Ducks, Quail, and Rabbits

The Muscovy ducks are fitting perfectly into the farm. They are eating the bindweed (yay!!!!) and my plan of rotating the ducks and chickens through the chicken food forest run is working perfectly. The ducks have an open-air coop at the far end, where they also have a very small container to splash around in. It’s important for ducks to be able to bathe in water, because it keeps their feathers properly waterproof. Like all ducks everywhere, these Muscovies love water. Unlike every other duck everywhere, these Muscovies are not obsessed with water.  They like it, they enjoy a good splash now and then, but most of their life is spent doing things apart from the water. You can really tell that they aren’t truly, scientifically, ducks. They are something else, closer to a goose.

Whatever. They are awesome. They do poop like ducks, prodigious amounts of poop that normally they would stamp down into the ground with their flat feet until it formed a solid poop carpet. Poop carpets stink. This is where the chickens come to the rescue. Chickens love to scratch and dig, and they particularly love to scratch and dig in areas where they have been forbidden to go.  So the chickens are forbidden to go into the back duck yard…until I decide to send the ducks on parade.

The ducks are marched out first thing in the morning, all the way to the far opposite part of the chicken yard (I have grapes planted there, hence the “vineyard”). They spend the day eating the bindweed and relaxing under the honeyberry bush. The chickens, meanwhile, are delighted to discover the forbidden duck yard is now open to them. They scratch all the duck poop up and turn it over into the dirt and chips before it can mat down into a poop carpet. It’s been working perfectly! And this is with seven almost full-grown ducks. The ducks will be downsized into only three in August. I’ll miss the full duck parade in the mornings, but three ducks are a better fit for a small garden like mine. Also, I can’t wait to taste Muscovy. They say it tastes like a fine beef steak!

There’s been some changes among the rabbits, as well. I decided to sell one of my angoras, because my two does had started to fight, and I really don’t have time or space for two. So I listed Cinnamon, and found her a lovely new home as a birthday gift for a girl who has always wanted a rabbit, and has been checking out a ton of library books on rabbit-keeping in the hopes she’ll get one. The family is on vacation until August 4th, so I’m keeping her for them a little longer, but she’s officially no longer my rabbit.

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I also made the more difficult decision to cull one of my Rex does, the grey one, Thistle. She’s part of my meat rabbit colony, and she wasn’t doing well. Her last litter had only two kits, both stillborn, and her litter before that had only one kit. I can’t keep a doe that can’t have healthy litters. So she went to freezer camp, and I decided to replace her with one of Blackberry’s last litter. Meet Foxglove:

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Her mother, Blackberry is wonderful. Large, healthy litters, and more sweeter-tempered than Thistle. I’m hoping Foxglove will prove equally wonderful, and I really like her name. She looks like a foxglove to me!

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My Snowflake Bobwhite quail pair has gone broody, and they are always the sweetest pair. The male sits alongside her in the nest to keep her company, and whenever she leaves the nest to stretch her legs, he takes over sitting on them, first carefully inspecting the eggs, and rolling them over so gently with his beak. I would let them raise their own offspring, but they appear to be infertile. I’ve let them sit on eggs for three years now, and nothing ever hatches. So this year, I’ve ordered some hatching eggs off ebay for them.

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I don’t need any more bobwhites, so I’m giving them coturnix quail eggs instead. This seller has really pretty and unusual colors – both in eggs and in adult feathering. The eggs are arriving later this week, so fingers crossed my assortment is as pretty as these. And also fingers crossed that Bellatrix the Bobwhite will accept them as her own.

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Fat Rants, Dustbaths, and Pie Cherries

I’ve been promising my chickens a proper dustbath forever. This week, I finally built one.

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It’s large enough for about 4-5 hens to bathe together, and is covered for rain protection. I filled it with sand, and some wood ash. They already love it, and it was so easy and simple to build that I might make another one in a different part of their run.

The chickens also got their own watermelon yesterday. Usually, they get the leftovers, but I splurged and bought them an entire watermelon all for themselves. It seems like you couldn’t find seeded watermelons in the stores anymore, which is a great pity, since seedless watermelons just aren’t nearly so good tasting. I will never understand why the public is willing to sacrifice flavor just for the small inconvenience of picking out a few seeds! I was thrilled to discover my local Haggen had seeded ones this year. And the chickens think watermelon seeds are the best part of the whole affair.

