Sunday, March 13, 2016

Side Lot Potential

I've been building sheet mulched beds in our side lot with all the plant matter and finished compost we have generated over the last year.  It looks rough...just bags of leaves and piled organic matter.  I am really looking forward to 2016 as the year we can get things growing in this lot, put up a nice fence and create a lovely area of shrubs and flowers instead of frankly, a bit of an eyesore.  We recently got a load of topsoil dumped to top off the sheet mulch beds since it is just fill and subsoil beneath them.  I am also going to use some of the topsoil to establish flower beds elsewhere.

Topsoil delivery
We had to take out a paw paw tree that didn't have room to grow at Garden Dreams, so this was the first tree planted.  Paw paws have taproots and don't like to be transplanted, so I give him a 50/50 chance.  That is what I'm excited about - this lot is a place to experiment.  All bets are off.

Sheet mulch berms/beds
I use the phrase "sheet mulch beds"  loosely.  A properly built sheet mulch bed would have nice layers of first cardboard, then maybe compost, then some manure, then perhaps straw, then some soil, then some grass clippings, etc.  These "beds" are more piles of organic matter.  Large piles.  With vines and small branches in them even.  Hugelkulture meets sheet mulch.  These are haphazard, to say the least, but I think they are full of potential, and definitely full of earthworms.  

Some perennials that may make an appearance here in the side lot:
  • Witch Hazel
  • Serviceberry
  • Apple
  • Paw Paw
  • Ninebark
  • Spicebush
  • Grey Dogwood
  • Nodding Onion
  • Showy Tick Trefoil
  • Goldenrod
  • Sweet Cicily
  • Sedges
  • Wild Columbine
  • Chives
Anything I plant has to be unappealing to ground hogs and deer or protected from them.  I'll likely cage the shrubs until they get established.  The more things I can plant from the allium family, the better, I think.  
Sheet mulch topped off with topsoil
"Uhhhhh, I guess this could look nice some day if you say so."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ducks at 2 weeks

The ducks are growing very quickly.  They are very perceptive and attentive and cock their heads sideways to scope me out whenever I come into view.

I see some teeny tail feathers
Pretty much the daily routine is as follows:
  1. After my morning coffee, I pay them a visit in the basement.  I remove their waterers and replace the wet pine shavings around the waterers with dry ones.  I rinse out waterers with hot water and refill, give them a little talking to and off to work.
  2. In the evenings, every other day or so, I pick them up and put them in my "duck carrier" - a canvas bag with a sturdy bottom.  As gently as I try to do it, they do not like getting picked up.  It scares them.  Then upstairs for a bath.  When they were small they went in a wash basin.  Tonight they got the real bathtub.  This creates extreme excitement and they dash, dive, preen, clean and splash.
  3. When they seem done cleaning themselves in the water or a max of about 5 - 10 minutes back to the brooder with a quick towel off.  They proceed to then preen, clean and fluff every bit of their bodies, and then collapse under the heat lamp to dry and warm.
  4. Before I turn in I clean the wet shavings again and change their water for the second time that day.  It gets cloudy from food particles since they drink when they still have food in their mouths.  I have figured out how much they drink daily, so I just fill about that much plus a bit of extra.  
This doesn't take that much time, and I like figuring out what works and what doesn't so I can be more efficient and set up their waterers best for minimal soggy brooder.  

Brooder addition
They like to hunt for imaginary bugs in the wood chips but there is only so long that is entertaining so not surprisingly they seem a bit bored at times.  A clump of weeds added to the brooder offers some entertainment as they root around in the roots... just make sure its not a plant with tough stalks or too long grass that they can choke on.  I give them some finely cut lettuce and kale right out of the hand once a day or so.  

I did expand the room they have, I cut a hole in their storage tub and made a cardboard tunnel connecting to another tub so they have double the room.  They do like it, and seem to also like sleeping in the tunnel at times.  When I see images of duck brooders packed full of too many ducks, I can understand the complaint about the smell, but with plenty of space for 3 ducks, there is no bad smell with regular refresh of shavings around the waterers. 

