We have had aquaponics and ponds for running on 3 years. We have had a variety of fish and the chickens do their part to keep the majority of insects down. Chickens are great for insect control except they eat everything else. Each year we have to come up with more creative ways to keep them out of our vegetable gardens. What does that have to do with ducks? We seem to have a slug problem and ducks seemed to be the solution. Chickens won’t eat the slugs and ducks love them. Supposedly ducks will also leave your gardens alone. Only time will tell on that bit of advice.
We recently struck out to our first animal auction with the intent on getting some Khaki Campbells. We selected this breed for the higher number of eggs laid per year. I wanted them for slug and insect control, but might as well have one that also produces a product. Along the permaculture principals we are now selecting species or products that have at least 2 purposes. With the ducks it was slug control, fertilizer in the aquaponics, eggs, and because we got a drake (male) as well we can get fertilized eggs to sell or hatch them and wither sell the young ducklings or raise them as meat birds. We learned that ducks will imprint on people at a young age so while at the auction we decided to only get ducklings and not adult ducks. We wanted them to grow up in our back yard around our family so they wouldn’t be afraid of us. My wife does worry that our youngest child will let them follow her in from the yard into the house. She has already asked to take a bath with the ducks on more than one occasion. Not all ducks needs water, for example runner ducks are perfectly fine without having water to swim. You also don’t need a pond, a small kiddie swimming pool, a stock tank, or just a Rubbermaid tote could work as long as they can get in and out.
Like chickens, young ducks need some time to grow before they can move outside. So we are back to using a brooder box. They are currently living in our living room under a heat lamp. We were advised that if we give them water to swim in then we risk the chance of them drowning if unsupervised when really young. So, no tub in the box at the moment. We do let them swim in the bathtub when we clean the brooder box out.
We picked our ducklings up at our local Rural King. When we were at the auction we looked into ordering from a hatchery but after a $7.99 each bird and a $45 shipping fee it would be expensive. Rural King had them for $4.99 minimum of 5 birds, which we wanted no more than 5. While there, another customer happened to be picking out ducks as well. She would reach in and hold the ducks upside down, and either put them in her box, or back in the tub. Not knowing a stranger, I asked what she was doing. She explained that when you hold them upside down you can tell the males from the females. This was news to me, but after watching her there was a distinct difference in the birds. Time will tell if she was right. Supposedly the males will point down at the ground when held upside down by their feet and females will point up turn their body so they face up. I could not find this on the internet when I got home so not 100% sure if it is accurate. By this means we got 4 females and one male. When you talk to old farmers most have all these “odd” ways to determine things such as when to plant, how long winter will be, if there will be a drought, and now how to sex a duck. From what I have found, most are right.
Most of the equipment needed is the same for ducks and chickens when they are little. Some items you will need: A brooder box (to keep them contained and safe), heat lamp, waterer, litter, and feeder. We had all these materials left over from when we raised chicks a few years back. You do not need to buy all of the components, with the exception of maybe a heat lamp. A large enough Rubbermaid tote or any box for a brooder could work. We are using an old guinea pig cage we had left over. The cage has a solid bottom as the ducks like to play in the water, and a cage to keep our other animals and kids out. Food and water containers could be small bowls, Tupperware containers, etc. The heat lamp may set you back $10 for the lamp and the fixture. The lamp does get hot so don’t allow it to get too close to any flammable materials. We do keep them with a small blanket over the top to retain some of the heat.
With the little peeps, we can hear them from across the house now. It seems as though they have doubled in size in just a week. I know they are more vocal, and it seems they know our voices. It will be quite in the house or while we are watching TV, until they hear us speak then “PEEP PEEP PEEP”. So as all the projects go, I now need to build them a duck house.
This is what my wife wants me to build. Seems the animals at our place are living in luxury.
Over the winter I took down the aquaponics outside due to freezing temps. I let the pump run through a long pipe so that the fish would continue to get oxygenated water. One day while I was out and about I was able to snag a 20×25 foot section of roofing EDPM liner. The family was moving, and he worked at a roofing company and had it left over at his home. He needed it cleaned and I can always have a use for EDPM liner. Brainchild happened. I always loved playing in creeks as a kid, making damns, waterfalls, pools, and just listening to the water. All the kids like this as well, so I put in a new water feature. It served several purposes.
First, adding additional oxygen to the water for the fish in the pond. Having stagnant water hinders the fish growth. Having several waterfalls adds tons of opportunity to get more oxygen into the water. More oxygenated water means a higher stocking density is possible. It is not only good for the fish but also good for the plants and the beneficial bacteria breaking down the fish waste.
Second, the waterfall and associated mini ponds foster more places for bees and other beneficial insects to get water. Having lots of areas where the water is shallow allows bees, butterflies, frogs and toads to hang out. While cleaning out some of the winter litter off the bottom we will have tons of frogs over the next couple of years, due to the number of tadpoles I found.
Third, all the pools, and rocks it mimics more closely what is found in nature. Sediment and particles can settle and be filtered out of the water. I plan on adding more water loving plant species on my next trip to Aquatic Design. I want to plant in the pond itself and along the creek too.
Fourth, the sound is calming and relaxing. We can now sit on our deck (now that it is chicken proof) and listen to the babbling stream in the evenings while we eat on the deck. Sorry for the “mess” I went out to get a quick video so I can publish. Sounds great. It will look much better once I clean up, finish laying rocks, and put in plants.
Fifth, it acts as a barrier to the creeping plants. Last year we added some mint and catnip to the area. These will get out of control if not in pots or otherwise contained. The creek will act as a barrier to keep them between the creek and the deck (we hope).
Sixth, the creek is an overflow from the water collection rain barrels. Once they are full the water will overflow into the creek.
Lastly, it keeps the kids entertained and is a learning opportunity. How does water flow? Making damns, making pools, boat races, currents, eddies all kinds of lessons can be learned. Once more wildlife sets in we can study what lives in the running water. Where do the frogs hang out and why? The kids and I can spend hours adjusting the waterfalls, where to place the bigger rocks, the smaller rocks, the pebbles, where to have a sand bar. When you move one rock the whole dynamic changes for that section. Who knows, maybe we will make a map like they do for white water rafters. Where are the good rapids, where are the large boulders, where is the waterfall, where are the deep pools. Let the kids name them. Then next year, make a whole new path.
Every year we have found new things to add to the yard, change or redo. What we learned and how to make it better, or change something around. In the five years we have been at this property the landscaping has never been the same from one year to the next.