Saturday, February 21, 2015

We Have Duck Eggs!

Today I lifted up the top of the duck house to do some cleaning and found this!

We only have two female ducks, and the smallest of the eggs is rather dirty, so I'm guessing these were either laid by one of the girls over a few days, or both girls, but the small egg was the first one laid and it has been there for a day or two. 

My duck house is not great when it comes to cleaning or duck egg gathering. The top part that comes off is an entire piece of plywood. It's wet and it's heavy, even though it is covered with a tarp. I don't lift it up every day, and looking in from the front it's hard to see into the nesting area I made to one side. 

The smallest one is more the size of a chicken egg. 
Poultry often lay a smaller "practice egg" when they are just getting started. 
It's likely that's the case here. 

And now I face the classic duck egg dilemma, they don't fit in a standard egg carton.  

Now I have to decide what to bake first! 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dandelion Greens

While many people in the country are buried in snow and suffering through extremely cold weather, spring has arrived early over here in the Pacific Northwest. The ducks and chickens have eaten every green thing they can find in the yard and so I have started collecting greens for them. There is a nine acre park across the street from us. Fortunately, most of it has been left forested and it is not treated with pesticides, and herbicides are only used around the perimeter fencing. Knowing this, I feel comfortable collecting dandelion greens from the park. The ducks and chickens love it when I come through the gate with a grocery bag full of greens for their enjoyment.

The park also has a lovely patch of violets.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fiona Zecora

This is Fiona Zecora, she's a Barred Plymouth Rock. She arrived at our house as a chick from My Pet Chicken as a little black chick with a spot of yellow on her head and the cutest yellow tummy. Fiona was our friendliest chick, happy to sit on my hand or my shoulder when she was little. Now she rules the yard. Living up to her American farmyard heritage, happy to forage and a reliable layer of lovely brown eggs. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Egg Hunting Reaches New Hights

As I mentioned in my previous post, Merida is keeping me on the hunt for eggs this year. I've also mentioned that I provide places that the chickens can get to that the ducks can't, in case the ducks get annoying. (Sometimes the ducks to seem a bit like marauding toddlers.) Well, Merida seems intent on keeping her eggs away from the ducks. When I purchase more straw I purposefully left Merida's nest in place and stacked some straw next to it, vertically.

Today there wasn't an egg in the nest.

So I looked a little higher.

Well, I had to reach up and feel with my hand, I can't see up that high. 
And then I held my camera up in the air so you could see, too. 
Merida laid her egg way up on top of the straw. I'm just glad it didn't roll off! 
We're only getting one to two eggs a day right now as it is. 
Every egg is a treasure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Aggressive Drakes or Drake Shaming?

Long before I had ducks of my own I'd heard tales of how horrible drakes were. Nasty comments about how drakes were rapists, how they aggressively tried to mate with people's poor helpless chickens, and how they would try and drown female ducks.

As the length of days increases and the temperatures rise, mating behaviors are on the rise in my little backyard flock. And, while I'm fairly new to duck keeping, my observations are at odds with conventional wisdom or popular opinion. Now it may be that my large heritage  breed ducks are less aggressive than some other breeds, I hold that open as a possibility, but I think there are other factors that need to be considered. 

After reading about how horrible drakes were I thought about the source. It seemed that most of the people weighing in on online forums and fb pages were women. I wondered how comfortable they were with their own sexuality or if they had had negative human experiences that colored their perceptions of duck interactions. Were these same women slut shaming other women? Were these same women generally negative about men? Maybe, maybe not, I have no way of knowing, but the thought did cross my mind.

Having watched my female ducks splash and posture in the pond to attract the attention of the drakes, my conclusion is that the females are willing participants. My drakes only attempt to mate in the water, which isn't true for all ducks, that means the females in my flock are choosing to get into the water with the males. The can usually get out of the water if they've had enough. Moments later you'll find them contentedly preening their feathers.

It seems to me that people are anthropomorphizing ducks. Ducks aren't humans, ducks interact very differently than humans do. Their mating rituals may make you uncomfortable, but they are just ducks being ducks. The drakes aren't trying to drown the females, really, they aren't. 

But what about those drakes harassing chickens?
I recently read an article that stated how a drake can kill a chicken by attempting to mate. This person's solution was to drink whiskey. However, I have a more proactive solution. If your drake is bothering your chickens it's time to separate your ducks from your chickens. My flock hasn't had issue with this, however, I do provide my chickens with perches. My ducks can't fly and don't perch. By giving my chickens a variety of places that are out of duck reach, I give them the opportunity to escape if they need to.

Our domestic poultry rely on us to provide for their needs. If we have drakes then it's up to us to provide them with an adequate number of female ducks. It's up to us to provide them with adequate space and activity. Foraging, swimming, and post swim preening provide drakes with something to do other than pursuing females. Adequate space also gives the females a better opportunity to evade advances if they aren't interested. Too many drakes and over crowding can also be an issue in wild ducks, as mentioned Here

Another concern is keeping ducks of different sizes together. And again, it is our responsibility as poultry keepers to protect smaller ducks from the advances of large drakes. Talking online about how that big nasty drake hurt your cute little call duck doesn't tell me your drake is the problem. You are creating the problem situation, which, at the very least, makes you responsible for the problem, not the drake.

If we have a particularly aggressive drake then it's up to us to assess how best to proceed. That may mean getting rid of that particular drake or taking measure to "light neuter" his by keeping him in a totally dark box 14-18 hours a day, as suggested in Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks. The solution to the problem may vary, but it definitely requires an assessment of the duck habitat and inhabitants.

Hopefully people who raise ducks will start looking at duck behavior as just that, duck behavior, and stop villainizing drakes. It's up to us to provide ducks with an optimal environment and suitable flock so that their natural instincts and behaviors can be expressed.

UPDATE:  Having talked to some other duck owners, I do think that part of the reason my drakes are less sexually aggressive is that they are large breed ducks. I would be curious to hear about what breeds you have and how sexually aggressive they are, or aren't, in the comments below. Do you think what I've said makes sense or do you think I have a skewed view of the situation because of the particular ducks I have?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Every Day Egg Hunt

It seems the ducks have been going into the hen house, I can tell by the holes they leave in the straw. Perhaps that's the reason the chickens have decided not to use the nesting boxes, which are low to the ground. Maybe it's just because chickens are inclined to lay their eggs in a safe place and they have a different idea of what's a safe space than I do. Merida started laying first after the fall molt. She laid her eggs back behind the swinging bench at first. A few days later I spied her in a new location, building a nest.

Merida at work

After only a day, Fiona had joined Merida.
That grey thing is a piece of old egg carton added to the nest.

The new nest is on top of the dog crate, on top of the old worm bin.
I put straw bales up there to keep them clean and dry. We were almost out of straw when Merida build her nest. I have since gotten new straw but I put it to one side so that the nest was not disturbed. If you try and discourage chickens from hiding their eggs by destroying the nest they make they will move to a new location. That means you have to find the new location. The top of the dog crate is safe from the ducks and easy for me to collect from so I'm going to let them have their spot.