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always get a kick out of the first pullet egg of the year. In
2014, our young ladies started their productive careers at 18 weeks of
age, seven days younger than when I wrote this post a couple of years ago about when to expect your first eggs.
Around the beginning of July, it was as if a flip was switched within our little ponds --- the duckweed
started growing like crazy! Our ducks are too big to be worth
moving back to the ponds to dine, so I figured --- why not bring the
duckweed to them? It only took me a couple of minutes to scoop up
about a gallon of duckweed, tadpoles, and water bugs, and after the
ducks realized the bucket wasn't going to bite, they dived in with
relish. Within minutes, every bit of greenery was gone.
I wrote last week that our ducks are too lazy to produce good-quality eggs since they don't forage much.
However, my duckweed bucket suggests that I'm just not embracing the
duckness of ducks (as Joel Salatin would say). Although you can raise waterfowl on dry land,
that's not the role they're best suited for. Perhaps a bucket of
duckweed a few times a week is a happy compromise that will keep our
ducks healthy and make them a more sustainable part of the homestead?
What's a good way to feed
June Bugs to chickens?
After whittling down our
replacement layer flock to a cockerel and three pullets, I decided to
merge the chickens with our young ducks. The starplate pastures
where the young layer flock has been browsing is pretty barren at the
moment, since the sward hasn't entirely developed yet and since lack of
rain has slowed regrowth of what herbaceous plants do exist. In
contrast, the duck coop has three lush pastures around it, very little of which the ducks are deigning to eat and almost none of which the Cornish Cross broilers
consumed. Why not move the hens down to eat that greenery, and
also save me from having to manage food and water in two separate coops?
The multi-tiered roosting station Mark made in the starplate coop has been working like a charm. Local legend has it that using red cedar branches in this application will keep mites
at bay, but I have to admit our chickens are so healthy we've never
seen a mite with or without cedar perches. Still, the cedar roosts
are well-received, with everyone who fits perching on the top tier and
with any spillover enjoying the middle perch. (The lowest perch
was for chicks, and it did its job well.)
Will a chicken eat a mouse?
I hate to admit it, but our duck experiment was a dismal failure. We chose Ancona ducks because they came highly recommended by Carol Deppe, but either the breed or the species seems to be a poor fit for our homestead. When the ducklings were small enough to dabble in our sky pond, I loved the way they foraged for their own food, but keeping them on dry land
has been much more of a hassle. The requisite open bucket of
water turns into mud within hours, and the ducks then proceed to turn
the entire area around the bucket into mud too.
I could probably deal with the mud problem, though, if our ducks weren't
so darn lazy. At first, I thought maybe the waterfowl were spending their
entire day hanging out in one spot because they were in a hillside
pasture, and hills were too hard for their webbed feet. However, I
moved the flock into a flat pasture full of low weeds and clover (and
even took away their open water bucket) and the waterfowl still lay about all
For the sake of
comparison, here's what the tractored hens were doing on the same hot
afternoon that I took the second photo in this post. Despite being
confined to a small space, these Red Stars were busy working up the ground where I plan to set out fall broccoli next week, hunting for worms in the process.
The photo above shows the
new tree alley in our starplate pasture, where I'm focusing on soil
building this year. I grew a rye cover crop there over the winter,
left the chickens in the pasture for two full weeks in May, then tossed down buckwheat and sunflower seeds. My goal at the time was to do back-to-back buckwheat plantings
the way I do in the vegetable garden to build organic matter fast in
summer-fallow areas, but one look at the blooming buckwheat changed my
mind. Clearly, this soil is still very poor, since the cover crop
is blooming at a third to a half of the height it does in my vegetable
I haven't done a soil
test in the starplate pasture, but my eye-balling of the earth while
digging swales suggests that it's got a good texture and is
well-drained. In the vegetable garden, I'd add a couple of inches
of horse manure to an area like this and would be able to plant into it
right away, but I never have enough horse manure to "waste" it on a
pasture. The solution? Chickens, of course. I'll turn
our young flock back into this tree alley for another week or two,
letting them eat what they can and add plenty of manure to the soil,
then will plant another round of buckwheat and see how the cover crop
grows. My goal is to have the tree alley in good condition by this
winter when the time comes to plant out my spring-grafted apple trees, and I'm willing to force our flock to graze on subpar pasture in the interim if necessary to reach that goal.
This is an experiment I've
been wanting to try.
Most books recommend that
you lower the protein content of your chicken and duck feed from around
20% protein (starter feed) to about 13 to 18% protein (grower/finisher
feeds) when the youngsters pass their peak growth period (by the time
they're two to three months old). You don't want to just change
the pullets over to laying pellets at this time, even though the protein
content of the feed is right, because excess calcium before a bird
starts to lay can damage the birds' internal organs and skeleton.
And even though I've raised pullets all the way to laying on chick feed
in the past, this option isn't the best either since it can make birds
grow too fast and not develop properly (and since chick feed is more
expensive than lower-protein feeds).
I went back to check on
our pullets and cockerels a few hours after giving them their mixed feed
to see if they pecked around the oats. To my surprise, I found
that they'd actually broken apart their automatic feeder so they could
eat up all the oats first
--- I guess the chickens knew they needed more carbs in their diet and
were itching for the extra grain. That was at 10% oats by volume,
so I guess I'll move the chickens right up to 25% grain and see how they
do. The ducks, on the other hand, are younger and are reputed to
be pickier about changing feeds, so I'll keep tapering their diet down
to a lower protein level over the next few weeks.
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