I went to my local butcher as well this week and picked up about 11 pounds of raw beef fat, called suet. Yes, this is the same suet in those bird feeders, but humans really need to reclaim suet from the birds! It’s a tremendously healthy fat, enhancing the flavor of whatever it’s added to. I’ve been cooking with tallow for years now, which is cooked (rendered) suet, but I’ve never used suet itself. I’m excited to give it a try! Also, since the medical establishment has falsely convinced the public that animals fats are the enemy (it’s actually vegetable and trans fats that are the evil) and that eating fats cause people to become fat (it’s actually fat-free and low-fat foods and sugar that cause human fat) the butcher just gives the suet and other fats away for free!

So I also got some pig backfat to render down into lard. I wanted the internal kidney fat, called leaf lard, because that is the best fat, but the butcher had already tossed it. Rendering fat is simple.

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You just cut into small pieces (I use scissors) and then put it in your crockpot with 1/4 cup water on high.

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After an hour or so, when it’s started to melt down into a liquid, turn it down to low and let it cook overnight. In the morning, strain the liquid fat through cheesecloth, and pour into glass jars. As it cools, it turns thick and white, and then you can scoop it out by the spoonful and use for cooking, pastry dough, etc. The finer quality leaf lard is entirely scentless. The kind I made does have a slight bacon/pork smell, but that is fantastic for cooking with, as the added flavor in most foods is a big bonus.

 

You really need to read this article. It’s humorous, and maybe – maybe – it will help you understand why animal fats are so necessary in our diet. It truly is one of the greatest food/health tragedies of the world that the American Medical Association went so far off the rails in promoting vegetable fats over animals ones. They are starting to recognize their mistake, but they have the public so brainwashed at this point that it’s going to take decades more for the general public to come around.  Grrrrr. Can you tell I’m seriously angry about this?

Okay, okay, let’s end this blog with something more cheerful! Sweet peas, squash, and the first tart pie cherries ever from my garden! Yes! Those little cherry trees I planted two years ago gave me enough cherries to make a pie this week. So good.

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The Babies Aren’t So Tiny Anymore

Wow. I can’t believe June went by so fast! This time of month is always crazy busy in the garden…and this garden was crazier than usual because I had so many new animals. Mom counted all the animals on the farm and asked me to guess how many we had. I think I guessed something like forty. The correct answer? SIXTY-TWO.

Sixty-two critters: chickens, ducks, quail, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs, plus one cat and one dog! Of course some of these are not going to be staying here forever. Some are being raised specially for meat (seven chickens have already gone into the freezer), and some are going elsewhere. Two of the black copper marans chicks, for example, have already gone to live with a friend of mine.  And I have a few young roosters that will have to leave pretty soon. Anyone want some mottled cochin roos? They are super cute! Or how about a silkie roo?

I LOVE these mottled cochins. They are so adorable, and they are turning into sweeties. They will jump into my lap for a cuddle.

The Muscovy ducks are also proving to be a win for the farm. They are getting HUGE. Especially the drakes. They were always skittish as babies, but now they are realizing that I am the one with the food, and they are taming down enough to let me pet them. I will be keeping three: two hens and a drake. Since I only have two girls, there’s no difficult decision there. As for the drake, I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping the black one. It’s funny, because that is specifically the one color I said I did not want. I wanted ones with lots of white on them, but either they are super hard to tell from ducklings what color they will be, or the breeder I got them from didn’t know how to tell. She gave me black ones, and chocolate ones, and solid blue ones…and one solitary chocolate and white. Oh well. I love them anyway! And they are already devoted bindweed eaters!

Mom and I roasted marshmellows and hotdogs in the garden Sunday.

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Dexter approved wholeheartedly. Especially once we pulled out the hotdogs.

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It’s SOON.

I don’t know an exact day, but I do think it’s extremely probable it will be this year, highly likely to be this month…even within days. The sense of anticipation, of longing – it just keeps getting stronger and stronger.  And it’s not just me. Every one of us who is awake and watching is feeling the same thing. It’s SOON. We’re going home soon.

I could cry, just typing that. Soon I will be face to face with the person who loves me most in the world, who loves me unconditionally, even before I was even born. The person who was thinking of me, two thousand years ago, while he was dying a horrific death to pay my penalty for everything I would ever do in the future. Thinking of me, loving me, while he died to set me free and give me a future of eternal joy and happiness.

