There’s something remarkably intelligent about waterfowl, especially ducks. I’m sure that they know lot more than we think they do. It’s a certain look in their eyes, a sort of knowing.
They can be quite tame and over the years I have had many a special relationship with particular geese and ducks I have owned.
Over the years I have kept and bred many breeds of ducks, breeds such as Cayuga’s, Indian Runner’s, Rouen’s and Pekins. With my geese I have just had common old grey geese and a few Toulouse. One of the great things about waterfowl is that they nowhere near as destructive as chickens and therefore much better to have free ranging around the garden demolishing all your pests. Be aware though both have runny droppings which can attract flies and smell if husbandry is not kept up.
Why keep waterfowl?
Besides making great pets, they produce eggs, meat, feathers and manure as fertiliser. Geese being fairly vocal can make good guard dogs and both can play a strong part in the role of pest control in the garden system. Not to mention bringing enjoyment and amusement to your yard. There is nothing more relaxing and entertaining than sitting back in the garden on a balmy afternoon having a cup to tea watching your waterfowl puddle about just doing what they do.
If you have kept chickens, keeping waterfowl is just extension of this with just a few other important husbandry necessities.
Starting Out. The Basics
This is the most critical need for ducks and geese and they must fresh clean water at all times. Extended periods without water will cause death. It is not necessary for them to have a pond or dam but if you are breeding your waterfowl this can be helpful in the mating process. But in the past I have just had large old bathtubs and this has proved to be more than sufficient. Waterfowl make a mess of their water very swiftly, as they like to dabble in and around water containers and can turn the area into quite a mess mud wise very quickly. They must have reasonable depth to their water tubs, as they need to be able to clean their eyes and nostrils regularly.
Pellets, Grain mash, bread, greens, shell grit, pretty much what you feed chickens can be feed to ducks. Allowing your waterfowl to free range will give ample access to Vitamin A which they can source through green matter in the form of grass, weeds and vegetable crops that have past their prime. Note waterfowl are extremely sensitive o botulism and it will kill them. So be sure any left over vegetables etc are not spoilt in anyway. Also be sure old bread is not going mouldy.
Ducks need to have a secure shed to sleep in at night. This will keep them safe from predators such as foxes, feral cats and dog’s. They do not require roosts but if being kept in a shed with a yard a deep litter of straw or sawdust is recommended. Ducks need only low fencing to keep them in. The exception to all this, are the Muscovies they can fly and will roost if given the space to. Clipping their wings will prevent this. They have waxy waterproof feathers I know but during extended periods of rain and bad weather I have found that they benefit from some form of shelter or protection.
The joy of ducks is that they are fairly quiet and the drakes do not crow, as do roosters. So breeding in the suburbs is a possibility. Be aware that ducks eggs take 28 days to hatch, compared to chickens that only take 21 days. Obviously you need to have a drake and duck to produce fertile eggs and these can either put in an incubator if you have one or left for your duck to sit on.
In the backyard problems rarely arise health wise. Keep on top the basics such as clean water, no stale or off feed, sheds well ventilated and cleaned out often and balanced diet of grains and greens. Over the years probably one of the main problems I have encountered has been paralysis ticks. Eventually your bird will appear lame and if the tick is not removed swiftly it will cause death. I generally keep that particular bird separate and quiet with small amounts feed and water for a few a days after tick removal. Worming your ducks once to twice a year is of benefit. If ever concerned about your waterfowl’s health contact an avian vet or sometimes an experienced breeder can be of assistance.
Breeds of Ducks
Cayuga – Nth American breed having the most beautiful black with a beetle –green sheen plumage. Good for both eggs and meat, as well as very ornamental.
Indian Runner – These ducks stand almost upright, having long slender necks. They are great egg layers and good foragers. They come a variety of colours.
Pekins – Large white ducks with bright orange legs and bill. Good layer and especially good meat bird.
Khaki Campbell – The drakes have a very lustrous green head and neck with the rest of their body being khaki. The ducks are just khaki all over. They are reputed to be the best egg layers of all the ducks. They are very hardy and happiest when allowed to forage.
Muscovies – Are the only domestic duck breed not derived from the Mallard. Instead of quacking they hiss a bit like geese. And some say that they should be classified as geese and not ducks. They are a large bird capable of flight so you may need to clip their wings. Good meat bird, average egg layers and make great pets.
Note if space is limited there are a few bantam varieties of ducks available. Call ducks, Bantam Appleyards and Bantam Silver mallards to name a few.
Geese can be noisy. Because of this they make great watch dogs. But if you live in a crowded suburb you may want check in with your neighbours before embarking on keeping geese. Both the males and females can be quite vocal. Once again it is not illegal as nearly always is the case with roosters in residential areas. Geese require the same conditions as ducks and can be happily kept together. Just remember though geese are a lot bigger than ducks, so make sure you have adequate room in the designated shed and yard. Geese are not prolific egg layers and generally kept for their meat , pest control and lawn mowing.
Breeds of Geese
Toulouse – Hailing from France this is the largest breed of geese. They have dark grey heads with lighter grey bodies and orange legs and bills. They also have quite notable dewlaps.
Embden – These geese are pure white with orange legs and bills. They make good sitters.
Chinese – The Chinese are a smaller breed, so if space is limited you may find them more suitable. Prolific layers. Their plumage is can either brown or white and they have a characteristic knob at the end of their bill.
Where to find.
Your local Waterfowl Association is a good starting point, Produce stores, Agricultural shows, Advertisements in the livestock section of newspapers, The internet these days has quite a few poultry noticeboard for sale websites.
Did you know?
Duck eggs are fantastic for baking, great in cakes as well as all other cooking.
Toulouse ganders can weigh on average 12 kg.