Ducks and Mushrooms (not a recipe!)

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The ducks are two weeks old.  They are growing quickly but are still adorable.  They look a bit awkward with their feathers starting to come in; like some strange skin disease is starting to take over.  I love how they don’t look straight up; they tilt their head and look up at me with one eye.  As if they are trying to figure something out or they are highly suspicious of me.

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They live in a swamp.  I tell you, people, no matter how many times I change their bedding it becomes a swamp in moments.  They can empty an entire waterer in no time at all from all their splashing and being rambunctious.  I wake to their constant chattering and their playful sounds as water splashes.  Then the next moment they will be curled up in one ball the size of a kitten sleeping peacefully beneath the red light.  It is endearing.

Soon they will be outdoors in their new coop.  The light will stay with them for four more weeks.  Our neighbors are adamant that they can go out now, that they are quite hardy.  I am more afraid of their cat coming by to have a snack.  I wonder how the ducks will react to the wild ducks in the pond.

For right now they are indoors, tucked away in their anti-cat fortress warm and happy.

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I took a class three weeks ago on growing mushrooms.  The endless supplies of boxed ones from the store were not yielding anything and I am clueless at identifying mushrooms in the wild.  This class would be my first step into the fascinating world of mycology.  I will do a more complete article on this soon.  What I learned in a nutshell was that the fabulous teacher heated straw in a pot to a certain temperature, added wheat that had been taken over by the mushroom spores, and we packed it into bread bags.  The instructions were to keep it around 65 degrees for three weeks.

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65 degrees?  I scoffed to myself.  My homestead hasn’t been that warm yet!  Inside the house it registered 55 degrees.  I moved it to the greenhouse.  55 degrees and a mouse took a bite out of the corner.  He apparently didn’t care for the flavor because he didn’t stick around.  Back inside aimlessly searching for anywhere warm, I looked over at the ducklings.  Next to the duck nursery we put the box holding the spores.  Tucked in next to the warm fowl and near the red lamp, it is perfect.  And the mycelium is spreading all over the straw.  This week it will move to the counter and will try to fruit.  I cannot wait to explain this magical world of mushrooms, much bigger than having slimy mushrooms on your pizza, mushrooms are needed for our very survival!

In the meantime, though, I am going to dream of oyster mushrooms growing indoors….and parmesan and pasta…but not with duck!

The Ducklings Return

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The ducks have returned to Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  They are adorable and fluffy and live behind an impressive fortress.  Ten cats is something to worry about but we have kept the just a few days old ducklings safe.  We can barely get in, however!  Over the plastic storage box Doug molded some fencing then we put up a portable cage around that topped with a screen, and a card table!

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In the box is three inches of straw (they eat pine shavings).  We added a small waterer that they try to swim in.  We learned our lesson with the last ducks and don’t use open bowls of water like we did with the chicks.  They splash and destroy their surrounding areas with water and duck poo.  They are still splashing water but they can’t get a lot out at a time.  They look like rubber duckies trying to swim around the one inch canal.

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They have a small feeder with flock starter in it as well.

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We got four ducklings.  Two Indian Runners like last time.  The Walt Disneyesque, bowling pin effect never fails to delight me. They are also fairly good layers with 200-300 eggs a year.  Joining them are two Khaki Campbells, who are also good layers at 250-325 eggs a year,

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Every week the red light will get a bit higher and at six weeks they can safely stay outdoors.  However, with the warm weather in May, perhaps they can go out a touch earlier with their red lamp in their coop.  We still need to devise a small coop for them to stay in and lay eggs in.  A place to sleep away from predators at night.  We will let them free range in the newly fenced area that consists of our new pumpkin patch, outdoor kitchen, fruit trees, rose bushes, and the cold frame.  We will use one foot high fencing that just pushes into the ground to keep them out of the plants.  This is cheaper than building a duck run and they will have more space.  We will get a child’s swimming pool.  The trees and corn may act as a deterrent for hawks and owls.  And how fun to look out the back porch and see ducks running around!

