THE GOOD LIFE

How to keep ducks and hens

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

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.

HENS

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.

DUCKS

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.

GEESE

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

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