Ducks in the woods

We’ve had a lot of rain (with snow intermixed here and there).  Today was a nice day, so we let the chickens and ducks out of their run.  Our yard and the surrounding woods are made up of some rolling terrain – we have some lower spots that have recently filled with water because of the large amounts of rain we’ve had.   The ducks found one of these spots (and I swear they made it a little larger with all their dabbling).  Here are some shots of them enjoying their temporary pond in the woods:

duck created pond
Here is a muddy spot that leads from the yard to the puddle/pond they were enjoying.
duck prints in mud
Here are duck-prints in the mud.
ducks 1
Enjoying the pond.
duck pond 2
As you can see the low spot / pond is quite large.
ducks 2
I wonder what they’re eating – probably worms.
daffodils
Here are the daffodils that were right next to the duck’s pond.

A nice spring evening. The ducks really enjoyed it, and so did we.

 

 

A Nice Autumn Day

It was a bit chilly today, but the sun was out.  We have had colder temperatures lately, and the garden is mostly done. We had a couple of watermelons that just were not growing anymore.  My son asked if he could pick them today, so I said yes. I figured they weren’t ripe, but when we cut into the largest one (the one we’d set up a sling for, from previous posts), it actually had some pink to it. And it was surprisingly sweet tasting. So this was our first ever successful watermelon:

watermelon
Our watermelon, cut up.

For some reason (maybe the sunshine), I got the bright idea to let the chickens and ducks out of their run today.  We have had so much rain, and it rains so often, that we just haven’t gotten a chance to mow our lawn in the last couple weeks.  So I thought, since they’ll eat grass, and they’re hanging around in a semi-wet / muddy run, maybe they’d like to hang out in the yard for the day.  It wasn’t that unwise, I suppose.  It was just a cluster trying to get them back in. They wanted to hang out in the woods, and they found the sand pile for some much-needed dust baths, and didn’t want to give that up so easily.  They didn’t really do much “mowing” for us, but they enjoyed themselves. We got some good pictures:

yard-birds
The slow spillage into the yard. We just left the door wide open – it didn’t take them very long to figure it out.
yard-birds-2
Here they are, wandering around. They don’t usually stray too far from their home.
chickens-everywhere
Here they are near the sand pile.
s-chickens
Basking in the sun.
dirty-ducks
The ducks had fun too. They rooted around a bit – you can see one of them has a huge mudpile on her bill. I tried to catch her to clean that off but she was not cooperative. It came off later.
general-and-the-girls
Here is the General with some of his older-hen harem. They were weeding / de-bugging the strawberry patch.

We also moved the adult rabbits to their winter home, inside our entrance shed/mud room.  We got some new cages, and my husband has been putting them together and setting them up for us.  Last winter was really hard with our old setup, so we wanted to make it easier this year. Here are photos:

rabbit-cages
Here is the setup in our shed. They are all about chest high. We had to make sure they are taller than our dogs’ noses.
wind-day
Here is wind (now “Day” – we somehow changed their names in recent weeks).
fire-night
Here is Fire (her name is now “night”)
buddy
Here is Buddy (he was Earth).

The cages are pretty nice, we got them from KW Cages. They have a slide-out tray for easy cleanup, which should make it really nice. The rabbits are getting settled in – they weren’t so sure at first but  they seem to be relaxing more tonight. We have a gate to the shed, so we can keep the nosy dogs out (Especially Atat, who is almost as tall as the cages, and very curious).  I think this will work well for winter.  We’ll get them set up outside again in spring.

