Posts Tagged ‘duck’

“Duck Fat” by our Guest Blogger

Our 13yo daughter graces us with another blog post today.


Established fact: Grown Muscovy Duck drakes are usually too heavy to get very far off the ground. Obviously, this goes for flying down, too. Doc, our drake, has problems with understanding this.

Doc, aka "Garfield."

While our 4 duck hens get to party on the barn roof, Doc is left all alone, on the ground. He’s too fat to get anywhere. This has earned him the nickname of “Garfield”. Then, oh joy, we got Sunset and Saphira, two younger Muscovy girls who have not yet gotten their flight feathers. Now Doc has someone to play with.
Unfortunately, the duo is learning to fly. Doc watches wistfully as they get farther and farther off the ground. They are soaring high above his golden record of 3 feet.

Sunset (front) and Saphira (back)

Then Doc discovered a secret. By hopping to the lower roost, and flying clumsily the rest of the way, he could get to the wall where his girls spend the night. It was only a matter of time before he discovered the ladder.
And then, he did.
We were making applesauce. After putting the mixture into the food strainer, we are left with warm skins and cores. A little mushy, but wonderful smelling. The horses absolutely love this. We have figured out the safe way to give it to them is being on the other side of the fence, preferably with the apple mush in a bucket. At least, if you’re the type of person who values all five fingers.

I don't have a picture of Jasper chasing apple peels, but he looks something like this.

For the daredevil, the unsafe way to give it to them is when they are in the pasture, or you are actually in their stall, and you are giving it on the palm of your hand. This results in getting chased back to the gate. A horse in full gallop is probably going to beat a person on foot.
So we walked into the barn. I shined my light on the ladder to the loft to see if the barn cat would favor us with a visit. Instead of a large black cat, I saw a large white and gray duck. You guessed it, Doc.
He had apparently hopped up the ladder, one rung at a time, and was on one of the highest rungs. He had forgotten about how when he lands he falls on his face most of the time. At this hight, he might break his beak.
I climbed up the ladder thinking, Hey, I’ll just carry him down. No big deal. I climbed up the ladder, and reached for the chest. At a startled hiss, I decided that carrying a 25-pound flailing duck down a ladder is most likely not the best idea. So, I sent my sister back to the house while I held one hand on Doc’s chest and the other on his wings to keep him from flying, or as Woody from “Toy Story” would say it, “Falling, with style!”
Dad came in, reached up, grabbed the unsuspecting duck’s legs, flipped him upside down, and set him in the duck stall. Doc hated the flip-upside-down-thing. He was helpless at the time, and I don’t think he will be climbing up the ladder anytime soon.

October Snowstorm

The snow hit hard on Oct 29th.  We measured over 18″ of the white stuff.

From the balcony

"Yeah, it's snow. Now get down here and feed me!"


Mocha checking out the snow.

OK, this was staged.

We should get a couple more later on today.

Snow curling off the barn's roof

Jasper running in the pasture.

Kids making snowmen


Walking on the trail from the back pasture.

The last of the fall colors?

Red maple and Red oak leaves in the snow

One of the kids' snowmen and the back pasture


When we first started dreaming about our farm, “organic” was high in our priorities.  This flows out of our family mission, to glorify God in all ways, and to live that out on our farm by raising, managing, and using His creation in a healthy, sustainable, humane, and respectful manner.  Since we planned to produce food for others, organic certification seemed like the way to pursue this mission.

Rhode Island Red Free-Ranging at the Flying T

However, as we started researching exactly what organic certification involved, our dream crumbled a little.  This crumbling was due to two primary factors:

1. A realization that “organic” just wasn’t the utopia we’d imagined, and…

2. The unrealistic requirements for a very small farm to maintain both organic certification and solvency .

At the risk of making ourselves vulnerable to claims of “sour grapes,” I’ll say that the first reason was the most disheartening to us.  Previous to our research, we had held special reverence for the word “organic.”  We’d paid extra for organic produce, animal and vegetable, and assumed a lot about organic certification.

