Ducklings and goslings update

We have plenty of baby poultry in progress around here.

I hatched out some mutt ducks  at school for the kiddos to observe:

 

Today an incubator full of Pilgrim goslings is working on hatching:

Scrambles, our Buff Orpington hen, and Violet, one of our Australorps, both went broody and are sitting on Indian Runner duck eggs and Pilgrim goose eggs:

Abigail, our Pilgrim goose, went broody a while ago but then left her nest. I put those eggs in the incubator to finish hatching; however, she laid a new clutch in a nest she built under the duck house and now is sitting quite seriously.  I think she may actually finish the job this time!

In a few weeks when work winds down for the year I will resume posting here more regularly. I also have started a new blog related solely to our farm:

Thiry Farm

 

 

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Building a duck house for a Michigan winter

We hadn’t planned to build a duck house this year since we had a serviceable shed that they were doing OK in. However, later in the fall a freak wind storm blew in and demolished the shed. Miraculously, the ducks and geese had come out into their yard in the storm and so were not killed when the shed collapsed.

Not everyone was so lucky; while waiting in line at Lowe’s to purchase the lumber to build the new duck house, the person in line behind my husband asked him, “What are you building?”

“A duck house,” he said.

“Me too!” the person said. Sadly, some of their ducks had been killed when their house had collapsed in the storm.

I thought I would share a bit about how Phil built this house for those folks who google “how to build a duck house” and end up here.

First, he cemented in 6 fence posts to make the support structure. The house is 10 feet long and 4 feet wide:

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The front of the house is about a foot taller than the back of the house so that the roof slopes back, allowing snow to slide off.

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While their new house was being built, the weather turned rather cold and windy, so I built a temporary rough shelter out of straw bales so at least they had a place to get out of the wind and lay their eggs:

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For a while it was still warm enough to fill up their little pools in the duck yard but it has since turned too cold for that. We still have the bubblers on in the pond which keeps a small hole about 10 feet across open in the ice so they can come out and get a daily bath if they want to.

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The house is about 18 to 20 inches off the ground, so they like to go underneath it and even sleep under there. I put some straw bales around it to provide some windbreak for them:

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A long ramp with a gentle incline was built up to the house, and the pop door opens down onto it.

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In order to give them some traction on the wood, my husband laid some of the leftover roofing shingles on it, and then he had the brilliant idea of gluing down wooden paint stirrers to provide even better footing for them.:

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As you can see, their wet, messy droppings freeze on it and make it slippery, so we keep a paint scraper wedged into a bit of trim that we can use to scrape the frozen droppings off when they build up too thickly:

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In order to give it a truly redneck flavor, Phil hung some colored Christmas lights on it.

He built access doors on both sides for cleaning out  soiled straw bedding and for gathering eggs.

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The top of the door fits into a little groove and on each side there is a slide bolt to hold it in place. Two metal handles make it easy to lift it out and in.

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Inside one of the access doors, we put a heated water bucket inside a low plastic bin in order to contain any water the ducks splash out of the bucket; this keeps their bedding relatively dry. Ducks are notoriously messy with their water!  The floor and about 6 inches up the wall are covered in cheap vinyl flooring to keep the wood from getting too wet inside and to make clean out easier.

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The view from the duck house, looking toward the red rabbit hutch and our house.

 

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A second heated water bucket out in the duck yard in front of the rabbit hutch.

 One of the most important things for a duck house is adequate ventilation. Ducks are very messy creatures who like to play in their drinking water and make lots of wet poo.  To provide the most ventilation, we left the rafters open so that fresh dry air would flow in and wet humid air would flow out, all up above where the ducks are nesting so they are out of the draft. Because their house is enclosed in a fenced run, we didn’t have to put anything over the opening to the rafters, but if your duck house is not fenced in, you will want to affix some hardware cloth to keep predators out.

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Open rafters provide good ventilation

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The finished duck house, just in time for winter!

The objective is to build a house that keeps wind, rain,  and snow off the ducks and geese.  It’s not important for the house to be “warm” and I strongly advise against using supplemental heat. Ducks and geese are VERY cold-hardy birds – they’re wearing down jackets, after all! My ducks are out and swimming in the coldest weather; the pictures below were taken on a day when the high temperature wasn’t even 20°F.

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If anyone reading has any specific questions about how the house was constructed, feel free to ask in the comments and we will do our best to answer.  I hope this was helpful!

Our duck and goose house and yard setup.

We’re getting lots of nice starter-sized duck eggs now, despite the shortening days:image

We also got our first goose egg:

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Ducks and geese don’t need nesting boxes like chickens do. They’ll just dig a little depression in the straw in the corner of their house.  I suspect some of them are also laying their eggs in the reeds around the pond, though I haven’t yet found any.

I thought it might interest some readers to see our current duck and goose yard setup.

In the middle of the yard is a hugelkultur herb and vegetable bed around which I’m slowly building a lashed fence made from tree branches I harvest from our woodlands:

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Spent straw bedding is used for mulch in the garden bed.

We had grand duck house dreams but ran out of time and had to settle for repurposing a Rubbermaid storage shed for now:

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We removed the plastic windows and replaced them with hardware cloth. A bungee-corded fan helps with ventilation.

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The rabbit hutch is also in the duck yard:

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The duck yard is not covered, but does have an 8-foot fence around it. The bottom four feet are hardware cloth to prevent raccoons from reaching through and grabbing sleeping ducks.

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There is a semi-dwarf peach tree that provides shade and fallen fruit for the ducks and geese. In turn, their droppings fertilize the tree.

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We took a second piece of hardware cloth and attached it to the bottom  of the fence and made a skirt on the ground that extends out several feet. We then let the grass grow up through that hardware cloth skirt. This discourages digging predators from getting into the duckyard..

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We also strung two strands of hot wire, one at four feet and one at the top to discourage climbing predators:

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We have a large earthen pond…image

…directly behind the duck yard:

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Uncle Waldo, our Pilgrim gander

The duck eggs we are currently getting are about the size of a large chicken egg:

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Three brown chicken eggs and one white duck egg

I was uncertain about how cooking duck eggs might be different, so I followed Carol Deppe’s directions:

I use a heavy pan, which is covered and off the heat for the last part of the cooking. I scramble the eggs, adding a little salt, cayenne pepper, and oregano. (You can add milk if you want. I don’t.) I start the cooking on medium-high and stir the eggs with a spatula a few times initially until they start chunking up. When I have mostly big chunks of egg dispersed in some remaining liquidy egg, I turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook 2–3 minutes—until the eggs are lightly brown on the bottom. Then I use a spatula to turn the eggs over in spatula-sized sections, then cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and leave it for 3–5 minutes to finish cooking the other side of the eggs. I end up with sort of hamburger-patty-like slabs of eggs. These make great leftovers, hot or cold, and make good sandwiches or finger food.

I started with two duck eggs:image

Added the seasonings:

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The whites are thicker and stickier than chicken eggs

And used my trusty cast iron skillet that we’ve had for 25 years:

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Served on a slice of fresh sourdough bread with a few remaining cherry tomatoes from the pot on the balcony:

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The duck eggs tasted richer and did not have that “chickeny” flavor. Yummy!