27 August 2021

Ducks and chooks nudge aside dogs and cats in Aussie backyards

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

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

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