It’s so impossible, and so unlike anything found anywhere else, in any of the world’s religions. God, all-powerful and all-knowing, chose to set aside his power and knowledge in order to take on the flesh and frailties of a human being. Born into the world he created as a helpless baby, he suffered everything we suffer, was tempted as we are tempted. He intimately knows and understands how loss and rejection rips through you, how illness and stubbed toes, impatience and anger feels. He went through all of it, but because he was still God, he remained sinless and perfect.

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So perfect that he was able to lay down his life, go willingly to the worse death the ancient Romans could devise, in order to be a sacrifice in our place. He took the punishment we all deserve, because we all have sinned. You might say, “Well, I’ve been a pretty good person. I haven’t killed anyone, or slept with a married person, and I’ve tried to be nice to other people and I give money to the Red Cross and even do some volunteer work.”

But Jesus said that whoever is angry with another person commits murder in his heart, and whoever looks on another person with lust commits adultery with them, for it is a person’s heart where the sin first happens. If you’ve ever lusted, or been angry at someone for cutting you off in traffic, or lied about something you’ve done, it is the same as if you had committed murder. There are no small sins. They all destroy. If they don’t destroy another person, they destroy you. And the penalty for sin is death. Eternal death.

There is only one way to be free of guilt and sin, and that is for the debt you owe to be paid. Imagine you did a crime, and after the court sentenced you, someone in the audience stood up and said, “I will pay the penalty for that crime. Even though I am completely innocent of it, I will pay the fine, I will go to prison, I will even take the sentence of death onto myself. Just let my friend go free. Because I love her.”

This is what Jesus did. The only perfect man to ever walk on the earth stood up in the only courtroom that really matters, and took our sin onto himself.  And he did it out of pure love.

He loves us. Every single person this earth is so important to him, and so loved by him, that he was willing to give up everything in order to save us. And not only that, but he wants to live with us in perfect companionship, in the perfect place he has made for us, forever.

I can’t even express you to how much I want to feel his arms wrapped around me. Imagine the person you love most in the world. Now imagine you have been separated from him/her for a very long time. You get the most amazing letters from him, filled with love and humor that make you love him more every time you read them, and once or twice you’ve gotten a phone conversation where you’ve heard his voice. He sends you gifts, perfectly chosen things that are always exactly what you need or want. When you are in trouble, he sends help.

And he promises that one day, he will come back and pick you up, and take you to a place he’s been working on, a place he made with just you in mind, and the two of you will live there forever in perfect health and perfect happiness. This is Jesus. And this is what he’s given me, and what he’s offering you.

So many people say, “Well, that sounds nice, but believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus. I just can’t do it.” Have you asked him if he’s real? I mean this sincerely. Have you? He promises that anyone who seeks him out, will find him. All you have to do is ask. Other people say, “If what you say is coming happens, then I’ll believe.” I hope that’s true. But even if the world as we know it ends this weekend, as it very well could, you have no guarantee that you’ll be here to see it. Every minute 108 people die. You might be one of them. Or, when the Rapture happens, you might not survive it. When we go up, wrath is coming down, and I believe it will utterly destroy America. There will be a worldwide earthquake, and the sun will dark and the moon will turn to blood. There will be tsunamis, and, I believe, the outbreak of WW3. In one hour, everything will change, and nothing will ever be the same. By the end of seven years, most of the world’s population will have died of famine, war, lack of drinkable water, earthquake, volcanic activity, meteors, and disease. The world has seen nothing remotely like what’s going to happen; it’s going to be utterly unique in all of history.

And it’s just about to happen. Soon. The dominoes are all set up, everything is in place, exactly how the Bible said it would be, down to the last detail. Thousands of prophecies, made thousands of years ago, describing our current political and geographical alliances, our technology, our mindset and culture, our recent history. It’s too exact to be coincidence. He’s coming. The person I love more than anyone or anything is coming to take me home, and I pray that you change your mind about him before it’s too late.

June 6th Urban Farm Update

This time of year is crazy-busy-fun on the backyard farm. The garden is growing so fast it’s hard to keep up with everything, and nearly every spare pen/coop I have has babies in it. I love it.

In the bunny barn, I have three different ages of rabbits, all co-existing happily together. I have my original two breeding does, plus babies from two different litters – born about a month apart.

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My favorite one from the most recent litter is this blue otter kit.

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I was hoping to keep it, if it was a doe, but sadly…I’m nearly 100% sure it’s a buck. Maybe in the next litter I’ll get a keeper.

