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Friday, December 26, 2014

No short cuts, Ducks are work!

 I LOVE my ducks.. I think they contribute so much to our farm! Amazing eggs, amazing meat (at any age) lots (and lots!) of stinky manure thats great for my garden, pest control , super soft down and they are highly entertaining ... I find 'most' ducks easier to manage than chickens...ease of management is huge on a farm..huge! An animal thats hard to manage can suck the time and motivation right out of you!

I've said before they work out better for us for many reasons and more economically than chickens...I have great land for all poultry... good mix of pasture and wood lots.. natural water sources and our highly prized LGD's that do not kill ANY poultry!

.... and maybe we have had the wrong chickens in the past..I mean chickens and goats are the most used livestock animals in the world.. what have I done wrong for them to not work out??? I found out what I did wrong with goats for them not to work!
...maybe the wrong bloodlines (yes bloodlines matter in poultry too!! don't be fooled by thinking all of the same breed will possess the awesome traits you've read about in those romanticized homesteading magazines!
I tried half a dozen different chicken breeds (there are so many breeds) before giving up and stepping away from chickens for awhile to focus in on ducks as our main egg/poultry meat source. Which works extremely well for us here in the southeast.... some better than others.... but the main thing you gotta know... they are WORK!! Like any livestock..and maybe abit more than other poultry...

These lovely ladies are part of my muscovy flock, I have 4 bloodlines... out of those 4 lines these girls are the first to try new foods and have a wider range of vegetables they will eat... they are also my only line of muscovies that lay in the winter so far! Making them extremely valuable to me because most muscovies are seasonal.

But lets talk about work... 
Ducks are more work in a way because they have large super stinky slick wet poop, that builds up and their flat feet pack it down... making the deep bedding system much used for chickens not very practical or healthy.
Now let me just say I'm not a fan of the clean up every 6 months deep bedding systems with chickens either.. I think its way less work to shovel out the bedding/manure every couple of months .. six months of poop is a nasty undertaking ...
my large coop below takes me just an hour to shovel out and clean if I do it every 6 to 8 weeks.. thats with ducks...
when I did the deep bedding with chickens it would take us pretty much 5 hours of extra hard work! I can't imagine if I let duck poop pile up that long (gag!)

Heres my large coop after 8 weeks of packed down duck poop...I have only 8 ducks in this large 16 by 12 house!

Ducks are very messy with their water thats also more work to clean up... when I lock them up at night they only get a bucket of water to wash their food down with .. they can make quite a large mess with a small amount of water!.. add the slimy poop in the mix , flattened down by their feet it can be alot of work to scrap up.

I set their water bucket in a rabbit tray to help keep the watery mess contained to one area and save my floors from rotting out.. it gets quite gross.. very quickly. I typically add pine shaving every week to soak up the mess.
 I've read some people say they do not give ducks water at night in their pen so they will not have a mess to clean up.. sorry, I think this is totally cruel ... one of the most basic rules of healthy livestock... *Provide fresh water at ALL times! 
Esp, cruel to with hold water from waterfowl... seriously if your not going to provide an animal with basic care because you're to lazy to clean up after them, maybe reconsider raising animals. Most small farmers/homesteaders goals are to provide a better life for the animal and better meat for their family than a commercial farm can... if you're not going to do that,,whats the point? Doing it to save money??
I can promise you, saving money raising your own poultry is probably not possible until you get into growing their food with proper pastures and protein feeding systems...which,,,, ha, is even MORE work...way more than the task of cleaning up messy water areas... think about that. 
Don't ever start up with an animal if you're already thinking about ways to short cut its care. Its fine to try different methods and see what works best...its fine to try an animal and it not work out for reasons you didn't foresee ...just don't ever fool yourself... if you're not up for the work to begin with, don't go there!
'Best thing about getting good advice...knowing when you're getting it.'
For those who like sugar coated romantic farming stories... you may have now realized... you are on the wrong blog :-)

My coop has provided a large cooler and 2 large garbage cans of manure that needs to compost about 6 months. 
Its a wonderful thing... but let me tell you.. it stinks! All poultry poop stinks so bad... way worse than rabbit or ruminants! But the gardens love it!

Ducks and goats eating garden scraps... I find ducks to be much better at eating garden scraps than chickens (maybe it was my breeds again)
 Esp. the mallard derived type ducks.. but my muscovies are also learning to appreciate greens. This is good.. but I also have to stay on top of keeping their wings clipped or they will fly in any garden or pond and help themselves to things I may not want them to eat! more on duck breed comparison in a later post.. they all have their pros and cons.. 

Nice clean duck house! Another thing... ducks are notorious for nasty egg laying habits! They have bad habits of dropping eggs where ever, walking and pooping on them... my older girls will lay in a nest 90% of the time.. I sprinkle new shaving and bedding in the nesting areas they like every few days to help keep eggs cleaner.
This coop used to be a chicken coop... so lots of the 'furnishings' here are for chickens.. ducks do not roost (muscovies do though) and they like to lay in ground nests.
The furniture will be put to good use in a future chicken coop... yes, I'm adding chickens back! Ducks are my favorite but I have some breeds in mind I would like to try... after all.. I've not even tried half of the hundreds of chicken breeds available! haha! (I hope my husband doesn't read this)
I really enjoy raising poultry...I've got the land for it and I'm up for the work... and experimenting with different kinds of poultry is way easier than experimenting with different ruminants! Though we've done more than our fair share of experimenting there too... thank goodness ruminants sell well for us and/or taste good when they didn't work out..though the financial loss can be much greater!
Chickens sell well too, but not for alot... depending on the breed I've heard some people (they must be very special!) claim they can pay their feed bill though chick and hatching egg sells on small farms.
I've personally found the waterfowl to be very, very hard livestock to sell... much more so than chickens.. 
but they are easily processed for food if they don't work out... and very much enjoyed that way.

So thats abit about my tiny 3 years of duck raising experience... they are work.. like anything else on a farm.. but very very worth it to us... and after all my favorite saying is 'I didn't move to a farm to be lazy' ... work is not the issue for me with poultry that don't work out here... mostly its management or inefficiency. 
if ducks can work for your type land and climate they can be a very valuable addition to any farm...
As our farm changes and grows some of my current duck breeds may change...but I can't imagine not having ducks here.
Poultry in general is all challenging, but managed properly with the right kind (and right bloodline) they are such a wonderful addition to a working subsistence farm.

The most important thing part of anything.. Prayer... and being flexible. Its not always about what you think you need and what you think will work....
Have a very Blessed day!

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