Saturday, November 30, 2013

They're Just Ducky!

Now that the ducks are out of quarantine and in the animal yard, they have access to the stream that runs across the back of my lot.  I've enjoyed watching them work their way up and down, sticking their bills and sometimes their heads deep into the water looking for good stuff.

Since the stream is not that deep, I wanted to give them a way to submerge themselves if they have the need, so Nate rigged up this fabulous duck pond off the back of the chicken coop  The pond will be fed with water from a rain barrel.  I designed it so the overflow from the rain barrel will fill the pond and then I can save the collected water for periods when it doesn't rain.



We had some rain a few days ago, but not enough to fill the pond itself or the rain barrel, so I'm still waiting on the opportunity to dunk the ducks and let them know it's there.  Hopefully they will take to it like a duck to water.  Ha, ha!  I couldn't resist.

I'm looking forward to spring and the first clutch of duck eggs and potential ducklings.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, November 11, 2013

Chirp Chirp, not Quack Quack

Be afraid!  Be very afraid!  I'm burning up the blog world with two posts in a month!  Ha, ha!

We've introduced Muscovy ducks to the homestead.  I first learned about this breed of duck at a friend's farm a month or so ago, and then crossed paths with them again at another friend's farm.  Both of these experiences put a nugget of interest in my brain, and as luck would have it, I came across some for sale this weekend at a local livestock event in the colorings I wanted.

Here and here are a few articles on the breed that touch on all the reasons I find them suitable for my backyard homestead.

They are considered quackless.  They do make a chirp-type noise that is very quiet.  Sometimes it sounds to me like water dripping into a pool.  My chickens are loud enough, so I didn't want to add more noise coming from my backyard.

They don't need a pond to flourish.  I have some ideas to incorporate some type of landscaping pond in the glorified ditch/creek bed that runs at the back of my lot.  In the meantime I'm going to rustle up a kiddie pool to keep them happy. 

They tend to be very broody and are good at hatching their own eggs.  I like for nature to takes its own course, and less involvement required of me is just peachy!

Their meat is said to be very much like beef, very lean and non-greasy.  They are not the breed to have for rendering duck fat, but I have read you can render a small amount of fat from them.  I love adding another meat dimension to the homestead. 

They are good foragers and excellent at bug control, particularly mosquitoes, which is also hunky dory by me.  We have a terrible time with mosquitoes, so I hope they can help control our mosquito population next year.          

They don't require care much different than a chicken, so I feel like I can incorporate them into the flow of things without too many changes to our routine.  Though in my observations this weekend they are unlike chickens in that I notice they move as one.  Whenever I would approach the run they would move away from me in one unit, very unlike chickens who would have scattered, every chicken for itself.

One of the features that attracted me to these particular ducks at the event was the coloring.  I love the fawn and chocolate colors!


Anyone out there have experiences with this breed that you would like to share?

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Operation Chicken Feed

I would love to say everything I eat is whole and unprocessed, but working full-time causes me to live in the real world.  So, I'm a label reader.  These days you have to be.  There are many hidden gmo-derived "natural" ingredients out there, citric acid, xantham gum and even Vitamin C, to name a few.  So, if I'm reading the labels of my food so thoroughly, why shouldn't I read the labels of my animal feed?  As my concern over GMOs has grown, so has my concern over the corn I was feeding my chickens and the alfalfa I was feeding my rabbits.  After all, we eat the eggs from the chickens and sometimes the chickens themselves, and we definitely eat the rabbits.  If I will put a package back on the shelf because it has soy lecithin in it, how can I justify feeding my animals feed laced with GMO products?

In my research I found this website, which is a fabulous resource for formulating your own chicken feed.  However, the problem for me is finding all of the different ingredients used in a particular recipe and at a reasonable price.  When you can't find all of the ingredients, you start to mess with the protein content and you then need to know how to formulate your protein based on the ingredients to which you have access.  Using the list of grains I could get locally and this website as a general source of protein content, I turned to one of the best homesteading blogs around, Five Acres and a Dream, for Leigh's explanation of the Pearson's Square Protein Calculator.  Right now I have access to whole oats, barley, wheat, flax seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and millet.  With all of these ingredients, how did I use the Pearson's Square, which only calculates the protein for two ingredients?  Well, I actually did not use the square itself.  I basically used Leigh's Step 2 to formulate my feed.  My formulation is totally an experiment and would not be appropriate for every flock.  They've been eating it for almost two months now, and so far so good.   

I was shooting for 16% protein in whole parts to make it easy to measure and mix.

Step 2 from Leigh's post:

     % of ingredient x its % protein
  + % of ingredient x its % protein
     % crude protein in grain mix  

My formulation:

Wheat       .30 x 13% = 3.9
Oats          .30 x 14% = 4.2
Barley       .15 x 12% = 1.8
Millet        .10 x 11% = 1.1
BOSS        .10 x 16% = 1.6
Flax Seed  .10 x 36% = 3.6
Total % of crude protein:  16.2

I do add mineralized salt and DE to the mix but I really just eyeball these two ingredients.  They also have free access to oyster shells and I know they pick up plenty of grit while they are out foraging.  I have plans to add brewer's yeast and kelp to my mix soon,  and once I add the brewer's yeast and kelp, I will reformulate based on this method. 

I really like to think of the feed as a supplement to the other ways in which the flock gets fed.  I depend on them being able to forage for some of their food, both for economy and for their overall health.  Even living in a neighborhood, my chickens have a pretty good free-range area.  In addition to a large area in my back yard, they have access to the back side of my neighbor's yard, which is approximately 1/4 acre of jungle.  He doesn't care that they are back there, and they love it because there is plenty of overhead coverage to protect them from hawks and it's a treasure trove of bugs and other goodies.  I recently started raising meal worms, but because I'm building up my population, they only get meal worms as a treat.  They also spend time scratching through the compost beneath my rabbit cages.  They get plenty of garden cast-offs, and they pick through the throw-away organic produce I get from my nearby natural grocery store.  In the garden this year, I experimented with growing field peas, which the chickens love and are an excellent protein source.  They did well so I'm hoping to expand and grow more next year. 

I know the combination of all of these feed sources contribute to happy healthy chickens.

Foraging Jungle Birds

Happy homesteading,