Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Garden Planning for 2017

We've begun planning for our new garden! Tim and I have been reading up on high-altitude gardening, to be aware of where to put the garden, how to lay it out, and what to be prepared for. We want to have a pretty good idea of the big picture soon, as I want to plant what I can before winter sets in, namely onions, garlic and asparagus.

Our first thought was to put the garden on the south side of the house in full sun. That's what all the books & websites will tell you, right? So, this is where it was going to be, beds terraced down on the left side, as well as some in front.
As you can see, plenty of sun on the south side of this house!

However, after observing what the summer conditions have been like the past two summers, and reading of some of the challenges faced by other Colorado Rocky Mountain gardeners, we have decided to place the garden to the east of the house, with some trees around to provide afternoon shade. The sun is so intense here that things will bake in the sun if allowed full exposure. Also, when the winds pick up it dries out the soil quickly, so at the east it will be a bit protected from the brunt of the wind.

Here's where the garden will go. These photos were taken this afternoon, so there won't be as much shade in the summer as there is now, when the sun is higher in the sky. The garden will get full morning sun and filtered light in the late afternoon.

This photo looks to the East.

This looks to the West.

This garden won't be nearly as large as the Wellington garden, but it will be ample, less than half the size. We'll grow a lot of cool season vegetables, and as many short-season varieties as we feel we can, including some tomatoes. We'll have to be especially careful to cover the tomatoes nightly, as they'll need all the warmth they can get. We will be making hoop covers to guard against frost as well as shade/hail covers to guard against the intense sun and occasional hail. Of course, we will have a 7-8 foot fence surrounding the entire garden, lest the deer get into an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I've been gathering weather statistics from our weather station the past two summers.
The lowest "low" in July-August was 34 F.
The highest "low" was 51 F.
The lowest "high" was 52 F.
The highest "high" was 92 F.
The average temperature for the summer months has been around 59-64. So, as you can see, many of the plants will require frequent covering!

It's fun to get into gardening mode again. We have lots of designing and planning to do, and the work will be rewarding.

Six-Pack Grows Up

The "baby" ducklings are now 9 weeks old, and all grown up!
Nine Weeks Old
We just have the six ducks now. We gave away the two remaining Golden Cascades. It just seemed easier to deal with feeding and caring for the six young'uns. When we took the six-pack out to the big pen with the big ducks, we had a partition up the middle of both the house and the pen, to keep them separate. Besides requiring different feed, we weren't sure how the bigger ducks would treat the smaller ones. When we did put them together in the same yard one afternoon, they basically avoided each other. It probably wouldn't have been a problem, but we really didn't want to keep 8 ducks--6 will be plenty.

They now happily enjoy going outside of the pen to forage, and have learned to make quite a racket when feeding time comes. Blackie is definitely the quackiest. According to information I had read, I thought that the Cayuga ducks (Blackie) were supposed to be quite calm, but not this one! Whitey is beautiful and the most photogenic. Harley and Quinn, the Welsh Harlequins, are quite calm and steady--if I look closely, I can tell them apart. The runners, Cocoa and Fawn, are cute--I expected them to be taller, but perhaps they haven't finished growing. It's nice having different colors, shapes and sizes, after previously getting ducks of the same breed.

In the past we have added lighting to the duck house in an attempt to get them to lay eggs as early as possible, but this time we don't plan to add the lighting: we will let nature take its course and take the eggs when we get them. I expect to see eggs sometime around February, when the ducks are fully mature, spring is coming and they're ready to lay.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Six-Pack

The "Six-Pack" - Hatched August 1, 2016

Our six-pack of ducklings arrived safely, and all are alive and well. It's fun to have a variety of sizes and colors. And heeeeere they are! Quite a photogenic bunch, I would say.

Whitey - White Layer

Blackie - Cayuga

Fawn - Fawn & White Runner

Cocoa - Chocolate Runner

Harley - Welsh Harlequin

Quinn - Welsh Harlequin

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Duck Update

It's been a long time... We now have just two of the Golden Cascades, Gertrude and Spot.

After dealing with the prolapsed oviduct issues with Bess, then with Gertrude and Ellie May, we decided to remove Wily, our drake, from the flock in April. We weren't sure we wanted to continue this breed, if the problems we'd had may be inherent with the breed. (Although, I wrote to Dave Holderread about these problems with 3 out of 4 of my ducks, and he had not heard of these problems with other Golden Cascades.) At any rate, whether Wily was causing these issues with overactivity or not, it just seemed unnecessary to keep him. So, after separating him from the girls for a couple of weeks, off to the Wolf Sanctuary he went.

