The day of the ducklings…


A fortnight ago more waterfowl joined our flock at Landmeterskop. Ten Call Ducklings from friends, Basil and Bea Whittaker of Stanford, and also Chinese Geese and Indian Runner Ducks which we bought from John Faure of Vergenoegd Wine Estate. John is a waterfowl keeper with a difference: his show birds double up as a working flock at the vineyard. More about John and his ducks later…

We had to help catch the ten Call Ducklings or “Kwakertjies” (with their mother in the photo above), and this turned out quite a performance!!! Picture four grownups, three women between the ages of 55 and 65, of varying sizes from very slim to comfortably round, and one guy, also in his sixties, running after or “lying in ambush” behind shrubs and pots to catch the ducklings who were trying their ultimate best not to be caught,  all the while quacking as if they were being murdered. Then, to that picture, add four Bassets of varying ages barking, and another dog of mixed breed trying to help with herding the ducklings, and one of the Bassets (the only one temporarily tethered to a tree) getting hold of one of the ducklings and humans shouting commands on what to do now, how to do this, where to stand, and you might get the picture!  Valerie swiftly rescued the poor thing from the Basset’s clasp and at last, after almost an hour and some excellent tackling work from Valerie which I might say, would put some of our rugby players to shame, all ten ducklings were caught and put into cardboad boxes and transported to their new home at Landmeterskop. They quickly adapted to the freer lifestyle – look at them swimming in the dam below…

More about John Faure as promised:

“John Faure of Vergenoegd’s family has lived in South Africa for over two centuries. The house dates back to 1773, and wine making has been a family business since 1820. Vergenoegd hosts its visitors at the winery’s restaurant, and the Runners have become a starattraction, especially when the ducks are herded onto the lawn after the day’s work foraging for snails. This duck parade, and the swim on the ‘dam’ (lake), has become a real photo opportunity, and must advertise the Indian Runner as ‘the duck to have’ in SA. John is a keen breeder, exhibitor and judge, winning Showman of the Year for 2009. His birds are top quality stock, some of them having originated in the USA. He has good quality dark-phase Mallard Runners as well as Buffs, Black, White, Blue and even Trout and Apricot Trout. As you can see from John’s photos, the birds are a super type. They were photographed in December – not the best time for the southern hemisphere of course.

John has joined the increasing number of waterfowl breeders becoming globe-trotters. In the summer of 2009 the family, which has ties in the Isle of Man, visited the UK and also did a round tour of breeders Chris & Mike Ashton, Graham Barnard, Graham Hicks, Denise Moss and Anne Terrell. He’s a member of the Indian Runner Duck Association, and interested in the colour genetics of the birds.

On his return to South Africa, the incubators were full, and the first lot of hatchlings growing to be ready, by October, to join the other working ducks in the vineyards. Whilst John experienced a lot of rain here in the wet summer of 2009, they also had an exceptionally wet winter in South Africa. The snails did thrive, and presented a much bigger problem, in the foliage and bunches of grapes, than usual. So the working ducks, tall enough to reach up well into the vines, were in big demand to help produce the wine which, of course, has their image on the label.


Quack, quack, quack… there is new sound on Landmeterskop!


Yes, there are now also ducks roaming around the pond nearest to the Homestead – Khaki Campbells, Buff Orpingtons and Dutch Quakers! And more will shortly join their ranks.


The Khaki Campbell (or just Campbell) breed of domesticated duck was developed by Adele Campbell of England and introduced to the public in 1898. Adele Campbell purchased a Fawn and White Indian Runner Duck which was an exceptional layer (195 eggs in 197 days) and crossed it with a Rouen Duck in an attempt to create a strain that would lay well and have bigger bodies. The offspring were crossed with Mallards to increase their hardiness. The resulting birds were prolific layers. But, Mrs Campbell was still not satisfied with the colour and in an attempt to create a more attractive buff-coloured duck she crossed her original Campbells with Pencilled Runner Ducks. And voilà! A duck which colour reminded Mrs. Campbell of the Khaki-coloured British Army Uniforms!

KCPairPair of Khaki Campbell ducks

The Buff Orpington duck is a dual-purpose breed of domestic ducks used for meat and egg production. It is capable of laying up to 220 eggs a year. They were originally created by William Cook, a famous poultry breeder from Orpington in Kent, England, and was introduced to the public in 1897. Cook was also the developer of the Orpington Chicken. Cook blended Cayuga, Runner, Aylesbury, and Rouen ducks to create a buff coloured duck that would allow him to cash in on the early 20th century English fad for buff-colored plumage. This first duck was called a Buff Orpington and Cook went on to develop Blue, Black and Chocolate Orpington versions that had white bibs on their chests.