Organic certification requirements are pretty complicated – not as bad as the US tax code, but it’s obvious that the authors went to the same law schools.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it helps make sure that folks that stamp their goods with “USDA Certified Organic” have met certain standards.  For animals, those standards in a nutshell are:

1. Appropriate housing that permits natural behavior, including outdoor access.  Depending on the animal, this may include a minimum number of days on pasture.

2. Certified organic feed, including pasture.  Again, some types of animals require a certain amount of their feed to come from pasture (I believe Dairy cows are now above 30% of total Digestible Dry Matter, which is a good thing).

3. No antibiotics, drugs, or synthetic parasiticides unless they are published on the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) list.

4. Organic processing of meat, milk, and eggs.

5. Record keeping in accordance with the regulations.

6. An “Organic system plan,” a lot like a business plan that shows how the farmer plans to maintain organic practices.

7. Measures to prevent contamination of soil and water from production (such as manure runoff).

8. Absence of genetic modification, ionizing radiation, or other such interventions/contaminations.

This sounds pretty good, and it is.  But any time you get a bunch of lawyers to write rules for folks to follow, those folks are going to hire lawyers to make sure that those rules don’t get too much in the way.  Let’s use the organic chicken industry’s lawyers as an example, and to keep this from becoming a book, let’s focus on rules 1, 2, and 8:

Rule #1:  When the lawyers get here, they run square into the 2010 Access to Pasture rule, requiring that any bird raised indoors must have free access to pasture except in certain circumstances.  What this has been interpreted to mean is that a factory organic farm can raise 2,000 chickens in a 100′ x 40′ pen (2 sqft per bird) as long as those birds have free access to outside “pasture.”  This pasture can be enclosed and covered, and doesn’t have to have anything growing on it.  Access can be satisfied with some small openings leading to a few 30 sqft outdoor “porches.”  All the food and water is inside the big room, but if the birds want to leave that behind to go see the reflection of the sun, they’re free to do so.

Organic chicken farm, from

Rule #2:  Now if you’re running that many birds in that little space, there is no way they can support a majority of their dietary needs on forage.  Any vegetation that might exist at the beginning will be gone in a matter of days, and with it will go all insect life.  So 100% of their feed will have to be what the farmer provides.  Rule #2 requires that this feed also be certified organic, and most of this will come in the form of processed grains from organic farms, the various components of which were grown, harvested, and transported to the mill with fossil fuels, processed using more energy, and then trucked through the distributing train, again with fossil fuels.  Of course, it is possible that this farmer lives next to a grain mill that in turn has local access to organic corn, soybeans, alfalfa, limestone, monocalcium phosphate, kelp, diatomaceous earth, clay, salt, DL methionine, vitamin & mineral premix, garlic, horseradish, anise, and juniper berry (all ingredients of one brand of certified organic chicken feed).

Sadly, the Toyota Prius Combine release date has been pushed back again

Rule #8:  What can the lawyers do with this rule?  They can ensure Cornish Rock Cross hybrid chickens, most likely the organic or non-organic chicken you buy at the supermarket or farmers market, qualify as organic.  They’re not genetically modified, just specifically bred to grow extremely quick (usually harvested from 8-12 weeks of age), with sparse white feathers (easier plucking with no pigment left on the skin), and broad, tender, white breasts.  They also can exhibit extreme mortality rates past around 4 months of age due to heart failure, exhaustion, or skeletal problems.  They taste great, by the way, and I don’t have any problem with folks that raise them.  They just don’t fit into our plan right now.

Cornish Rock Hybrids - from - notice they're growing faster than their feathers

These principles, of course, also apply to other areas of agriculture, whether producing fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, or other products.

This isn’t to say that organic practices or certification are bad.  We are not to the point yet where we can produce even the majority of our food on our farm, and though we patronize several farms in the area as well as farmers market, we still do a lot of shopping at the grocery store.  When making food choices for our family there, we lean heavily on certified organic produce.  The National Organic Program (NOP) rules and regulations are far from perfect, and subject to a bit of controversy, but by and large, they provide guidance under which which healthier and more wholesome food can be produced.

Not certified organic, by the way...

