Category Archives: ducks

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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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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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.

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….)