Animal IQ

Hundreds of Ducks Are Employees at a Vineyard

How would you react if you saw a herd of ducks several-hundred strong running in formation through a vineyard? You might wonder whether you've had too much wine, but at the Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, that's a daily and surprisingly orderly occurrence. The ducks even manage to stick to the gravel path that paves the way. While that might sound unusual, putting ducks to work actually has quite a long history, both at the vineyard and around the world.

Perfectly Suited to Pick Pests

At 9:45 every morning at the Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, workers release a giant herd of ducks. Over one thousand Indian Runner ducks are employed at the vineyard, five hours a day and five days a week. Their job is simple: keep the grapevines free of pests. These ducks are released en masse, running across the vineyard's grounds in formation "like they've worked on the choreography beforehand," as NPR puts it. With bodies and beaks all in the same direction, the ducks even manage to turn and disperse at the same time, which isn't as surprising when you consider that the estate has had runner ducks for 30 years.

The birds have a unique body type that makes them ideal candidates for de-bugging the vineyard's 140 acres of vines. Sometimes described as a bowling pin with legs, these 20-30 inch (51–76 centimeter) tall birds stand upright with a posture similar to a penguin. But these ducks don't waddle. As their namesake suggests, they do, in fact, run! They're perfect for vineyard and farming tasks because they are tall enough to grab slugs and snails from higher on the plants, and they're skinny enough to fit through the vines, making them uniquely qualified for pest control. The ducks get something out of it too, of course — they get to gorge on duck delicacies all day. Luckily for visitors to the vineyard, they can watch the delightful parade of ducks twice a day.

Not only do the ducks cut down on snails and pests, but they also help reduce the use of pesticides, according to the vineyard's duck caretaker. "They help us not to use poison on the farm," Denzil Matthys explained to NPR.

A Proud History

This is nothing new: Runner ducks have a very long history. According to the Livestock Conservancy, they show up on 2,000-year-old Javan temple carvings, and have been used by rice farmers in China for hundreds of years. "Flocks of ducks, trained to stay in sight of a herder's long bamboo pole with cloth strips attached to one end, were driven out to rice paddies and fields during the day to glean scattered grain, weed seeds, snails, insects, larvae, small reptiles and the like," the organization reports. In fact, that's the very reason they're such perfect farmhands: farmers selected the best foragers to breed, so over time the species became taller, skinnier, and better at running. Thanks, artificial selection!

These ducks just beg to star in a storybook, don't they? Good thing there's "Scarlett's Journey: The Adventures of a Runner Ruck" by Becky Dembowski and beautiful illustrations by Alicia Young. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

This Vineyard Employs 900 Ducks

Written by Joanie Faletto April 27, 2017

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