Category Archives: ducks

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.

Spring Wedding?

I have a brief critter update at the end of this post, but first I want to talk about weddings. Specifically, Jewish weddings around 33 A.D. They had some beautiful traditions.

The marriage would be agreed upon between the two families, and with the future bride’s consent, the betrothal agreement would be signed. Although they were now firmly and legally joined together, the marriage itself would not happen for at least a year. During this time, the future groom would go away to his father’s property, and build a house for his new wife – a house as good as, or better, than the home she would be leaving. The bride would be working on her wedding dress, and making herself ready to leave for this new house at a moment’s notice – because no one (not even the groom!) knew when the wedding would take place. It was the groom’s father who decided, based on when he felt the house was finished to his satisfaction.

I can just imagine the impatience and longing with which the bride waited, wondering each day, as she saw the signs of her future home being built, and heard rumors from her friends and family of how fine it was, and how close her future husband was to finishing it! But finally, all was prepared to the father’s satisfaction, and he said to his son: “Go and bring home your bride!”

 

The groom would immediately go to the outskirts of his bride’s village, and sound a trumpet to announce his arrival. The bride, who had been seeing the signs and knew it had to be soon, had started sending out her friends to watch and wait for him. When they hear the trumpet, she dresses herself in her wedding finery and runs out to meet him. He scoops her up in his arms and takes her back to his father’s house, where they go into a private room for seven days to consummate the marriage. After that week alone, they are announced to the world as husband and wife, and celebrate a massive wedding feast with their families and guests.

Jesus says that he is the bridegroom, and his bride is all those who believe in who he is, and accept his free gift of salvation. After his death and resurrection, when he legally and irrevocably bound his life to ours, he went away to build us mansions in his father’s house, in heaven. When all is ready, and all the signs say that now is the time, he will return and catch us away for seven years, to protect us from the horror that will come upon the earth. At the end of the seven years, he will return with us to earth, to destroy evil and return the earth to a state of perfection. And there we will have our ‘marriage supper’ with the King of Kings, he who loves us more impossibly and more incredibly, than we will ever be able to understand.

 

We’ve been waiting for our Bridegroom a very long time, but now, finally, all the signs are here that he told us to watch for, and any time now we will hear that trumpet, and feel him wrap his arms around us and lift us up, and take us home.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are [a]asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

I feel so incredibly fortune to be alive on earth during this time. This will be the single greatest moment of the past 2,000 years – and one of the three greatest moments in the history of the entire world.

But while I’m waiting, I have work to do here. The very first job ever given to mankind was in the Garden of Eden, right after the world was created.

Genesis 1:26 
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 2:15 
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

It is a running theme throughout the Bible that God cares deeply for all his creation, and he does not take kindly to those who destroy and mistreat it. This is why I have a garden and an urban farm. This is why I don’t use chemicals in my garden, and why I give my animals the absolute best and most natural life I can. Nothing I raise or grow in my garden is mine – it all belongs to God, and I am merely the steward and caretaker of it. One day, I will stand before him, and he will examine my work, and judge the value of it.

Hopefully, that day will be soon!

Song of Solomon 2:10-13

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away, for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing[d] has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.

My pigeons have laid their second egg, and have begun to sit on them.  In about two weeks, the eggs should hatch.

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And just today, I found a local woman who has Muscovy ducks. She has eggs that will hatch next week, and they are just the color I’m interested in. So if I’m still here, I will finally get some ducklings. I think 7-8, to be sure I get a good ratio of drakes to hens. I plan to keep three of them, one drake and two hens.

The mama “Peanut” is such a cutie.

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In chicken news, two nights ago I went out to shut them up in their coop. It was getting a little dim out there, so I walked down the length of the perch, petting each chicken and counting them as I did. One of the chickens felt…funny. I looked closer and discovered she was wearing a necklace!

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Can you tell what that is? It’s a paper plate! They’d had some leftover mashed potatoes earlier, and obviously she’d managed to rip out the bottom and slip it over her head! It was too dark them to take a picture, but I saved the plate so I could recreate the moment for you guys. Is she hinting that I should make her a costume? It is true that I’ve seen those pictures of chickens wearing tulle tutus and always wanted to make one!

1,100 New Livestock Critters!

I’m adding several new animals to the urban farm this spring. Muscovy ducks, King pigeons (my first pair is arriving this week in the mail!) and I just put myself on the waitlist for a satin angora rabbit.

And then there was this, which came in the mail last week:

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I didn’t count them, but the seller said there was 1,100 critters in this cloth bag!

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Yep. Mealworms. Not the cutest or cuddliest thing I’ve ever added to the farm, but if it works out, definitely practical. Almost everything I own likes to eat mealworms…chickens, ducks, quail…pigeons? Do pigeons eat mealworms? I need to google that. Mealworms are an excellent protein source.

