The Arrival of Ducklings at Turaida Forest Garden
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
Last month, we introduced a small flock of "Kahki Campbell" ducklings to our forest garden project. This new venture at Turaida Forest Garden is an opportunity to share with others about the experience of tending to our new flock. Birds are so natural to forest systems that it would seem to be neglectful not to incorporate some of their winged kind. Ducks seem particularly well suited to the wetland habit of our Wainfleet locale. The former chicken coop and the large central pond will provide them with space to spread out and forage. Their movements are limited to the duck run adjacent to our coop at this time. Ducks and other fowl are frequently the subjects of chapters in many books on forest gardening, and sustainable agriculture. Similar to frogs, they serve as a bridge between the plant and animal-based realms of the growing system and the food chain. Their amphibious-like adaptations make them a unique addition to a small scale farming, especially ones with pre-existing water features.
Perhaps it's no wonder these strange billed creatures are the subject of so many funny duck animations. Their active, noisily chatty and boisterous natures draw attention to the skittish-natured flock, serving as an endless source of comedy. They appear adorable as little ducklings running around clumsily. However, they quickly outgrow smaller brooding areas and require a constant supply of water. From an urban past, ducks appear more of a rural choice (unless we think about wild species in parks and rivers in cities). They are now alternative poultry foods compared to chickens or turkeys in Canada.
Just weeks earlier, as day olds, they were able to be carried in a single hand. Now they have already grown at least twice their size with more feathers emerging every day. At times, they are a handful to manage and can make a mess with all the water play. However, their playful nature is part of the fun.They constantly move as a flock and don't especially like separating from the group. They always keep one eye of you, similar to how cows will look from one side of their head. It is interesting to observe them communicating with the other animals ( in our case, the cats) on the farm. As usual, they will keep their distance and have an eye for any activities around their run.
Their insect and weed fed diet helps to control leafy green vegetable pests in the forest garden. The incredible egg-laying capacity of this breed will be an asset to our farm gate stand. Kahki Campbells will lay as much as three hundred eggs per year during their peak laying years.
Since our ducklings were purchased mainly for pest control and egg production, we did not sex them beforehand. While sexing is possible, it is more of an art than a science with different techniques used. Since we have a small flock, having several drakes (males) weren't a concern.
Thinking of these early beginnings can easily distract us from later years. We can see this in young and old plants in the garden, and inside the people over a lifetime. In the book Life Lessons: How our Mortality can Teach us About Life and Living, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler offer many insights into the life cycle. As they remind us in a chapter on loss, "Even within our deepest sense of loss, we know that life continues. Despite all the losses and endings that may be bombarding you, new beginnings are all around" (p94). The ducklings represent the vitality of new beginnings, from the egg in the nest to the fully aged duck.
Since ducks can live for many years, it is essential to consider their long term suitability unless one is growing for meat. Even then, it would depend on how long the planning extends. Deciding on ducks resembles the kinds of commitment and planning we undertake for any long term venture.