If you have a yard, you need two ducks. Trust me, have I ever steered you wrong? I’m advocating for two ducks, not many ducks, although if you have a lot of property, you might want more.
Here is why you want ducks, muscovy ducks in particular, and not chickens: Unlike chickens—which I kept and loved for many a year—muscovies leave your plants alone. They can free-range all the time. Any garden bed you do not want them stepping in with their big duck feet, you can fence off with the tiniest of garden edging fence. Muscovies are respectful of fencing, probably because their bodies are big and heavy and leaping and jumping is not high on their list of preferred activities.
Muscovies love to graze lawns, and I often find my two girls with grass sticking out of their bills. Instead of raking the ground with their feet, muscovies insert their bills under mulch and loose soil, searching for bugs. Because bugs are steak and ice cream to muscovies. And slugs are muscovy caviar. Can’t get enough of those long, slimy things. I swear you can see them licking their duck lips after a meal of slugs.
I had been pondering the acquisition of muscovies for years, and finally decided to try my hand at duck wrangling last summer to see if the many on-line accolades about muscovies might be true. They were. When I got our ducks, I did three things right: I got muscovies, which are non-quacking ducks known to be affectionate, peaceful, and great buggers. Second, I only got two ducks. Third, I made sure to only get girls.
Muscovies are the only ducks not related to mallards. They originally hail from South America where they roost in trees. They are more closely related to geese. They make soft cooing and chirring sounds that just make you want to kiss them on their sweet little heads. They are terrestrial ducks who are not that obsessed with water. My girls, Lucy-Lu and Bella-Mia, are perfectly content with a small plastic kiddie wading pool.
These ducks are great flyers, but I find that they are not wanderers and have no interest in even meandering to the front yard. They keep themselves contained nicely, foraging in certain places at certain times of the day. In between foraging rounds, they take a dip in the pool, or head into their small coop for a nap.
When I say get two ducks, I mean that your muscovy experience will be far, far better if you have a duo or trio instead of a flock. I always kept chickens in flocks from six to twenty birds, and at these numbers, it is not easy to have any kind of an intimate relationship with them. In my animal-loving life, I have always thought if two are great, more will be even greater, but where backyard fowl are concerned, I was flat-out wrong.
At greater numbers, even the most minor inconveniences become giant hassles: Poop, molting feathers, yard wear and tear, “herding,” egg-laying, night housing—all these things are a breeze and even a blessing with a couple of birds. And all these things require a whole lot more attention, work, and effort with a lot of birds.
In the course of a year, Lucy and Bella have become as sociable as puppies, following me in my garden rounds and helping me pull weeds and dig soil. Their sweet chatterings are like the whispered confidences of girlfriends, and I love their company. They make any outdoor work better for their companionship.
Over time, Lucy, and then Bella, began sitting happily on my lap, peacefully cooing while I stroke their satin wings. If I had six ducks, I don’t think I’d have been able to form such a bond with them. Like any creature, each duck has her own personality, and with only two, I’ve been able to get to know the particular idiosyncrasies of each.
Bella, for instance, is the more timid one, always needing to think before she acts. This means that when I turn over stones for them, bold Lucy always leaps in first and gets the fattest and juiciest bugs while Bella is still pondering about it. Lucy as always been the adventurer, leading Bella into new areas of the yard and being first to go where no duck has gone before.
The reason you only want girls is because male ducks are not chivalrous like roosters. Male ducks—or drakes—are not kind to their ladies. If you need more convincing, please read THIS for a hilarious and very accurate description of male ducks and duck sex. You will quickly realize that a couple or three peaceful girls is the way to go.
Did I say that ducks are great buggers? Well, let me say it again. Over the course of last summer and winter, Lucy and Bella were out and busy gobbling slugs from dawn til dark. As a result, we have few of the large, mature slugs roaming the grounds this year. Ducks are happy to forage in the rain and wet, when the slugs and snails are abundant. This quality alone makes them worth their weight in duck food, which they don’t eat much of, anyway.
Another muscovy gift is that great kiddie pool of what becomes poopy water. I bucket this liquid fertilizer to my garden beds, and all of my plants are very, very happy. In summer, I move the pool to different parts of the yard so I won’t have to carry buckets very far. I empty the pond about once a week.
I feed my girls laying hen food, in pellet form, as the loose crumbled version falls out of their mouths and they drop more than they swallow. Be sure not to feed them medicated food. It is very bad for them. They don’t eat much when they are foraging. In summer, probably only a half cup a day per duck. And your visiting birds will enjoy visiting the duck food bowl, too!
At night, ducks need a safe, secure place to sleep so they don’t become dinner for curious raccoons, skunks, weasels, or possums. We purchased a small backyard chicken coop from Costco, and the girls love it. I fill the top nesting area with fresh straw when it needs it, and put the old, poopy straw in the compost beds. The girls put themselves to bed after dark, trundling up the red ramp to the nest box area. All I have to do is remember to lock the door and open it next morning. That is about all there is to their care. Easy-peasy!
As an added bonus, muscovy eggs are wonderful to eat. I like them soft-boiled and fried. They have thick, orange yolks, and one of them equals about two chicken eggs.
Well, have I convinced you? You need two ducks!