'Quack squad' hunts snails in chemical-free South African vineyard

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South African killer ducks
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'Quack squad' hunts snails in chemical-free South African vineyard
Morning sun shines on vineyards at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 20, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Indian Runner ducks walk through a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A group of Indian Runner ducks march past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 11, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An Indian Runner duck is seen through leaves at a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A pair of Indian Runner ducks are seen at a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 11, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Indian Runner ducks walk through a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Indian Runner ducks are seen at a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An Indian Runner duck dries off after a swim at a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 18, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Indian Runner ducks walk through a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Indian Runner ducks walk through a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A group of Indian Runner ducks march towards a farm dam at a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 12, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Indian Runner ducks march past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Indian Runner ducks march past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 19, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A line of Indian Runner Ducks walk past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 18, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Indian Runner ducks head to the vineyards at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A group of Indian Runner ducks march past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 11, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A farmworker stacks boxes of wine for sale at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 20, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A farmworker carries a box of Runner Duck wine past barrels at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 20, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings SEARCH "DUCK HUTCHINGS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
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STELLENBOSCH, South Africa, May 25 (Reuters) - At 9.45 a.m. each day, more than 1,000 Indian Runner ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd vineyard in Stellenbosch.

Their mission: seek and eat thousands of tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines.

"Before we had the ducks we had to put down snail bait, a pesticide. But, for the past nine years I have been here we've used very little snail bait, almost nothing, because the ducks eat all the snails and other insects," vintner and horticulturalist, Marlize Jacobs, told Reuters.

Used for centuries in Asia to control pests, the ducks stand upright like penguins and are slim enough to fit between rows of vines. And they do not waddle, they run.

The flock, which started with six ducks in 1983, gives Vergenoegd extra points in the wine industry's sustainability certification process as the 57-hectare vineyard now uses so little chemicals it does not need to declare them, Jacobs said.

Parading on the farm each day, the soldier-like birds are guided by a herder and can clear between half a hectare and a whole hectare a day, of the snails that are, besides fungal diseases, considered as the main threat to vines at the farm.

"All over the industry and all over the world, dangerous harmful pesticides are being fazed out, so I believe one day you will be forced to use alternative methods because pesticides kill all insects, even the friendly insects," Jacobs said.

However, the high costs of keeping the birds are a downside.

On a similar sized farm, growers could spend about 50,000 rand ($3,200) a season for pesticides, compared with 30,000 for just a month on ducks, which are kept in protective pens and are fed grain to augment their snail diet, said Jacobs.

Massive parade of ducks literally run to work

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