Clucks and Quacks… and chocolate eggs

Yesterday, my plan was to harvest all 10 ducks.  Their pen was a big muddy mess, and we’ve been planning on doing it for months but things get in the way. Early yesterday, I got everything ready. I culled the three males first, and then one of the seven females.  We decided to skin them because it’s (supposedly) easier than dealing with duck wax and everything to get the feathers out, and then you don’t have all the duck fat to deal with.  As the day wore on, and I was working on the fourth duck, my husband thought maybe we should stop at the four we’d done. He said “why don’t we try putting the rest of them in with the chickens?”  I agreed to that – doing all 10 was a daunting task – just the four we did wore us out and took a big chunk of the day. The big reason I wanted to harvest them all was their horribly messy pen – they make lots of mud, and slogging through that each day to feed and water them, and to get their eggs, was really hard. The house we built was really low also, and they loved to lay eggs way at the back, so we’d sometimes have to crawl in there to get the eggs.  We would put new bedding in each night and by morning it would be sopping wet, so you’d be kneeling on sloppy old mucky bedding to get the eggs.  The remaining ducks, now in the chicken coop, are not getting a pool.  I may fill a small one (not in the pen) and let them play here and there, but they are not getting one in the run.

So far, the ducks are doing well with the chickens.  Their pens were always right next to each other;  they’ve been neighbors all summer, so they were somewhat used to each other already.  We were worried the chickens may pick on them, but the ducks are larger than even our largest rooster, so the chickens are mostly keeping their distance.

Tonight, the ducks were starting to get the hang of the bedtime routine, and it was easier to get them to go in the coop with everyone else.  We collected the chicken eggs and found that one of the Black Copper Marans is now laying eggs! We got a small, chocolate colored egg.

chocolate egg
A normal sized chicken egg on the left, and our first chocolate egg on the right.

The old duck pen is going to be reclaimed back into the yard.  It’s a soppy mess right now, since we drained the pool and then it rained last night, but I piled up all the “furniture” on the duck house, and then seeded it with a “chicken forage blend” which has clover and other stuff that will do nicely in our yard.  Our yard is a little bit of grass, and a whole lot of other stuff anyway, so this should work fine.

old duck mess
The old duck yard, after I seeded it and put on some straw to keep the seeds in place.
seeded
Here you can see there are some big puddles. We’re going to have to fill some of the holes the ducks dug with some top soil. We’ll eventually take the fence down and use it somewhere else.

We’ll see how this works with the ducks and chickens together. So far it’s going ok.  If it doesn’t we’ll start talking about taking out the rest of the ducks. For now, they lay a lot of eggs, so they are “earning their keep.”

Mid-summer on our farm

Here are some pictures of the goings-on around our tiny farm:

zucchini
My zucchini and yellow squash are going nuts. These plants are huge!
zucchini with cat
Here you can see them with Wizard in front, so you get a little more idea of scale. There are 5 plants in that mess, plus some sunflowers sticking up in back.
ducks
Somehow our duck door got left open – they were starting to spill out.
ducks 2
More duck spillage.
chickens
Here is a picture of the chickens. I love the variety of colors we have.
dogs
My husband got this cool picture of our dogs. Atat’s tail is curled around Downey. Nova thinks the camera is some type of food.

Farming is hard sometimes

We currently have a lot of roosters. We had 3 adults, and I’m not yet sure how many up-and-comers from this year’s hatches.  I really wasn’t noticing the crowing, until last week my neighbor said something – he mentioned that the roosters were getting a bit annoying.  His mentioning it made me notice it, of course.  So I figured out who the worst offenders (at that time) were – it was mostly our older roosters Wonky Top and Splash, and one of our younger roosters from our first batch.  I thought about it and realized that the only reason I had kept so many was for breeding purposes, which have now been accomplished. I have 14 chicks that were all from my chickens, so my older roos have spread their genes.  We culled the three worst offenders, for now.  We were planning on taking out some of the younger ones anyway, but I hadn’t planned on Wonky and Splash (since we named them), so that was a bit hard.  We kept our best (and quietest) year-old rooster, General Dorko.

dorko
General Dorko, the Dorking rooster.