Farm Days (goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and trucks)

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Our little snow globe over here is thick with fog and freezing drizzle this morning.  Hopefully it will burn off soon.  We have a very large space of pasture that we are fencing in.  It has five rows of barbed wire around it, it just needs to be sectioned off from the rest of the ten acres but this goat and sheep mama is rather paranoid.  Coyotes!  Lambs and goat kids escaping!  It wouldn’t be hard.  My old greyhound will skirt under the wires if he feels the need to run five miles.  So pasture fencing will surround the space giving the adorable ruminants room to spread out and more grass to eat.

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feeding time

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This is the last week that the babies get bottles.  I am not sure who will be more devastated, the lambs or Maryjane!  She considers it her farm work.  As soon as we pull into the drive, scarcely awake from her groggy nap down fifty minutes of country roads, she jumps down and starts jabbering away about lambs and milk and bottles.  Nothing the untrained ear would understand, but I can see her excitement.  We may have a new baby next week from our friend’s farm, our own goats are due here in a few weeks and there will be plenty more bottle feeding opportunities for our mini-farmgirl!

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We are getting ducklings this week and today we pick up our farm truck.  Good thing since we need fencing!  This fog makes me want to join the cats though.

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Time to throw back another cup of joe and get to my farm chores.  I leave you with a lovely quote and a wish for a joyous day!

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Just Duckie

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I think I will just keep the farm animal ball rolling this week.  While we’re at it, let’s talk ducks.

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Last year I posted some pretty darn cute photos of our ducklings.  They were so soft and added quite a lot of smiles at the Easter dinner table when I let one run across.  Three inch high ducklings are a force to be reckoned with in the ridiculously adorable animal category.

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They were a mess.  They love to splash.  They love to get their water everywhere, in the food, in the straw, all over themselves and the patient chicks they were housed with in the bathroom. (I think those chicks thought themselves to be ducks.)  Finally at five weeks old, the whole crew was placed in the chicken coop in a portable fence so that they could get to know their roommates before running for their life from the older hens.

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Doug placed a kiddie swimming pool outside and they spent hours and hours delighting in the water and splashing enthusiastically.  Not always swimming, sometimes they would stand outside the pool with their head in the water.  As they got older we noted that three were female and we had one male.  One drake out of four straight run fowl isn’t bad.  I could have as easily had three drakes and one sole girl!  He was their protector and would only allow the three chickens that they had been raised with to be near them.

We would come home from a farmer’s market and our intern, Ethan, would casually say, “Ira had Yetta’s head in his mouth again.”

“Ira had Sophia’s head in his mouth again.”  He didn’t hurt them but we weren’t sure what the future would bring.

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Well, what it brought was a move.  A move we had been praying for and that I had been writing about for two solid years.  The move to our homestead.  More land, more opportunity.  Lots of room for animals, right?  We moved in the fall during our peak of garden production, farmer’s markets, then transplanting herbs to the new farm, and then a strenuous move.  There wasn’t time to build a separate coop for the ducks and we still didn’t know if we were going to let the chickens free range outside their enclosure due to the significant large bird population that lived nearby (owls and hawks don’t mind free chicken).  And the coyotes singing in the fields (they like a bit of chicken as well).  And Ira with a chicken in his mouth.  No, no, that would never do.  We couldn’t keep them all cooped up together any longer.  So, I sold them for a very low price (as I am so prone to do).  They went to live next door to my friend, Lisa.  I mourned their absence immediately.  I did love the ducks.

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So now spring is approaching (oh wait, it’s only January) and I have BIG plans.  Do I plan any other way?  So we (when I say we, I mean Doug) is going to build a jaunty fenced in run along the west side of the garden where the majority of grasshoppers seemed to be last fall.  The ducks will have a job!  West border bug patrol, duck manure for the compost, and fresh eggs for the cast iron skillet.  They will have their own digs, their own kiddie pool, and their own small coop.  Now, I sure hope I don’t get three drakes and one duck egg layer.  Let’s go for all four girls!

