PIJ #58, Mar – May 1996
Aigamo ducks in rice paddy
Mr. Takao Furuno’s modest business card reveals that he is a farmer in a world where “one duck creates boundless treasure”.
He farms rice very successfully in Japan and is a private aid volunteer, working in Vietnam when I met him. He had a message for all rice farmers, perhaps all wet paddy farmers, and gave me his book (all in Japanese) on the duck-rice paddy design he has perfected. Luckily I also have a condensed translation.
His ducks, by the way, are a cross between the mallard and a wild duck (Anas superciliosa) that we call the Black Duck, despite the fact that it is brown! This cross is a small duck, lean and active, that he has named Aigamo. It is fertile and breeds more of the same.
This Aigamo is released into the young rice paddy as soon as it is weaned at seven days and left there in a shelter until it is eight weeks old and the rice begins to flower. Like all ducks, it loves rice, so cannot be trusted with maturing rice seed. When the ducklings are first released, the rice has been transplanted for ten days, so that Mr Furuno has set the duck eggs at about the same time that the plants seed in his rice nursery bed. The ducks do not eat rice leaves.
Around his rice paddy, he has erected a low duck fence of netting, say ½ a metre (two feet) high, and above this he runs an electric fence to keep out foxes, dogs, and feral cats. Inside this fence is the duck shelter, opening onto the field. Mr Furuno stands his inner fences in the edge of the water. It is only on the boundary of the paddy fields that one needs the electric fence; any inner fences can be very simple mesh, at most a metre high. It is helpful to provide clean straw for the ducks to stand on, and inside their shelter.
The ducks are fed light rations of bran, and crushed rice daily, enabling the farmer to judge their need for food as they grow.
In Vietnam there is a duck called the “Cherry Valley” breed, very like the Aigamo used by Mr Furuno. No biocides or fertiliser are used by Mr Furuno apart from that produced by his ducks which are stocked at the rate of 15 – 30 per ten ares (an are is 100m2 or 1/1000 of a hectare). Rice is transplanted mid-June in Japan, (mid-December in Australia), thus duck eggs need to be in the incubator in the first week of May (November). Ducks hatch in 31 days and need to be a week old before release.
If ducks are used, rice grows taller, tillers very well (hence is more dense), the stems are more robust and the root mass is greater. Above all, work in weeding is eliminated as are chemical inputs. Mr Furuno puts this more abundant growth down to the puddling (muddy water effect) caused by the ducks. When the ducks are no longer needed, they are used as table birds, and add considerably to the family income or protein intake. As ducks are active at night, the labour of penning them away from the fields is counter-productive.
Incubators for eggs, ‘brooder lights’ and duck feeder troughs (or sheets of roof iron) are all standard equipment. Taro should benefit as much as rice for the same reasons. Ducks, to the rice farmer, seem to be about the equivalent of sheep dogs to a squatter (grazier). Neither needs wages or holidays.
- The duck (Aigamo) eliminates most weeds, removes all harmful insects, and all the water life it can catch.
- The duck fertilises the rice.
- The duck cultivates the rice producing a rich mulch around the rice plants.
- The paddy provides weeds, insects, pests, snails, frogs and shelter for the duck.
- The rice crop provides open range for the duck.
- The rice provides bran and cracked grains for the duck.
The result of this beneficial marriage of duck and rice is that fertiliser and pesticides, molluscicides and tractors are eliminated as costs, and more rice is obtained. (Ducks in Vietnam are also widely used to glean fallen rice after the harvest.)