South African vineyard's duck parade doubles as pest control

In this photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, ducklings inside an breeding box fitted with a red light for extra heat at Vergenoegd wine estate on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, South Africa, This wine farm is winning praise from environmentalists for using Indian runner ducks instead of chemicals to eradicate pests like snails and bugs from its vineyards. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

South African vineyard's duck parade doubles as pest control; environmentalists approve

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa — The quacking is soft at first amid the vineyards that roll for miles in this South African wine-making town.

But then the duck handlers whistle and wave their white flags, and the noise reaches a crescendo. All 1,071 ducks huddle at the gate that separates them from the vineyards.

It's time to go to work, and the daily duck parade is about to start.

This wine farm is winning praise from environmentalists for using Indian runner ducks instead of chemicals to eradicate pests like snails and bugs from its vineyards.

The duck parade is also a colorful affair that attracts tourists.

John Faure, whose family had owned the Vergenoegd wine estate since 1820, imported six Indian runner ducks in 1984 to control pests in his garden. He then started breeding them and, as the workforce grew, so did their job description.

The estate, which was recently sold to a German owner, continues to use the ducks for pest control although it is much more expensive than pesticides, said the vineyard's social media manager David Badenhorst. The ducks cost an average of $2,300, while more conventional methods would cost that amount per year, he said. Using the ducks is more sustainable, Badenhorst said.

"If you use conventional pest control, those chemicals are absorbed into the soil, which affects the growth of the vines and kills insects," he said. "Our ducks go into the vineyards and they eat the snails and snail eggs while fertilizing the soil."

Duck handler Denzil Matthys has worked with the ducks for the past three years and says he has grown to love the creatures.

"When I started here I used to eat ducks," he said, "But since I have started working with them, duck is not my favorite thing to eat anymore."

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