Category Archives: Ducks

The times they are a changing…

One of my all-time fave critters… You can read a cool story about this cat over on Medium.

If you have been a regular reader of my various blogs over the years, I owe you an apology for having sort of disappeared. I haven’t actually disappeared, but I have mostly relocated my blogging efforts to Medium.

Because I wasn’t completely convinced that blog-readers over there would be interested in reading about things like the perils of duck-farming (and other such misadventures), I was a bit reluctant to move my entire blogging life from here to there. I don’t easily succumb to ‘grass is greener’ temptations, but in this case, recent changes to the way the Medium platform works have completely won me over.

You’d be amazed what can go wrong when attempting to breed ducks…
[Photo by Fábio Scaletta on Unsplash]

One of the things I love about Medium (and, I’ll be writing a post all about that very soon) is that I can write about anything I choose – travel, art, food, farming, climbing, writing – and there’s an audience. Things aren’t organized in quite the same way as a traditional blog, so people find and follow the topics they are most interested in.

And, yes, the platform is set up as a subscription service so writers actually get paid for their writing efforts! You can read up to three stories a month free, but after that, it’s $5. a month to subscribe. I LOVE the platform and find that modest charge to be more than worth the modest investment AND I know that when I comment on or cheer for the writers I enjoy, they benefit directly. There are no ads on the platform, which is another huge plus to my way of thinking.

Anyway, all that to say, come find me over on Medium. I will try to remember to cross post over here more often than I have been, but if you don’t want to miss out, pop on over and say hello!

X is for This Way Up

Piglets are not the only thing that’s been incubating around here. We are also hatching out various types of poultry in a couple of very basic incubators. These do not automatically adjust if temperature or humidity is off a bit, so I check the temperature manually several times a day and adjust as necessary.

x marks the eggs

Ridley Bronze turkey eggs in the incubator.

I also need to adjust the position of the eggs, turning them from one side to the other several times a day. To keep track of which side is up, I mark the eggs with X’s and O’s. Each time I turn the eggs I also record the temperature and note the direction in which I turned them (left or right). Each incubator (one for turkeys, one for chickens) has its own chart.

Every time I open the lid of an incubator, adjust the temperature, turn the eggs, add a bit of water to the tray in the bottom (to raise the humidity) I think about the broody birds who do such a good job of hatching out eggs and give them a silent nod of thanks for helping to reduce my workload just a little (we also let some of the birds sit on their own nests – the ducks and bantam hens make the most amazing mothers).

L is for Late Nights in the Hog Pen

After weeks of waiting, we are back on piglet watch, this time in the newly designed and constructed hog hut. We’ve had terrible troubles with our sows panicking during farrowing and then lashing out at what they perceive to be the cause of their pain – their new piglets. When Olivia had her last litter and I tried to intervene and get the piglets out of the way until she could finish delivering everyone, she came after me. Let me tell you it is no fun to be tossed in the air by an angry sow, flung aside like I was of no heavier than a scrap of cloth.

After that rather scary incident, I was very leery about getting between Pearl and her piglets and thought I’d be very discrete, staying way out of the way while she delivered her little ones. That was a mistake. Well, perhaps not a mistake when it came to protecting myself, but a mistake in terms of saving the piglets.

We had been busy preparing a safety pen for everyone and were about a day away from completion when Pearl went into labour a tad ahead of schedule. So, I had to improvise with a couple of pallets and a gap between the pallets and the hog shelter wall. By the time I had maneuvered this makeshift safety pen into position, Pearl had dispatched three or four piglets. She continued to deliver and after I had the protection of the pallets, I was able to pull four more to safety. We dried them off, put them under a heat lamp, and waited until she had delivered the afterbirth before warily putting the surviving piglets back in with her. Even though we had a creep set up and an area with a heat lamp in the hog shelter (for the piglets to stay out of the way), she still managed to squash two more during that first night! So, after all was said and done we wound up with two piglets out of a litter of eight.

A day later, we also had a lovely new safety pen built inside an old horse trailer and positioned in Olivia’s pen. Olivia has been eating and sleeping in there for several weeks now (with the back door open so she was free to come and go) and late this afternoon when she was producing milk, I locked her inside. She is quite comfortable in her ‘den’ but this new, smaller area with its low walls allows me to safely work around her. I can reach in to assist and remove piglets as they are born. They will stay close by under a heat lamp, but out of the way so the risk of squashing is minimized.