That’s where the strength of the NOP lies.  Though it’s obviously not perfect, in a world where the vast majority live in densely-populated cities far removed from farms, the NOP provides a framework for consumers to make smarter decisions about the composition and quality of their food.  It does this by holding larger producers accountable to these better (again, not perfect) practices.

Why do I say “larger producers?”

That gets us to point #2.  Besides the fees involved in organic certification, maintaining organic practices obviously carry some expenses that can be difficult for a small operation to bear and still present a price consumers are willing to pay  (Slowmoneyfarm has several excellent posts on this topic, particularly this one).  Much of this is because of competition with larger producers both able and willing to take advantage of the loopholes in the system such as discussed above.

Ability is one obstacle.  A volume producer will always have advantages that come with being able to purchase in larger lots and lower prices while combining and reducing other production expenses.  Still, if small farmers can find a supportive market, it may be possible to approach competitiveness here if they are willing to take advantage of some high-volume practices, though again Slowmoneyfarm does a good job explaining how this is extremely difficult.

That willingness to do this is the second obstacle.  Profitability (or perhaps even solvency) requires taking advantage of practices such as use of non-heritage breeds, stocking stables/pastures/pens at much higher rates, using higher levels of confinement to minimize labor costs, culling rather than treating many sick/struggling animals, and stockpiling feed.

Willingness is the obstacle that stopped us.  We have the facilities that with a bit of modification would make this work with organic chickens and ducks.  It would mean confining them and stocking both our laying and meat flocks at what to us seems an absurd density.  We would need to use non-heritage high-production hybrids for both operations.  Besides the problems these present to our values, such confinement would eliminate the benefits of free-range poultry.

Do you really want to put us in a pen?

We could do this also with meat goats.  Again, we would stock at much higher rates, and manage both the confinement systems and available pasture to ensure they maintained a 100% organic diet.  This would include separation from our poultry, horses, visitors (and probably our kids) to make sure that they didn’t end up eating something improper.

For all of our livestock, this would drive us to breed for size and speed of production, not non-production values such as temperment.

So what is a small farmer to do?

Photo by John Vachon.Oct. 1938. From the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. America From the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration-OWI, 1935-1945.

I believe the solution is an old one.  In lieu of third-party state-managed certification processes, farmers and customers need to know each other and talk face-to-face.  The farmer needs to know what the customer values and desires, in product, quality, and methods.  The customer needs to be able to trust that the farmer will produce according to those values and desires.  Both need to come to an understanding of what this will cost.

The only way this can happen is through local consumption… and that is a subject for another post.

Guest Blogger: “Chuck” the Chicken-Duck

Please welcome the Flying T’s first guest-blogger, our 13yo daughter…

I mentally go through the birds as I check on them for the night. 5 ducks. Check. 6 Rhode Island Red hens. Check. 3 Araucana hens. Check. 1 Araucana rooster. Check. 15 Barred Rock chicks. Check.  1 chicken-duck. Check.

You may be wondering about that last bird. No, it is not a new-fangled hybrid of some kind. It’s just a Araucana hen that thinks she’s a duck. It’s true. And it just goes to prove that we didn’t buy chickens just for the farm-fresh free-ranged eggs, we also bought them for the amusement they give.

Daisy... not a Chuck

This particular hen, we think, has had traumatizing brain damage in the past. When she was a chick, just 2 or 3 days old, she got stuck under the gallon water feeder. Really, with 12 chicks jumping around squawking “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”, it’s kind of hard to tell if all of them are on the other side of the cage. This one barely survived. She was held so much during the fact though, for basically an hour or two straight, that she is friendly to this day. She has earned her ticket out of freezercamp, insane as she is.

As I mentioned earlier, she thinks she is a duck. So we call her “Chuck the chicken-duck”. This happened when we first got the ducks a few weeks ago. Layer pellets taste good to a chicken still on grower food! Ever since she learned that this yummy delight came from the grain bin, she follows us around, trying her hardest to “trill” like a Muscovy Duck. They sound like “crrrrrooooooooo”, she sounds like “crrrrooAWWWWWWK!”. But she tries.