They are supposedly easy to raise, as well – especially if you do the no-sort method I am trying. Basically you just put them in a plastic bin, add several inches of wheat bran (bedding AND food for the worms) and a few cut slices of raw potato or apples for moisture. The worms eventually turn into flightless beetles, which lay eggs, which hatch into a larger number of worms. If it works, I’ll have a sustainable protein source for the birds, and a fertilizer for the garden (worm poop).

 

Gotta say, I’m a LOT more excited about getting the pigeons! (But I have a feeling the chickens will prefer the worms….)

Ducks, Again?

I tried having ducks in the urban farm – was it three years ago? Four? Five? – and it didn’t work out. They were the cutest thing ever:

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Even after they grew up. I love Indian Runners.

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But there were three major reasons why, after a year and a half, I ended up rehoming them on a farm with a pond and a garden that needed a slug patrol. They were a bit too noisy (especially before I added the drake – girl ducks are sex-crazy beasts!), way too messy, and hard to protect from predators.

The last two reasons were really the same issue. Their coop needed to be completely rat and raccoon proof, but such a coop means that it is stationary. Which means either you are out there cleaning it out all the time, or it very quickly gets stinky and messy. Ducks have very wet poop, and they are into water all the time. Stinky messy coops are not how I keep animals. I tried a few different methods (gravel, shavings, wood chips) and finally gave up and said ducks just aren’t for me, in this particular place.

But I miss having ducks. And I miss duck eggs, which are the best eggs in the world. Seriously. So good.  So I started looking into other kinds of duck-like critters, including having a single goose in with the chickens as a livestock guardian and producer of eggs.

But then I started coming back to Muscovy ducks. I had explored having them before, but I wasn’t sure how I’d keep them along with the chickens. People have different experiences, but I have heard a number of people say the Muscovy drake (which is a very large, goose-sized bird at 15lbs) killed or harmed their hens. I can’t risk that. I love my hens.

But the good points of Muscovy ducks balance out exactly the problems I had with regular ducks. Muscovies are nearly silent. The males hiss and females make a low whistling, trilling sound. They are much larger than other ducks, and although I’d still want to protect them from raccoons, they apparently actively look for rodents to eat. Yes, eat. I won’t have to worry about rats!

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Not worrying about rats means I won’t have to wire in the bottom of the pen with hardware cloth. Not wiring in the bottom means that I can build a light-weight moveable pen, similar to a chicken tractor. Being able to move the pen means that before it gets stinky, I can move it to different ground, and won’t have to clean it out.

My chicken run area is large, and I already have it divided off into different areas with fences and gates. To protect the hens from the Muscovy drake (at least until I know if he’s going to behave or not) I will let the Muscovies have the south end in the summer, and the north end in winter, the opposite of where the chickens are. Switching them back and forth will keep the chickens happy, because they’ll have new area to scratch around in every few months, and still the ducks plenty of room.

Plus, Muscovy ducks are famous for being fly-eaters. If you have these ducks on your farm, you’ll have around 80-90% less flies.

They are also a very sustainable source of backyard meat. Muscovy breast meat tastes very similar to a sirloin steak, and the females are wonderful and prolific mothers, willing to hatch and raise more than one clutch a year, if you let them.

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The biggest con with Muscovies is that they fly. Very well. They like to perch on house roofs. As I live in a urban area, I can’t have my ducks flying into my neighbors’ yards and perching on their roofs. But I found one mail order place that will ship day-old duckling with pinioned wings (the very tip of their wing clipped off, so that they will never be able to fly well as adults). Some people think this is cruel, but actually many states in the USA demand that domestic Muscovy ducks be pinioned, so they can’t escape into the wild and cause problems. Just-hatched ducklings have wings that are mostly cartilage, not bone, and the part they snip off is very tiny. I watched a video of it being done, and the ducklings didn’t even seem to notice. The wings didn’t bleed, and as soon as the man put them down, they ran right back to eating and drinking as if nothing had happened.

The minimum order is 15 ducklings, so if all 15 survive, I’ll either sell a few or stock the freezer. I plan to keep just three: a drake and two hens. If I like them, and don’t mind the process of butchering them, I’ll let them raise a clutch of ducklings every year for the freezer. I’ve never had Muscovy, but duck is my favorite meat, and I’m very intrigued by the idea that the breasts resemble steak in taste and texture.  I love the idea of adding more sustainable sources of meat and eggs to the farm, particularly when they come with advantages of fly and rodent control.

Of Pigs and Pigeons

The plans to get Muscovy ducks is moving along. I called the farm I want to buy them from, and confirmed that they can ship to me. Actually, they can’t ship to me, because my city is too small for one-day shipping, but they can ship to the larger city right next to me, and I can go pick them up at the post office there. I think I’ll have them sent in May. The weather will be nice by then, so I can move them asap out of my house (ducklings are incredibly messy) and out into the grow-out coop.

Brand new on the agenda for this year is pigeons! I have this wonderful pen that has never really lived up to its potential. I’ve had quail in it, rabbits, and most recently, guinea pigs.