It has been quieter on the farm lately… or it was, until my silly little bantam roosters started crowing more.  They are very small so their crows are little (it sounds like a regular rooster sucked some helium first).  They are really tiny, so in terms of meat it would be a lot of work for not much payoff.  I think I may sell them along with the hen.  Her eggs are going to be small – the bantams were a bonus when I bought my hatching eggs anyway. They are cute, but not really what we’re trying to do here.

bantam roo 1
Here’s one of my bantam roosters.
bantam roo 2
Here’s the other rooster
bantam hen
Here is the little hen

With all the harvesting we are having to do, I feel like I’m killing something every weekend.  Actually, I literally have been lately. I need to figure out timing for future years.  We did 5 rabbits a few weeks ago, then a duck (we skinned it instead of trying to mess with waxing / scalding – the meat was delicious). Then the three roosters last weekend.  And I have a backlog of “animals we need to cull soon” – ducks, chickens, and rabbits.  I have to do some rabbits later tonight.

Next year, we are not planning on hatching any chicks, so that will help.  We won’t have ducks, since we are going to take them all out this year, and we don’t plan on having them ever again since they are ridiculously messy.   The rabbits are relatively easy (no feathers to pluck) but it still sucks having to actually kill them.  And they are eating a lot, or at least this batch is – I don’t know if it’s the summer heat or what.  We were trying to decide whether to keep rabbits at all anymore, and I think that we will, at least one more year to see where we are at (if it’s actually saving us money or not). But I won’t breed them again this year, and I need a different schedule for next year – maybe a batch in spring, one in the fall, or something.  Summer seems too hard on the does. We will be retiring Fire (our black Rex doe), because this last litter was only 3 bunnies – I don’t know if something is wrong with her or not, but we will be taking one of the younger bunnies we have and raising it up to be a breeder. I’ll probably sell her to someone as a pet.

I enjoy farming, I just need to figure out a better balance in terms of timing.

Mid July on the farm

We have been very busy.  Last week I went camping.  While I was away, it seems that my garden has exploded. (It tends to do that when you don’t see it every day).   I hatched hatch# 3 of chicks a couple days ago, and we found our first duck egg today!  Here are some pictures of the latest happenings:

garden 7.16
Here is my garden. I get to do some weeding today.
greens
Here it is, growing away. The red bits on the right are some beets.
tiny artichoke
A tiny artichoke. It’s about an inch tall.
sunflower
A sunflower. This is only about 2 feet tall right now.
roma
Roma tomato.
pumpkin
My pumpkin plants!
kohlrabi
Kohlrabi. First time growing this – we are not sure if we like it yet. We will be trying it when it’s ready.
daniels garden
My son’s garden. His corn is doing well. There is a zinnia blooming.
early girl
Our Early Girl tomato. This was a grafted plant I bought. I somehow forgot to plant seeds of my Early Girl tomatoes.
hatch 3_2
Here are the newest chicks! We have 14, they all hatched on Thursday, and they are from my own chickens’ eggs. We now have 57 chickens all together. That total will go down once we cull the extra roosters.
hatch 3
A chick’s eye view of them.
hatch 3_3
Another chick’s eye view.
barnyard
Here is the bird yard. You can see we have Pekin ducks here.
blue duck egg
We got our first egg from the ducks today. It’s about the size of a chicken egg. Not sure why it is bluish. Pekins are supposed to lay white/cream eggs.
duck egg
Here is the egg again. Like a large chicken egg – I figure its a starter eggs for the ducks, so they should get bigger soon, and probably change to the cream/white color. Not sure if we’ll eat this one since it’s a weird color. I know it was laid this morning / last night, so it’s fresh, but it’s still not the color they are supposed to be from the ducks.

Exciting times!

Busy Springtime

There has been a lot going on lately around here.  After my last post, no more chicks hatched. We ended up with 22 hatched out of 42 for that batch.  I candled the remaining eggs – 10 were empty, and 10 just didn’t hatch. And then a day or so later one of the chicks who had hatched died.  So we now have 21 small chicks, and 4 larger chicks. I’m done with hatching for the year – we now have 43 chickens including our adults.

Here is one of our larger chicks, Escape Artist’s daughter:

esky daughter
Looks like her mama. Also tries to jump out of the box just like mama did.

