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    Of Ducks and Goats {Part 1}

    January 24, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I was going to write about something entirely different today, but all of a sudden I began receiving emails inquiring about our animal menagerie. My general rule of thumb is that for every person that writes an email, there are probably ten of you who wondered the same thing. To those of you who could care less, hopefully in the future Afterthoughts will be more interesting!

    On Ducks

    Khaki Campbell ducks

    We actually have two breeds: Khaki Campbell and Welsh Harlequin. Our drake is Welsh Harlequin, so any ducklings will be mostly that breed. I didn’t mention the Khaki Campbells yesterday because as far as I know they are not considered a “rare breed.” Or, at least, they are not as rare as the Welsh Harlequins. At one point, I read that there were only a handful of breeders left for Welsh Harlequins, but I do not know how true that is as we do not register our pets, nor do we belong to any of the breeding organizations.

    In regards to these ducks, what I am being asked is: Are they messy? Are they loud? In regard to the former, my answer is emphatically yes! Besides the fact that they are water birds, which means that they need a lot of water and slop it around {making their environment muddy a lot of the time}, it is the webbed feet that really cause the problem. While chickens delicately pick their way along, webbed feet are like giant puppy feet, with mud and grass and who-knows-what-else stuck to them all the time, which means they track this everywhere they go.

    To be honest, we have accepted them for who they are because we love them. But I wish I could train them to stay off of my patio. We could spray it down ten times a day, and maybe then it would be perfect. Of course, whenever we want a tidy patio, we simply keep them penned.

    Welsh Harlequin ducks and drake

    In regard to the latter, I have to say that it depends upon the bird. Drakes are not loud. Ducklings make cute little chirping sounds. But ducks get their quack between 15 and 20 weeks of age, and then it depends upon the duck. We had Pekins for a very short time, until we discovered they were loud like the worst geese you ever met. It was embarrassing — a loud honking throughout the day! We live in a neighborhood, and owning such birds was not neighborly, so we gave them away.

    The Welsh Harlequins are advertised as being quieter than Khaki Campbells, but in our experience it was the other way around. Our current flock, however, is quiet enough to be neighborly, and quieter than most chickens I have met.

    For us, the selling point was that the Welsh Harlequins might not have had the ability to incubate their young themselves entirely bred out of them. We were hoping for good mothers, as Khaki Campbells are useless in this area. We had one get broody for about an hour, and then she acted embarrassed and abandoned her lone egg.

    I also think Welsh Harlequins are prettier. In terms of laying, these two breeds are identical*. They lay about five out of every seven days, throughout the year. If you change their feed, though, they freak out and stop laying for a while. If they really hate the new brand, they even lose their feathers over it. I don’t really like our feed brand right now, but I’m literally afraid to change it.

    On Duck Feed

    A lot of folks out there will talk about soy-free feed and/or organic feed. I am not a soy fan by any means, and organic is probably ideal, too. But the reality is that it is cost-prohibitive for us to feed them that way. The cost is at least double, if not more. It is no wonder to me that soy-free, organic eggs often sell for upwards of seven dollars per dozen.

    What I do is try to make bagged feed only one portion of their total nutrition. {I also add cheap grains to their feed–like chicken wheat, for instance–when I find it on sale through our co-op.} The real nutrition from pastured eggs is not the feed but the eating of tender green plants and insects and reptiles and amphibians…and even the occasional mouse! {I always laugh when I see “vegetarian feed” boasted on egg cartons in grocery stores–poultry are not vegetarian, and raising them as such diminishes the quality of the eggs!}

    Raising ducks changed my perspective on bugs, for sure. When I saw slugs in an area of our garden, I celebrated, and let the ducks in. They cleaned them out in 10 minutes flat! It was a feast! Any place where weeds have grown up next to a water source {like a neighbor’s sprinkler, for instance} attracts frogs, which ducks greatly prize. They will swallow frogs so large, it seems they ought to have choked to death!

    All of this is to say that, other than buying unmedicated feed {which is imperative}, I think a high quality egg can be raised on normal feed, as long as the birds have a lot of room to roam, and lots of weeds and creeping, crawling things to eat.

    On Water

    Different breeds of ducks need differing amounts of water. The attraction of these two breeds for us is that they are also low-water birds. They do not need a swimming pool. {We offer them a little kiddie pool, though, and they do spend time in it daily.} With that said, all ducks, without exception, require water deep enough for dunking their entire heads. This is how they keep their beaks clean, and they will contract sticky eye {or other issues} if you do not offer them deep water.

    Tomorrow…

    Goats.

    * Note: I found out that the breeds are not identical over the long haul. After a year or two, the Welsh Harlequins stopped laying. The Khaki Campbells, kept laying until they were five years old, at which point our zoning changed and we had to relocate them to new owners.

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    8 Comments

  • Reply Phyllis January 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks!

    We had friends in Russia whose chickens were “snowbirds.” They lived with them in the city for the summer, and then went to a village home where there was a barn for the winter. I’ve wished that I could set up something like that here, so that our children could take care of poultry during summers at our dacha. So far, I haven’t found anyone who could take them for the winter, though. I’ll keep hoping.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Phyllis, I forgot to say that it is quite a blessing to have a place already set up with housing for poultry! That is amazing! I cannot say enough about what a good experience this has been for our children. Taking care of animals is so good for…well, for *humans*! 🙂

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Phyllis,

    I wish I had more experience in tasting eggs, that I might give an adequate answer! I think when I compare our backyard duck eggs to store-bought chicken eggs, there is a stronger taste, but it isn’t overpowering. What we did was ease into it–they don’t lay much when they first start, anyhow. So, for instance, I served scrambled eggs or an omelet that was *mostly* chicken, but part duck, and slowly changed the ratio until it was all duck eggs, if that makes sense.

    The reason I feel this isn’t a straight answer is that a relative of mine tells me that brown chicken eggs are also strong {I’ve never had them}, that all pastured eggs are stronger tasting than eggs raised on feed alone, and so on. I *do* know that these two breeds we are raising are supposedly the most like chicken of the various breeds.

    If you are able, maybe buying eggs from a breed you are considering would give you an idea? I really think that acquiring the taste is something that can be done regardless.

    I must say that *baking* with duck eggs is fabulous–it gives loft to a cake like you wouldn’t believe. I understand now why the French prefer them for baking.

  • Reply Phyllis January 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    So, you eat the eggs? Do they taste the same as chicken eggs? I would love to have chickens, but you make ducks sound even better than chickens.

    The people who owned our dacha (garden place) before us had chickens and turkeys, so the housing for them is all there, but we only live there in the summer. It’s a little too far to walk every day to feed them. Maybe someday we’ll be closer, or have a better setup.

  • Reply sara January 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Very interesting!

    I always thought the egg cartons advertised “vegetarian diet” as a euphemism for “no cannibalism.”

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 26, 2012 at 12:08 am

    Mystie, You know if this homeschool mom gig doesn’t work out for you, I think you have a future in comedy.

    FW, Pekins! You’re right: they *do* sound like they are laughing! I wish I had land without super close neighbors sometimes, because it’d be fun to have some noisier animals. I like all the sounds…

    Our ducks knock on the door, too, on occasion, so I completely believe you. When we had Pekins, though, they somehow *knew* when we were eating dinner and would stare longingly at us through the sliding door while complaining loudly and knocking with their beaks!

  • Reply Farmer's Wife January 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Love them! We have Pekings. They sound like they are laughing all the time. I guess I am not in on the joke, and they are messy too. My chickens stay on the back porch and knock onthe door. True story.

  • Reply Mystie January 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    No, I wanted pictures of your patio. 😀

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