The Buff, as it is commonly known, is a long, broad bird with an oval head, medium length bill, and long, gracefully curved neck. It’s body carriage is twenty degrees above horizontal, its wings are short and it has a small, well-curled tail. Both the duck and drake have buff plumage, orange-yellow shanks and feet, and brown eyes. The drake’s bill is yellow while the duck’s bill is brown-orange.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: We have received valuable correspondence regarding the validity of the general information available on the internet on the Campbell & Orpington ducks (from which we have gleaned the above information) from Jonathan M. Thompson in the UK (, who along with Prof. Wolfgang Rudolph of Rostock, have researched the origin & history of domestic waterfowl since 1984. Instead of us updating our information, we include their findings here for your perusal and then you could  see for yourself where the general misconceptions are:

The Doctor’s Wife (pdf)

The Orpington Ducks 2013 (pdf)

buff_orpBuff Orpington ducks

The small white Dutch Quacker Duck or Call Duck is a bantam breed raised primarily for decoration or as pets. They look similar to Mallards, but are smaller in size. The first recorded mentions of the breed are from the Netherlands where it was used as a decoy and known as a Coy or Decoy Duck. The high-pitched distinctive call was used to lure other ducks into funnel traps. Later, hunters would tether Call Ducks to draw other species within range of the guns. It is believed to have originally come from the Far East, although no records of its introduction to the Netherlands exist.


Just like us humans, ducks have personalities and each duck has its own little habits. They talk to each other by quacking – the female duck (hen) has a loud “quack”, while the male (drake) has a raspy quack. The peaceful coexistence of the flock is regulated by the law of “Pecking order” – the number 1 bird in the flock can peck and dominate all the others, the number 2 bird can dominate all but the number 1 bird, the number 3 bird can dominate all but 1 and 2, right on down the line until we reach the last bird who dominates no one.

All ducks forage for food. They dabble and tip up in shallow water, drilling in mud to get the goodies. which mainly consists of seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, bulbs, roots and grasses. Ten percent of their diet consists of insects, mosquito larvae, snails, slugs, leeches, worms an occasional fish or tadpole. Sand and gravel are picked up to serve as grinding stones in the gizzard. Ducks thrive under harsh conditions with limited shelter, resist diseases and parasites, and produce food efficiently.

Not only are ducks beautiful to look at, but they can also make one laugh with their little “mannerisms”, especially during mating season! Ducks prefer to mate on water, but most do well on land. During “courtship” the drake’s head may be bobbing up and down, as if to say, “Hey, your cute, how about a date?” Then he would bite and/or pull the back of the hens neck feathers, and stand on the hen’s back dunking her head in the water, as if he’s trying to drown her!

Although drakes may have a favourite hen, they normally will mate with any hen in the flock.

They lay eggs at random on the ground, and sometimes even while swimming. When a nest is made, it is a shallow depression in the ground, lined with twigs, grass and leaves. If eggs are left for natural incubation, the hen will pluck down from her breast for additional insulation. If the ducks have a house with straw, hay or some type of bedding in it they may make their nest there.

Several times a day, ducks preen and oil their feathers using a feather conditioner from a hidden oil gland located on the top of the tail base. As they preen, they squeeze the oil gland with their bills and spread it onto the feathers. Contrary to popular belief, this oil does not “waterproof” a duck nor it’s ducklings. What does then? The way their feathers are structured!

Each feather has a main shaft, or rachis, that supports the whole structure. While the feather is growing, the rachis has blood vessels within it that carry nutrients to the growing parts of the feather. When mature, these blood vessels die and the rachis is sealed at the base, leaving the feather shaft hollow. This helps to make the feather very light.

Branching off the rachis are barbs. These barbs each have branches called barbules, and the barbules have branches called barbicels. These three parts make up the vane of the feather, which gives the feather its “feather-like” shape. The barbicels are very tiny, and you’ll need a good magnifying glass or microscope to see them. They are generally hook-shaped, and interweaved with each other. They hold the vane of the feather together, sort of like Velcro or a zipper. If you’ve rubbed a feather the “wrong way” and then smoothed it back to its original shape, what you’ve done is unhook and re-hook the barbicels, like “zipping it back together”. The barbicels can hold the feather vane together so tightly that water cannot go through. And this is what actually keeps water off a duck’s back, not the oil they apply to their feathers. In fact, the oil is only used to keep the feathers clean and in good condition, not to coat them for “waterproofing”.