Chuck the Chicken Duck

Chuck has not yet started sleeping over at the ducks, but she is close. As it is, she follows them around like they are the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When we fenced off part of the horse’s stall (where the chickens usually come in under the gate) for the goats, Chuck thought it was so unfair that her supposed kin were on the other side of the fence, and she couldn’t get to them. She ran up and down the fence, squawking out her version of trilling. We finally picked her up and let her out with the ducks.

Chuck even joins them for their midday snooze. They won’t let her into their private dog pile in the hay, of course, but she sleeps in the other corner of the duck’s stall, wings folded, head cocked back, imitating the way the ducks sleep.

We are looking forward to more chicken-ducks when Chuck lays her eggs in the duck’s nesting box. Rather like the story of The Ugly Duckling.

Chickens are so amusing.

Repurposing Wooden Pallets

I’ve found a reliable source for used wooden pallets (as well as heavy-duty plastic ones from time-to-time).  There’s always a use for them – whether it’s stacking firewood, scavenging the wood for another project, or using them intact (or mostly so) for one thing or another.

Here are my latest two pallet-projects:

Muscovy Nesting Boxes


The muscovy nesting boxes started life as a 4×4 pallet.  I cut it into four sections – one with three flat boards across (for the base), the other three with two.  One of the smaller sections, I cut in half to make the sides.  The other two made the front and roof.  Some scrap 2×4 and pressboard (for the floor) and ecco!  I took another length of 2×4 from the long section I’d been using to prop the peach tree limbs and put a perch across the barn stall.

Next up – Boer Goats need dry hay for roughage, but they’re notoriously bad about wasting it.  They’ll pull a bunch out of a standard hay rack, eat a bit, drop the rest on the floor and poop/pee on it.  Once that happens, they won’t touch it – it’s just waste.  Another crate, scrap 2×4, and some salvaged 2″ woven wire fencing, and here’s the fix:

Wooden Crate Hay Feeder

Wooden Crate Hay Feeder


Note from the side view that I tilted the top out a bit so the hay falls down and forward as it gets eaten.

It seems to work pretty well.  They can pull hay out with their lips and tongue through the mesh, then munch on it without dropping much at all (note all the waste hay below from the previous method).  Now to make an identical one for the shack in their mini pasture (behind the chicken coop).

What Does Free Range Mean?

You can do an Internet search of “cage-free” and “free-range” eggs or chickens and see that there really aren’t a whole lot of legal requirements to claim those titles. 

"Free Range" Chickens at a Factory Farm

“Free range” at the Flying T means that as soon as our chicks and ducklings are safely able to live in the outdoors, we let them roam the farm. 

Rhode Island Red Free-Ranging at the Flying T

  Most of the chickens return to the coop at night to roost, and the ducks to the barn (some chickens may choose to hang out with the ducks in the barn, especially Henny Penny, aka “Chuck the Chicken Duck”), but otherwise they are out foraging for insects, bugs, spiders, worms, seeds, and plants during the majority of the day.  We don’t use pens or cages except in special circumstances (in order to quarantine new or young birds for a short time to ensure biosecurity, or to separate an injured bird to keep it from getting pecked, for instance). 

Chickens hanging out on a woodpile at the Flying T


Mocha foraging with her flock at the Flying T

 This does pose some risks (like predators) and costs.  We can only select breeds that are suitable for free-ranging.  Many “production” strains have many of their natural free-ranging, brooding, self-preservation, and other habits bred out of them so that they spend as much energy as possible either into growing meat on their bones or eggs to lay.  We believe the benefits, however, are worth it.


