Friday, July 22, 2011

Changes: Yard - New Video

Here is a better video showing our new fenced yard for the ducks.  Tim kindly mentioned that the last one was boring, and I agree.  I've deleted the previous one.  This one gives a better shot of the ducks at their current size and shows the new yard that they are learning to enjoy.  At 6 1/2 weeks old, they're getting pretty big.  They now freely walk from their paddock (where the pool is) to the yard as they please during the day while we are home.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Changes: Yard

Another change!  We've fenced in the larger area outside their completely enclosed paddock. This larger area is full of grass and weeds where they can enjoy foraging during the day when we're home and the cat is in the house.  The fence has an electric wire near the bottom, and another at the top to keep predators out, also to keep the horses from leaning over to eat grass and ruin the fence.

At first the ducks were afraid to be out there, but today is their second day out so herding them out was much easier.  I took their food out there first thing this morning when they were hungry.  (Follow the food...)  They are taking to the foraging idea quite well and seem to enjoy nibbling on the grass.  Everywhere they go, they still go as a pack.  Ten ducks all together with one large white one taller than the rest is pretty darn cute.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Changes: Pool

More changes.  We've switched from the small pool to a larger, deeper one.  Tim put a drain in this one so it will be easier to empty & clean.  Nice.  Unfortunately, it's downhill from the garden, so it will be difficult to get that nice, duck-poopy water into the garden, but perhaps we'll figure something out.

10 ducks in the small pool were getting pretty crowded!
At first the ducks were afraid of the new pool and wouldn't go near it.  I put the nice ramp up, but they haven't quite figured that out yet.  Sometimes I put some chopped greens on the ramp, and they'll walk up halfway eating the greens, but not yet into the pool.  Sometimes they'll get onto the ramp to get out of the pool (there's a brick step inside the pool leading to the ramp), but they jump off before reaching the bottom.  One of them finally walked down it yesterday, and I got a snapshot.  Perhaps they do it when I'm not looking!  Generally they manage to get from the first (lower) step into the pool, but little by little I've seen a couple of them step up to the second step, then into the pool (smart ducks).  We'll leave the ramp there and see if they get the hang of it.

One comes down the ramp!
They like the bigger pool.  They've figured out that they can dive under, swim across, then come up again, and sometimes do summersaults in the water.  It's a joy to watch them in the pool.  It's funny, but sometimes some of them seem to prefer drinking up the muddy water beside the pool rather than get in, while the others are in for a swim.  Oh well, to each his own!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Changes: Drakes & Ducks

There have been lots of changes!  The ducks are six weeks old now, they're getting bigger and adding more feathers every day.  It's interesting to watch how the feathers are growing out, particularly on the wings.  When they stand up and stretch out their wings, I get a better idea of where each of the different types of feathers start, and how they fold up neatly when not in use.

Two of the ducks (female), 5 1/2 weeks old
The drakes and ducks are easy to tell apart now.  The drakes have much more color all over. The back area above the tail is darker on the drakes and shows a different pattern.  I don't know if you can tell in these pictures, but it's quite obvious.  The ducks are quacking quite loudly now, but the drakes still peep.  It's a louder peep, but still a peep.  Oh, the "mystery", Whitey, is quite clearly still peeping and therefore, a drake.

One of the drakes (male), 5 1/2 weeks old
Our plan all along was to butcher the drakes.  At first we thought we'd be brave and adventurous and do it
ourselves.  Then we found out about a poultry processing plant nearby that does them, packages them up and freezes them, and we thought that would save us the effort.  Then we found out that they no longer do ducks.  Now we aren't so sure we want to go to the effort of learning to do it ourselves, so we've put the drakes up for sale on craigslist.  So far, there have been no responses.  From the reading I've done, it sounds like the best time for butchering will be in another 2-3 weeks or so.  We've been so busy, I don't know that we need another project, but I guess it'll have to be done, and we may have to do it.

I was realizing that for centuries, probably the majority of families did this kind of thing themselves all the time.  It was probably only the few wealthiest folks who didn't.  We've gotten so disconnected with our food sources!  I think it's good to have a better recognition of where our food comes from...the garden, the fowl and animals...and appreciate what our Creator has given us.  Thanking Him for the provision of our food will take on new meaning as we butcher our own.

It's kind of nice that the drakes are just "the drakes" en masse, and I don't think losing them will be a problem.   ...Then there's Whitey.  I can't help it.  He is just too cute and too different from the others, I want to keep him.  He's fatter and slower and easier to catch than the rest.  He sits down a lot, and the others step on him frequently.  I've decided to keep him around, at least for a while, so I guess it'll be "Whitey and the girls".  I want to see what he's like as a bigger duck.  I want to keep in mind that he may very well become dinner, and may nickname him "Thanksgiving", but we'll see as time goes on.
Whitey ("Thanksgiving"?) - 5 1/2 weeks old

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Garden Groweth

With all this emphasis on our new ducks, I haven't mentioned the garden, but it's growing great, for the most part.  This week we've been enjoying PEAS.  We have Snow Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, and Shelling Peas.  I made a nice stirfry with the snow peas last week, and enjoy the Sugar Snaps raw.  I'm freezing some for later.  I'm wishing now that I had planted more of them.  Perhaps I can plant some for fall harvest.

