Saturday, September 19, 2009

Integrated Rice/Duck Farming Part I

We spent the last couple months raising ducks in our rice fields, which is an odd thing to do around here, as ducks are widely considered to be pests in rice fields. Wild ducks eat the seeds of newly planted rice and tramp the seedlings into the mud. This creates open patches of water, which draw more ducks, and pretty soon you have a big problem. So what were we thinking?

Well, several years ago I was turned on to the idea of integrating ducks into rice farming by a unique book called, "The Power of Duck" by Takao Furuno. Mr. Furuno is a rice farmer in Japan who had been struggling with his fight against weeds in his organic fields. Recognizing his problem as an opportunity, he started thinking of the weeds, bugs and snails in his fields as duck food, turning his problems into tasty duck meat.

The key to his system is releasing small ducklings into the paddy fields at the right time. Ducklings do not harm young rice plants as adult ducks would, but they do eat weeds and bugs. They also help fertilize the rice. Once the grains start to form on the rice, he harvests the ducks for meat. This is critical, as the ducks have now become large, and love to eat the developing grains of rice.

This idea is a very elegant agro-ecological production system. It has been something of a boon to small rice farmers in Asia, who used to toil many hours weeding their rice by hand. The system has also been extended to include small fish raised concurrently with the rice and ducks.

I've been wanting to try this system ever since I first read the book, but never seemed to have the time to do it. This year presented an opportunity, and we finally just decided to go for it on an experimental basis. We ordered 120 pekin ducks, which are the standard large, white meat duck that most people are used to. We chose pekins more for this reason than for any other characteristics of the breed, such as foragaing ability.

This post to be continued...