The hottest spot in the brooder has been 80 degrees this week.  They are not often directly under the lamp, but sometimes they are to warm up and stretch their legs out and doze, so I know it is not too hot for them.  If they were constantly huddled as far away from the heat lamp as possible, it would likely be a sure sign it was too warm.

New waterer set up
Ducks like to submerge their whole bills and their whole heads if possible into their drinking water. To give you an idea of how long their necks stretch, they stand outside the metal pan that surrounds the waterer shown above, then they reach in and can hit the bottom of the waterer with their bills.   This popular idea has many variations of containers you can use.  Figure out chest height on your duck and that is the bottom cut for the hole. Fill with water and top with the lid.  Then they can drink and dunk with minimal spilling and no pooping in it and no feet stomping in it.  I also used square sided plastic orange juice containers and I liked those because I could fit multiple ones into the space easier than a container with curved sides like a plastic bucket or a yogurt container.  

Lessons Learned so far:
  1. Wood chips are the way to go.  When one duck seemed to accidentally be ingesting wood chips while hunting invisible bugs, I had 2 very short stints trying alternative bedding, both of which were big fails, at least for me.  Shelf liner: the poop sat on the liner and even with rinsing it out once a day it was gnarly.  Also, the little foam bits seemed to please the ducks and they popped them off and ate them.  No good.  Towel:  Um, no.  Can we say high maintenance?  Wringing out a poopy duck towel, rinsing it, washing it and air drying it twice a day.  No way.  Back to shavings and they are working great.  
  2. Don't give them chunks of grass with tough stalks.  I gave them a clump of winter rye cover crop and I watched one duck ingest a huge, tough stalk by gulping it down.  I thought for sure "Oh crap, I'm going to have an impacted crop on my hands" and it did stay in the crop for about 24 hours because I picked the duck up and massaged it to feel.  I let it be, though, and made sure they had plenty of chick grit and she was able to grind it up and poop it out luckily.  Ducks grind their food in their crops with bits of grit and rocks, just like chickens.  They are very enthusiastic about plants so make sure what you give them is tender and finally chopped.  I learned my lesson that, yes, a one week old duck can wolf down something you thought was so big it wouldn't even try to eat it.  The second lesson is, don't be too quick to try to remedy something.  Often letting it be is the best route.  I have learned that with chickens - try to observe and learn and do what you will know will help, but don't be too quick to jump to action because often the creature will take care of the problem itself and you could just make it worse.
  3. They are afraid of getting picked up, though I do it once a day to get them used to being handled and having their bodies and feet inspected for health checks.  They are not into it.  I keep them in view of the other ducks because they don't like to be separated, but they are still not into it.  I'll keep working on it though.  They do like company though and seem to enjoy when I sit with them.  If I just check on them and keep going, they peep peep peep peep which I think translates as "Hey, come back over!"
  4. Ducks are very active.  They need more room than chicks, period.  They really zip around.  
  5. "Minimal water spilling" means that the brooder is not completely soaked, only 1/2 soaked.  The catch pan around any waterer set up seems like it would need to be very large to catch all the water.  They dampen about 1/4 - 1/2 of their brooder, despite the things I have done to lessen the water spilled and I think that is probably as good as it gets.  I can't imagine a bone dry setup with them, and that's ok.  I definitely see why it would be difficult to brood chicks and ducks together as chicks like it dry, are smaller, and move slower and ducks grow like champs, love mud and water, and stomp and zip around like a pack of wild things! 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Brooding Ducklings

Three days old and already knows how to preen and clean
I've had ducks on the mind for the last few years.  I've enjoyed chickens so much, I thought, well, what about ducks?  I've heard the downsides from people:
  • they love mud and mucking around in it
  • they require way more water than chickens to drink/splash
  • their poop is more watery and shoots straight out of their butts like a projectile, instead of dropping in a neat bundle like chicken poop
  • they lay their eggs anywhere and everywhere
  • they can be harder to get to go in at night
They sound like free spirits to me.  So, 3 Khaki Campbell Ducks (straight run - could be boys or girls) from Tractor Supply have started off our duck adventure. 