We've also been eating kale and kohlrabi, and I made a pretty good quiche out of that combination, along with some extra large scallions I didn't harvest in their prime.  Right now I'm dreaming up some sort of kale-kohrabi lasagna.  Sound good?  It's really fun going to the garden and thinking, "Hmmm, this can be harvested today.  What can I make out of it tonight?"  Oh yes, some of the beets have been eaten, others were turned into pickled beets for winter salads.

After bad weather just after planting, I really had thought I'd have a disappointing garden.  Yes, there are some disappointments, but all is not lost.  My tomatoes have bounced back and I have many huge, lush plants with lots of flowers, particularly the bush, or determinate, type.  The tomato harvest will be late, so hopefully we won't have early frosts, but I should have plenty of tomatoes.  Some of the indeterminate ones are odd and short, but hopefully I'll get something out of them as well.

My squash and cucumbers suffered some setbacks as well due to the weather and the cucumber bugs.  Those dang bugs kept eating my young plants, and I kept planting new seeds to replace the damaged ones.  I finally have as many growing plants as I had planned for, but they are much smaller than they should be for mid-July.  I'll have a late harvest with these as well, but I still think I'll have enough to enjoy, especially considering I normally have more squash than we can eat.

The peppers are the most sad.  I love my peppers, but unfortunately fear I won't have much of a harvest.  The plants are small, but finally coming back with new growth.  Some have peppers growing on them even with few leaves.  Some peppers began to grow then dried and shriveled up.  I'm bummed that I didn't follow my own plan, which was to leave them under the cold frame for the first couple of weeks.  Had I done that, they would have flourished.  I took off the cold frame because it was difficult to water them (lifting the cold frame for each watering) and I wanted them to have the benefit of rain.  Instead of nice rain, they experienced hail, extreme wind, and temperatures that were too cold for them.

Potatoes, beans, herbs, carrots, basil, corn, strawberries...let's see, what else?... all seem to be growing along their merry way.

This year I tried several new varieties, mostly of peppers and tomatoes, and hoped to find out which were "keepers".  With the extreme weather, I may not be giving them a good test.  On the other hand, I'll certainly know which can survive the worst conditions!

This summer has been very rainy, more so than normal.  We have forecasts of thunder showers almost every day, and many days we do get the rain.  With our soaker hoses on timers, we frequently have a guessing game of whether to leave the timers on or off, thinking we may get rain.  With 60% chance of heavy rain today, I think I'll turn them off for now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Four Quackers and a Mystery

Which are drakes, and which are ducks?  Which are Golden?
I'm placing bets that we have four females, with one other still undetermined.  Four of the Welsh Harlequins have begun to quack, the feathers on their wings and sides are all a little lighter than the others, and their bills are a bit darker.  We'll have a better idea as time goes on, but that's my best guess right now.  Four layers will be good--we wanted at least three.  Of the two Goldens, I think one is a drake, the other a duck.

Whitey, the White Appleyard

The mystery is our White Appleyard, Whitey, who is clearly different than the others, not only in appearance, but in behavior as well.  Whitey sits down a lot--while he's eating, drinking, or just while all the others are walking about.  Often during eating time, he eats a little then goes off to the side and sits.  For as big as he is, much larger than all the others, it's surprising that he doesn't seem to eat as much.  He doesn't participate in all the same activities as the others, and often stays off to the side or is slower to join in.  He gets stepped on an awful lot by the others--they just step right over him while he sits.  He's still peeping, which could mean he's a drake, or could be that this breed is slower in developing the quack of a duck.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

This One's For Calvin (Charlie, too!)

I hear that my niece’s three year old son, Calvin, enjoys seeing the photos and videos of the ducklings.  Here’s a video for Calvin and his big brother Charlie.  Actually, it’s the best video yet.  It shows all the typical things the ducklings do.  It’s a bit long, but hang in there, the best part is near the end when all the ducklings run.

First the ducklings are eat their lunch.
They eat some, then they walk to the pool to drink and swim. 
One of them goes to the shade shelter.
Whitey sits down and stays put.
One of them trips trying to get in the pool.
Whitey is a bit bothered when somebody steps on him.
See how much bigger Whitey is than all the others!
The ones in the pool dunk their heads, bathe and swim.
One of the ducks quacks—is it a female?  (The females quack the loudest.)
All get out but one.
They go under the shelter, then they all head back to the food.
Watch them run!!
Whitey waddles over to join them.
The last one in the pool feels left out and runs quickly to join the others.
Isn’t it funny to watch them run???

