Ducks are efficient slug hunters and provide you with tasty eggs. We explain how you can keep them species-appropriate in your garden.
In contrast to their ancestors, the mallards, mallards can hardly fly. But they can run all the better. Their long legs and light, slender body have earned the running duck the name “bottle duck”.
Originally from Southeast Asia, mallards were bred in Europe primarily for egg-laying. Today, not so much emphasis is placed on this in breeding, but still running ducks are good egg layers. There are many that lay 150 or more eggs per year. You’d better not eat them raw, as in rare cases they could contain dangerous pathogens, but cooked the eggs taste delicious. Duck eggs are also very good for baking. Since their yolk is larger than that of a chicken egg, they provide a beautiful yellow color.
However, it is not because of the eggs that most duck owners keep the running ducks. Instead, they value them primarily as slug hunters. Unlike chickens, other ducks and hedgehogs, running ducks even eat the so-called Spanish slug, which otherwise has no natural enemies in our country. In addition, unlike chickens, running ducks rarely scratch the ground – which pleases the gardener.
Requirements and acquisition
Since running ducks, as their name suggests, run a lot, you will see traces of them. However, if your garden is large enough, these will not be noticed. In addition, running ducks need a certain territory in order to be able to provide themselves with enough food and not feel underchallenged. Besides snails, they also like to eat earthworms, beetles or other insects in the garden. You should be able to provide at least 500 square meters of garden for a pair of running ducks. Roosting ducks don’t like to be alone. They need at least one mate of the opposite sex. You should keep ducks and drakes in a 1:1 or 3:1 ratio. By the way, you can recognize drakes by their curly tail feathers.
When you buy running ducks, you should make sure that they look healthy and well-groomed. The best time to buy them is in autumn, when they are already a few months old. Chicks that are only a few weeks old, on the other hand, should not yet be separated from their mother. Young running ducks cost about 20 euros. Consider the acquisition well – running ducks have a life expectancy of about twelve to 15 years.
Ducks are relatively undemanding and independent animals. However, you will need a few accessories to keep them in a species-appropriate manner. What the ducks need to feel comfortable with you, we explain in the next sections.
Ducks need a lot of water
It is very important that the ducks always have access to drinking water. They need it above all to prevent snail slime from clogging their beaks and throats.
Like other ducks, mallards also like to bathe. They don’t need a large area of water to swim in, but you should offer them a small pond, for example in a discarded tub. It’s better not to use aquatic plants – the ducks would probably eat them or tear them up while bathing.
On the other hand, it is important that the ducks not only get into the pond, but also get out again. If the pond has a high, smooth edge, you can place a large rock so that the ducks can use it as an exit aid. Make sure you clean the pond regularly so it doesn’t get too dirty.
The right feeding
A large part of their food can find the running ducks themselves. The rest you should feed about twice a day. Especially in winter, the ducks need additional feed. You can give them ground or soaked cereal grains as a basis. You can also buy ready-made grain mixtures for poultry in pet stores. From time to time, you can also offer the ducks cooked rice, potato pieces or soaked bread.
In addition, especially in winter, you should provide the ducks with green food, for example lettuce, nettles or the greens of carrots or other vegetables. It doesn’t hurt to mix some feed lime into the feed every now and then.
By the way, ducks do not have teeth, but crush the food in their stomachs by eating small stones. In most gardens the ducks find enough small stones. If it is not the case with you, you should provide them with some.
A shelter for the night
Running ducks are pretty weatherproof, but they need shelter at night to protect them from predators. Here are a few tips for the coop:
- Each duck should have at least half a square foot of space in the coop. If you’re only keeping a single pair of ducks, you can convert a doghouse into a coop, for example.
- The hutch must be well lockable so that no marten or fox can enter.
- The doorway should be high enough so that the ducks do not have to bend down to enter.
- You can line the floor with straw and dry meadow cuttings.
- Clean out the coop about once a week or as needed.
- To keep the ducks protected during the day, your property should be enclosed by a fence at least one and a half feet high. This will also keep your ducks from running away.
Unfortunately, it can happen that your running ducks are interested not only in the slugs and insects in your garden, but also in some of your plants. For example, they may nibble on lettuce heads or steal berries. You can protect the latter from ducks and also from other birds by covering them with a net.
Otherwise, if your garden is big enough, you can simply “pay” the few berries and lettuce leaves as a fair reward for their work as slug hunters.
Is my duck doing well?
If one of your running ducks is behaving differently than usual, you should see a veterinarian as a precaution. The reason for being cautious is that similar to other poultry animals, when they are sick, running ducks try not to show signs of weakness for as long as they can. Since there aren’t many veterinarians experienced in handling waterfowl, you should already be looking for one when you get your ducks. An important indicator of a duck’s well-being is its weight. A drake usually weighs two kilos, a female a little less. If a duck’s weight drops significantly below that, you should have it examined.
Young ducks sometimes swallow snails that are too large and are in danger of choking on them. If they are not able to swallow the snail despite sufficient water, you should help them by massaging their neck and pushing the snail either up or down. You can also try to pull it out of the duck’s neck with tweezers.