Category Archives: Ducks

NABLOPOMO – Charging in for seconds! (and thirds… and fourths)

 A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed…

I don’t know why anyone thinks that calling someone a ‘bird brain’ is an insult. I have a lot of birds around (turkeys, ducks, chickens, and a cute little cockatiel up at the house) and I can tell you they know exactly which end is up.

Hen at Large

The farm birds range from a group of laying hens procured as pullets to fancy light Brahmas I raised here. We have a few spare roosters, a flock of fancy bantams, and some gorgeous Black Orpington hens. Our Muscovy ducks produce some lovely ducklings each year and the Ridley Bronze turkey flock is made up of a mix of those we grow out for holiday table birds and our breeding flock (the Ridley Bronze birds are a Canadian heritage breed that has been teetering on the edge of extinction for a number of years).

Most of the time, the birds do their own thing, roaming around hunting, pecking, posturing, and procreating. They never go far first thing in the morning because that’s when they get their major meal. Then, they scatter, scavenging lost morsels the hogs might have missed, making trouble in the hog water (if they are ducks), and sneaking off to lay eggs if they are chickens.

The turkeys have the worst case of wanderlust of all of them. They make their rounds to various neighbours (thank goodness the neighbours don’t mind too much!) and all over our property, gleefully hopping over fences and leaping from branch to branch in the trees. They know where the best bramble patches are (late, sweet blackberries are a favourite!), the plumpest seed heads on the tall grasses growing along the edges of the fields and ditches by the road, and have memorized every place where I might ever spill a few grains of feed on my rounds.

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed...

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed…

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The ducks are particularly fond of the the manure mountain and pick through the recent deposits in search of red wigglers. The pile is full of worms turning it into rich compost, so the ducks have a field day feasting.

They also do a round of the areas of the vegetable garden I’ve opened up for them – they, along with a few of the chickens, are on weed-pulling and slug-annihilation detail. The ducks are also marvelous for trimming the grass paths between the beds, a task they eagerly look forward to each autumn.

Weed Patrol

No matter how busy they have been or what treats they have managed to find during the day, every free-ranging bird on the place knows when it’s three o’clock: time for seconds (thirds, and fourths)! I will head down the hill to do the afternoon hog feed and be met at the feed room door by a sea of bird beaks and beady eyes.  The turkeys and drakes are the pushiest, literally crashing over the stacks of feed buckets in their haste to beat me to the feed bin when I enter the barn.

Yesterday, a young Tom turkey launched himself into the air at the same moment I opened the lid of the plywood feed bin. A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed and there was much thrashing and indignant complaining (from both of us!) until I could haul the bird out of the bin and send him on his way.

The birds are such a menace, the only way to get them out from under foot is to throw a bit of feed down outside. As I was doing this today it occurred to me the birds have totally won this round of farmer vs livestock (why would I think otherwise? I’m still way behind in the game of ‘Put the Turkeys To Bed’). They have very efficiently trained me to start the hog and horse feeding rounds in the afternoon by tossing bonus grub to the birds!

Afternoon Tea

Doubt my word about bird intelligence? Watch this Ted talk about crows, the way they have adapted to life with humans, and their cool vending machine… Intelligence of Crows

Sigh. I don’t have a hope if my motley flocks start talking to their wild cousins.

Theme_Large_Nov_2013_0 nablopomo

NaBloPoMo – Glass Half Empty? or Half Frozen?

Prompt: Do you see the glass as half full or half empty [on the farm]?

I’m looking at my Iphone screen right now and having a serious glass half full/half empty moment:

Half full?On the glass half full side, look at all those little yellow suns!!!! Not only is a bit of sun (low slung though it may be these days) a balm for the post-November soul, it also means the heavy traffic hog zones will dry out a bit, as will the mucky area near the gate to the turkey pen where I have my breeding birds. For some reason, this year the water has been pooling right there, which means I risk getting stuck, or the gate getting stuck when I’m trying to maneuver into the pen with buckets of feed and vegetables and water containers while not letting any turkeys out.