It usually takes mom and babies about 72 hours to learn to talk to each other. Mom has a special grunt that means ‘get out of my way while I lie down!’ and another that means, ‘I’m lying down now – come and eat!’ As soon as they have this all sorted out, I’ll open up the back door of the safety pen and they can all come and go as they please, but meanwhile, everyone should be reasonably safe.

Had I known how stressful this whole farrowing process was going to be before we started down the rare hog breeding path, I’m not sure I would have started on the journey! But now that we are on the road, I have to admit there are few things cuter than new piglets. Not that any appeared last night. I slept down in the truck and checked on Olivia every couple of hours, but she slept through all my nighttime visits.

I started writing this post last night thinking I would finish it in the wee hours of the morning when I could post photos of the new arrivals. Hah! Unless Olivia gets in gear today and delivers everyone during the daylight hours, it looks like another night wishing the truck was just a couple of inches wider so I could stretch out properly.

Image

Meanwhile, I will enjoy these little cutie pies, who hatched yesterday. Can we all say ‘awwwwwwwww!’

Well, That Was Exciting! [And why was my phone in the truck???????]

Bald eagle making dastardly plans...

Bald eagle making dastardly plans…

I was at the back of the truck using the tailgate as a handy table on which to hack up soft pumpkins and squash to feed to the hogs, turkeys, ducks, and chickens when the roosters started up their ‘We’re all gonna’ die!!!!’ chorus. The turkeys took up the alarm cry and I turned around to see a bald eagle skimming along knee high in hot pursuit of one of my drakes! They were headed straight up the driveway toward me, the drake intent on escape, the eagle intent on lunch when the drake shot under the truck and the eagle, a bit surprised to see me, swooped up and over me and did a couple of slow, lazy loops just overhead. All of this happened in a few seconds and whether I could have whipped my phone out fast enough to capture the drama is unlikely, but I found myself slapping my empty butt pockets as I realized I had left the phone in the truck cab! The eagle circled overhead a couple more times as I scrambled into the cab, retrieved the phone and watched as the bird landed on a nearby tree branch.

We had a conversation, then – me explaining to the eagle that he was welcome to hunt rabbits and rats but if he wouldn’t mind leaving my birds alone I’d be most grateful. The eagle shrugged himself off the branch, circled once more, and then sailed off with nary a backward glance. It’s odd, actually, that he was going after a drake. The adult muscovy males are nearly the same size as an eagle and would put up a formidable fight. They have huge talons and are generally not bothered too much by predators (the smaller female ducks are another story…).

Time will tell whether the eagle was paying any attention to my pleas for mercy on behalf of the flock.

Bad News Arrives by Text Message – Warning – Unpleasant Photo

Yesterday I was extolling the virtues of always having a smartphone handy at all times… But today, I’m kind of wishing it wasn’t quite so easy to share info [heads up – if you are squeamish, maybe you should skip this post].

My neighbour just sent me this image, snapped on her phone:

Formerly Known as a DuckMost likely, this is was one of my adventurous ducks…  Hard to say what got her – eagle? Hawk? Owl? Raccoon? When this happens it makes me question just how good an idea it is to allow my birds as much freedom to roam as they get. This is the harsh downside of free range poultry. Some stick close to home, but some venture out into the open areas (like over at C’s place, in the field) where they are pretty vulnerable to overhead attacks.

I also have a few that have taken to roosting on the barn roof at night and have now, in the wake of this loss, moved ‘re-clip duck wings’ up to the top of the To-Do list. This will help keep the ducks closer to the ground, which makes them easier to herd into their shelters at night. Clipping wings does, though, make it harder for them to get away from ground-based trouble-makers like dogs and raccoons.

It is tempting, when confronted with a pile of feathers and birds that just don’t listen to my suggestion that they stay close to tree cover, to say – That’s it! Confinement in pens for all of you! 

What do you think? Is the occasional loss of a roaming bird worth the trade-off? Confinement certainly keeps them safer, but keeping birds in a small space can lead to other issues – stress, disease spreading, and a more restricted diet. For now, I will clip wings to try to keep everyone closer to home where they can take advantage of all the trees at our place, but if the local hawks decide our place is a handy drive-in snack bar, I may need to re-think my strategy…