We vaccinated the chicks for Marek’s last weekend. The older chicks were given it at the same time – may be a little late but it’s better than nothing. We only had the one vial and didn’t want to try to split it up, especially since this was the first time we’ve ever given it.  My chickens from last year were all vaccinated at the hatchery. I don’t know if my 2-year-old chickens were vaccinated. Either they were or we don’t have Marek’s disease here, but I have heard that it is all over the place.  I’ve read that it takes 2 weeks for the chicks  to build up any immunity after being vaccinated, so next weekend we might move the older chicks outside.   We were going to add another little chicken house for the youngsters, but we’ve decided we will do a split coop again – we have the room in the chicken house, with two separate rooms, and fenced runs on both sides, so we can keep them separate but all safe and comfortable.  The smaller chicks will have to go out later – they are still too small.  I’ll have to integrate them with the larger chicks when they do get moved, but there are so many smaller ones I think they’ll be able to hold their own against the 4 larger chicks then. Here is one of the smaller chicks:

red head maran
I think she’s one  of the Marans (or came out of one of those eggs), but she is black with a red head. I noticed her feathers growing in stick out a little bit, like a frizzle chicken. We’ll have to see what she ends up looking like. She’s one of my favorites from this batch.
frizzle wings
Here you can see some of the feathers on the top part of her wing stick out, away from her body. I’ve never seen that before, but hers are doing that symmetrically on both sides of her body so it must be what she is supposed to have happen.

We lost one of our ducks this week. We had a male (we think) who had some trouble with his feet – he wasn’t really able to keep up with the group when they were moving around, we had noticed.  In their pen that didn’t matter so much, but earlier this week I was outside and noticed he seemed to be stuck in the pool. I don’t know if he got sick, or just got stuck in the pool and got too cold. I took him out and set him on the grass in the sunshine, and dried him off a little with a towel. I hoped he would get better, but he died a little while later.  Here are our remaining 11 ducks:

ducks
It looks like someone had a pillow fight in our back yard, with all the duck feather dander everywhere. 

The ducks always run away when you get near them. The chickens, much smarter, come running because they know people=food. Here are my chickens out today:

got snacks
“Did you bring us some snacks?”

Our trees are starting to fill in.  Springtime is in full swing, except we are in the U.P.  So we got snow flurries today, and it didn’t even get in the 40s.  It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days though. Here is our cherry tree in bloom:

cherry tree
Our cherry tree. My son’s pool and Slip’n’Slide are under the tree – we really haven’t had warm enough temperatures for either of those, aside from a couple days here and there.

Since spring is here, I’ve been planning the garden.  We are using the same spaces as last year, and I’m making a new space for my son. He had a little flower-bed area last year but it didn’t get enough sunshine. I gave him a big square, about 8×8 or so, that used to have weeds and asparagus, and some old rhubarb. The rhubarb and weeds were the only things that really grew there. So he’s helping me clean it up. And we started our garden plans:

garden plan 2016
This year’s garden plan

And we started seeds last weekend:

 

more seedlings
Here is one of our two trays. I figured out we don’t need to start as much in the house as I used to.  Last year a lot of things did great just sown directly in the ground.

My strawberry patch is doing well. I put some new plants in this year. The old ones are growing well and spreading, and the new ones are doing ok.  I need to make a cover in the next few weeks or so, to keep tiny creatures from stealing my berries this year.

strawberry patch
This whole mulched area is strawberry patch, except right against the house is for raspberry bushes. I only have one in the ground right now;  a few others that I just bought this year are in pots waiting to go in.

My son and I were taking a walk last weekend and came across something extra delicious. I have been telling him and my husband about morels since we moved up to the U.P. and have not been able to find any.  We found 4 in the woods last weekend. Not many, but it’s enough to show them what I was talking about, and let them have a taste.  We haven’t had much rain this year, but now we know where we might be able to find them – I have been checking in that area again but haven’t seen much else, either because of the lack of rain, or because forest creatures are finding them first. Here are the morels we found:

morels
The four morels we found this year. They were delicious.

