BACKYARD BLISS | Ducks, the unexpected vegie garden consort

The unexpected vegie garden consort

Good Life Permaculture

Ducks were never in our short, or medium term, plan - but it's funny how quickly you can justify something, 'just because'.

In years past I found myself admiring ducklings at a friend's place and was quite taken by their fluff and squeak, so I took four of them home.

I was told they were khaki campbells, however they turned out to be 'bitzas' - as in a bit of this and a bit of that.

Unfortunately (for them) they ended up being mostly boys - so two were eaten, then one was taken by the local grey goshawk and the last one (who we thought was a girl) turned out to be a boy. But we kept him, named him Song and got him a purebred khaki campbell mate called Bruny (because 'Browny' seemed too obvious).

Khaki campbells were our preferred breed. They are known to be homebodies (so they don't try to escape), are prolific egg layers (yum) and most importantly, don't trash the vegie garden, so can free-range permanently - snuffling for bugs and slugs and depositing their poo across the garden.

Khakis were originally bred in England and are a combination of mallards, rouens and runner ducks. They generally come in three colour varieties - khaki, dark and white.

One of the key reasons we wanted khaki campbells was because we were told they were very gentle, wouldn't destroy the garden, are great with kids and are pretty chilled out. While ours are all of these things, they really don't like people.

This is because they weren't hand-raised, instead they roamed free in their exclusive duck gang as chicks.

In contrast, if you hand-raise them they'll imprint themselves onto you and in some cases think that you're their parent or mate and won't leave your side.

The egg production of the khakis is awesome, they lay an average of 320 eggs a year, so having a couple of ducks laying over winter (when the chickens stop) is a wonderful thing.

Fertigation

Where irrigation meets fertilisation - think poo in water all mixed up. As ducks need water to be happy, we gave them a pond - an old bath in the ground.

Being ducks they love to poo in the water so it quickly turns dark brown and will stink if you don't empty it regularly. We empty ours weekly and have it placed high on our slope so we can use gravity to direct the flow onto our young edible forest garden and other perennial crops. As it's a strong mix of poo and water I wouldn't go splashing it on your lettuce leaves, unless you remember to wash them thoroughly.

Theoretically, khaki campbells don't fly. However Song (the drake) likes to take daily flights across the valley, just like a 'proper bird'. We were shocked at first, but he comes back every time. In contrast, Bruny doesn't budge, likely because she's a purebred khaki campbell so lives up to her breed description.

While they lay heaps of eggs (usually one a day), they don't actually like to sit on them to hatch ducklings. Generally, mechanical incubators or broody chickens are used to hatch eggs instead, this takes 23 to 28 days.

In the vegie garden

Our ducks roam free around our vegie garden and young orchard, which we love. However, we've had to protect our young seeds/seedlings from them (and the garlic patch) as the ducks just want to snuffle right at the base of the plants or areas we've just cultivated, presumably because there's increased bug/slug activity.

Happily, a really short fence (around 40cm and only 10cm for the garlic) which we can still easily step over has stopped this. Overall, compared to other breeds (I'm told the muscovy duck is ruthless and leaves no survivors in the vegie patch), the khaki campbell is an angel.

We love our ducks. They're a fantastic multi-purposed animal to have in your food system with numerous benefits and a huge amount of character to keep you smiling. So yup, we're on team khaki campbell!

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a permaculture landscape design and education enterprise that creates resilient and regenerative lives and landscapes.