“Amy Winehouse” gave birth to three baby girls on June 14 — no, not the late singer who blazed like a comet until 10 years ago when she died tragically young, it’s her namesake. This Amy Winehouse is a member of Cameron Ezzy’s group, Slugsnbugs for lunch, who we watched perform two weeks ago in a lush Qualicum Beach garden.
These fetching birds, led by “Aretha Franklin,” tour gardens and properties around the mid-Island, bringing smiles and joy to homeowners as the flock scours their gardens feasting on slugs, wood (or pill) bugs and other tasty (to them) morsels. So captivating are these beauties, they are now in demand for backyard parties and were even hired to perform at a recent celebration of life.
Okay, we’re talking ducks. But they’re special ducks, highly trained ducks. And, their quiet, calm presence is oddly soothing.
An idea hatches
Living on a rural property near Courtenay, BC prone to flooding provided the inspiration for this eco-friendly garden and agricultural service. The resident chickens did not fare well during flood season, and Cam wondered if ducks might be a better alternative form of pest control in the garden while still offering nourishing eggs.
A spin around the internet confirmed his hunch, and soon he was immersed in detailed instructions for raising ducks in backyard gardens.
Not just any ducks though. Cam’s research revealed that two breeds, the Welsh Harlequin and the Khaki Campbell, are particularly well suited for this purpose.
Welsh Harlequin ducks are known to be inquisitive, friendly, gentle and calm. Their elegant, cream coloured plumage is accented with fawn coloured “lace.” The female has a striking navy-blue bar on each wing. Khaki Campbell ducks, descended from Mallard ducks, were bred in the United Kingdom in 1898 by Adele Campbell, and so named because their colouring reminded her of British army uniforms. Both breeds are prolific producers of eggs.
Ducks are well adapted for this job, says Cam. “They don’t tear apart garden soil and mulch or plants the way that chickens do. They sift through the soil.” The duck’s broad shovel-shaped bill turns over the top layer of soil, gently aerating it, as the duck searches for slugs. “Ducks can feel slugs with their bills, even if the slug is hiding in the soil,” he says. Another benefit is that ducks prefer insects and slugs to plants. Ducks generally do not eat plants unless bugs are scarce, however young seedlings and lettuce leaves less than four inches in height (a duck delicacy) should be protected.
Cam Ezzy’s initial flock of Welsh Harlequin and Khaki Campbell ducks came from Holiday Hill poultry farm in nearby Fanny Bay. In July 2020, Cam came home with a half-dozen days-old ducklings, three of each breed. Then he embarked on a 100-day training program with his young charges. As they grew, Cam would take the youngsters out for a stroll for an hour or two every day. He collected and fed the ducklings tiny slugs. Once they became accustomed to the diet, he showed them where to find slugs, and the little ducks were off to the races, almost.
Cam first needed to teach the ducks to be herded so that they could be easily directed to specific areas of the garden for slug patrol duty. Earning the ducks’ trust is the key element of success in working with backyard ducks, says Cam. The other two most important things are water and the pecking order.
Ducks must have drinking water deep enough to submerge their bill past their eyes to physically keep them clean and to wash down their food. They just can’t drink from a shallow water bowl like chickens do. So if ducks are eating pests (like sticky slugs) in a part of the garden that has no water nearby they must regularly leave the area to get water, or have water provided to them. As with all domesticated ducks, ducklings should not be exposed to swimming water until they are at least a month or so old. Ducklings this young do not have the natural body oils that allow them to dry quickly and protect them from getting chilled.
“Ducks are hierarchical,” Cam says. One of the first things he observed soon after the ducklings settled into their new home was that one of the downy creatures claimed the water bucket and kept the other ducklings from it until she, obviously a diva, was finished her ablutions. “That’s how I knew that “Aretha Franklin” would be this flock’s Top Duck,” Cam says. “Whatever she does, the others will follow.” And so they did.
Using a long stick to guide Aretha, Cam was soon able to keep the herd together and to direct them from different areas of the garden and back to their water buckets after feasting on slugs and bugs. “It got so easy, I was able to do 360s with them!”
The members of the Slugsnbugs for lunch group, in descending pecking order after Aretha are: Rosie Ezzy (named for Cam’s mother “I get my crazy stuff from my mom,” says Cam), Jaco Pastorius (the only drake, named for the jazz bassist), Amy Winehouse, Willow (named at the request of a neighbour’s little girl), D’arcy Wretzky (Smashing Pumpkins), Janis Joplin and Pink.
A business takes flight
Cam noticed that whenever he walked the group of ducks in the drainage ditches alongside their rural road, cars would slow down so people could get a better look at the ducks. Some motorists even stopped and shut off their engines, he says, just to watch the ducks as they meandered along the grassy, damp terrain under Cam’s guidance. “Even the school bus began stopping so the kids could watch the ducks,” says Cam.
Cam says he knew he had something here, that people of all ages liked being around these ducks. He says the experience “changes people’s days, changes their moods. It does something to you.” One of Cam’s missions is to help build community. One day, a couple on a nearby property asked if he would be willing to bring the ducks over to their acreage to clear their garden of a slug infestation. Cam and his 11-year-old daughter Katelyn transported the flock to the neighbour’s garden. There, the ducks quietly noodled their way along the garden, cleaning up the slugs and wood bugs to the delight of the neighbours. Cam’s eco-friendly agriculture business, Slugsnbugs for lunch, was born.
Cam now offers his services here in Qualicum Beach as well as throughout the Comox Valley. One happy customer says “…the ducks came by yesterday morning and completely cleaned the slugs out of my garden, big or small, they ate them all. This is a fantastic service! I don’t want to use any kind of chemical pesticide solution around the food we grow to eat. I also don’t want to release anything harmful into the environment. Slugsnbugs for lunch is the perfect solution! The ducks don’t bother the plants, only the slugs and bugs and they leave a little fertilizer behind as well! I highly recommend them!”
Donna Balzer, a renowned horticulturalist and author who makes her home in Qualicum Beach, sings the praises of Cam’s slug patrol service in her garden. After several test runs, Donna says “ducks seem less destructive than chickens” in the garden.
One very pleasant but completely unexpected off-shoot of the slug patrol business, was receiving bookings for Aretha and her group to appear at social gatherings. “We’ve appeared at several birthday parties, so far all for adults, and even a celebration of life,” says Cam. Delicious and nutritious duck eggs are also available to customers.
Cam is hoping to extend his eco-friendly alternative agricultural service to local farms, market gardens, and vineyards, as well as home gardens, especially during the winter and early spring when slug eggs appear. Planning for that, Cam would like to increase the flock to about 200 ducks.
He’s on his way. Cam’s flock of ducks now numbers eleven, one male (drake) and 10 females (hens) a recommended ratio for backyard ducks. Amy Winehouse’s three baby ducks, born on June 14 and named (in pecking order), Stevie Nicks, Princess Diana and Madonna, are now in training.
Fancy a visit from the duck slug patrol to your garden? Contact Cameron Ezzy of Slugsnbugs for lunch to book a garden visit at: Tel. 250-792-5605 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Slugsnbugs-for-lunch-104372348258919/ or Instagram: slugsnbugscanada