Jun 28, 2012

Duck Report at Ten Weeks

The flock is now ten weeks old and well into their first moult.   Feathers are all over the yard, in the kiddie pool and the duck house.  The moult will supposedly go on for a few weeks, after which the birds will have grown in their adult feathers and can learn to fly to the best of their abilities, which won't be much.  As domesticated ducks were bred for larger body size, their wings didn't concurrently get bigger - that's why farmyard ducks can't fly away with a passing flock.  Poor kids.  Anyway, here's the lowdown on where we are with our seven ten week old Welsh Harlequin ducks now.  

Food:  Blue Seal is the only place near where we live in the Hudson Valley to buy poultry feed, so we've been using their brand.  For the first eight weeks of their lives, we fed the ducklings a combination of Chick n' Game Bird Starter/Grower Crumbles cut with oats.  Just plain ol' dry oatmeal purchased in bulk at the grocery store.  The concept was to cut the high fat/high protein food with oats so that they didn't develop too rapidly.  If we had been raising the ducks primarily for meat, we could have fed them nothing but Starter/Grower Crumbles and let them fatten up lickedy split.  But we're raising our ducks for egg production, so we want them to develop at a more healthy rate and avoid wing and leg problems that can occur when they grow too fast.  From day one, the ducklings were treated to lots of leafy greens, usually dropped in their water.

Watering Solution for Ducks

I was jogging around southeast Portland last fall when I came upon an urban poultry coop with both chickens and ducks in it.  The chickens looked fine, but the ducks didn't look too happy.  They were dirty and their bills and nostrils were caked with dried mud.  I felt bad for them duckles.

It's not hard to provide ducks with an appropriate water supply, although in Portland, municipal water is surprisingly expensive so I can understand if you don't want to refill a kiddie pool every day during the dry season.  But you can provide drinking water in a manner that's healthy for ducks.  Ducks need to be able to wash their eyes and bills in water throughout the day, so their water source should be deep enough for them to submerge their heads in.  Here's what I came up with to allow for that while minimizing the sloppy mess ducks can make with water.

Jun 4, 2012

Raising Ducks: Butchering the Drakes

I raised and slaughtered my own ducks.  And I would totally do it again.

I'm not saying that it wasn't difficult, because I was definitely stressed when the time came to butcher a few of the beautiful Welsh Harlequins I'd raised from ducklings.  I thought I might cry or be too freaked to do the actual killing.  But I'm a meat eater.  And I care about the welfare of animals.  Actually, I love animals.  It's a confusing predicament, but not an impossible one.  Now, I'm about to get all high-horsey on you because this is such an important issue to me, but the only way I know of to reconcile my carnivorous lifestyle with my love for animals is to see that the animals I eat experience the happiest, most natural existence right up until the moment their lives end.  Equally important to me is that they never know what's coming.  I could have taken my ducks to a poultry processing facility at the farm I've volunteered at, but all I could envision was my sweet duckles being stressed, confused and frightened during the transport to the farm.  That's a real problem with the concept of "humane" meat.  Sure, the animals can be given a natural, even pampered existence right up until the moment they're forced into a trailer or truck, panicked and scared half to death, and transported to a slaughterhouse where they can smell, hear or even see the horror that is about to befall them.  Now if that ain't suffering, well then it's worse: sheer terror.  I couldn't finagle any way around that awfulness if I chose to butcher my ducks off site, so I resolved to kill them at home.  I wanted them to be happy happy duck duck, just eating and swimming and pooping, and then *bink*…duckmeat.  With the help of two most excellent girlfriends, the process went as smoothly as it possibly could have.  I feel relieved that it's done, and what I'll describe as "in tune" with the knowledge that I would gladly raise ducks for meat in the future.

Emotions and ideology aside, the economics of small scale poultry farming look really good.   I borrowed a 250 watt heat lamp, a waterer and feeder from a neighbor.  I purchased a kiddie pool at Walmart for $11.  I bought a bag of pine shavings for $6.  But those are all things you don't absolutely have to buy.  If your house is warm, you can brood ducklings in a box with a light bulb.  They can eat and drink from various containers, and you can use dry leaves, newspaper, burlap, etcetera as bedding.  You will have to buy feed.  I'm raising ducks primarily for egg production, so I feed them a bit differently than I would meat ducks, but here are the figures: eleven Welsh Harlequin ducks (which can be fattened up to six pounds) were raised to slaughter age in eight weeks on one and a half sacks of game bird crumbles, about 40 pounds of oats, and one bag of grit while free ranging on 1/8th of an acre.  I cut their feed with oats to prevent them from growing too fast because that's undesirable for an egg laying flock.  So let's just imagine that I fed them pure game bird crumbles.  Even if I stuffed them with three full sacks of feed, at a cost of $36 here in the Hudson Valley, plus $2.99 for a bag of grit, that's a total cost of under $40 for eleven ducks.  Assuming you have a securely fenced yard and a safe house for them at night, and you butcher them yourself, that's a cost of $3.64 per duck.  Where are you going to get even the cruddiest eating duck for three dollars and sixty four cents?  So worth it, on so many levels.