The Duck Tractor Experiment-
An Eggs and Soil Enrichment Project
Years ago while day dreaming in some city apartment about future homestead projects, I had what I thought was a
brilliant idea.  I envisioned a fenced garden divided in sections by cross fencing.  In the middle of the cross fencing
was a hen house with doors that allowed the chickens into each section of the garden depending on which door was
open.  

The idea was to let chickens into a section of the garden that was not in production so that they could forage,
scratch, cultivate, and fertilize the soil to prepare that section for the next planting.  This idea was in the plan for
Boggybottom and it was moving towards the top of my project list when I read a book titled, "The Omnivore's Delima"
by Michael Pollen.  In the book was a section on an organic farm, (Polyface Farm) that used "chicken tractors" to
raise "grazed" chickens and enrich the soil.  It seemed to me that the same idea could be done with ducks.

It struck me that this idea had several advantages over my divided garden plans in that a movable poultry coop was
able to concentrate the efforts of fewer chickens to a confined space that could be placed right where it was needed.
After the first 2 or 3 years of production in our original garden patch, our yield began to fail.  Although we had been
applying 10-10-10 fertilizer and adding green manure, the soil was being depleted of something the vegetables
needed.  I had been wanting to get to an organic balance and away from synthetic fertilizers, but it seemed to be
taking forever and opportunities for obtaining animal manure all involved time and labor, both of which I was devoting
to my career and building a house, and to maintaining the cleared acres to prevent the jungle from reclaiming them

However, after I retired and could devote more time and effort to the task. I decided that Boggybottom needed some
live critters to supply the needed manure to revive the soil.  After a small amount of research I learned that the most
potent manures came from birds, which also coincidentally were the easiest to obtain and manage.   I had raised
some ducks and chickens some years ago and knew they required little care in comparison to goats, cattle, or
horses, and ducks were easier to control.  

We chose ducks because in my previous experience they are more fun to watch and their disposition is gentler, plus
they can be herded from place to place, so if they get out of confinement, they can be more easily returned.
New Ducks
The Duck Tractor
So, in the early spring of 2008 we ordered 6
Indian Runner hens and 1 drake and 3 Khaki
Cambell hens.  We figured to start small and see
how things went.   

I began to design and build a smaller version of
the chicken tractor featured in Pollen's book.
I knew that moving the tractor every day was
going to be a challenge so I added wheels and
divided the structure in 2 pieces, the cage/run,
and the house.  

I would herd the ducks into the house each
sundown and close the door.  Then I would move
the cage to it's next location and then move the
house to mate up to the run, open the doors, and
viola!  A new 5' X 8' patch of ground for the ducks
to forage and fertilize.  That was the plan and we
did it that way for about 8 months.
Duck Tractor in 2 pieces
The duck tractor was a limited success in that each placement of the tractor resulted in a 5' X 8' patch of heavily
worn ground with coating of duck manure, but moving the tractor every morning and feeding and watering the
ducks was a time consuming process, and the ducks did not seem to be happy with the situation, ( I have no idea
how we could tell whether they were happy or not, it was just a gut feeling).  In addition,  we discovered while
raising the young ducklings in a brood box that the ducks didn't care for the darkness.  

One night after we had the ducks for a few days we turned off the light that was over the box and were amazed at
the squeaking and quacking the little guys used to register their complaint about the darkness.  We quickly turned
the light back on. The result of this experience has been that the ducks have always had a 14 watt miniature
florescent bulb shedding light in their shelter at night.   Providing the light as the tractor was moved around
required longer and longer extension cords to supply electricity to the light.   As the ducks grew we added a
second, larger, (8' X 12') tractor which was even more difficult to move. After 8 months of moving the tractors
around we decided to build a more permanent facility for the ducks.  We built a larger run and covered the ground
in the run and cage with hay to capture the manure produced.  We now collect the contaminated hay every few
weeks and replace it with fresh hay.  The contaminated hay is then composted for use in the garden as mulch and
soil builder.  
The easiest way to use the ducks to fertilize an area is pictured at the bottom of this page.

DUCK EGGS- Indian Runners and Khaki Cambells are heavy layers and we soon had a surplus of eggs, far more
than we could eat .  Now we had the problem of finding people who would eat duck eggs, (which taste almost
exactly like chicken eggs),  We discovered that most people are hesitant to try them because they have heard
somewhere that duck eggs have a strong taste. The taste of eggs depend on what the bird has been eating.  If
their diet contains a lot of fish or strong tasting herbs the eggs will have a strong taste.  Our ducks and chickens
are fed a diet of laying pellets, cabbage, apples, greens, and grain, so the yolks are large, deep yellow and have a
very nice flavor, in fact, we prefer them over chicken eggs.  We give them no antibiotics or hormones.
New ducklings in the brooder box.  The box is made from a Wally World plastic bin with a ventilation hole cut
in the top.  The light is a spring clip light with a 90 watt bulb to provide heat.  Young ducks need to be kept warm,
so there is also a heating pad beneath the box.  The bottom was lined with old news paper which had to be
changed each day.  Later we used a raised floor made of 1/8" hardware cloth so the ducks would not stand in
their own waste.  This meant we could collect their manure by placing the ducks in a different box while we
washed the manure out of the box and into the compost pile.  The ducks grew quickly so we had to keep getting
larger boxes until the weather warmed up and the ducks got their full feathers to keep them warm. We could then
move them to the duck tractor.
Return
We have found that the ducks do very well when allowed to forage freely.  They are easily herded into the pen
when we need to contain them, and they return there quickly when they see me carrying a food container.  I
wouldn't recommend this free ranging approach unless the area is fenced to prevent straying too far and to
reduce the chance of loss to predators, wild or domestic.
Farm Notes