Slug control with ducks!
“You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” – Bill Mollison
There are of course many approaches to the scourge of slugs and snails in the vegetable patch. Hand picking by moonlight and beer traps have always been my methods of choice, but if you think you’d like to keep poultry, ducks can be a really effective option. Here are some of the benefits:
- It is a natural method of control; no chemicals which could be harmful to other invertebrates or the wider environment.
- Your ducks will provide eggs and meat having feasted on your garden pests, thus your slugs and snails become a valuable resource.
- Free fertilizer (again, made from digested slug!).
- Ducks won’t obliterate the slug population overnight, as might occur with nematode treatment or pellets.*
- Ducks love the wet and forage best in the rain, just the time when the slugs are out and about and happily crawling over your soggy coffee grounds and eggs shells (which don’t work so well in the rain)
- You won’t need to mow the lawn as often; the ducks will keep it short.
- Hours of feathery fun and entertainment
*Believe it or not, this rapid result can be a problem; the corresponding dip in slug predator numbers quickly resulting in a boom in the slug population.
What about chickens?
In general, ducks will eat more slugs and do less damage to your vegetables. Chickens will eat a few slugs but quickly become bored of them, and will find your vegetables much more interesting, eating them or scratching up the roots. Chickens can be very effective slug control, however, if you release them into bare vegetable beds over the winter; they love seeking out slug eggs and will put a big dent in the population the following year.
Another thing to note about chickens is that they hate the rain and will be huddled under shelter while the slugs are out enjoying the weather and feasting on your veggies. They are also much better escape artists than ducks, sometimes flapping over even quite high fences to get to your vegetables.
Are there any downsides?
- Ducks prefer slugs and snails but they may eat some of your leafy vegetables, one of my friends reports his ducks love brassicas, they will also trample small seedlings.
- Their poo is slimy, and they poo everywhere!
- You have to look after them; feed them, provide them with clean water, clean out their house and shut them in at night to protect them from predators.
- They make a mess of your wildlife pond and eat your frogs (which were themselves keeping down the slugs)
Some people find it works fine to have ducks free ranging in their garden, perhaps temporarily fencing off vulnerable plants. Depending on the breed, ducks can often be deterred by a low temporary fence or by growing vegetables in raised beds. Distraction can also be effective; Darius Namdaran of Park road Permaculture Project finds his ducks much preferred munching on a bed of chamomile than on his vegetables. Other people only allow their ducks access to the vegetable garden, for a limited time, or while supervised.
This is an important question, some breeds of duck have more of a taste for slugs (and less of a taste for vegetables) that others. On that basis the most recommended breeds are the Indian Runner and the Khaki Campbell. Some sources suggest that the Indian Runner is a better forager and that the Khaki Campbell will make more of a mess in the pond and the garden, however those I have spoken to who keep both breeds find little to choose between them. Both breeds are good egg layers, though the Khaki Campbell is more prolific. One final consideration is that, while both breeds generally do not fly, Khaki Campbells more often prove an exception to this rule and are more likely to get into the habit of fluttering over low fences.
Another option is the Call duck, they will produce fewer eggs, and may not eat so many slugs but they are a small duck, can work well in a small garden and can even be compatible with a wildlife pond, if it is fairly large. At Garden Cottage, a permaculture project in Coldstream, Call ducks free range in the forest garden with a wildlife pond.
Training your Ducks
Ducks are creatures of habit and can be trained. If you want them to slug hunting machines get them started early:
1. Feed them slugs and snails as treats (cracking the snail shells at first so they can eat them, once they are adults they will swallow the snails whole).
2. Make a distinctive noise when ever you give them a treat, they will learn to associate this noise with food (see the video below)
3. Take them out in the garden with you and show them where to look for slugs and snails. Make their food noise whenever you find one and they will come running!
You can find an excellent and detailed blog article here on how to raise and train runner ducks.
My ducks come running to get slugs when they hear their special food noise
I’m sold! How do I get started?
As with keeping any animal do your research first, start by having a look at our keeping ducks section here. From there you will find links to other resources. Visit some duck keepers if you can so you can get an idea of the different set ups people use. You don’t need a pond, just a large enough container for your ducks to splash around in e.g. a baby bath or paddling pool.
You can buy your ducks as fertile ducks eggs ducklings or adult ducks. In some cases it can be hard to find your chosen breed, there are few Indian Runner ducks available in Scotland for example. In this case your only option may be to incubate and hatch out fertile eggs, with a bit of research this is not difficult to do.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Phil Christopher August 22nd, 2017
A great article! Indian Runner ducks are lovely birds and definitely good slug and snail control.
2Andrew Rollinson August 28th, 2017
Thank you Lesley,
I have thought about gettng ducks before. Would you explain whether you need to take special measures to keep them fenced in? Do you need to clip their wings, and don’t all species of ducks have an instinct to migrate?
3Lesley Anderson August 29th, 2017
Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment. Not all species of duck have the instinct to migrate and your domestic duck certainly won’t. The only breeds of duck that can truly fly, as far as I am aware, are Calls; the Muscovies and East Indies. I know Calls at least will not fly away if their needs are met, in which case you only need to clip their wings if you wish to keep them with in a pen. Campbells and Runners will sometimes manage to flutter over a fence, particularly when startled. In my experience my Runners are far less adept at this than my chickens were and a 60cm fence is high enough to keep them out of my veggies. Hope that answers your question!
4Trent farrell October 27th, 2018
Take it from a farmer.if you have a large acreage ducks can be a good poultry to raise.if they are left to free range on anything under 2 acres they will sooner or later gravitate to the house because that’s where the humans are and humans usually mean food.that means duck manure everywhere.on the patio on the the stairs to the kitchen the sidewalks.then it gets tracked in the house.by the dog,the kids it gets on clothing in your cats fur.you get the idea.and if you’re keeping them in their own pen and letting them out during the day,you will have rats.thats right.big Norway rats that will make their way into your house sooner or later.poultry is a messy and stinking business if you are not practising good husbandry.do your homework.
5Lesley Anderson October 28th, 2018
Hi Trent, thanks for your comment. I agree that folk need to do their research and know what they are getting into before keeping any sort of livestock. As the article mentions, duck poo is a slimy mess and they leave it everywhere! This is definitely one of the downsides of duck keeping. I don’t agree, however, that it is only possible to raise ducks on a large acreage. It is important to keep a flock size appropriate to the size of your garden of course, but many people do so successfully (including me). Unless people are going to hose down the area outside their back door every day, it can be a good idea to have some sort of barrier preventing them coming right up to the house. Rats can be an issue with any sort of poultry, using feeders, clearing up excess feed and not having the sort of housing which provides the perfect space for rat lodgings underneath can help.