Turkeys

This dance of the hysterical turkeys (because they do get a bit silly when they see a human coming with buckets attached to her arms) will resolve itself very soon when the field where the Christmas birds are growing out will become available for the breeders. This lovely, large, and securely fenced area will give the few birds I will keep for next year’s procreative roster plenty of room to frolic before we have to get serious about selecting breeding groups, collecting and hatching eggs, etc.

Also on the glass half full side of the equation is an upward nudge of the daytime temps to just above freezing (for my friends south of the border, we are looking at Celsius temperatures, not Fahrenheit). The forecast had been putting the daytime highs just below freezing, which would definitely have been more of a glass half empty kind of thing.

As it is, with several nights of below zero temps, all my water pipes are going to freeze. And that is most certainly NOT a good thing. The little suns mean no snow, sleet, hail, or other nasties falling from the sky (half full!) but the frozen water ,means hauling Jerry cans into the laundry room, filling with hot water, lugging said cans, now full and VERY heavy, to various water containers up and down the hill…

Oh yes. The hill.

Room With a View

A half full sort of geographic feature when you are standing on top of the hill surveying the amazing view we enjoy, but a half empty bump in the road when you are slithering down it trying to hold back the cart loaded with VERY HEAVY containers of hot water because the hill is a) steep and b) frosty and you realize as you are about to hit a fence post because the cart has developed a mind of its own and is determined to plow you over and send you arse over tea kettle into the goat pen but there’s no way you are going to let go of the cart because then it would tip over and the cans would fly out, probably shatter in the cold, and then you’d have to make a trip to Canadian Tire to replace them with better, stronger versions so you can return to the laundry room sink, refill, and try again. I don’t think that last bit was in any way grammatically correct, but who thinks of grammar at times like that?

Where was I? Oh yes, trying to think if there was a glass half full way of looking at my frozen water situation because, basically, I am very much a glass half full kind of person.

Nope. I don’t think there is. Wait! Yes, I did think of something that won’t happen when there is a nice, thick layer of ice on top of the hog water tubs: the ducks won’t be able to get in there and blow their noses and wash their backsides!

Little White Duck

This may not be a good thing for the ducks, but it is a good thing for the hogs who (after I hack drinking holes for them) will have cleaner water to drink and for me because I won’t have to tip, scrub, and refill the hog water so often.

The other thing that won’t happen if the water freezes is I won’t find little bodies in the horse troughs. Every now and then the bantam hens and certain foolish wild birds decide they can drink from the horse troughs (they can’t – they slide in and can’t get out…). Fortunately, this is an infrequent event and those who don’t figure out that they are NOT ducks generally don’t survive to raise future generations of misguided offspring. A protective layer of ice will eliminate this problem entirely. Which is a good thing.

The other good thing about the forecast is that single degree above zero will give me hope each day that the water pipes might start flowing. I will check every half hour starting at 1pm, just in case. This will continue until 4 pm and the sun starts to go down and the temperature dips again. Most likely, the pipes will NOT unfreeze, once they are nicely frozen – but where there is sun and a single plus side degree, there is hope. And where there is hope, the glass is always half full.

Theme_Large_Nov_2013_0 nablopomo

Day 12 – Where there is a Plus, there is a Minus

Morning follows night, spring follows winter, things are born, they die - then it's lunch time. It all makes some kind of cosmic sense, down on the farm.

Morning follows night, spring follows winter, things are born, they die. It all makes some kind of cosmic sense, down on the farm.

There are a lot of things to love about life on a small farm. The list (and, because I am a list-maker, it could be a very long one, but I’ll restrain myself) includes:

-being outside a lot
-knowing where my food comes from, esp. meat and eggs
-being part of the farming community – total bonus and a conversation worthy of an entire post all its own
-being surrounded by animals – living, growing, just being
-having a flexible work day – if I need to grab a tea before putting together the new wheelbarrow, that’s fine
-making customers happy – there’s nothing quite so satisfying as hearing that the turkey someone enjoyed over the holidays was the best they have ever tasted
-every day is different – seasons change, animals are bred, incubated, hatched, delivered, nurtured – it’s never boring!
-I love the food! I know I sort of already mentioned the food, but wow, we really do eat well around here and for that I am very grateful. 
A basic white cheddar made with our goat milk. Oh. So. Good.