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It’s wrapped in plastic right now because of the guinea pigs. None of these critters use the entire space, ground and upper flight areas, which is a shame. So I moved the pigs into a vacant quail coop that gives them ample floor room, freeing up this pen for pigeons. And I’m planning to wire over the rooftop garden, incorporating it into the cage as even more space for the birds.

I’ve long been interested in pigeons because I love pigeons, but I have a little hawk that lives in the field next door, and I’ve watched her take down the wild pigeons in my yard. While I definitely don’t begrudge her a dinner, I don’t want her dinner to be my animals, which has kept me from getting homing pigeons. The whole reason to have those is to let them fly free, which they couldn’t safely do in around my house. But recently, I stumbled across a website about utility pigeons – pigeons raised for eggs and meat. I had pigeon when I was in London, and really liked it, and I like the idea of having animals that are useful in several ways. Plus, pigeons helped many people make it through the Great Depression – and since we’re headed toward even worse times, another source of sustainable backyard protein is highly appealing to me.

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These are king pigeons, the variety I would most likely get. They are extremely domesticated, calm, and gentle. They are heavy enough that they don’t really fly well at all, so being kept in a pen is preferred for them.

And how are the guinea pigs doing? When I first got them, all the American websites said you absolutely cannot keep them outside. The British websites were full of people doing exactly that. So of course, I went with the British way of doing things…with the knowledge I may have to bring them inside during the coldest parts of winter.

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I haven’t had to do that. I wrapped their run in plastic both to warm it up slightly, and to protect from wind and rain, and they’ve been happy as two pigs can be. When I open the door, they come running for treats.

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So yeah. These are definitely outside pigs now.  I did, as I said above, moved them to a smaller pen, also winterized in plastic for the winter.

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You can just barely see Freddie in there.

We’ve been having some decent days lately, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been out working in the garden. Last year, I moved one of the quail coops out of the garden, and where it used to be, I built a small wall out of mason blocks, and added a new garden bed behind it.

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The wall both adds a bit of privacy and definition to the garden, and it also provides some protection for the mini fireplace in front.

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I also moved a couple of cold frames behind the greenhouse, and put in a larger raised bed where the cold frames used to sit. It’s a prime “hot” area, and will be terrific for tomatoes.

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All winter long, I’ve been dumping the rabbits litter boxes into the chicken’s compost area, and now I’ve started shoveling that out into my veggie gardens. It’s great stuff – even fresh, rabbit poo won’t burn plants, and this is partly composted and full of worms and other beneficial stuff.

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Just about a month left, and I’ll be able to start planting! The garden is ready for spring. The trees are budding out, the roses are sprouting leaves, and the bluebells are green.

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Now the race begins…which will happen first: spring or the rapture of the church? Hopefully the second, but at least if I’m stuck here on earth a little bit longer, I have ducklings to look forward to!

Frosty Garden/Planning for Next Spring

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I went for a walk through my garden before Christmas. This time of year is when I dream. It’s easy to make grandiose schemes when the ground is too frosty to actually do any work.

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The meat rabbits have worked out extremely well (they are definitely the easiest critters I’ve ever kept and from the last batch of fifteen grow-outs, I harvested enough meat to make 36 meals, plus I had three gallon bags of bones to make stock). Last year was all about building their housing and getting them settled, and figuring out how to manage them. Now, though, I’m ready to add some new critters.

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I think this is the year for Muscovy ducks. I’ve considered them before, but wasn’t quite sure how to wrangle them with the chickens. Some people keep a mixed flock quite happily, but I’ve also heard horror stories of the Muscovy drake killing chickens. I value my hens; I don’t want to risk their lives. But my hens have a much larger area than they actually need, so I’ve worked out a way of dividing the chicken runs, so that they will rotate through different areas with the ducks. We’ll see how it works. The ducks, being non-diggers, will also get access a lot of the time to the garden. I miss having a devoted slug patrol!

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The things that are awesome about Muscovy ducks is their extreme quietness (always valued in an urban farm) their fly and rodent catching abilities, their devotion to motherhood, and the fact that their meat is more like red meat than regular poultry. It’s said by top chefs that their breast meat in particular tastes like sirloin steak! Since there is zero chance I will ever be able to raise sirloin steak in my backyard, I’m all about this. The downside is that I have to order a minimum of 15 chicks from my hatchery of choice.

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So I’ll keep the trio of ducks I want (1 male, 2 females) and either butcher the rest, or possibly sell a few ducklings. Ducklings! I’m so excited to be getting ducklings again. They are seriously my favorite kind of babies.

I’m also making plans for the new trees and plants I’ll be ordering. Not so many trees this year, but there are at least a couple I want. It’s weird, though, making plans this far ahead, because I know I won’t be remaining on this world much longer. Literally any moment now, Christ is going to return and take his children away. It’s 100% going to happen, and happen soon. But just in case I have to wait a couple more years (rather than the weeks or months I think it will be) I have to keep doing what God wants me to do. The Bible says to garden, and provide for my family, and live a quiet life while working with my hands, and that’s exactly the life I desire…while I’m here on earth.

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But I cannot wait for the moment when I finally get to fly away and meet my Savior in the air!