So far, they seem quite intelligent and more responsive to me than chicks.  They dash around like little bundles of energy, their extreme exuberance about being near or in water is fun to see, and I have never raised them before, so I am looking forward to seeing how adult ducks will work out for us.  I know they'll grow faster than chickens, they are prone to foot injury due to their webbed feet but generally hardier than chickens otherwise, and they don't scratch but they can trample plants, uproot perennials, and muss mulch in their hunt for bugs.  I can already see that their bills lead the way - nibbling, dabbling, and dibbling.  

Diving and splashing
I based my brooder set up on ideas from Fresh Eggs Daily in this duck raising post.  The most important things so far seems to be:
  • Bond with them by singing and talking to them.  Then when they are playing in their waterer too long you can call them under the heat lamp and they will come running.  
  • A stuffed animal in the brooder.  They love this and seem comforted by it.  The flatter the animal the better because they all want to pile on top of it and sleep.  Also, it serves the function of towel and dries them off as they roll around on it and snuggle with it.  
  • Some way to minimize water splashing everywhere in the brooder.  There are lots of variations on doing this: the one I chose was to put a rack meant for the grill over a roasting pan, so when they splash and poop, it drains through the holes in the grill rack into the pan, and I change that once a day.  Working pretty well so far until they outgrow it.  You just have to be sure if you go this route that whatever you use is not too slippery or sharp on their feet, and that the mesh or holes are small enough that their legs and feet don't get caught.  An alternative to using shavings at all in the brooder is to use a shelf liner so they don't slip that you just hose off periodically.  
  • Niacin.  Mix 3 c brewer's yeast with 10 lb unmedicated chick starter crumble for the proper niacin amount for ducklings.  
  • Less heat than chicks.  The hottest spot under the lamp is 85 - 90 degrees for the first week, where chick brooders are warmer than that.  I'll probably switch to my EcoGlow as a heat source when they are bigger since it is safer than a heat lamp and uses less energy.  For now they love piling on their stuffed animals to warm up after a swim in their waterer!

Warm sun bath 
Many sources say to wait until the ducklings are a week old for a full-on bath experience and other sources say sooner is OK.  At 3 days old, they spent some time in this baby bath given to us by our friends Yve and Marty.  We kept it brief, kept it warm, and they really loved it.  Since day one, they seemed to know about preening themselves and spreading oil from the oil gland located near their tails if they were wet.  This helps waterproof their feathers and keep their feathers in good condition.  They are just fuzz now with no feathers to speak of, and that is why you have to be careful they don't catch a chill.  I have noticed with all the preening they are doing, water does bead off their downy fuzz when they splash in their waterer.  

Back in the brooder to warm up
Heat lamp and brooder set up 
The feeder is as close as possible to the waterer but far enough away so they can't splash it.  This is because ducks run back and forth between feeder and waterer.  They take a bit of crumble and then run excitedly to the waterer and dunk their bills in which helps them ingest the food.  For this reason, they shouldn't be fed powdery feed as they can choke on it.
Waterer over a splash tray I rigged up with wood block "steps"
This is where they spend most of their time.  The waterer.  As they get bigger, the water trough won't be deep enough for them to dunk their bills into but it works for now.  

They love their "babies" - two stuffed rabbits that they sleep with and on
Warming up and snuggling under the heat lamp.  Pretty sweet.  So if the main complaint about ducks is they are cute as ducklings but then they grow up, well, I'm ready for it.  Bring it on...I can't imagine them losing their joie de vivre as adults.

These pictures are from Monday, so they seem twice as big now on Thursday - I can vouch that they seem to double in size every few days as they grow very quickly.  A duck synopsis one week in? They do a lot of splashing, pooping, and growing, they stick together in a pack always, and they love life, as long as it involves water.

Time to snuggle
"Romaine lettuce?  Don't mind if I do."