backyard chickens, chickens, duck eggs, ducks, farming, gardening, raising ducks, raising turkeys, turkeys

Beginning Homesteading Its All About The Birds

When we first moved to our first and only home 23 years ago the first thing we did was plant a garden. We always loved to grow things and as time went by the garden expanded, but something was still missing.  One day while visiting a friend, we realized what was missing.  He had a beautiful flock of laying hens free ranging in his yard.  As we talked with him they scratched and ate, he even gave us a few eggs to take home and try.  When we cracked them open for breakfast the next morning,and saw the beautiful yolks, we knew it was time for us to take the leap into chickens and homesteading. img_1077

Laying hens are an inexpensive and easy way to raise your own food, even in a small space.  We converted part of our shed into a coop, and built a run made of wire that we salvaged from a friends junk pile. The inside of the coop was 4’x8′ which was plenty of room for 6 birds, nesting boxes and a roost.  The run was 8’x8′. Predators are always an issue so we were sure to bury a few boards along the edge of the run.  Now comes the fun part, ordering chicks!!!  We chose various breeds that were all good brown egg layers.  We ordered them through our local feed store, this limited our variety, but saved us on shipping, which can run as high as 35 dollars.  Ordering straight run chicks is like playing craps so be sure to order chicks that are already sexed, so you do not end up with roosters. When the chicks arrive they will need to be put in a brooder, which is really just an enclosed space with a heat lamp.  When you pick up your chicks the bonding will begin immediately.

 

We found ourselves spending lots of time with them.  Sometimes we would even hold them while we watched T.V. We put our first set of chicks in a brooder in our sons room to keep them safe.  This was a huge mistake, although they were safe they began to smell, and made a lot of dust .  This was not our best parenting moment, we knew when our son started sleeping on the couch that it was time for them to go to the garage.  After about 8 weeks, we moved them to the coop with a heat lamp.  It takes 20 weeks for most hens to start laying eggs, which is an eternity when you are a new homesteader.  We would run out and check for eggs every morning like kids on Easter morning. Finally we were rewarded with one tiny egg, and then another, and another.   Soon our whole flock was laying and we were now raising our own protein for the first time.

 

In the beginning we ate egg after egg, but over time we couldn’t keep up with our girls .  So we started giving eggs to family and friends.  Our chickens provided us with so many lessons and adventures.  One sunny summer afternoon we finally let the ladies out to free range under our watchful eyes, and with a glass or two of wine we watched them scratch and eat bugs just as we had always wanted.  As the sun set the girls put themselves to bed. IMG_9777 I remember Tracy calling me at work to say the chickens were in the garden.  I came home to her in a pair of welding gloves trying to pick up chickens.  Or when we decided to have a rooster and she was fighting it off with a rake. (if you read her previous blog, “Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective, you learned that she is not a bird person!) IMG_6183 (1)

From this simple beginning our homestead grew and we eventually built the girls a new coop, that was a beautiful addition to our yard.

They say chickens are a gateway animal, and they are right.  Most birds are similar to raise and soon after the chickens we ventured into ducks.  If watching chickens is like reading a good book, then watching ducks is like tuning into a NASCAR race.  They are so full of sounds and energy.  They lay more eggs than a chicken.  We love to herd the ducks back into the coop at night, its as if they share one brain and move more like a school of fish than a flock of ducks. Plus who doesn’t love a “duckface” selfie.

 

After ducks the next logical step was turkeys.  How could we resist raising our own thanksgiving dinner?  We raised the turkeys separate from the chicken, but it wasn’t long before we realized that even the fattest turkey can fly.

 

The turkeys loved to escape and feed with the chickens.  Seeing a 20 lb bird walking in your yard can only make you smile.  Tucking a turkey under your arm is a little different than doing the same with a chicken, whether you have welding gloves on or not.  Raising birds has so many benefits eggs, meat,  entertainment, tick control, and don’t forget all that manure for the garden.  We couldn’t imagine our homestead without the birds and their noises.  Our homestead adventure started with a simple visit to a friends house.  Who knows where yours will start, but when it does don’t forget the birds.

 

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backyard chickens, cooking, duck eggs, ducks, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising ducks, recipes

Maple Bourbon Smoked Duck, what “farm to table” means to us

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The term “farm to table” is another one of those terms, in our opinion, that is way over used and frankly, not even used properly. If we were to define our way of homesteading, we would say that the term, “farm to table” applies. On our homestead, we have ducks and chickens. (Our ducks were introduced to you in an earlier blog, so look that up if you did not see it) In all farm or homesteading life, most of the animals serve a purpose, such as eggs from the hens and ducks as well as their meat.  Last fall, we hatched 14 ducklings and ended up with a total of 7 males and 7 females.

As in life and nature, too many boys are not a good thing! Frequent fights and domination can cause quite a ruckus in a flock of ducks. So the tough decision has to be made, it was time to thin the flock. We have a friend that already had a female duck that mentioned that they wanted to get another duck for a mate. So of course, we offered one of our boys and they gratefully took it off our hands. As for three other males, we carefully, and as respectfully as possible, butchered them. No other details necessary here. They went into the freezer for a later meal.

