October 2010
4-H Extension Corner

Comic Relief…and Insect Control

 

One of the brown Muscovies and her ducklings this past spring.

My husband said we could have won $100,000 on the America’s Funniest Home Videos TV show IF he’d just thought to follow me around that month with a camera….

Every afternoon at dusk I’d walk outside with my little round, white clothes hamper—but I wasn’t going to gather clothes from the line.

I’d carry it in the small crook where the front goat pasture fence makes a square behind the largest pear tree, lay the hamper sideways in the grass and the small, black duck would run and hop into the basket.

I’d then bring him to the back porch where he safely spent the night in a cardboard box.

This small, black Muscovy duck was hatched alone and no mother claimed him, so I raised him until he was large enough to stay with the flock all the time.

I never planned on raising ducks, it just happened.

About eight years ago, as I was parked at the loading dock of the Blount County Farmers Co-op, I noticed a small box sitting to the side. Naturally, I had to look in the box and saw five pairs of black eyes staring back at me intently.

The baby duck jumped into the clothes hamper each night to be carried inside to safety.

 

About $5 later, I was the proud owner of five Muscovy ducklings.

I’d just completed the back, larger goat pasture and hadn’t yet bought my first pygmy goats, so the little ducks moved into the small front pasture. The weather was already warm and they had just begun to feather.

They ran around each day and I tucked them safely into an old rabbit cage each night.

Their diet consisted of chick feed, squashed boiled eggs and whatever else they could glean from the pasture.

I’d raised chickens for a while, but had several questions about ducks which John Metzer at Metzer Farmers in Gonzales, California (www.metzer farms.com) graciously answered for me by phone.

The next year, one of my five original ducks hatched 12 ducklings and it was amazing to watch her mothering instincts as the family group patrolled our back yard, small heads bobbing and tails wagging like little dogs.

Muscovies are NOT your usual ducks!

According to an article in the Jan/Feb 1992 issue of COUNTRYSIDE magazine, researchers and scientists from several countries were originally confused when they tried to study Muscovies.

Muscovies are known for being the ducks that DON’T quack!

Muscovies have the body of a duck; the nesting habits, attack skills against predators, and the hissing of a goose; the roosting habits of a chicken; and a plump breast like a turkey.

One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen happened because of their roosting habits.

 

Muscovies are the only duck that roosts like chickens.

I’d set a trap for a couple of nights, trying to get an opossum who threatened my chickens.

One morning as I walked to the barnyard I heard all sorts of hissing. A row of seven male and female Muscovies were on the roof of the chicken house looking down on the Hav-A-Heart Trap, hissing and spitting down on the finally-captured bewildered ‘possum!

Some of the lessons I’ve learned don’t have quite as happy an ending.

While Muscovies are generally excellent mothers, there have been two times when only one little duckling hatched and no mother claimed him.

The first was the hamper-jumping baby already discussed.

The second was hatched just as I had 50 baby chicks under a heat lamp one spring.

How convenient, I thought. So I popped the little duckling in with the chicks and it grew and prospered.

But when that little guy grew to adulthood, he thought he was a ROOSTER and he tried to breed with any hen nearby and ignored all the lovely female ducks roaming the barnyard.

He eventually went to live on a farm with a pond where there were NO chickens.

I’ve since learned such ducks have been known to drown chickens by pulling them into the water and trying to mate with them there.

We’ve also had a few Muscovy ducklings born that were clearly part wild duck. According to BACKYARD POULTRY magazine, a Muscovy that mates with another breed of duck will have infertile offspring referred to as "mules."

Some have asked me what all these ducks contribute to my homestead at Old Field Farm and I usually tell them simply "comic relief," but they do serve an important purpose.

Muscovies eat all sorts of crawling things like flies, maggots, mosquitoes (and their larva), black widow spiders and other poisonous spiders, and any other sort of insect. They’re especially fond of roaches as well, and are said to eat them like candy!

In the South, they’re also noted for destroying ant mounds and eating the ants.

An article in The Economist (Volume 313, No. 7629) discussed experiments with Muscovies and insect control where the Muscovies reduced fly populations 90 percent in 30 minutes where flypaper, fly traps and other baits took from 15-86 HOURS.

A Canadian study agreed showing Muscovies caught 30 times more flies than traditional traps and papers.

Most of our ducks are the traditional black with a greenish sheen, but we do have a few of the chocolate-brown ones, and those known as "blues" which to me look more like an orchid-gray. We don’t have any white Muscovies; although, they are said to be prevalent and some of our ducks do have a white tuxedo breast-plate.

Both males and females have a distinctive red caruncle on their heads with the males having a larger one.

The grown drakes usually can weigh from 12 to 15 pounds while the females usually weigh from eight to 10 pounds.

The eggs are fantastic when used in baking and I have sold eggs for just that purpose in addition to using them here on the farm.

I have not butchered any of my ducks (anyone who knows me knows why)…but many say Muscovy breast meat is comparable to that of a sirloin steak!

And, by the way, we don’t have a pond on our farm. We do have several plastic wading pools which the ducks enjoyed bathing in. The majority of the ducks usually stay close to home and free-range over the cleared sections of our 15 acres.

A few of them have been known to fly to a neighbor’s pond (and have his permission) but most seem content to stay near where they were hatched.

While I have sold some of the hatchlings to others who have ponds, I always make certain there are places nearby for them to roost away from predators.

The ducks usually don’t require special feed, cleaning up any spilled goat, chicken or rabbit feed, and feasting on the farm’s bugs and grasses, so they’re not a financial burden to keep.

Their insect control is a major benefit, but watching a mother lead a row of 16 ducklings across the field, or watching several adults group in a circle with heads and tails wagging, is certainly an added delight!

Suzy can be contacted on her Blount County farm through her website: www.suzysfarm.com.