(Originally published September 19, 2013)
You’re invited for duck dinner…4 months to 1 year from now, that is, after my new baby ducks have grown large enough to hopefully handle my garden pest problem and provided several months worth of omelettes. Whaat? Did I move to Kansas? No, I am still here in Las Vegas, and yes, I really did just buy six baby ducklings.
I just received a shipment of baby ducklings I ordered, shipped, live, via postal mail, from a hatchery in California.
Here they are!
The kids were instantly in love. Even with all my warnings before purchasing and bringing them home, that these animals were going to serve several important purposes that did not involve becoming pets and that would eventually involve death, once they saw the cute critters, they instantly were out to figure out how to save their lives.
I squashed that quickly by threatening to not let them play with the ducklings at all if they lost track of the fact that they were not purchased as pets.
So what gives? If I didn’t buy them for pets, why in the world, in sub-urban Las Vegas, would I buy six ducklings?
For several reasons:
First, I have a pest problem in my small home garden: namely, SQUASH BUGS
This beautiful pumpkin is just one of many examples of beautiful plants that might have lived and borne me good fruit if it was not for these evil critters. I have tried almost everything. Every brand of organic and inorganic remedies to kill squash bugs, plus every random online tip I could find, such as using a lighter to fry bug eggs on the leaves (nasty pop-pop as the eggs fry) to attempting to use duct tape to remove the eggs from the leaves directly (whomever came up with this one must have had extra strength duct tape – this was ineffective for me).
Then, one of my friends posted a picture of her pet duck. I had considered chickens as a potential pest-eater, but many online bloggers already had posted that chickens like squash bugs just about as much as I do. I quickly messaged my friend about her ducks’ squash bug eating abilities and was given the promising news that yes, her duck does eat the things. Hooray!
Several weeks of Google-style research later, I have learned about MANY different type of duck breeds, the benefits of their eggs (did you know some people who are allergic to chicken eggs CAN eat duck eggs?), and my husband began smacking his lips in anticipation of a roasted duck dinner. I was sold.
So here we are now, duck (farmers? ranchers?)
The plan is to see if these ducklings live to adulthood. There are many pitfalls that they will face. Starting with our inexperience, the potential “cold” of Las Vegas winters and definite heat of Las Vegas summers, how hungry my husband gets as they get bigger and plump up, and how noisy they get (too much noise and I’ll be suggesting it’s duck-dinner time, myself).
I am also going to use this opportunity to further my children’s understanding of economics and return on investment. We are going to keep track of how much the ducks cost. We will do market research and quantify how much a duck egg is worth as well as a full duck carcass (ie – duck dinner). We are also going to look into selling duck feathers for fan-making to some local artisans. My daughter is already excited about the prospect of earning her own money.
My daughters must have reconciled themselves to the fact that this batch of ducks are not pets and will face the chopping block in some vague and as-yet distant future, because they are already trying to place orders for what I should buy for the next, replacement batch. They want me to buy a 3 male ducks and 3 female ducks next time, so we can have our own duck babies. “Whoa!” I said. “Let’s see if any survive, before we start planning out future generations.” (I also started to try to explain that really, for 5 female ducks you only really need 1 male duck — then dropped the subject before I had to try to explain to a 5 and 7 year old that ducks don’t “pair up” like humans do).
If any survive, it will be the breed that is best suited for our Las Vegas climate, is also a good bug-eater, good egg bearer, and relatively quiet (compared to my neighbors’ dogs).
Ducks in Las Vegas. What will us Las Vegan’s do, next?
————– Update on Raising Ducks in Las Vegas – November 10, 2013 ————–
Well, raising ducks is definitely an adventure. It has made me popular for play dates. Apparently being a “duck whisperer” or “duck wrangler” is fun for children who enjoy pitting themselves against the creatures. The ducks don’t appear to be the worse for wear, and (almost) anything that encourages the kids to be out of doors and interacting with nature and wildlife I consider a good thing.
All three types of ducks I purchased appear to be doing well so far. Cayuga, Black Swedish, and Buff. In the picture, the Cayuga is the all black (some feathers have a greenish sheen) the Black Sweedish is the black and white (the prettiest) and the Buff are the yellow colored ducks.
We are buying duck food at Jones Feed & Market near Jones and Lone Mountain. We are partially through a 2nd 50lb bag at this point, plus I had bought a couple smaller bags of starter food when they were little.
At this point, you may wonder how my duck experiment is working out so far.
Q: Did they take care of my bug problem
A: No. They are as bad as the bugs – they have eaten all the leaves off of any soft/tender plant they can find. Technically, there were bugs on the leaves, but…. Definitely a failure in this regard.
Q: Are they quiet?
A: Yes, very. Until the kids start chasing them. Even then, with the back door closed I can hardly hear them.
Q: How many eggs do they lay?
A: None, yet. I have been advised by Jones Market staff it will probably be at least another month or two.
So I am sad – I have put up with a lot of duck “fertilizer” being dumped all over my back yard, and the ducks did not eat the bugs like I was hoping. Maybe if I had more time to personally be at home and train them, it could have worked. Right now, the ducks are being kept alive to see who makes the best/most eggs. Then 4 will become dinner. Stay tuned…