Monday, February 4, 2013

An elegant solution? Ducks devour slugs that destroy mushroom crop, and then we can eat mushrooms and ducks

Photo by Jen Gabriel
Last fall, I carefully tasted five different breeds of locally-raised duck and recorded my impressions. I inspected, smelled, and chewed each morsel slowly, asking myself: is the color appealing? Is the texture  springy and not stringy? Is the taste pleasant, or gamey?

The experience was a tasty exercise for me, but for Steve Gabriel, it was an important evening of data collection.

During the summer of 2012, Steve raised ducks for two reasons. First, the ducks would --hopefully-- eat the slugs that are capably of ruining his shiitake mushroom crop. Second, the ducks themselves could be sold, hopefully for a profit, and eaten. Funding from the USDA supported his study on the project's agricultural and economic feasibility.

Did it work? Steve says that like all interesting endeavors, this one left him with more questions than answers.

The ducks did eat the slugs, but the weather last summer was unusually dry, so the slugs were not as problematic as previous years. Steve says his biggest surprise was that one breed, the Muscovy, ate both slugs and the mushrooms -- not ideal if you aim to sell mushrooms. "The heritage breeds (Cayuga and Swedish blue) were notable foragers, often exploring the forest floor before heading to the food trough," he says.

"On the 'plate' side of things, I --and the tasting participants-- were most surprised that there was a noticeable difference in flavor from one breed to the next," Steve adds. "And, while the Pekin duck was most tender and therefore 'safe' for serving to a normal restaurant goer, the other breeds had noticeably more interesting and complex flavor profiles."

I can say firsthand that the ducks Steve raised were indeed tasty. The variety of taste, texture, and size was remarkable.

Steve plans to continue the project next year, and Ithaca's Food Web will check in with him again to see how things evolve.

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