“They arrive at 12:10 a.m. Come on, let’s go, the cab is waiting,” I said as I grabbed my coat and flew out the door.
That night wasn’t just any ordinary night — that night we were off to pick up a very special box. It contained the start of a wonderful journey of self-reliance; it contained the new members of our family, our ducks. We ordered them online from a hatchery and they were coming by airplane: three Pekins and four Cayugas, just a day old.
We decided to wait until we got home to open the box, but the box demanded attention. It kept peeping!
“What’s in the box?” the cab driver quickly inquired.
“Baby ducks,” we replied.
The next question was one we had asked ourselves many times before: “Ducklings, oh how cute! I think this will be the first time I’m driving a box of ducklings home. Why did you choose ducks?”
Starting off in our homesteading journey we came upon a choice…
We lived along Southside Road at the time and would often visit the Waterford walking trail or Bowring Park to watch and feed the ducks. We noticed how many people enjoyed the ducks, and how gentle, silly and curious the ducks were. We started to notice the birds had unique personalities.
We began to wonder: Can you keep ducks? Do people eat duck eggs? How do they taste? What are the benefits of keeping ducks other than keeping them for eggs? At the time we were looking into backyard hens as a sustainable option for producing our own eggs, but there were several factors which had kept us from jumping in. It turned out we had stumbled upon the answer: ducks.
The City of St. John’s does not allow roosters within the city limits as they are considered a nuisance — and they kind of are. I mean, I don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn. I don’t want my neighbors to have to be up at that time either.
It was important for us to be able to grow our homestead with time — therefore males (to fertilize eggs) were essential to the idea of a sustaining loop. Male and female ducks can co-exist in the same enclosure — it is quite natural for them as they are flock animals. Male ducks are extremely quiet and can be heard making a faint “rap rap rap” sound, while females can be a bit noisier during mealtimes or playtime with the typical “quack” sound ducks are typically associated with.
Ducks are creatures of habit and follow a daily routine, so it wasn’t long before they were quietly ‘in bed’ between dusk and 10 a.m. the following day. There would be none of this ‘waking us up before dawn’ business here.
It’s lovely weather…for a duck!
I’m originally a CFA (come from away) and proudly dress in layers here now because I know how the weather can be. According to Wikipedia, our city is the foggiest of all major cities in Canada, has the most wind and the highest number of cloudy days. On average we see only 1,497 hours of sunshine a year (four hours a day averaged throughout the year). We also get a lot of rain — approximately 1,534 mm, which is over five feet a year. We can plan to dress accordingly but our animals cannot.
We wanted to find a suitable animal for our climate, one that would be tolerant to both the rain and the cold, and one that could adjust to the constant changing climate of St. John’s.
After doing our research we realized ducks were our answer. They have a wonderful layer of fat, deep soft down to resist the cold, and oiled feathers that resist the rain — like water off a duck’s back, so the saying goes. Although we keep their coop door open, our ducks often choose to spend rainy days swimming happily in their kiddy pool. They are also very heat tolerant and enjoy hopping into the pool or playing in the sprinkler to cool off. Like all animals, they need a wind-proof enclosure to keep them safe during the night and during poor weather.
“You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” (-Bill Mollison)
Ducks are devoted foragers too, and our black Cayuga ducks can find most of their diet through daily forage. They are serious about their bug intake and will find those monster slugs known for ravaging gardens and annihilate them with a happy quack. They focus on foraging for slugs, snails and most garden insects and can often be seen snapping at a fly or mosquito if the insects wander close to the pool.
One of our Cayuga females, Clementine, and I play a game called ‘digging for worms’. She happily chirps away as we look for worms together, and she gets excited whenever I stop to find some tasty treats from our vermicomposting bin.
Ducks are so adapt at finding those pesky garden insects that you can safely let them wander in your garden with minimal damage caused to soil and plants. They have big webbed feet reminiscent of garbage can lids that don’t dig or scratch up the soil as chickens often do.
We also use our duck compost to feed our worm bin, thus creating a loop where the ducks poop, the poop feeds the worms and the worms are grown and fed to the ducks as treats. The soiled water from their pool goes on to water our plants, to help fertilize our garden.
Do you eat your duck eggs?
For four years duck eggs have been a wonderful addition to our breakfasts and baking needs. We have four laying females that give us delicious eggs. In 2014 they provided us with approximately 250 eggs. An average chicken egg is about 55 grams, while our ducks lay eggs that are between 75 and 100 grams. This means that, for cooking or baking purposes, one duck egg usually equals two chicken eggs. You can enjoy duck eggs the same ways you would a chicken egg — in omelettes, scrambled or boiled.
Duck eggs are firmer when they are cooked because they have more albumen, giving them more structure. They are wonderfully rich in taste, with less white and more yolk, making them ideal for baking. Bakers value them because they have more protein in the whites than chicken eggs do, making cakes rise to superb levels when the whites are beaten.
Duck eggs are also high in Vitamin A and B-12. They have B-vitamin complex, as well as vitamin D and E. These vitamins help with tissue and nerve health. The eggs are a great boost for your daily nutritional needs and contain important minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and selenium.
According to Sylvie Tremblay, “each duck egg contains 2.7 milligrams of iron — 34 percent of the recommended daily intake for men and 15 percent for women — as well as 25.5 micrograms of selenium, or 46 percent of your intake requirement. Duck eggs also contain small amounts of zinc, phosphorus and calcium.”
The drawback is they contain more cholesterol.
“Each egg contains 619 milligrams of cholesterol, which is more than twice the daily recommended limit.”
A by-product to be used?
Twice a year ducks shed their old feathers for new, pretty ones — a process called molting. During this time the ducks don’t lay eggs as their extra protein is used to grow the new feathers. The old feathers fall out and can be found laying about the yard and coop. They can be easily sanitized for multiple uses and are a great addition to earrings, dying or sewing projects, and crafting.
We are in the process of saving up enough small duck feathers and down for a pillow. I’ve also seen some beautiful art done by painting images on the feathers. Eggs can also be used in crafting projects. Duck eggshells are extremely thick and can be blown out and carved into using a dremel tool to make wonderful designs. They are also perfect for Easter egg decorating and hunting since they are much more durable than chicken eggs.
A very ducky homestead
I would recommend to anyone who wants to develop an urban homestead to choose a flock of ducks over the more common flock of hens. They are more adaptable to their environment and help keep your garden free of bugs since they forage most of their daily food. If you had a slug problem before, you won’t anymore. They also provide year-round eggs, which are delicious, healthy and great for baking.
If that isn’t enough, then they will likely win you over with their wonderful personalities. You’d be amazed how much fun you can have watching your ducks dive for a handful of peas in a small kid-sized pool. We call it ‘Duck TV’ and we’ve since cancelled out Netflix subscription since we would far rather be watching our ducks.
For more information on backyard poultry and other homesteading topics, please join us on our Facebook group Backyard Farming & Homesteading NL.