My love for ducks was instant. After touring a traditional duck farm in France in my mid-twenties, I dreamed of having my own ducks someday. You know… in some distant, alternate future where I could create the life I really wanted.
Back then, I mistakenly thought homesteading was only a make believe dream conjured to escape the tedium of an office job, a commute, and the expansive (but boring) lawns of my suburban neighborhood. Little did I know that if I just got started, and stuck to it, within a few years the imagined could be made real. (It took me until my mid-thirties to learn that.)
Today, my duck dreams have come true. My commute is the short walk to my duck house to let my lovelies out in the morning. An edible landscape lined path, full of flowering or ripening fruit (most of the year), leads me to the frog pond just outside my garden gate.
I pass through the gate and am greeted by an herb bed made with local granite, filled with fragrant lavender, thyme, oregano, and chives. I pass my hand over the lavender leaves as I walk by because the aroma delights me (whether in flower or not).
From there, I progress past my seasonally blooming flower beds. Today they are painted with splashes of dahlias, amaranth, zinnias, and sunflowers in bloom. Other times of year balsam, goji, alliums, calendula, nasturtiums, and more offer floral interest.
I call good morning to my ducks as I approach. This is to avoid startling them while they lay their morning eggs. At the sound of my voice, they start quacking with excitement.
I open the door to their house, which keeps them safe from predators at night. They run out to greet me.
For a few minutes, they stand in a group, at my feet, telling me all the tales of their night and egg laying exploits. Then, one by one, they meander away — down their long run to eat early morning insects, visit the food bowl, and splash in a donated double sink they think is a pond.
When I’ve had my fill of watching them, I reach into their house, collect their eggs, and saunter back to my house to make breakfast.
I may also stop off in the adjacent garden beds and pick some basil, tomatoes, and green onions for an omelet. The fresh duck eggs and vegetables just need a quick rinse before cooking them up. In under 10 minutes, I can make a simple meal with fresh harvested homestead ingredients.
So begins my day, every day. It’s a beautiful, pleasurable ritual of welcoming the morning — designed around my love for ducks.
If it rains, I don my wellies and bright slicker. Then I pretend I am traipsing through the Scottish highlands where I once dreamed of living (until I realized I preferred my mild North Carolina piedmont climate).
There is some work to keeping ducks, of course. You must build them a house and a run. You must provide them with predator protection. But, if done well at the outset, this investment in time and resources can last for many years with minimal maintenance.
There’s also the regular work like filling their feeder and freshening their water. I do that later in the day so I can visit them again when I need a break from more tedious tasks. I also have to swap out the straw in their house periodically. However, since I put them up at dark, let them out early, and don’t keep food and water in their house, changing straw is an infrequent activity.
Also, frankly, I love those tasks too. The old straw goes to the compost pile. Compost is my favorite fertility source for my beloved garden soil. I use a slow process that takes almost now work. Basically, I turn the pile twice, then let my red wrigglers turn whatever is left into to deocmpose worm castings.
This pile, that was filled to the top of the container in late winter, will be ready to apply in fall. Now, while this compost is aging, I just rake the top periodically to prevent volunteer plants from deeply rooting in this exquisite soil amendment.
I also use a different path to feed and water my ducks to make it more fun. This path is a shortcut from the shed where we store feed. It takes me past a sprawling kiwi, a cold-hardy orange, flowering red-stemmed dogwood shrubs, some yucca, a young pawpaw, and a small water-plant bog.
When I enter the bright yellow gate, I cross cut through the footpaths of my largest herb garden. By this route, feeding and watering my ducks is basically like visiting a botanical garden in my own backyard.
It’s also such fun to pour the feed into the bowl and have my ducks come running. They take so much pleasure in eating.
Likewise, giving them freshwater is like showing a child an ocean for the first time every day. Their excitement for it never wanes.
Though…you should know. The first thing ducks do to clean water is add mud.
If they don’t have access to mud, they’ll use their food or manure to dirty the water. So I leave muddy areas around their mini-ponds so they can muddy the waters to their hearts’ content.
Also, it’s important to know that duck runs tend to get a bit drab and dirty looking over time.
In my case, the location of my duck run (above) creates a barrier between the wild goat pasture outside my garden and the cultivated lands inside. That it is weed free and compacted means the ducks are doing their job. Their manure also fertilizes the fruit trees and perennial edibles slightly downhill from their run, making that area extra lush.
By design, between the encroaching wild lands behind and the planned perennial food forest in front, their run is barely visible except in winter. I also throw weeds into their run during the growing season which acts as a kind of mulch and supplemental food source for my ducks. They also frequently use their long necks to reach through the garden side run netting and eat the tops of the greenery growing below.
When the leaves drop in fall, the run can is a bit of an eyesore. During the dull season, I spread straw in their run. Even that brings a certain kind of pleasure. Seeing a straw-filled duck run in winter offers satisfaction similar to spring cleaning your home. The ducks also love it because they dabble in the straw as they would the mud to seeds and insects.
It took a little planning, directed gardening, and some experimentation to create duck keeping routines that were pleasurable to me and for the ducks. But that is all part of the fun too!
This my fellow duck lovers, is what I call Epicurean homesteading. It’s about designing your landscape and creating your routines to be beautiful and pleasurable rather than a hardship. And it’s what I want for everyone out – dreaming the dream – not realizing it’s entirely within reach with just small amounts of enjoyable work.
Stay tuned for more posts to help you get started keeping ducks. Also, for a behind the scenes look at how I decided on this duck house and run design, check out The Little Yellow Duck House and Mirabelle Plums.