A basic white cheddar made with our goat milk. Oh. So. Good.

For every good point, though, there’s a corresponding down side.

It sucks to have to be outside in the pouring rain just this side of freezing, slopping around the hog pen trying to figure out where the electric fence is shorting out before the boar takes off and starts terrorizing the neighbor’s kids.

While it’s great to know exactly where my food comes from, I take no pleasure whatsoever in loading pigs I’ve watched grow from day one into the back of the truck for their one-way trip to freezer camp. Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s a good thing to name the animals, even those destined to be dinner guests. If hog pen 53B is low on water, maybe it wouldn’t get topped up quite so quickly as when Olivia stands and stares into her water tub after Gizmo and Oreo (two big Muscovy drakes) have had such violent baths in there they have basically emptied the water out and made what remains undrinkable.

Can't beat ducklings when it comes to cuteness...

Can’t beat ducklings when it comes to cuteness…

Being part of the farming community is a challenge on days when I feel like I know nothing and am and always will be a ‘newcomer’ (there are farm families around here who have been around for multiple generations and I can tell you that a five minute conversation with one of the seasoned elders is a fast reminder that nothing takes the place of decades of having your hands deep in the same bit of dirt…)

Being surrounded by animals certainly lends itself to many ‘awww, how cute’ moments, but it is also a sure fire way to have your heart broken and your bank account emptied on a regular basis. Raise enough livestock and it doesn’t take long before you are dealing with deadstock, one way or another. Turkey poults trip and drown in their shallow water dispensers (seriously, 1/4″ of water is enough to do in a poult who is clumsy enough), sows sit on their piglets or, during the stress of labour, pick the closest one up by the scruff of the neck and slam it against the wall of the farrowing hut, turkeys within days of a major holiday go on a mushroom-eating binge and keel over, ducks become fancy dinners for raccoons, old horses must be put down (double-whammy there – the cost of dispatching a horse is insane…), old goats get ovarian cancer, and any chick or poult foolish enough to somehow escape the safety of the nursery pen may fall victim to raven, eagle, hawk, cat, or even dog attack. Gads. There are days when I long for the simple predictability of a cat and a basement suite.

Oops... horse sat on the fence! A quick 'for now' repair job in sad need of repair!

Oops… horse sat on the fence! A quick ‘for now’ patch job in sad need of repair!

Being flexible during the work day only applies when it doesn’t involve being ten minutes late to feed everyone (ever heard a chorus of squealing pigs who believe they have been forgotten?). Broken gates and fences can’t wait to be repaired until the gale force winds subside because by then the horses will be charging across the highway causing who knows how many horrible accidents. The feed store trip can’t wait until you have a bit more time or a little extra cash – all those mouths need to get fed every day, regardless of whether there’s some health scare that has put people off pork and the bottom suddenly drops out of the bacon market. Electric fence walks are not a ‘I’ll get to that soon’ kind of job. All the animals are experts at testing the fence and know exactly the moment when something shorts out. See ya!

Making customers happy is great – and a good reason to go to Farmers’ Markets so you can chat to all kinds of people interested in food. Except, as anyone who has ever worked in retail can tell you, sometimes customers are… well, a pain in the donkey. Except, no matter how wrong they are or how misinformed or how obnoxious, they are also always right. Sigh.

Every day is certainly different, sometimes for logical reasons (seasons change, something is born, something dies), and this perpetual state of flux makes planning tricky. You don’t always know what lies ahead and all the best laid plans can go right off the rails when the day was meant to be spent hauling the new boar to the farm but the truck breaks down on the way to the ferry. When help fails to show up when planned (and, when it’s bucketing down some creepy mixture of sleet and slush and mud, it’s amazing how many headaches and backaches and visiting inlaws suddenly prevent farm help from materializing) that can really mess up a day that was meant to be spent in town running errands that really can’t wait another day but will have to wait another day because you know what will happen if those hogs don’t get fed on time… The day you have planned rarely matches the day that actually shows up because that is the nature of the business. Farming is always a bit of crap shoot. What happens when your seeds don’t germinate? Or, after germination and planting out get devoured by cut worms? Or slugs? Or rabbits? Or deer? What if the sow you thought was pregnant eats her way through almost four months of expensive organic feed, shows all the signs of impending labour right down to producing milk but not a single piglet ever shows up? False pregnancies don’t happen often, but when they do… that can really mess up the planning process. Ditto for lower than expected fertility rates on poultry eggs, higher than expected mortality rates for young birds, feed prices that shoot through the roof due to drought on the other side of the world, or feed orders that don’t make it onto the truck coming to the island meaning your whole week of feeding livestock turns into a crazy juggling act of scrounging, begging, borrowing, and substituting.

