Slugs taste like chocolate…

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To a duck.

Eliot Coleman’s wonderful book, “Four-Season Harvest,” had come just in time.

We had been considering chickens as pets for Miss Muffet and Bo Peep. We liked the idea of actually getting something back from a pet (other than love and affection, of course), especially with all of the eggs we consume in a week. And we also liked the fact that it would be socially-acceptable to eat said pets if things didn’t work out.

But then I was reading Mr. Coleman’s book to better plan our all-season garden, and I came across his chapter on ducks. Yes, an entire CHAPTER devoted to ducks, which he considers the real-life Schmoos of the garden, providing fertilizer, natural pest control, and an egg-laying rate superior to chickens. And unlike chickens, ducks eat SLUGS! Slugs are one of the greatest threats in low tunnel gardening, thriving in the moist and protected environment of the tunnel. He said ducks were essential to slug control. He said that SLUGS ARE A DUCK’S FAVORITE FOOD!

I had my pet! Slugs were already my greatest enemy!

 

Slugs by the bucket.

Slugs grow to monstrous size in Appalachia.

Each year, we would lose about a quarter to a half of our strawberries to slugs. We would harvest beautiful heads of broccoli with slimy slug trails marching across their surface.  No amount of beer traps could save us; the slugs came in droves to the keg party and munched drunkenly on our vegetables. Surely ducks were the answer!

At first, I didn’t think ducks would be possible in our little city lot. I had childhood memories of the mallards that inhabited our pond in Robbinsville, NC. I had memories of… duck poop. Stepping barefoot into duck poop. Slipping and realizing I had fallen in duck poop. Petting the dog and realizing she had rolled in duck poop.

I also recalled that ducks FLY! We have chain link fence around our current property, but we had an even higher fence around our pond in NC and the ducks STILL got out every spring. I would herd ducks after school with the family mutt, Shongelo. She would catch them by pinning them to the ground, then allow me to scoop them up and toss them over the fence. Take that, duck! Shongelo loved it; it brought out her inner bird dog.

But I soon learned I wouldn’t have to do any wing clipping after all. Mallards fly, but most domestic duck breeds, being heavier, do good just to get airborne. When they manage to get aloft, they are only good for low flights over short distances.

And I had no idea that there were so many duck breeds! Many of these are considered as threatened as some of the heirloom seeds I grow: heritage breeds. Since we had no experience with any of them, we each picked out our own breed of duck to try out in our backyard:

Miss Muffet’s White Crested, “Bingo.” Our garden’s STAR!

 

Ma Hubbard’s Welsh Harlequin, “Coco”

Bo Peep’s Blue Swedish, “Nee-Nee Quack-Quack”

Pa Hubbard’s black Cayuga, “Sarsaparilla”

Our “bonus” duck, a buff orpington named “Mister E.”

 

The following spring, we lost hardly any strawberries to slugs, even though we fenced  the ducks out of the patch when the first strawberry flowers appeared. The only strawberries damaged by slugs were at the extreme edge of the patch where it bordered our neighbor’s property. Too bad slugs can crawl through chain link fence.

And the eggs? Oh my! If you have never eaten a duck egg… well, at least you don’t know what you’re missing! They are larger, with yolks like bright marigolds (V calls them “orange eggs” when scrambled).

Duck egg on the right compared to a commercial chicken egg. The duck egg albumin is so clear you can see right through it!

People are always surprised that we eat duck eggs; they expect them to taste like slugs, I guess. Duck and chicken eggs are extremely similar in taste, except a duck’s egg is RICH, the yolk being slightly thicker in consistency. Just one egg can fill you up (unless you’re Pa Hubbard). I can’t eat a boring commercial chicken egg now. It just looks and tastes so… blah.

 

As  for the duck poop?

It is fantastic garden fertilizer!

 

And it gave me an excuse to get the girls some really cute muck boots.

 

But have we completely embraced its inevitable presence in the backyard?

 

Toddler + Duck Mud + Hill = Disaster

 

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Mail-Order Ducks | Mother of a Hubbard

  2. Laura

    September 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Do you let the ducks roam in your garden? Do they destroy any of the crops? Do you need a pond for ducks or can you raise them similar to chickens in a coop?

    • Ma Hubbard

      September 3, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      The ducks do not get free access to the garden… they would either eat or trample the crops, plus fresh droppings splashed on the vegetables would be unsanitary. I put temporary fencing up in sections of the garden when a particular garden bed is done, allowing the ducks to free range for garden pests like slugs (I have a picture of this setup in this post about planting fall garlic).
      The ducks don’t need a pond… just a water dish large enough for dunking their heads (so they can preen properly).

  3. Vetsy

    December 17, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I love it! It’s so different and informative!….. Makes me give a duck a second look..I always thought ducks were entertaining birds to watch at the park…But never consider one as a pet..
    Still contemplating on whether or not I could stand dealing with the Ducky Doo… LOL!

    I love the last photo….. Lol! poor baby!

    • Ma Hubbard

      December 17, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      About that last photo, Vetsy… Karma paid me back for using it this fall. I tripped and fell face-first into the duck mud. Ew!

  4. Gina

    September 4, 2015 at 4:54 am

    Love your ducks!!
    I can only have one. Which breed would you recommend? The slugs eat most of my crops and organic slug pellets are so expensive

    • Cathy

      October 29, 2015 at 9:10 am

      If I could choose only one duck breed, it would be the Welsh Harlequin. They are light-weight (so less wear on the yard/garden plants), and they are superior foragers/hunters of slugs.

  5. Kerry

    January 24, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Greetings from Tripp, SD, fellow duck owner. Our ducks, Welsh and Orpingtons, and geese, Toulouse, also came from Metzer. Of the Orpingtons, there are three named Iris, a Selma, a Ruby and two males, Alfred and Albert. Of six Welsh, there were four males, and now just one, Archie, plus the girls, Alice and Audrey. Geese, Henry Higgins, Zooey, and Zinnia. (Yes, I get goofy about names.) Three Welsh and the beta male were dressed out. (What, you don’t know how wonderful duck fat is?!). Down to minus 14 ten days ago, eggs dropped to nothing, but are back to 2-3 daily. We intend to have goslings next year as a meat supply and, hopefully, more ducks. I’ve had success giving sprouted wheat berries to the ducks, and sprouted barley to the geese. We have no slugs in SD. We are fortunate to have 2.09 acres. I’ve found your ten things posts very informative; especially the broadfork post, and the low tunnels for winter veggies. Have you ever considered breeding rabbits for meat? It is not difficult, and you eat the ones from the freezer after forgetting which named rabbit it was. We had 14 before leaving St. Paul for Tripp. Godspeed.

    • Cathy

      January 26, 2016 at 6:06 am

      Thank you! Yes, we have thought of rabbits… I’ve heard that their composted manure is great for the garden. One day!