  1. Free-range eggs have up to 4-6 times the Vitamin D, 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene than factory-raised eggs.  (article)
  2. Free-range ducks and chickens are miracle-workers when it comes to controlling ticks, barnyard flies, grasshoppers, and other pests.  This reduces the need for pesticides, which is not only better for all the animals on the farm… it’s healthier and better for us as well!  (citation and another). 
  3. Free-range birds are healthier than factory birds, and their meat has a firmer and more flavorful nature, and encourages us to return to more traditional harvesting, preparation, and cooking methods (read this article for good information and ideas).
  4. While factory birds are selectively bred to discourage broodiness (a female bird’s instinct to nest, incubate, and raise her own young) because a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs, our breeding plan actually encourages broodiness, allowing us to sustain the flock.
  5. A broody free-range hen will raise her own chicks/ducklings.  If you’ve ever raised either (we have… and actually, we are doing it again), you know it’s a lot of work and attention that could get spent elsewhere.  Our hope is that with our breeding plan, this is the last batch we have to hand-raise!
  6. Though we offer free-choice supplemental feed (especially in winter), free-range birds require a lot less of this, reducing our costs.  And since they don’t spend as much time in their roosts, clean-up is a lot less time-consuming also (instead, they spend a lot of time fertilizing our pastures and lawn).
  7. Free-range birds don’t tend to fight like confined birds, which is why even “cage free” and some “free range” factory birds have the tips of their beaks cut or burnt off. (citation)
  8. Finally, it’s just peaceful and enjoyable to watch birds range over the farm, stopping from time to time to peck at food, or chasing a dragonfly across the pasture.

The Farm Cycle – Finding the Groove

As we build up our farm here in New Hampshire, one thing we’re working on is putting together an annual farm cycle – a rotating calendar of events so that we not only get everything done, but also spread the work evenly as possible across the year.  Here’s an example of how this might have looked on an early colonial farm (put together as part of a National Heritage Museum curriculum).

Farm Work Cycle from the National Heritage Museum


It’s neat to see that though we don’t have to worry about combing flax or buying salt (and with the advent of the automobile we don’t need to confine neighbor visits to January), things really haven’t changed a whole lot in 250 years.  I’ve got to put on snow tires instead of building wooden wheels, lube and change oil in the tractor and truck vice repairing carts, and brewing beer?  We’ll maybe have to take that up some December in the future.

At the Flying T, we don’t/can’t control the timing of some things – when the ducks and chickens will raise broods, for instance, but we are realizing that we need to do some advance planning now to make sure we can get work done next year.

As we’ve worked to develop how this wheel will look at the Flying T, one thing we’ve decided is that we can’t add anything else to mid-August through mid-September!  The late start to our garden and mid-summer assault upon it by a woodchuck (RIP) meant a lot of our produce is just coming available.  Our amazing abundance of peaches began ripening in late August, and we were in high gear harvest as many as possible before they all got thrown to the ground by Irene.  Couple that with start of the kids’ school and the academic year at UNH where I teach, some needed repairs on the farm and house, and we were in high gear.

This is not where we need to be dealing with kidding goats (or new kids for that matter), which leads to timing when we want to make them available to breed, which also affects when the kids will be ready for market…

Nor is it when we want to be putting up hay, which we blessedly did the month prior, and hopefully will top off next month.  That’s tricky timing also – when I was preparing us for move-in, I found out how difficult it is to find good hay in early Spring.

Hopefully we can get the garden in earlier next year (and get the nitrogen balanced a bit better as well), which will help also.

Irene helped us add to the firewood stash.  We were already in pretty good shape and I wasn’t going to cut any more, but now we’ll have another ~cord to split and stack that should be dry by the end of the winter.

This is all a superb education opportunity for the adults and kids (human, not goat).  Thank God for great mentors, a superb library and librarian, the Internet, and the NH extension program!

You might live on a farm if…

You might live on a farm if…

10.  …you normally awake before the rooster (and when he wakes up first you have an urge to reach for the duct tape).

9.  …at least once this week, you’ve been outside in PJs and rubber boots.

8.  …the dockhand at the grain store starts filling your truck with your order before you get to the counter.

7.  …some of your nightmares start with your kids yelling, “Mom! Dad!  The goats are…”

6.  …you cruise dumpsters for building supplies.

5.  …your work gloves wear out too often and always in the same place.

4.  …a police officer has stopped by your house to see if you’re the owner of a horse/goat/pig/cow/llama/emu/etc that’s gone walkabout.

3.  …you scoff when you see “Fresh grade AA” on an egg carton in the grocery store.

2.  …you shower in the evenings.

1.  …at least one member of your family has seriously thought about having you committed.

(Feel free to add your own)