The ducks are home!

We finished the ducks’ pen and house.  They love it! They are not so excited to go inside their house at night, but we’ve found some ways to corral them into it. Here are some pictures of them in their new digs:

duck house
Here is the house – there is a door that goes on, it’s not pictured here. But we close it at night to keep the ducks from being eaten by raccoons and other creatures. The extra fence posts in the foreground are the beginnings of our new dog pen.
duck house 2
My son inside the duck house.
duck pen
Here is the duck house, and on the right you can see the pool. The ducks LOVE their pool.
ducks in pool 2
Here they are, swimming and playing. We need to get a hard pool, with some kind of ramp.
ducks in pool 3
The ducks push the sides in so they can get in and out, which spills the water. We’ve put in steps and a ramp on the outside, but they don’t understand those very well.
ducks in pool
Here is a view of the duck’s pool, facing the chicken coop.
nosy neighbors
Here are the nosy neighbors. They were not sure what to make of the ducks when they first moved into the neighborhood, but they are getting along ok now.

Our ducks are HUGE. Larger than I expected them to get.  My uncle saw them and called them our cow-ducks, since they are so large. They are a lot of fun to watch,  now that they are in their permanent spot in the yard.

Springtime with ducks

Yesterday we finally got the ducks outside. Phew. My house now smells a lot better.  They really like their new home.  There is an old dog kennel that my Dad built many years ago, and last year my husband was converting it to a clubhouse for my son.  It was still in transition, and we needed somewhere to put the ducks, so my son said he doesn’t mind if we use it for them temporarily.  We want to set up something more permanent, with a fenced yard/run, and a kiddie pool for them.

Also, our snow is melting!!  We have had temperatures in the 70s today and yesterday.  And I’m seeing signs of spring. It was waiting patiently for the snow to melt.  Take a look at our spring time yard and ducks:

my silly family and the duck house
The duck house, along with my son on the roof and my husband on the right, both doing silly poses. We were working on reinforcing the house last night (to keep out hungry raccoons, etc).
ducks in the house
The ducks in their new digs.  They have a heat lamp to keep them warm at night, and a bunch of pine shavings for bedding.
duck bed
Inside the duck house, on the other side from where the ducks sleep -this is the food and water area. We are trying to keep their water away from their bedding, as much as we can.

While we were working on reinforcing the duck house, I realized I saw some green over near the woods.  And other surprises as well:

daffodils
The Green I saw in the woods was little daffodil leaves.
croci
Because I saw the daffodil leaves, I came over to check on our usually-first-to-flower flowers, and I found what I was looking for – these crocuses were all bloomed.

Today was in the 70s and my son was very anxious to get his pool filled up.  Like the ducks, he is also obsessed with water. The water was too cold for him to swim – it takes a few days to warm up when it comes out of our hose. But he realized after filling it awhile that it was situated on a hill anyway – it wouldn’t have been very evenly filled.  So he said we could let the duck use it today, before dumping it out to move it to a more level spot.  They were very happy about that.

duck pool
Ducks in the half-filled pool.
duck in pool
My son watching the ducks.
ducks in sun
They were having so much fun.  It was nice and sunny also. I don’t think they care if the water is cold, but the sun helped to keep them warm.
happy ducks
More ducks.
baldy
They are mostly feathered now, with the yellow fuzz almost gone. One funny thing I noticed – you can see it in the middle duck on the bottom of this picture – some of them look like little balding men. They have a flat white head (feathers) and a little sticking up ring of fuzz, like the fuzz is balding.  It’s pretty funny.

