The World’s Loudest Runner Duck

Brah-brah. Quite possibly the world’s most annoying Chocolate Runner Duck. Summer, 2022.

Poultry Keeping: Lots of Options, Lots of Noise

We have raised ducks and chickens for many, many years. If you keep backyard poultry, you’ll know they are not silent. Chickens ba-gawk when laying eggs (or waiting in line for the favorite nest box they all want to lay in). Cockerels crow at all hours. Even older hens in a flock with no roos may sometimes start crowing.

Ducks quack. Drakes peep a quiet little hoarse call (which is why we’ve historically kept drakes to guard a flock, instead of roos). Some breeds of ducks quack more than others, though. For example, the adorable little breed known as the Call Duck lives up to its name, with females (hens) prone to loud and frequent vocalizations.

Blue Swedish Drake, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

We have kept four breeds over the years: Indian Runners, Khaki Campbells, Blue Swedish, and Welsh Harlequin. All of these domestic duck breeds are descended from the wild mallard, but each have unique characteristics. Khaki Campbells laid prolifically, but were skittish around the kids, and overall more high-strung. Blue Swedish were beautiful, but heavy-bodied (better for meat than eggs, I suppose) and need a pond to cool off and for mating Welsh Harlequins are, in my opinion, the most beautiful duck breed, but also heavy-bodied and less heat-tolerant (they do lay lots of large eggs).

Welsh Harlequin hen, courtesy McMurray Hatchery. If you are interested in raising heritage breed ducks, check out their catalog.

Indian Runners: The Ideal Duck for Small Gardens?

Three of our runners ducks, ages 10, 11, and 10. As ducks age, they get more and more white feathers.

The breed we keep coming back to, over and over again is the Indian Runner Duck. This upright, light-bodied breed doesn’t need a pond (although we do give them a clawfoot bathtub pond). Runner hens can lay 300 eggs a year, and each duck egg is about 1.5x the size of a chicken egg.

Runners are delightfully entertaining, playful, and quirky. Their small size can make them ideal for smaller spaces. The fact that they can get by quite happily without a pond also adds to their suitability in that regard. And ducks don’t scratch, like chickens, making them easier to incorporate into urban gardens. Overall, I’ve been incredibly happy keeping runner ducks on our 1/4 acre property.

That was, until I acquired Brah-brah.

Yes, We’re Flight of the Conchords Fans

My kids have always picked the names of our poultry. (This is how my favorite Brahma hen ended up with the name John Cena.) At the moment, they’re really into the early 2000’s New Zealand comedy duo: Flight of the Conchords, so this year’s batch of birds got named things like, “Leggy Blonde” and “You’re a Legend, Dave.”

The two chocolate runners we picked out this year got named “Barbara” and “Brah-brah” after an episode in the show where Bret and Jemaine both fall of a woman and Jemaine thinks she’s named Barbara, and Bret thinks she’s named Brah-brah.

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Apparently Flight of the Conchords is have a renaissance on social media, so my teens are super into it now and finally believe me that it’s hilarious.

Holy Heck, Girlfriend, WHY ARE YOU SO LOUD?

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The ducklings started out so darn cute. Here, you can hear the happy low-tone rapid-fire “mep-mep, mep-mep” that runner ducks make when they’re happy.

All ducks quack. Runner ducks tend to emit a descending,”Quack QUACK quack, quack…quack….quack,” when they’re alarmed or demanding something, with the emphasis on the second quack, and a string of fading quacks after. You can’t own ducks and expect them to make no noise.

Ducks quack when they are scared, when they’re hungry, when they hear you open the back door and they really excited that you might be coming to visit them. If you can’t handle some quacking, don’t get ducks.

But Brah-brah is on a whole other level. This girl calls exponentially more often, and SO MUCH LOUDER than any of the many, many ducks we have had in the past. I tell her at least once a day she’s got to mellow out, or she’s going to end up in the soup pot because I don’t want her bugging the neighbors with her incessant quacking.

When I Said She Was Loud, I Wasn’t Joking

Why am I inserting a video about summer squash (below) into a post about ducks? I cannot think of a better example of what Brah-brah sounds like several times a day, than her performance in the first 15 seconds of this video. If you want to know what you’re getting into with a duck like her, watch the first little bit:

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Brah-brah makes herself known right at the start of this video. If you want to hear how loud an obnoxious runner duck can be, watch the first 15 seconds.

See? She’s a menace. Her sister Barbara isn’t like this. The older ducks hardly quack any more at all. Her quacking startles the turkeys and is out of character with the tone of the rest of the flock, who are all fairly chill.

So, what should I do with this lady? She’s started laying eggs, she eats slugs like a boss, and is earning her keep. But I have neighbors to think about, and doggone, she’s annoying. Will she settle down as she moves out of the teenager-phase, and into adulthood? Probably, since ducks tend to mellow with age and quack less the older the get. The question is, am I going to put up with her that long in order to find out if she quiets down eventually?

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Diversifying Our Berry Harvests with Mulberries

Illinois Everbearing Mulberry Fruit

A Hard Year For Fruit Growers

2022 thus far has proven to be a difficult year for fruit growers in my part of of the world. Coming out of multiple years of drought, we started off the year with record cold snaps. We had a freak 3 inches of snow after our last frost date. In fact, the snow hit so late that stone fruit were already blooming in the Pacific Northwest. Frozen blossoms are nothing short of a disaster for orchardists. Many gardeners liked me had to face the harsh reality of a year with no cherries, no peaches, and few plums. Even early apples and breba figs yields have been hit.

