Posts Tagged ‘Ducks’

I can’t believe the last post I wrote on Sow The Seed was about how hot and dry it was in west Wales. Since then we’ve had to contend with torrential rain and winds bought by the likes of Storm Callum. The weather is now beginning to turn wintery with cold nights and frosty mornings, but some beautiful sunny days; hopefully a taste of the winter to come!

Old and new girls – Mavis and Edna

I also wrote back in July that we had lost the first of our rescue hens, and recently we lost the last two – we were never sure how old they were, so we can only assume they had come to the end of their natural lives. We also lost one of our Speckledy hens, so we were down to only one chicken. Luckily this only lasted a few days as we had already decided to get a couple of new girls from a local breeder. The new hens are Rhode Rocks and are said to be hardy and good egg layers. We’ve named them Mavis and Edna (those familiar with children’s cartoon Willo the Wisp will know the characters). In the meantime, our old hen has now decided to go into moult (just in time for the cold snap), and is looking very bedraggled and sorry for herself; nevertheless she continues to exert her authority and keep the new girls in their place, and Mavis has come into lay so we aren’t without eggs.

Goats keeping a watchful eye!

The goats are back in their winter field, enjoying the hedgerow and any grass that is still growing. We’ve also been giving them some of our windfall apples (in small doses) as even after storing and juicing as much as we can, we have plenty to spare.

The ducks, taking it easy for winter!

The ducks are now free-loading for the rest of the winter (we haven’t had an egg from them since September), but to be fair they are now old girls; one of them is over five years old.

I’m slowly putting the garden to bed for the winter, clearing out the polytunnel and covering all the beds with manure and compost for the worms to work in. It’s been quite a good growing year, helped by installing the rabbit-proof fence, and the dry spell meant that the slugs weren’t as bad as previous years. We’re now slowly eating our way through the huge amounts of squashes and sweet potatoes that grew so well in the hot weather, and enjoying the last few tomatoes and cucumbers before the winter veg gets into full swing.


Rabbit proof(?) fence

It seems we may finally be coming out of the long, wet and cold winter, and spring is on its way. The rabbits certainly must think spring is in the air, as the rabbits are doing what they do best, and breeding like rabbits. Our rabbit problem is progressively getting worse, and while one or two in the fields can be tolerated, when they start to cause havoc in the garden, particularly the veg garden then it’s war!

When I checked on a row of parsnips and carrots I’d sown a few weeks ago, which I had been protecting from the cold with some fleece, I found a number of rabbit holes and tunnels underneath, soil everywhere, and most disheartening the rows of seedlings tossed around. I had found a similar situation a week before with the potatoes I had planted out, again under fleece for protection, but that wasn’t quite so bad as the potatoes can be fairly easily be replanted, but germinated seedlings will have to be resown.

Rabbit destruction

On seeing my frustration, Simon set out on Saturday morning to construct a rabbit (proof?) fence around the veg garden. We had a number of fence posts and a small roll of chicken wire already, so we’ve utilised what we have available. The fence doesn’t need to be particularly high (we hope we don’t have jumping rabbits), but the important thing is to make a skirt around the fence so the rabbits can’t easily burrow underneath. We also need to get in and out of the veg garden, so we need it a height we can easily get over. We managed to get three sides done, including using the duck’s electric fence as one side, and part of the polytunnel as another side. We didn’t have quite enough materials to go the full way round, but it’s a start. The rabbits are still getting in, so we will definitely need to close off every side before I can start sowing again.

This weekend also saw the loss of our first duck (other than Mr Duck, who flew the nest of his own accord). We’ve had them now for nearly 4 years, so they haven’t done too badly, but one of them could no longer walk. She was in a sorry state, pulling herself along with her wing. So we decided it was better to put her out of her misery than let her suffer any longer. So Simon did the deed, and we’re now down to two ducks. We would like to get some more poultry, probably just chickens, but while the avian flu lockdown is going on, nowhere seems to be selling young laying hens. Hopefully when the lockdown is lifted there will be some available, so we can boost our number again.

We’re both looking forward to some nice spring weather, and getting on with the year pest and trouble free… wishful thinking perhaps!

Three ducks in happier times


Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

The last time we had a completely dry 24 hours was the 2nd November 2015… and it hasn’t stopped raining since! This may be about to break, with cold and dry weather forecast for the end of the week, but I won’t hold my breath until I see and hear the evidence for myself (the rain has been waking us up every night). The ground is sodden, with springs popping up all over the place, where the ground can no longer take any more water. The ditch in our bottom field is now a proper stream, being fed by a number of springs, including the one in this picture, where two springs merge. At least we know some of the drainage work we have done over the years is working, with water being channelled away off the land into the streams.

Fir branch duck island

Fir branch duck island

The wet ground is making it hard to do anything outside. The areas we walk often, particularly to and from the animal houses, are thick mud. We’ve had to lay some temporary plastic garden track in one area, as it was getting hazardous to walk on the slippery mud. The animals don’t like this wet weather at all – even the ducks. The other day I found one of the ducks sleeping on top of a tiny mound of grass, with a moat of mud around her. I assume this was so she didn’t have to sit on the cold wet mud. So we’ve put some fir tree branches down for them, both to sit on and lay their eggs (their nest hollows had filled with water too). The branches act as a protective mat from the wet ground, and so hopefully this will make them feel more comfortable.