The ducks had a blast in the pool, and then we had to force them out so we could put them away for the night.  We got them out and they sat in the grass, preening.  We had carried them over to the pool. But after their swim, they were soaked. We wanted to see if we could get them to walk back to their house, which is about 40-60 feet away, across the front yard and our driveway.   We tried luring them with food, which didn’t work. We tried calling them, but they didn’t want to follow us.  I finally realized that I could get them to move (in a group) if I walked behind them, kind of shuffling them in the direction I wanted them to go. They got the hang of it after a bit, and got half way or so across the yard.  It was a long walk for them, compared to what they are used to, but it worked pretty well. It was a little slow going.  Then we realized that if they were to walk across the driveway they would get really muddy. So we carried them across the driveway back to their house.

Super busy day!

We had an extremely busy day (well, evening). First I worked all day at my job. Then I drove for an hour to meet with this lady to buy some hatching eggs! For our large hatch we are using some from our own chickens, but I saw an ad on craigslist for hatching eggs of Black Copper Marans and Olive/Easter Eggers.  I went and met with her today and got a bunch of hatching eggs. She threw in some Bantam eggs. I’m not sure how that will go, since bantams are so small. Their eggs are very tiny. She said they should do fine mixed with regular sized chickens though. Here are the cool hatching eggs – you will see why I wanted them:

new eggs
See how dark brown the Maran eggs are? The larger carton is not full.  You can see the small whitish eggs are VERY small – those are the bantam eggs. She labeled the eggs- I guess the marans have two varieties. Some with feathered legs, and some without.
new eggs 2
This top carton has the olive egger and easter egger eggs.  Easter eggers (usually Auracauna chickens) can lay blue or green eggs. If you cross them with a maran, the next generation will lay dark olive eggs. You can see some of these eggs are more green than blue.

I got home after my egg-adventure, and the ducks, who are STILL in the house for tonight, needed a bath very badly.  We are planning on getting them outside tomorrow – my hubby is off so he said he’d start getting their temporary outside housing set up, and I’ll help get them in there tomorrow when I get home.  But with this bathtime, I finally got some pictures of the blow-drying ducks:

fluffy ducks
Look how massive they are – we’ve had them 3 weeks now. They are the size of full grown chickens, I swear. They are getting most of their feathers and starting to sometimes quack.
fluffy ducks 4
Ducks getting blow dried, and preening while they dry off. I keep telling them, while blow drying, that this is how we get fluffy eggs. 
fluff ducks 2
Another duck picture.

One other thing, actually kind of frustrating, that happened today – I ordered a bunch of trees and fruit plants this year (raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, etc) – I got a notice that they already shipped last week – We still have snow here, although it is supposed to warm up this week and stay warmer (fingers crossed).  My plants came today. Which means I had to figure out what to do with them/get them set up.  I’ve been saving milk jugs for most of the winter, so that I didn’t have to buy buckets or large pots.  I plan on keeping most things in pots for a year or two, so we can keep them safe from deer and the lawn mower. Some things were dormant but most said to plant right away. Here are my new plants, all dressed up and nowhere really to go yet:

trees
Larger trees in milk jugs.
more plants
Poppies (on the right) and a peony on the left – I got the peony for free. I will leave them in pots till I know it’s safe to put them outside. I got a bunch of bareroot strawberry plants too – just behind the pots in this picture. I think I will put them out this weekend and cover them with mulch to keep them safe. If the snow melts off my strawberry patch, that is.
gnarled filbert
Here is my “Henry Lauder’s Walking Stick” – also called a Gnarled Filbert. I’m very excited to have one of these. They are really cool trees, with gnarled branches.

Oh, and also – an update on my test hatch.  It turned out that of the last 4 eggs, 2 were duds (I candled last night finally, and they were completely empty).  The other two had chicks that never came out. I opened them tonight and they were dead. I gave them till tonight to start pipping but there was nothing.  So, of the actual fertile eggs, I ended up with about a 2/3 hatch success – 4 out of 6 eggs hatched. Those 4 chicks are doing very well.  I cleaned and disinfected the incubator and set it to dry. I am not sure if I will start the “real” hatch tomorrow or Friday night.  I will have to see how much work moving the ducks tomorrow night is.