In May, Ellie's prolapsed oviduct was so bad we had to let her go (another trip to the Wolf Sanctuary). Gertrude continued to have some prolapse issues (see previous posts), but continued to consistently lay eggs. Eventually the prolapse appeared all healed. She and Spot both continue to lay eggs faithfully, although Spot's eggshells are soft and often punctured or crushed by the time I pick them up. Since Ellie left, they've both gotten awfully crabby! They quack and complain any time we go near them, hunker down and ruffle their feathers. They just don't seem happy, and neither are we.

Chocolate Runner Baby
We decided to get some new ducklings, and at this time aren't sure whether we will keep the Golden Cascades or not. I will make that decision when they molt and take their yearly break--as long as they continue to lay I will keep them.

On Wednesday, August 3, our shipment should arrive with the following 6 ducklings: 2 Welsh Harlequins, 1 Cayuga, 1 White Layer, 1 Chocolate Runner, 1 Fawn & White Runner.  We're getting them from Metzer Farms this time, which adds a heat pack to allow for a smaller minimum order to be sent safely. These ducklings will all be sexed females, so we won't need to deal with butchering any drakes. We had Welsh Harlequins before and were happy with them, and wanted to try some runner ducks as well as a variety of shapes and colors. Hopefully these will be fun!

I already have names picked out: Harley & Quinn, Blackie, Whitey, Cocoa, and Fawn. Go figure.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gertrude's Progress

Gertrude's problems with her prolapsed oviduct continue. We had her in "lock-up", the darkened duck house, separated from the other ducks, for three days. She continued looking good, so I let her out to join her friends.

After two days, the prolapse re-appeared, but not as bad. I ignored it for a couple of days, then put her back in the duck house, but not in the dark, just to keep her quiet and separate. I hoped that it would heal itself, but she kept laying eggs, and I think this aggravated the problem.

Finally, I soaked her again in a bath of epsom salts, re-applied the coconut oil & honey, and pushed the prolapsed area back in. There was some scabbiness, some of which fell off as I was massaging her. She went back to the darkened duck house.

The next day her egg had some blood on it, so I again treated her. She's been in the darkened duck house now going on five days. Some days she looks better than others. She keeps laying eggs--today she laid TWO! I keep thinking that if she'd just stop laying eggs she could get better and we could save her. I finally got some hemorrhoid treatment, which is supposed to be helpful, so today I plan to treat her and put some of that on her.

I want this experience to be a success!

My Ducks Catch Mice!

A couple of times, I've found a dead mouse in the ducks' paddock. The other day it was pretty fresh, and I know that KK (the cat) hadn't been in there. It had to have been the ducks. I've googled it, and sure enough, ducks do catch (and eat!) mice. I didn't know we were getting more mousers when we got the ducks.

By the way, KK and the ducks get along quite well. I have no worries about leaving them out together. I think the ducks are too big and scary for KK to mess with them, and they actually are sometimes seen following her around. (Or, are they chasing her?)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lighting the Duck House

Since two of the ducks have suffered a prolapsed oviduct, we've done a lot more reading about this issue. One of the causes may have been that the young ducks were forced to commence laying at too young an age by adding artificial light to their daily routine. I will say that I didn't begin adding the artificial light too soon, according to several references. Most resources recommend somewhere between 19-23 weeks of age, and I began lighting at 21 weeks, just a little more than the natural daylight at that time.

However, after consideration, we have decided not to provide artificial light any longer. We will let the ducks lay naturally, and if we don't have eggs during late fall & early winter, we'll survive. I can freeze extra eggs prior to the molt, as I have done before.

I had thought about easing them off of the light gradually, but after Tim had read that the Golden Cascades will typically lay from January-August without the aid of artificial lighting, and with the difficulty of trying to keep Gertrude in the dark AND provide light for the others, I decided to remove the light completely. So, as of February 16, they now have no artificial light.

As of this morning, the ducks have continued to lay. It will be interesting to see if this continues.


Gertrude is doing well! Yesterday evening (the end of the first full day in "lock-up") I discovered that Gertrude had laid an egg--the first in a few days. Again, this morning there was another egg on her side of the fence, and all body parts are still intact, nothing hanging out. We will keep her in lock-up a few days, and hopefully this problem will be resolved. The three remaining ducks have spent a lot of time hanging out just outside the side of the duck house where Gertrude is held. I guess they're keeping her company.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


After yesterday's visit to the wolf sanctuary with Bess, we came home to deal with another problem.

Gertrude has also begun to show signs of a prolapsed oviduct. Since I've only begun to notice this and it is not in such an advanced stage as Bess, we will attempt to treat this. After doing a lot of research, here's what I did:

First, I set Gertrude into a tub of lukewarm water with epsom salts and held her there for about 10 minutes in our shed, which was shielded from wind and the other ducks. Then, with Tim's help, he held her down on a table covered with a towel, while I attempted to push the outward area back in. With a gloved hand, I first massaged the area with a mixture of coconut oil and honey. (If I'd had some Preparation H, I would have used it.) Then, I pushed the protruding area inside her body, with more of the coconut oil mixture. I massaged around a bit to see if there was an egg that needed to be expelled. If there was an egg in process, I don't believe it was formed yet--there was nothing like a hard shell. Gertrude stayed amazingly calm and allowed us to do this. I've gotta say, the part that had been exposed was a bit crusty. Hopefully, now inside her body it will stay put and soften up.