We don't like getting our feet muddy!

We don’t like getting our feet muddy!

The goats, needless to say, are also pretty miserable. They don’t like getting wet and will do their best not to get their feet muddy and wet. We’ve put down some paving slabs between the field gate and their house, so they (and we) have got somewhere mud-free and dry to walk. Luckily the field is well drained, so it’s not getting too muddy, otherwise I don’t know what we’d do.

The chickens seem least affected, continuing to peck about and keep out of the wet when it rains heavily. They don’t seem to mind the wet too much, and are continuing to lay well into the winter.

The UK record for the longest period of rainy days is 89, a record achieved in 1923 on the Isle of Islay. Eglwyswrw, a village in Pembrokeshire, about 20 miles from us, reported it had had 75 consecutive days of rain (on the 8th January), so perhaps the record is about to be broken. But I’m sure, like us, the villagers would rather this was one record they didn’t beat.

A full clutch of duck eggs

A full clutch of duck eggs

After complaining that the ducks weren’t good layers, all three of them are now in full lay. One of them (we suspect one of the older ones) has been laying a while – a light blue coloured egg, which she laid in the house. More recently we started getting a white egg (we think from the younger female), but laid under the shelter, and now we’re getting another blue egg. They’ve now all taken to laying under the shelter, in a little clutch. However, we do still randomly find eggs around the run, or tucked behind a barrel. They clearly aren’t as discerning as the chickens when it comes to finding a spot to nest, and seem to be able to just drop an egg wherever takes their fancy. This does mean we throw a few eggs away, as some of them are caked in mud, but even so we’re still getting a little overwhelmed with duck eggs.

Very few people seem to want duck eggs. There is a long-held belief that duck eggs carry all sorts of unwanted nasties, like salmonella (probably because they don’t always lay them in a nest box), but we’ve been happily eating them with no ill effects. The eggs are also a bit different to hens eggs, with a larger proportion of yolk to white, with white having more protein, but that makes them great for baking – they make wonderful cakes and fluffy Yorkshire pudding. Some people say they taste different, but we haven’t noticed anything particularly different about them, and have used them as scrambled eggs and omelettes. Maybe some breeds of duck produce stronger tasting eggs, but as Khaki Campbells are bred as egg-layers, maybe this trait has been bred out of them.

So with the hens going great guns as well, we often get six eggs a day. I’ll just have to make more cakes!

Ducks investigating new run (but not the house!)

Ducks investigating new run (but not the house!)

The ducks use of the spare chicken house and run was only meant to be temporary while we decided where we wanted to keep them long-term. This also enabled us to see what was required in keeping ducks, and make a more informed decision on their final location. We now know that ducks are extremely messy. Our original location didn’t have much grass, didn’t drain very well and was quite small, so we decided that a spare bit of ground next to the vegetable patchwould be better. This would enable us to get them into the vegetable garden and eat slugs – basically get them working for their keep!

We’ve constructed a new house for them (although they rarely seem to go in at night) out of an old crate and various odds and ends of wood we had spare. All we had to buy were the hinges for the doors, although given the time it has taken to make the house we may have been better off just buying a ready-made duck house! We also decided to use electric netting to contain them and keep the local foxes out. This will also enable us to move them around if they make a mess of their run, or if we want them in another part of the garden. Electric fencing isn’t cheap, but it is a lot less hassle then constructing a wire fence, and is more easily moved. Read the rest of this entry »

Our new Khaki Campbell ducks.

Our new Khaki Campbell ducks.

Here’s the latest addition to our flock – 4 Khaki Campbell ducks. We’ve talked about getting ducks for a while, but haven’t taken the plunge as we haven’t got a dedicated area for them yet. However, by chance a friend mentioned she needed to reduce her flock of ducks as she was over-whelmed with eggs, and the cost of feed was too much, so we thought why not! We could use the other section of the chicken run and “sick” house as a temporary home. And as for giving them somewhere to bathe, well it turns out all they need is somewhere to dunk their heads (although of course if they can have room to swim as well all the better), so a deep tub or small paddling pool is adequate. So off we went with empty boxes into the wilds of Carmarthenshire and came home with 4 ducks.

Two of them are about two years old (the two on the right of the picture), while the other two are only four months old or so, so have yet to gain their adult feathers and start laying. And apparently laying is what they’re good at – better than chickens, up to 350 eggs a year! We have yet to see any eggs, but it always takes a while for them to get settled and feel comfortable nesting.

They don’t seem to trust us as much as the chickens, and stay well clear of us. However, we’re trying to tempt them with food, as we will need to get close to them at some stage. We’ve had fun and games with getting them to go into their house at night. The first night was a bit traumatic for all parties, but we managed to corner them and get them in. They seem to have now learnt where home is and will put themselves to bed, but much later than the chickens, waiting until dark to go in. And unlike the chickens, which individually go to bed, the ducks have to do everything together. So it takes all them to decide to go into the house before any of them will go in. Similarly, in the mornings, they don’t come out one by one, but all come out at once, waddling down the ramp, tails wagging! I think we’re going to have some fun with this lot.

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template