Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa employs a flock of 1,070 Indian Runner Ducks to ensure their precious grape vines are free from pests and pesticides.
A number of wineries can be found in the lush Cape Vinelands region 30-odd miles east of Cape Town but one stands out: Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. The winery has distinguished itself through a novel method of pest control that not only significantly reduces pesticide use, it offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers: ducks, hundreds of them!
Vergenoegd's previous owner, John Faure, first brought Indian Runner Ducks to the winery in the early 1980s. This unusual breed of domestic duck is native to the Indonesian islands of Lombok, Java and Bali where they are “walked” to market in flocks. The oddly upright “runners” can swim but their vestigial wings render them flightless, making them easy to control by human herders.
At Vergenoegd Wine Estate, the ducks are herded through the vineyards twice daily in a “Duck Parade” that's become very popular with tourists. Their real value, however, is realized once they reach the long rows of grapevines and chow down on unwelcome snails and insects.
“Having the ducks on the farm has definitely helped us by not having to use as much pesticide in our vineyards, which also allows the good bugs to live and the not-so-good ones to be eaten by the ducks,” explains Nicole Arnold, a worker at the estate. “They are working ducks who contribute towards our aim to implement more environmentally friendly farming practices,” adds Arnold. “They also contribute towards the fertilization of the vineyards.” She didn't have to elaborate on that “end” of the equation.