures, however, they do need to be wormed occasionally as they are prone to particular waterfowl worms.

When handling ducks quietly usher them into a corner and get hold of the shoulders, caressing both sides of the duck with your hands. Never hold or carry a duck by the legs – it will terrify it and could cause internal damage.

For the welfare of any females do not keep more than one drake. Drakes are sexually very competitive and will hound the females relentlessly. Unlike cockerels they do have a penis and with endless harassment can injure the females internally.

There are many different breeds of duck so visit a website that lists them such as the Poultry Club of Great Britain or the Domestic Waterfowl Club and decide which would suit you; or visit a poultry show.

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Indian Runners are very popular

There are heavy and light breeds and standard and miniature, all of which are very attractive. Tiny Call ducks are really ornamental and make wonderful pets. It is the females who quack – and they do this a lot! The drakes make more of a hiss.

For egg layers, the Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner and Silver Appleyard are very good with a long laying season. The large Muscovy is the only domestic duck not descended from a mallard, which makes it different from other ducks. It is perhaps not a beginner’s duck as they do have great character and a very determined attitude.

There are many ways in which to buy ducks but it is best to decide on the breed you want and then buy from a respected breeder. Contact the secretary of the breed club of your choice to help locate some birds.