This is not a joke. Ducks are excellent finders and consumers of slugs and snails, plus many other insects and invertebrates. They’ll clean up a vegetable bed in no time. Several years ago, a man in Germany created a business renting them out to gardeners. That business seems to have disappeared (possibly overcome by the logistical problems of moving ducks from one garden to the next), but maybe someone else could give it a try?
Or you could raise your own ducks if you have the space and inclination.
Plenty of Good Poop!
Ducks also produce prodigious amounts of rich manure, so they feed your plants even as they clean them. They’ll also quickly turn leaf mulch into compost by mixing in and turning the leaves while adding droppings and mud (yes, those flat feet do track a bit of dirt!) Plus they supply you with eggs and meat. They are tougher and hardier than chickens and do less damage to plants, although they do like to keep lawns nicely clipped.
They can be hard on seedlings, though, trampling some with their feet and digging up and eating others, but usually leave established plants alone (unlike chickens). Ideally, you’d use them for a thorough slug-and-bug clean-up either at the end of the gardening season or just before it kicks off again in the spring, then bring them in occasionally, as needed, during the growing season for a bit of a clean-up and to handle any mid-season emergencies, like a grasshopper invasion. Or brush Japanese beetles to the ground (they hang around too high up for ducks to reach) and your horde of voracious waterfowl will follow you around and snap them up.
You’ll need to keep an eye on ducks in a growing garden and to chase them off (they’re easy to herd) if they become interested in something they shouldn’t. The easiest thing is to simply bring the ducks with you when you’re gardening so you can keep tabs on them, then chase them out of the garden when you’ve finished. If yours have free run, fence in your veggies during the growing season (a simple 2 ft/60 cm barrier would do, as most races are flightless) and let them patrol the perimeter. That way they’ll catch marauders before the latter make it to your plants.
Ducks also need care and feeding, including fresh water to drink at all times, protection from predators and, in cold climates, a winter shelter. Oddly enough, given that they are waterfowl, they don’t need to swim and would probably dirty up any pond or basin pretty quickly. You can put out a kiddie pool every now and then for their enjoyment, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Then there is the question of legality: many municipalities ban the keeping of poultry, but laws are changing and more and more are opening up to families raising a few chickens and possibly ducks as well.
And you do need ducks. Plural. Two or more. Three or four are even better. They’re social creatures and like company. Certain races, including the very popular Indian Runner, are better at slug control than others, so check into that as well.
If only we all had duck rental outfits nearby, that would solve a lot of our gardening problems. So, entrepreneurs, what are you waiting for?
Here’s a short article on the subject you might want to read: Natural Pest Control for Gardens with Ducks!