I read the article on chickens and natural bug control (February/March 2003), and thought I would drop you a note about my ducks.
I have three horses boarded on 6 acres here in Kentucky. For years I had a terrible problem with face flies, deer flies and ticks. We even had the 2-inch-long "horse flies" in huge numbers; one year, I swatted 15 during an hour-long riding lesson. The bites are terribly painful, and the horses go crazy trying to get away from these bloodthirsty pests.
Then, someone gave me six Muscovy ducks. They did very well the first summer, but that winter coyotes got all but one nesting female. She hatched out 16 ducklings, and the fun began.
Those little ducklings were hungry all the time. They would hang out in the horse stalls, snapping up every fly they could catch. You've heard the saying, "Like a duck on a June bug," haven't you? It's an amazing sight to see: little bitty ducklings hunting bugs like cats after mice. These little guys would position themselves in all the places the flies would lay their eggs, and feast on the incoming flies. They made a good-sized dent in the bug population; I haven't had a tick on me since that year, and I'm a tick magnet.
We kept a closer eye on this generation, so we didn't lose any over the winter. It included eight females, who hatched out from 12 to 20 ducklings each the following spring. The coyotes and the cats kept busy, but the females didn't give up. As a batch of ducklings hatched, they all crowded together, not really caring which hen they followed. My females would take up in pairs, two "moms" for about 20 ducklings, then the rest would start laying again. The last batch hatched in August.
We have a small pond, so the ducks never stray very far. However, the pasture borders on a subdivision. I've gone out to feed many an afternoon to see ducks all over the neighborhood. When I start to feed the horses, the ducks will start to fly in, or I will call them with a bell. Usually they are already waiting, as feeding time is 4 p.m. For some reason, my neighbors don't mind the ducks at all, and will come over to chat with me about what kind of mischief they've been up to.
Three things that I didn't know earlier about Muscovy ducks: They are strong fliers, they like to perch on houses, gates, trees, fences and barn roofs, and they are really quite tame.
Also, we have had the West Nile Virus break out in the horse population here; I was fortunate to have my ducks on mosquito patrol until I could get my horses vaccinated.