What else to do when it all freezes over except think of all the stuff that's going on underground in preparation for spring?

What else to do when it all freezes over except think of all the stuff that’s going on underground in preparation for spring?

There are certainly moments when I am ready to throw in the towel and give up. But I am, at heart, an optimist. In the depths of winter when everything (including me) freezes solid I imagine garlic sending down deep roots in beds prepared in the fall, roots that will fuel the plants’ amazing growth in the spring. Because there is always another spring coming, more seeds to start, another litter to farrow, another crop of apples to pick. And with each cycle, I learn a little more and feel just a tiny bit more confident that maybe I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. Which would explain why, even on the very worst days when everything seems to be going wrong, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. And besides, the food really is pretty good.

Day 4 – Five Odd Questions About Poultry

I like Holly Spangler’s idea of posting short lists… so today’s post is a list of five questions we’ve been asked about our eggs and poultry.

1. Do you need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs?

We get asked this question all the time, so in case you have been wondering but were too shy to ask, the answer is no. Hens happily lay eggs even when there is no rooster around. If you want your eggs to hatch out chicks, that’s a different matter.

Chicken Eggs

Most grocery store eggs are either brown or white, but chicken eggs come in a range of colours. We find eggs that are pale blue, green, creamy-coloured, dark brown, pale brown, speckled, and plain. They also vary widely in size and shape depending on the particular breed of chicken, age of the hen, and season. Yolk colour also varies and ranges from yellow to deep orange to almost red. Yolk variations are most dramatic in response to changing fruits and vegetables we feed to supplement the birds’ standard diet of pasture and grain.

2. How long is a turkey pregnant?

Errr… turkeys don’t get pregnant, nor do they suckle their young. They lay eggs like other birds. It takes them about 28 days of incubation to hatch out a clutch. That’s shorter than our ducks and longer than the chickens.

3. Can you eat turkey eggs?

Absolutely. They are delicious! After we’ve collected enough eggs to incubate and hatch out for holiday birds we eat the rest of the eggs laid that season. Though, as our customers learn how good our turkey eggs are (and, how large – they are about double the size of a decent-sized chicken egg) we are finding we have fewer and fewer left for our fridge!

4. Can you cross a duck and a chicken?

Not any more successfully than you could cross a cat and a dog. Though, our rooster Wimpy is a bit in love with one of our Muscovy ducks and has certainly been trying to pull this off.

5. Does the rooster fertilize the eggs externally?

The asker did not clarify exactly how this was supposed to happen, but I can only imagine he was thinking about how our local salmon do this. Ever since, I have been keeping an eye open for our rooster stalking around the orchard looking for unattended nests so he could… err… squat and sprinkle.

The serious answer is ‘no.’ Chicken reproduction occurs internally. I won’t go into further detail as this is a family-friendly blog, but if you are curious, this website has a lot of excellent information about how all that works…

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about all month long? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

I Know it’s not Duckling Season

Duckling!

… but I came across these photos while I was preparing for my school presentation about kids and farming and since at least one reader (hi Photoleaper!) thinks ducklings are cute I thought I’d post them.

Toby Duckling

My nephew bonding with one of this year’s babies.

 

Last year's crop of Muscovy ducklings.

Last year’s crop of Muscovy ducklings.

They are certainly cuter than the photos of the exploded pickled beets jar I was going to post… I tell you, it’s a thrill a minute around here!

Image

One of these things is not like the others…

One of these things is not like the others...

There are a couple of opportunistic drakes who have decided it’s worth being chased by piglets if it means they might score a stray grain or two from the hogs’ breakfast…

Poll: Future video stars?