Easter was fast approaching and in thinking of what we had in the freezer for our Easter dinner, we remembered the ducks. One of our favorite ways to have any of our fish or meat is brined and smoked. We have yet to perfect our home-built smoker, so in the meantime we use one that is a part of our gas grill. The wood we use for smoking is apple wood, and yup, you guessed it, from our small orchard of apple trees.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Smoked Duck

1 duck, 2-3 lbs

Cracked black pepper

The Brine (also great for chicken and pork)

4 cups of cold water

¼ cup of kosher salt

¼ cup maple syrup

1 oz of bourbon

1 tsp cracked black pepper

The Glaze

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tbsp bourbon

Whisk together the brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the duck in a large bowl. If you don’t have enough brine to cover the duck, don’t panic, just add a little more water. We also use a trick here that we learned from making sauerkraut. Place a small plate over the duck in the brine and it helps to keep it immersed and to keep it from “floating”. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before cooking, soak the apple wood chips in warm water.

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After 6 hours, remove the duck from the brine and rinse the duck inside and out thoroughly with cold water. Place the duck on the smoker rack, and season simply with a sprinkle of black pepper. (let the smoke do the seasoning for you!) Smoke the duck according to your smoker’s directions with the wood chips that you have been soaking. We smoke ours at about 225 degrees for 2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees. (There are varying degrees of duck “doneness”, this is just our preference.)

After the first hour of smoking, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush the glaze over the duck, then brush again every 15 minutes. After the agonizing wait for your duck to be done, remove from the smoker and enjoy!

So there it is, the epitome of “farm to table”, or in our case, “homestead to table”. We strongly believe in treating our animals, which also become our food, with dignity and respect from their births all the way to nourishing our tired bodies from the homestead life. It’s not any easy life, but the rewards are countless. A meal in our house never goes by without thanking the animals for giving their lives for us, or thanking each other for the time spent caring for the animals, gardening, canning, freezing or preserving, and cooking the meal.

duck eggs, ducks, homesteading, raising ducks, Uncategorized

Raising Ducks in a Chicken’s World

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We have all been there.  Walking through your local feed store and placed strategically in the center are troughs full of chicks and ducks. They are all peeping away and oh so cute.  Who hasn’t looked down at them and wanted to bring a few home? One day on the way home from work, I stopped for feed and couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take a few of those fuzzy ducks home, six as a matter of fact, as they had a minimum.  So with no plan, I headed home.  Everyone loved them and since we had all the equipment from raising chicks, we were able to settle them in quickly.  We had a large brooder box, heat lamp, waterer, and feeder.  Our brooder is big enough that we could set the heat lamp fairly low and the ducks would be able to adjust their temperature by moving either closer or further away from the bulb. Their cuteness was overwhelming.  Ducks need constant access to water in order to eat.  After eating they need to clean their nostrils with water, so the water needs to be deep enough for them to put their beak under water.

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It didn’t take long for us to realize they were a little different from chicks.  They were noisy and seemed to poop twice their weight a day.  They would splash all of the water out of the waterer, and ate almost as much as meat birds.  However, they were still the cutest things ever.  You could not help pick them up, they were very skittish and ran from us like we would murder them.

After a few weeks, we decided to let them go for a swim. Baby ducks can swim well, but they lack the oil gland to keep their feathers dry, so after a short swim, they need to be dried and put back under the heat lamp. In the wild, their mother would preen them.

Once they were a little bigger, we would give them a small dishpan to swim in.  We also made them a ramp so they could get in and out easier.  They loved to have greens chopped up and put into their swimming pool.  Twice a day, they would splash all  of the water out of their pool and soak the shavings.  Ducks are a lot of work.  They are certainly not chickens.  We decided to put them outside and built them their own coop out of scrap lumber, because homesteaders have to be resourceful. Which also explains the siding made from scrap flooring!

Ducks do not need a roost and we thought they would like to live in the vineyard.  But being ducks, they decided they would not go in at night and we would have to wrangle fast ducks every night. Soon they just lived in the vineyard, because they refused to go inside.  Finally, they began to lay eggs and we were able to make wonderful fluffy bread with them.  Duck eggs are delicious and soon we were enjoying duck egg omelettes as well.

They were happy to be outside and you could hear them at night quacking away, until disaster struck.  Something killed 4 of them in two nights, so we rounded up the rest and put them in a safe pen. Luckily the two surviving ducks were male and female, so we borrowed an incubator, thanks to a fellow homesteader, and set off to raise the first animals conceived on the homestead.   We placed an egg a day in the incubator.  Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, and we found that our hatch rates were better when we turned them by hand and not with the automatic turner. After several failed eggs we began to hit our stride and it was baby duck heaven all over again.  It was fascinating to watch them use the egg tooth on their beak to get out of the egg.

Then they began to hatch, one after another after another after another.  14 in all we named them all after nuts: Peanut, Cashew, Pecan, Pistachio, Macadamia, Almond, Left, Right (use your imagination here), Filbert, Hazel, Coco, Acorn, Butternut and Brazil.  This is a short video of one hatching.

Our duck journey had come full circle, there is nothing like going outside and always having a flock of ducks in your yard.  They keep the slug population down and they have now taken over the mowing in the vineyard.  Well all except one.

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There is nothing like a smoked duck.  So the next time you are in the feed store and you see those fuzzy little ducks, grab yourself a six pack to go along with them, you are gonna need it.