Our troop of Magpie Ducks were out in the sun today. It was their first introduction to the pond. It’s been snowing the past few days and the cold temperatures make swimming chilly, so the ducks spent most of their time preening their newly developing feathers.
The pond is at a lower level right now, and perfect for getting ducks along the edge to help seal the sides. Later this winter, more water will raise the pond another 6-8 feet. If that level raises gradually enough, the ducks will have enough time to circle and seal the rim each time the water level moves up. Today the ducks spent time feasting on small plants along the edges, pulling up rushes and canary grass with gusto. They even put together a little rush matting by knocking a pile of rushes down and laying on it for added insulation from the chilly wet ground.
After a light dip this afternoon, the ducks spent most of the remaining sunlight basking and preening. It’s so important for these young birds to get their feathers oiled up and fluffed out for insulation as winter sets in. At night these young ones are still going inside where a brooding heater is still on for their comfort. The below freezing nights are early this year, but by next week, things will warm back up again, giving a few more weeks of acclimation to these Magpie quackers.
If you’ve ever raised ducks, you’re familiar with the thick sticky mat they make with their poop in bedding. Their webbed feet pack down the poop and mix it well with whatever substrate they are living on. At the pond’s edge, mud and dung will form a slurry which will then be mushed around by little feet to seal the ground. Since the water will be rising, the concentration of poop cement will continue to refresh along the rim of the water. There is a concern that all this poop will raise nitrogen levels in the pond. This will happen in the short term, but long term, the ducks will not be constant residents.
Leafhopper is trying ducks again with the hope that our slug population will be compromised by these tenacious bug eaters. Duck poop is also very fertile, and having it dispersed around the landscape will be a great boost to growth in our soil. The design of a predator proof duck hut will also need to happen, as the indoor pen is not suited to long term use (as it’s made of cardboard, which the ducks are melting with moisture power. Luckily, the duck hut can be small and movable, because we only have and want a few ducks for the landscape. Ducks should not be housed with chickens, as they are not nighttime sleepers like chickens, and will keep the roosting birds up with their late hour quacking.
The future of ducks at Leafhopper Farm depends on how this trial run works. Duck eggs are nice, and getting the flock established with breeding is important, but the farm does not with to raise ducks in large numbers. We’re hoping to incorporate them into our tree islands, which will be well fenced and planted with lushness for the ducks to hunt for bugs in. For now, we’ll see how they work to seal the pond this winter.