After this we put her into a small section of the duck house, and blocked all light except one small vent opening for ventilation. She will stay here for a day or two, at least. The darkness should keep her from laying eggs, and the separation should keep her still, and away from the drake. While in the duckhouse, she's being given water with some calcium dissolved into it, some chopped spinach and a mixture of hen scratch, whole oats and a little of the layer feed. I'm too far away from any stores to go buy non-layer feed, and I'm using what I have on hand.  I'll take a look at her later today to see if her body parts are still inside.  If not, I may have to repeat the procedure above.

This treatment is based on the articles HERE and HERE, in addition to a few forum comments, David Holderread's "Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks", Rick & Gail Luttmann's "Ducks & Geese in Your Backyard", and Lisa Steele's "Duck Eggs Daily."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Sorry to say it, but we've had to let Bess go. She developed a prolapsed oviduct, and it would have required an expensive visit to a vet to repair her. It just wasn't worth it to us to take the time or spend the money. Apparently it is somewhat common, we've just never experienced it before. I believe she was our first duck to lay eggs; the day we first had eggs, she had a wet, drippy rear end with something hanging out. This led me to believe she was the one to lay. Perhaps she had problems right from the beginning, although it did go away and she was fine for a while.

Bess began to lay eggs on November 15th, just 2 1/2 weeks after I began lighting the duck house to encourage laying. It wasn't until January 26th that we found more eggs from other ducks. In the meantime, we had a couple of whopper-sized, double-yolk eggs--one was 4.5 ounces. They must have been hard to push out!

Apparently the prolapsed oviduct can be caused by a few things:
1. A duck that's been artificially encouraged to lay too young, and lays eggs before their bodies are mature enough.
**I don't believe this was the case; I didn't begin to add light before the recommended age (I began at 21 weeks. Sources suggest anywhere from 19-23 weeks.)
2. A duck may have strained too hard when laying extra large eggs.
**This may have been the case for Bess.
3. The drakes may have been overly abusive to the duck.
**I suppose this is possible, but I haven't noticed, and I don't have too many drakes in ratio to the hens. (1 drake to 4 hens seems reasonable.)
4. A duck may inherit this trait.
5. She may not have had enough calcium, which not only helps form the shells, but give strength to the muscle structure in the vent area.
**This is possible. I was not giving oyster shell or other calcium, but solely relying on the calcium content in the layer feed and some crushed eggshells added to the feed.

So, I don't know why this occurred, but I think I will be more careful in the future not to attempt adding light for young ducklings. I may just let nature take its course, and they'll lay on their own time-clock, not mine. I will also give free-choice oyster shell.

Our visit to the wolf sanctuary last August.
Bess was taken today to our local wolf sanctuary. That may seem extreme to some readers, but after all, it's the "circle of life", and these wolves are unable to be in the wild to find their own food. They appreciate donations of fresh meat.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Guffey Garden

As January rolls on and I've been receiving seed catalogs and emails from my favorite seed companies, I'm itchin' to start a garden here at our new location near Guffey, CO. Our house is well along the way, and we hope to be able to move in by the end of February. (see Mountain Gaitway) However, the house won't really be "done". There will be continuing work to complete the interior, even after we've moved in. I'm afraid I won't be able to do much of a garden this year, and am not yet looking at the catalogs.

I do hope to begin with a few things just to get started, such as a salad garden, and hopefully I'll be able to get in some perennials, such as asparagus and berries, so they can get a start. It will be fun to determine where to put things and gradually get them going! We do plan on putting up a greenhouse, perhaps in time for fall 2016.

I've begun a little thinking and researching about high-altitude gardening, including designing a garden to keep the deer, rabbits and ground squirrels out. There will be much more on that in the years to come.

4 Eggs, About Time!

Finally, all four ducks are laying. We began getting two eggs a day on January 11. Since then, we had two eggs almost every day, waiting for the day a third duck would lay. Then, yesterday (1/26) there were four, and four again today. One of today's eggs was a whopping 4.4 oz, a record size for these ducks.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Spot Flies!

Silly Spot. She seems to be my silliest duck.
For the third time I know of, Spot has gotten herself onto the deck.
She's not terribly concerned, just looking at her buddies below.
Her buddies are checking her out.
She contemplates her departure.
And....there she goes. Flying like a real duck!
She's just gotta work on that landing. Not too graceful.
Silly Spot!