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I miss their quacking on an early summer morning.  Their humorous waddles across the grass.  The sound of water splashing and raucous playing.  A farm without farm animals is simply a garden.  I love my gardens and the farm we are creating here and I need my Noah’s Arc menagerie to make it complete.

The Chick That Wanted To Be A Duck

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Can you see who is hiding from me here?  As if I will not notice that the chicks on the other side of the tub number one less?

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At any given time, one can peek in and see five ducks.  I mean four ducks and one wannabe.  Macchiato is pretty constantly damp as she likes to run through the water with the ducks and hides behind them if I try to remove her.  These are her buddies, and gosh darn it, she is a duck!

For the Love of Ducks!

Wouldn’t that be a fabulous exclamatory sentence?  “For the love of ducks, get in here!!”  I might start using that.

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I have been talking about getting ducks for years.  I have researched them and coveted them.  Nancy had some ducks this year that she inherited.  They were called Chocolate Runners.  They looked like Walt Disney himself designed them.  They looked like bowling pins, slightly slanted, running about in a pack.  They were so comical and so mesmerizing, Doug and I could not keep from giggling as we watched them.

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The things that have kept us from getting ducks are as follows:

1. They are supposedly noisy.  I have tested out my neighbors though and they seem to be immune to a barking dog, bleating goats, humming alpacas, clucking chickens, and an uproariously loud opera singer named Henry the Rooster.  I think they can take a few quacking ducks.

2. Do they need their own coop?  I only have one.  They get into water and may make a mess of the water bowl.  However, the chicken water bowl is my mixing bowl stolen from the kitchen.  (The dog has one, the cats have one, I really do need new mixing bowls!)  So, they can’t make that much of a mess!  I was told today at the feed store that they do eat pine shavings which is less than good for them and that I will need to use straw, which is more odorous, but I suppose I can change it more.

3. Where am I going to get a pond?  I live in town for duck’s sake.  We talked about getting the water feature in the yard fixed that has long been out of use.  It was rotted, holy, and non-working when we moved in.  A child’s swimming pool in that area though could work.  The gal at the feed store said my chickens will drown.  She underestimates the intelligence of my chickens.

4. What the heck do they eat?  I thought maybe layer feed was layer feed but water fowl have their own feed.  Keeping that separate could be an issue.

5. Are they going to catch sight of the fairgrounds and fly south?  Apparently Runner ducks like Nancy’s can only fly three feet up so they aren’t going very far.  Other breeds can have a few feathers clipped with sharp scissors on one side and that takes care of that.

6. How many eggs do they lay?  Cause I have enough free loaders around here.  Duck eggs fetch $8 a dozen at the nearby farmers markets.  Depending on the duck breed, they can lay anywhere from 50-330 eggs per year.  The meat breeds don’t lay as many.  Runner ducks range between 150-300 eggs per year.  More than some of the chickens I have.

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Feeling confident, I went to the feed store and pre-ordered my ducks.  Two blue Runners and two chocolate Runners.  Straight run.  Eek.  I asked what if they are all boys?  I can bring them to the animal swap if I don’t want to kill them myself, the clerk says.

Folks, I cannot even put my old, decrepit, eighteen year old dog to sleep for crying out ducks.  How am I going to butcher my ducks?  I will pray for all girls.

I have two choices now to think about.  I can leave them in the same coop as the chickens, keep both their bowls of food there and hope they opt for the correct one for their species.  I can put the swimming pool out by the old water feature and hope the chickens don’t drown.

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Or, I can put them in the goat yard with their own coop.  Maybe there is one on Craig’s List.  They can run around with the goats, have their swimming pool, and I can hope the goats don’t break into their food.  I can totally see Loretta chowing down on duck feed.

I have until April 11th to figure it out.  The ducks arrive then.  This is becoming more of a farm every year!