Mushrooms + Ducks = Healthy Woods?

As with many good discoveries, the addition of ducks to the mushroom yard was made rather haphazardly as my partner Liz and I decided that we'd try raising them this past summer as an alternative to chickens. I'd heard ducks liked to eat slugs, and wouldn't it be great, I thought, if I didn't have to spend time plucking slugs off my mushrooms each morning?

The results indicated some remarkable success of this integration. I had almost no slug damage this past season, and the ducks proved to be remarkable foragers, eating significantly less grain than other poultry I've raised before.

I became intrigued also with the fact that a three way relationship was forming - a polyculture of a producer (sugar maple trees), consumer (ducks), and decomposer (mushrooms). An agricultural ecosystem was emerging!

I've started to explore the potential of these relationships in more detail, as illustrated below:

click to see larger...

While much simpler than a natural ecosystem, it benefits from some of the benefits resulting from inter-connectivity that are often major challenges in agriculture, including:

- economic incentive to manage forests for longer term yields (in this case, managing overstory trees for maple sugaring down the road while harvesting mushrooms/duck in the shorter term)
- balancing of pest populations (slugs)
- maintenance of intact fertility cycles (forest litter & organisms enhanced by foraging and fertilizing by ranging ducks)
- reduction of feed costs for poultry for meat production (ducks are more cold hardy, disease resistant and more efficient at utilizing feed vs. other poultry)
- buffering from extremes (forest ecosystems maintain more stable temperature, humidity, wind patterns, and are more drought tolerant)