Ophelia’s foster chicks, the four black copper marans, are growing up. They still sit on her back like she’s a massive pillow…and who can blame them, really? She’s so soft and fluffy! I’ve gotten lucky here, because out of the four, only one is a rooster. I’ll be keeping one of the hens, and the other two girls will be going together to a friend of mine.

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Sansa’s foster chicks have been cast out of the nest. They are Red Rangers, a meat breed I’m testing out, and they are already as large as she is. In the below picture, they are the two closest to the camera.

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The bigger darker red hen is Charlotte, one of my layers. Beyond her, on the other side of fence are the four Freedom Rangers I’m also trying out as a meat bird. The Freedom Rangers are definitely proving the best. They are larger, easy to handle, and just really plumping out well.

The other chicks are the bantam Mottled Cochins, and the two Silkies.

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I’m really falling hard for the cochins. They are so adorable. I have two roosters that will have to be re-homed, plus three hens: Milly, Maisie, and Molly. In the back of the photo, you can see the two silkies. Lucie is the partridge one, in front. I love her coloring, and I hope she is an actual hen. It’s super hard to tell for sure with silkies.

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The other silkie, Lola, is a buff color.

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In the below picture, you can see how easy it is to sex the cochins, even at this young age. The two on the right are the roos…see how much larger and redder their combs and wattles are?

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And then there are the Muscovy ducklings. Taking the advice of the Fit Farmer, I made a screened box for underneath the water, to keep the shavings dry and clean(er). Ducklings are horrifically messy, and wet shavings stink. This helps so very much!

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Here’s a video of the ducklings:

That video was taken a week or so ago. They are now MUCH larger, and have outgrown both my indoor brooder, AND the two intermediate secure pens. Their ultimate duck house is not yet finished and predator-proof, so they are currently spending their days in the unfinished duck house, but I’m locking them up in the extra coop at night.

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I can’t believe how fast ducklings grow.

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In the garden, everything is growing and flowering, including my favorite kitchen flower, the calendula. These self-seed throughout the garden is such a charming way.

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A few weeks back, I made a bed in the front yard for more raspberries.

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I intended to get the traditional canes to plant, but when I went searching for the variety I wanted, I discovered you can also buy rootstock, which is how the commercial berry producers do it. For a fraction of the cost of bareroot canes, they send you a literal envelope with some thin, cobwebby raspberry roots. You stretch them out in a line, bury with 1/2″ to 1″ of soil, then keep them well-watered, never allowing them to dry out. Unbelievably, they are supposed to grow faster and produce berries sooner than if you’d planted canes!

Mine are starting to sprout little raspberry plants!

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Will I really get raspberries this summer? It’s hard to believe, but they are doing very well, and for $10 I got enough rootstock to make a 5 foot row.

One thing already fruiting is the berry I wait for every year: strawberries!

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Berries shipped in from CA taste like cardboard to me, and even locally-grown strawberries, while vastly better, still don’t have the full taste they should. Most commercial varieties aren’t grown for taste, but how well they last on the market shelves. These are Shuksan, one of the varieties that is considered one of the BEST tasting berries ever grown. I can personally attest that they taste fantastic!

 

Ducklings!

The Muscovy ducklings are here! I thought it would be another two weeks or so, but a local breeder I had given up hearing from, finally messaged me to say she had pied ducklings available. We met halfway between our cities, and she handed off a small box of absolute sweetness. Seven ducklings.

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I’m used to ducklings being relatively loud. Not these guys. They were almost perfectly silent all the way home. They hatched earlier that day, so the first thing we did was clip a tiny bit off the end of their right wings. Clipping one wing like this is called pinioning, and while it’s a major surgery requiring a vet on older birds, day-old ducklings’ bones are super soft, and although a couple of them bled a small amount, they didn’t even seem to notice anything had happened. I live on a small property, and Muscovy ducks are well-known for their ability to fly onto your roof – or your neighbor’s roof! For their own safety, I pinioned them to prevent them from being able to fly.

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I don’t know if this is a Muscovy trait, but these ducklings are inseparable. And they seem to know if one is missing. I moved them outside onto grass yesterday when it was sunny, and because I carried them two by two, I had to leave one solo in the brooder until the last trip. The six outside called loudly for him until I brought him out!

They are super cute. And I think I have three different colors. Black and white, chocolate and white, and possibly blue/lavender and white? Below is the darkest, compared to the lightest.

Muscovys are perching ducks, which means they have feet with claws, for gripping. Their little feet actually curl around my fingers! And those claws are already sharp.img_7292_zps32klucfb

 

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And did I mention they are adorable?

