The Duck Diaries
Movin’ On Up
In this case though, moving out instead of up, out into the barn. I fenced off a 4 x 8 foot corner of the barn using extra livestock panels. An old metal tray, the bottom of a rabbit hutch, serves to collect the water the ducks splash out of the water fonts. Or, at least it tries. One thing I have learned from our small duck operation is they love to splash in any amount of water which can dampen a good portion of their temporary home. It is logical when you think about it. They are waterfowl after all. Not all their water loving instincts have been bred out of them.
An old rubber feed tub holds their grower ration. They eat about 4 to 5 pounds each day, but honestly I haven’t been keeping track. Each time we walk into the barn the feeder is topped off so they never run out. What I can tell you is we have gone through almost 100 pounds of feed—50 of a chick starter ration and almost 50 of a grower mash. I have one bag left and that should hold out until the scheduled butchering date in May. What we use the most of is shavings, both as bedding and as an absorbent material for the water. Every few days the tray is cleaned out and refilled, and the rest of the pen is topped off to give them a dry unsoiled place to live. The shavings are used again as a weed barrier in garden paths or around the base of fruit trees. When all is done I may have more invested in shavings than in feed.
It’s amazing how much they have changed in a short period of time. Just two weeks ago they were cute and fluffy and waddling around on their little web feet. Honestly, I was beginning to wonder if we would be able to go through with the butchering they were so dang cute. But now they are teenagers, fat and plump and messy and looking more like a dinner entrée than an Easter basket ornament. They are quite too, making them a good (short term) meat project for a suburban farm. It takes just 49 days from hatch to butchering to put good quality homegrown meat on your table.
I am seriously thinking of making this an annual process right along with the meat chickens, freezer lamb and pig. But, even I have to admit the process would be easier and more efficient if we had a dedicated area to raise them instead of a cordoned off area of a small barn. I did find out that people who raise larger quantities than I use a raised plastic flooring system which allows the water and poop to fall through the openings, keeping their home clean and dry. I can also see where having a nice pasture area would be a benefit too. The few times we penned them out on the grass they did not get as wet or messy as they do in the barn. But, we are a small farm without the benefit of large pastured areas, so we do what we can with what we have. It’s just the way it is. But, I will definitely give future batches some serious thought.
The countdown is on, folks. Two weeks from today Sandy and I will process the ducks as calmly and quietly as they have been raised. And, that’s the way we like it…no crush of animals into a truck or holding pens, no fear, no stress, just the caring hands that raised them from ducklings bringing the whole wonderful process to fruition with grace and appreciation for a life well lived. The way it should be.
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