THE GOOD LIFE
How to keep ducks and hens
Nothing says ‘living the good life’ quite like popping into the garden to collect fresh eggs for breakfast. Whether you’ve got a small patch of grass or live on a large plot, there’s a perfect feathered friend for you.
Even a modest-sized garden can be home to a few hens. Bantams are smaller than standard-sized species and want less space – they lay sweet little eggs, too, which need a special-sized egg cup. Keep just two or three in a mobile run that you can move about the garden so they can enjoy fresh patches of grass. Larger areas will accommodate bigger hens, including breeds such as Orpingtons and Wyandottes, which are particularly good for back gardens, as their docile nature makes them a little less likely to strip it bare (you will still need to protect plants you don’t want eaten). All hens need a hen house where they can be shut in at night and kept safe from predators, as well as a secure run if you’re not there to watch them.
A pond isn’t essential if you want to keep these birds – domestic types spend more time on land and can make do with a tub of water – but they will be happier with a bigger pool to paddle in. As with hens, you will need a house and secure run for them. Ducks can be a gardener’s friend – hoovering up slugs and snails as they roam, but they can nibble and trample plants as they forage, too. Keep them well fed and you should limit the damage. Call ducks are ideal for both beginners and gardens. They are small, come in a variety of colours and breeds, and won’t ruin the garden. Ducks generally lay
fewer eggs than hens, but the rich golden yolks make the most delicious cakes.
As geese eat a lot of grass, a large garden or paddock will be needed to accommodate them – at least a quarter of an acre for a pair. Like domestic ducks, they only spend ten per cent of their time on the water, but they will thank you for a good-sized pond. They are renowned for their Neighbourhood Watch skills – a gaggle of geese is better than any burglar alarm. Despite this, if you handle them while young, they can be perfectly friendly and are often very inquisitive, waddling over to check out what you’re doing in the garden. Beginners should start with smaller, easier-to-handle breeds such as Pilgrim or Roman. However loud the goose alarm, they still need protection from foxes, badgers and other predators with a secure house and run. They will provide you with fewer eggs than hens or ducks but, as many geese live for at least 20 years, there’s more longevity in the supply.
Beginners should stick to the female of the species, whether it’s hens, ducks or geese, so you won’t need to worry about breeding – or the noisy wake-up calls