Army of pest-munching ducks keep South African vineyard blooming

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A flock of Indian Runner ducks at Vergenoegd wine estate in Stellenbosch.
A flock of Indian Runner ducks at Vergenoegd wine estate in Stellenbosch.
Peter Titmuss


Flocks of white, black and brown ducks hunt for snails and bugs as they patrol the grapevines at a vineyard in South Africa's winemaking town of Stellenbosch, helping the owners steer clear of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.

Around 500 Indian Runner ducks work as a natural pest control at the Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate, but also entertain wine-quaffing tourists.

"We call them the soldiers of the vineyards," the managing director of the estate, Corius Visser, told Reuters.

Ducks are at the heart of the winery's regenerative agriculture practices, and specifically Indian Runner ducks, which have long legs and an upright posture, meaning they are able to reach for snails between the leaves.

Nutrient-rich manure from the ducks and other animals ensure the vineyard runs as sustainably as possible.

Following their leader, the ducks march in convoy through the vines.

"It's amazing how they behave themselves, walk in a row, and it's like they're in the army," said Merle Holdsworth, a tourist.

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The ducks follow a daily routine: In the morning, they go to the vineyards to prevent crop damage, and in the evening they return to their paddocks to peck at pellets of nutritious bird food.

Worker Yodell Scholtz has been rearing the ducks for the past two years.

"It's almost like raising your own children, so I enjoy it a lot," Scholtz said.


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