Ducks and chooks nudge aside dogs and cats in Aussie backyards

John Thistleton 27 August 2021 25
Gerald Farrugia and Danny Benn with Ferdinand the duck

Ferdinand the duck with his winning breeders Gerald Farrugia (left) and Danny Benn (right). Photo: Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.

Move aside dogs and cats, ducks and chooks are making a comeback to backyards.

Two of the most accomplished members of Goulburn Poultry Fanciers’ Society are aflutter in their growing popularity. One of them, Danny Benn, was on the spot when his Indian runner duck, Ferdinand, created history earlier this year.

“It was quite warm – it felt like summer,” says Danny, recalling the Sydney Royal Easter Show in April 2021.

“Ferdinand was feeling the heat, and the steward said, ‘I’ll give him a bit of water’ because he was the only duck out the front going up against the chooks in a hot pen, with heat rising in a tin shed.

“They gave him a bit of water and he stood up like crazy as if to say, ‘Here I am. I am the champion.’

“When the judge came along, the crowd went crazy. He was probably the highest qualified judge in Australia – Gary Phillips from Mudgee – and he was very confident in his decision.”

Ferdinand won Grand Champion Bird in Show, the first waterfowl in the event’s 199-year history to win the top trophy, says Danny. Previously, it was always a chook.

“The level of support, particularly from our fellow water fowl members, but also Goulburn people was just remarkable,” he says.

Goulburn Poultry Fanciers’ Society’s long-term member and winner of many show successes, Kim George, had the Champion Large Bird, a Rhode Island red-white, in the final judging alongside Ferdinand. While disappointed he missed out on the Grand Champion Bird trophy, Kim was happy for Danny, a long-time mate.

Kim George

Kim George about to go to the Sydney Royal Easter Show for judging. He has judged chooks in every Australian capital city except Perth. Photo: Supplied.

As the NSW Waterfowl Breeders Association president who lives in Wollongong, Danny and his partner keep many of their ducks on their rural property near Laggan and Crookwell, north of Goulburn.

Danny says Ferdinand’s rise mirrors ducks’ ascendancy everywhere at a time when poultry is making a strong comeback in backyards in these days of COVID-19 lockdowns. A glance at Goulburn’s social media pages attests to this.

“The fashions are somewhat changing,” says Danny. “I don’t discount the chooks at all because they are extremely popular, but I definitely think there is a strong uptick with ducks. They help look after the garden, too – they will eat some plants, but generally focus on snails and slugs. They are easy to maintain, whereas a chook will scratch – ducks don’t do that.”

Meanwhile, Kim has spent almost all his life chasing the Sydney Royal Easter Show’s ‘best in show’. A Crookwell resident, Kim has amassed best-in-show trophies at numerous Australian Rhode Island Club shows and ‘best bird’ at other poultry clubs.

“Too many to count,” he adds.

The poultry breeding season is underway, and Kim’s flock of 50-60 Rhode Island red chooks will swell to more than 100 during the coming months. A docile, heavy breed of bird that doesn’t fly is easily quietened and trained for the show pen.

Rhode Island chooks are Kim’s favourite.

Three chickens in pen

A breeding trio of Rhode Island whites. Photo: Kim George.

He rarely buys birds for breeding, preferring his closed flock.

“I line-breed [father to daughter, or mother to son],” says Kim. “I’ve had them since 1987. I don’t bring outside birds into my yard unless I really have to.

“If I get a problem I can’t fix myself, I will go looking for a bird. It’s a great hobby, that’s all I can say.”

A good bird fetches up to $200, or $500 for a trio – two females and a male. People often go along to the popular Goulburn poultry auctions where thousands of chooks change hands.

Kim reels off the names of poultry men who influenced him and who are now honoured with memorial trophies in Goulburn.

“There’s Cec Denny, a good Langshan and Wyandotte breeder; Fred Eldering, a great Wyandotte bantam breeder; Syd Plum, a modern game bantam breeder; Ray Hall, who bred beautiful Pekings; Maurie Harris, who was a top judge; Reg Hunt and his son, Robert, both wonderful Rhode Island red bantam breeders; and Brian Tyce, a good Langshan breeder,” says Kim.

He remembers Fred Eldering’s border collies in the box-office hit movie, Babe.