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The Garden is Exploding!

May is when the garden goes crazy. Green, lush, and – after the long winter – just so suddenly packed full of life. I could easily spend my entire day outdoors working, between the animals and the garden…and often, I do. It’s wonderful.

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Nearly everything is fruiting like crazy, too. I don’t know if it’s because of our unusually snowy winter, but the fruit trees and bushes are packed with blooms. Even the ones that normally don’t do all that well in my garden, like the blueberries. We have apples, currants, gooseberries, peaches and so many others, including figs.

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Cherries:

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And plums. This will be the first year I’ve gotten plums!

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That is, I WILL get plums, if Mama Short-Tail doesn’t get them first.  I couldn’t get her to show off her short docked tail (there has to be a tale of adventure there!) but this particular squirrel nests in the tree right against my fence, and spends a lot of her time in my yard. I saw her with two healthy youngsters just the other day. Sigh.

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There are some ornamental flowers blooming as well. Roses and Lily-of-the-Valley are two my favorites.

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Besides the numerous baby chicks running around, I also have a brand-new batch of baby Rex bunnies. These are about 5 days old.

This one is a blue otter. If she’s a doe, I may keep her.

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The pigeons have a new nest of two babies; I’m guessing it’s another male and female pair since one of the them stands up, puffs out its chest and tries to bite my fingers when I pet them, and the other shrinks down and tries to become invisible. The firstborn pair are fully grown, billing and cooing and falling in love, and trying to find their place in the dovecote. That is Esther with the purple legband, and Mordecai in the green. Watching a bit resentfully (he thinks the kids should fly away and find their own dovecote) is the father, Emerson.

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And they aren’t MY babies, but someone chose to make their nest in this house I put up in the chicken coop rafters. I love hearing the sounds of the babies screaming for their supper!

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I’ve been working on lots of projects. I added another box of commonly-used herbs near the kitchen door – I’ve just started really cooking with fresh herbs, and its unbelievably lovely to just open the door and snip off a few leaves!

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I’ve also been working on the future home of the Muscovy ducks.  It doesn’t look like much yet, but I have a plan! Speaking of the Muscovies, I will hopefully finally get them in about two weeks. It’s been a journey, getting these ducks!

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Mom also finished a project. We have this spot just to the left of our front gate that has always had the ugliest concrete floor. One of us had the idea of just getting cedar boards, cutting them to size, then laying them into the space. It worked, and looks wonderful. And super easy, too.

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I’ve also been sprucing up the garden. First, because a blogger friend of mine wanted to come film my garden and interview me for her channel Making It Home  (I’ll put the finished video she made at the end of this blog, if you’d like to see it) and secondly, because I have several tours I’m giving for various people, plus hosting a family party.

The interview Making It Home did was specifically about the method of gardening I use called Back to Eden, where you keep the soil covered at all times by a thick layer of wood chips. We didn’t get into it because of time constraints, but I really do only a modified version of Back to Eden these days. I have found that while wood chips works fantastically in the perennial beds (and in the chicken run!) it is less successful in the annual vegetable beds. And that is largely because the chips are too large. I scrape them aside to plant seeds, but invariably they fall back in and smother my seedlings – either because of the wind, or rampaging squirrels like Mama Short-Tail. So now I use bunny litter on my vegetable beds. It’s a mixture of wood shavings, plus bunny droppings, and it’s a perfect thing. The shavings are small enough not to smother seedlings, and bunny droppings can be used directly in the garden without composting, because it won’t burn your plants like other manures do. Look at the picture below:

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The left side is wood chips. The right is bunny litter.  I tell ya, I wouldn’t know how to garden if it weren’t for my critters. The bunnies are essential for their manure/mulch, and the chickens have absolutely saved my garden from slugs. I used to come out in the morning and find my lettuce destroyed under a tell-tale trail of slime. In the evenings, you could come out with a flashlight, and see literally dozens of slugs crossing the lawn, heading for the vegetable beds. Ducks are good slug patrol, but honestly, chickens are better. Ducks eat slugs, but chickens eat slug eggs. I let my chickens out free range into my garden for a couple hours a week during the winter and early spring, and they just ninja their way through all the slug egg caviar. Come planting time, there are few slugs left…just a handful of super tiny ones spread out through the whole garden. I see a few nibbles on a leaf here and there, but it’s generally not a problem. I don’t remember the last time I saw a slug larger than half an inch.

I love it when things work together in harmony, the way God intended.