On top of the freeze, a cold rainy spring kept pollinators hunkered down. And heavy rains created unusually high fungal pressure. Blueberry crops have disappointed many, since they bloomed while temperatures were too cool or the weather too rainy for bees to be out foraging. Decade-old raspberry patches have root rot for the first time ever. Even my blackcap raspberries – a reliable crop with consistently large yields – had poor pollination.

A Resilient Berry in Hard Times

While the weather has absolutely crushed many harvests in my garden this year, all is not lost. In fact, one of the reason I grow a huge diversity of fruits is so that if one – or 6 – crops fail, I have many others that are likely to produce well for me. Building diversity into our systems increases our resilience. And one such insurance policy that has yielded fantastically for me over the years it the mulberry.

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Mulberries (Morus rubra, Morus alba, or Morus alba x rubra), are a genus of trees known for their production of deep reddish-purple fruits that are reminiscient of blackberries (Rubus genus). (White mulberries are, obviously, white or pale pink). The fruit is delightfully sweet, and lacks the acidity of blackberries.

These beautiful trees produce profusely, with berries ripening over several weeks to months. This results in a reliable daily harvest for long periods of time. I pick for a f ew minutes daily, and quickly fill multiple gallon containers in the freezer, with lots leftover for fresh eating each day. In July, dessert in the evening often looks like a handful of mulberries straight off the tree.

(Note, unlike blackberries and raspberries, the stem of the mulberry runs the whole length of the inside of the fruit. It’s totally edible! You can eat it, or not. Your choice, but the fruit is melded to the stem at its core and the stem cannot be removed.)

For me, growing mulberries has been a critically important part of our resilient design. When other berries fail, no matter the weird weather, my 3 mulberry trees produce reliably. There is plenty to share with wildlife (and my poultry – ducks love mulberries). When we build diversity into our permaculture systems, we create insurance policies for ourselves. My mulberries are my berry insurance policy: when more fiddly and delicate fruits fail, I can count on mulberries to give me a yield.

The author’s 13 year-old Illinois Everbearing Mulberry. The tree is pollarded to keep it small. One of three varieties of mulberry at Parkrose Permaculture.

Tips for Growing Mulberries

  • In my temperate climate, both red (M. rubra) and white (M. alba) grow well, but in many places white mulberries are an invasive species, spreading vigorously and displacing native trees and shrubs. Check before you plant, or consider only red mulberry species.
  • Fruit size, color and quality vary considerably across varieties, but all are sweet and good eating. My Contorted Mulberry produces rather small fruit in moderate quantities, but my Illinois Everbearing is a workhorse: cranking out huge quantities of good-sized fruit for weeks on end. The Pakistani mulberry produces elongated fruits prized for their unusual length, but can be a bit less cold tolerant, so I chose not to grow it here.
  • Consider that birds will love your mulberries, too. I count on 20% of my harvest going to wildlife and plan accordingly when it comes to pruning.
  • More cold hardy varieties can be grown in zones 5 and 6-8, with less tolerant varieties 7-9 (In cold snaps, the trees can get die-back, particularly in areas pruned during the previous year.)
  • Trees range from 6-20 meters (20-60+ft) at maturity, depending on species and variety. Choose carefully I don’t care what the catalogs tell you, mulberries are fast-growing, vigorous trees, and mine needs diligent pruning (pollarding) to keep it an appropriate size for my garden (see video above for more info).
  • Mulberries like a sunny spot, and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Once established, they are extremely drought tolerant. I never water my mulberry trees.
Stocking the freezer (note the stems, which run through the core of the berry. In smoothies, no one can tell they were ever there.)

Site-Specific Design

One of the beautiful things about permaculture design is that it is site-specific. This means you tailor your design to your needs, your yard, your community. Mulberries are not the right choice for every garden design. As I mentioned earlier, the trees can get quite large. If I were not committed to yearly pollarding, Illinois Everybearing would not have been an appropriate tree for my yard.

Mulberry juice stains. Everything. Hands, clothes, concrete, roof tiles. When deciding if this tree is right for your design, plan accordingly. Don’t plant over a driveway, for instance. I pick berries wearing dark-colored clothes so they aren’t ruined by any falling fruit or the juice that gets all over my hands.

In permaculture we design with stacking functions in mind. This concept means we try to have every element in our garden do as many “jobs” as possible. We looke for the connections in different elements in our system to increase resilience. In order to address the issue of stainy, fallen fruit, prevent fruit flies, and keep the area under the tree tidier, I planted my largest mulberry in my poultry run. Ducks and chickens relish mulberry fruit and quickly clean up every fruit that hits the ground. So my mulberry tree feeds not only our family, but also provides weeks of snacks for the poultry with zero effort on my part. And it stacks another function in nicely: The birds enjoy the shade the tree provides as it effectively cools the chicken run in summer.

When planning your permaculture system or homestead, perhaps a mulberry might be a tree worth planting. Understanding the pluses and minuses of this tree, how would it work into your design to increase your food security when other crops might fail? Consider the mulberry, a tree that has served our family well and is a crucial component of my resilient garden design.