“He used his Indian runner ducks to train his dogs in his backyard,” says Kim. “They stay in a mob like sheep.”

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25 Responses to Ducks and chooks nudge aside dogs and cats in Aussie backyards
Cindy Hunt Cindy Hunt 9:57 pm 29 Aug 21

Mentions my dad Robert Hunt and grandfather Reg Hunt.

Cindy Hunt Cindy Hunt 7:38 pm 29 Aug 21

A great article, thanks John. A brief mention of my Dad Robert Hunt, and grandfather Reg Hunt

    Cindy Hunt Cindy Hunt 7:39 pm 29 Aug 21

    I remember so many of the men mentioned, I was a young girl floating around the chook shows with my Dad. Great memories

Jude May Jude May 12:30 pm 29 Aug 21

Kirsty, pet ducks?

Natasha Chamings Natasha Chamings 10:50 am 29 Aug 21

Kym look at you, you trendsetter 😂

Nat Teh Nat Teh 9:43 am 29 Aug 21

Matt .... its a sign, I.can get that duck 🥰

Teresa Duve Teresa Duve 9:40 am 29 Aug 21

Rebecca you are a trend setter

Craig Drumm Craig Drumm 9:32 am 29 Aug 21

Amy Leigh Drumm I’m going to regret this tag…

    Karen Felix Ne Brewer Karen Felix Ne Brewer 10:08 am 29 Aug 21

    Craig Drumm never regret it. Backyard Poultry is the best. 🥰

    Craig Drumm Craig Drumm 10:10 am 29 Aug 21

    If you have a backyard I’m sure that’s true

Flistee Emm Flistee Emm 8:43 am 29 Aug 21

Until one of them gets a Rooster that crows allllllll day 😖

    Irene Hazel Irene Hazel 11:44 am 29 Aug 21

    Flistee Emm it's illegal to have a rooster in a residential area. I'd be traking it down and reporting the residence.

    Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 4:49 pm 29 Aug 21

    Irene Hazel no it isn't in Canberra.

    Irene Hazel Irene Hazel 4:58 pm 29 Aug 21

    Wow it used to be. Then I'd put in a complaint like you do for a barking dog.... and take video to show is crowing all hours of the day.

Rowan Hurrell Rowan Hurrell 8:10 am 29 Aug 21

Our neighbours had chickens we had the rat invasion as a result, they don't have chickens anymore and we don't get rats anymore. Something to consider

    Jocelyn Dexter Jocelyn Dexter 8:12 am 29 Aug 21

    Rowan Hurrell Well kept chooks don't smell and don't attract rats. Rats are everywhere in the suburbs.

    Alicia Conley Alicia Conley 8:36 am 29 Aug 21

    Rowan Hurrell tidy up your yard?

    Rowan Hurrell Rowan Hurrell 9:24 am 29 Aug 21

    Oh it's my fault it's it alice? Nothing to do with grain attracting rats and feeding them?

    Karen Hore Karen Hore 10:15 am 29 Aug 21

    Rowan Hurrell agree with you. I had chickens for around 5 years and would do again but the rats came and they are very hard to get rid off. Dogs would chase them running along the fence of an evening. My yard is tidy this had nothing to do with it.

Jenni Atkinson Jenni Atkinson 7:44 am 29 Aug 21

Cody Smith time to get a goose or two !

    Michael Norris Michael Norris 8:17 am 29 Aug 21

    Jenni Atkinson 🎼Chicks and ducks and geese are better as curry...🎶

    Carl Emmerson Carl Emmerson 8:42 am 29 Aug 21

    Jenni Atkinson Perhaps this is the culmination of my search for a support animal.

Corey Karl Corey Karl 7:24 am 29 Aug 21

Well the people in the older areas with big blocks certainly can. People in new suburbs don’t have enough room to swing a cat, let alone out in a chook shed. Thanks ACT gov !!! Unless we go back to the days of tiny cages for animals 🤦🏼‍♂️

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:12 am 29 Aug 21

    Some of that is due to smaller blocks and some due to bigger houses. I saw some statistics which said in the 1950s, for example, the average new house was 100 sq metres. If houses were still that size, people would have more garden. I believe the average new house today is roughly twice that size.

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