Duck Paddock

Duck House & Paddock from window
Tim has finished our deluxe duck paddock, where the ducks can forage and lounge predator-free.  The photo was taken from our living room window, so we get a nice view of them from the house.  A true engineer, he planned the whole thing out, and with a few changes of plan along the way, it's done.  Now we can let the cat out while the ducks are outside!  There's no way she can get in.

The ducks can go freely in and out of their house during the day, but we'll still lock them inside at night.  Eventually we'll put a perimeter fence around the larger yard, where we'll let them "free range" when we're home, but for now there is just enough electric wire to keep the horses out, which you can see in the rear view picture.
Rear View of Paddock

Also, in the rear photo you can see a shade area for the ducks.  There isn't much shade out there mid-morning, so we'll be constructing some sort of larger shade roof like this that will be permanent.  In the afternoon there's nice shade under the trees.

We have a larger pool for them, but before we put that up we need to put a drain plug into it to make it easier to clean out.  That'll be in the next few days.  Until then, all ten ducklings still fit in this pool, just barely.  As you can see, we're sure having fun with our ducklings!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Male, Female, Gold, Silver

All along I've been watching these ducklings grow and exhibit different coloring, wondering which are female and which are male.  Aside from Whitey, who is getting much larger, lighter and whither, two have been more pale than the others, and I've wondered if they may be two females.  Most have a lot of dark grey on their backs, but these two are more bronze.  I finally figured out that these bronze ones must be the "Golden" Welsh Harlequins, and the rest would be the "Silver" Welsh Harlequins.

Of the two Goldens, I'm quite sure at this point that one is a female, as she's developed quite a quack.  This one is also a bit lighter, particularly on the wings, than the other Golden, so I'm guessing that one may be a male.

Of the remaining seven Silvers, at least one was quacking.  Some have lighter yellow-greenish bills than the others, so I'm guessing the darker-billed ones are females, three or four of them.

Time will tell, of course, but it's fun for me to try to guess how many will be ducks or drakes, which will lay eggs for us and which will be dinner.  Of course, Whitey's a wild card and will be all white.  I suppose we'll know soon enough by the voice.  So far, Whitey is still peeping like the others.
Golden Welsh Harlequin Duck - Four Weeks (She Quacks)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Four Weeks: Feathers & Quacking

The ducklings are four weeks old now and have begun to display noticeable feathers on their wings.  Some of their tails are a little more pronounced.  I’m wondering if those are the males—they are also the darker ducklings, for the most part.

We’ve been hearing the first sound more like a “quack” coming out of one of the ducklings.  We aren’t sure who, but one’s voice has definitely changed.  We decided to get some colored leg markers so we can tell the difference between them and note their personalities.  

Four Weeks Old

Friday, July 1, 2011

Duck Routine

We’ve got the routine down for now.  The ducklings eat three times a day, all they can eat in 15 minutes each meal, which for the ten of them is a little over two cups of their feed.  After they eat, they often go over to the pool to drink more water and dip their heads in, and often jump in for a dip.  Perhaps they like to clean off.  It’s true—ducks are messy.  They go back and forth from the food to the waterer, drench the ground around the water so it gets muddy, and they often drink up the water from the mud.  They often plop down in the mud as they drink.  Food and mud all get into the waterer, which gets cleaned at least once, sometimes twice a day.  It would be more frequent if they didn’t also have the pool to drink from.  They stand around the edge of the pool and stretch their necks to drink, or jump up on the bricks I have around part of the pool, where they can reach in more easily.  Sometimes I give them some chopped up lettuce or spinach and throw it in the pool, and then they enjoy snatching it up out of the water.  They’re getting so that when they see or hear me coming, they all stand up and peep for food, flapping their little wings for emphasis.

Each morning we let them out for the day, open up the air vents along the top of the house, and switch the door from its glass window to its screen inset.  The heat lamps are on a timer; on at night, off during the day.  It’s still quite cool some nights.  I have to remember to put the cat in the house whenever the ducks are outside.  We wouldn’t want to have an altercation until the ducks are big enough to intimidate the cat.

Every other day I’m cleaning out their house, which means lifting the wire mesh frames we have for them to stand on, hosing them off, and hosing off the cement floor and scraping it to get the poop out.  Every other day I’m also dumping the pool water, rinsing the pool and refilling it.

Soon we’ll finish the duck house and paint it cute.  For now it’s functional.  Tim’s current task is to construct the enclosed paddock area we have planned, with fencing to keep predators out (including the cat) and ducks in.  When that’s done, we’ll feel comfortable leaving them outside when we aren’t home.