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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And plums. This will be the first year I’ve gotten plums!
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.
There are some ornamental flowers blooming as well. Roses and Lily-of-the-Valley are two my favorites.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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:
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.
It’s the way of life on this earth. One creature dies, another is born…or hatched. I lost one of my sweet hens, Tilda, a couple of weeks ago. She was fine, and then she wasn’t. I don’t know what happened; she was always an extremely busy girl, always foraging and running about, and I noticed pretty quickly that she wasn’t feeling well because she slowed way, way down. I checked her over, but nothing appeared to be wrong. But there was something, because shortly afterward, she developed sour crop. Problems with the crop are often a sign there is something seriously wrong inside the hen’s body. Since this particular hen was a golden sexlink, a variety bred specifically to pump out a huge amount of eggs, I suspect it was something amiss in her egg laying apparatus. These hens aren’t meant to last much longer than two years, and that’s about how long she lived. This is why I really prefer heritage breeds.
I’ll miss her. She was one of the sweet girls, always jumping up on my lap for a snuggle. I made sure she had one last snuggle before she went.
But following close on the heels of this loss is new life. Just a few days afterward, the one solitary silkie egg in my incubator hatched.
She is a miracle chick. In a previous post, I talked about how I got seven silkie eggs in the mail, and the box hadn’t been separated out of the normal non-fragile mail. My mail carrier told me she was very upset that she found the box tossed in the bottom of a mail bag, underneath all the other boxes. I wasn’t sure if anything could survive that! But candling the eggs, one of them was developing. I prayed for that egg. So many things can go wrong. Once, even, we lost power and had to put the silkie egg outside under a broody hen for a few hours.
Since she was the only silkie egg to hatch, I didn’t want to raise her alone, without a mother hen or siblings. I had Mottled Cochin Bantam eggs hatching the same day, underneath my smallest hen, Sansa. I checked on her, and she had two adorable little black and yellow chicks that had hatched so far, with more to come. That night, I put little Lucie out underneath her, praying she’d be ok.
In the morning, I went to check, and found the two hatched cochin chicks dead. Sansa had accidentally stepped on them. Even though she should have been small enough to mother them – I know people put bantam eggs under full-sized hens – she wasn’t gentle enough for such tiny babies. There were three other eggs with pips under her, and one other that had been stepped on while trying to hatch. It was still alive and peeping, but I couldn’t immediately tell if it was ok. There was no sign of Lucie.
I thought she was dead, and being a dark colored chick, was in a corner somewhere. Heartsick, I gathered up the hatching eggs and brought them inside to the incubator. The one that had been stepped on inside the shell needed help getting out the shell, but once out, it was perfectly fine! The rest weren’t ready to come out, so I left them and went to find out what happened to Lucie.
I lifted Sansa up to check underneath her better, and there was little Lucie, right between Sansa’s feet, alive, untouched, and looking up at me like “What?”
Isn’t she sweet? The breeder I bought the eggs from had a mix of all colors of silkies, so there was no way to know what color would hatch from my eggs: black, white, buff, partridge, or splash. I was particularly wanting a partridge. Guess what color Lucie is? Yep, she’s partridge!
I brought her in the house and put her in the incubator too, until I could get a brooder set up. Sansa, meanwhile, was freaking out. She knew she’d had babies, and she knew I’d stolen them. She was so upset, and of course it wasn’t her fault I couldn’t let her keep them. Mom called around to the local farm store, and they had some Red Ranger chicks left…and one solitary silkie. She bought two of the Red Rangers for Sansa, and the silkie to be Lucie’s friend.
Meet Lola. She is, I believe, a buff colored silkie.
From the Mottled Cochin eggs, I ended up with five chicks.
They are such tiny, perfect little creatures.
Sansa, meanwhile, went from being a calm friendly bird, to being a velociraptor. If I go anywhere near those two Red Ranger chicks of hers, if I reach for a nearby water bottle to refill it, she goes berserk. She has not forgotten or forgiven the fact that I stole her previous babies, and she will murder me if I try to take these two! Last year, she raised two chicks for me, and had no problem whatsoever with me holding her babies. This year, wow. I had to move her and the chicks into a different coop, and the only way I could was pick the babies up (one in each hand) and carry them, knowing she’d follow. She not only followed, she flew repeatedly at me, as high as my chest, screaming the curses of her people, and biting me. If she weren’t such a small hen, she’d be terrifying! I hope she settles down, once she realizes I’m not going to steal these chicks.
In addition to the chicks already mentioned, I also have four Freedom Rangers. I’ve heard really good things about these as meat birds. So far, I’m impressed. They are calm, contented birds, that are curious and very easy to keep.
They are obviously a very stocky build, with huge feet and legs, and are already much heavier than the two heritage meat breeds we tried in previous years.
The garden is doing well this year. The fruit trees are loaded with blossoms! Below is a little columnar apple I planted just last year!
This year I finally followed through and planted comfrey starts throughout my garden, and they are all doing great.
The dandelions are springing up everywhere, and I love them. I used to try to keep them contained, and grow lots of kale, cabbage, and other greens for the chickens. I’ve since wised up. Dandelions are much easier to grow, and MUCH healthier to eat. They are packed with nutrition! They are one of the best greens for humans as well. And the chickens, rabbits, and other critters love them. Plus, the flowers are gorgeous. Definitely as pretty as domesticated flowers. So I’m letting them go, wherever they want. And this year, I harvested about two cups of dandelion flower petals, and made Dandelion Honey.
It’s supposed to taste exactly like bee honey. I don’t think it does, but it is very good. Sunshine in a jar!