Pile of cute

I never wanted ducks. But, several years ago I was swayed to consider Muscovies when told of their positive attributes: they are good layers, good meat birds, good mothers, don’t need water the way other ducks do and don’t quack. That last one really sold me because one of my objections to ducks was how noisy they can be.

I’ve had them now for 2-3 years and they’ve lived up to their reputation. While they only lay during the season which runs from about Feb through Oct, when they are laying, they are compulsively regular. Chickens lay on a cycle: several days in a row, then take a day or two off. Not so ducks. They lay first thing in the morning every morning like clockwork. By about 9am, I’ve collected all the duck eggs I’m going to get for the day.

For meat, they are phenomenal (if you like duck meat). They grow to eating size in only about 14 weeks and the males are huge – almost twice the size of the females. I butchered a drake a week ago and got so much meat I had to use a large container just to keep it all in the fridge. I’ve never had a chicken that rendered nearly as much meat.

They are excellent mothers. Four weeks ago I had a duck start to hatch in the coop and at the end of that day I decided to move her to a broody pen. She was under a quarter barrel in the coop so I couldn’t see her or the ducklings, but raised it enough to grab 2 ducklings, carried them to the temp coop and went back for more. I kept making trips back to the coop and they just kept coming. In the end I found she had hatched 13 ducklings! Four weeks later all 13 are still alive and well. Not only that, but I had two duck eggs in the incubator and they hatched 10 days later. Not wanting to set up a brooder for them, I asked the mother duck to add them to her brood. She was reluctant at first, but ultimately adopted them and when one got stuck a few days later, she anxiously waited for me to free it and return it to her, clearly as nervous for its welfare as if it had been one of her originals.

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They have loads of personality. The people door of the chicken coop is on two gold hinges that reflect light. I had it held open one day and the chickens just walked in and out of the coop through the open door. Then along came a duck and on passing over the threshold, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the hinge. She peered at it, tilting her head one way and another, then walked around to the back of the door to find the other duck! This lasted several minutes and required several trips to the back to assure that there was no duck hiding there. She eventually moved on but before long, along came another duck. And another. Each one had to examine its reflection and look for the duck behind the door.

The ducklings are growing fast.  Since hatch, they have tended to pile up together when resting – safety in numbers.  BOF saw this one day and deemed it to be a “pile of cute”.  Its hard to believe there are 15 ducklings in this picture, isn’t it?
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Weeds

What is a weed anyway? For many people, a weed is anything that is not the specific grass they deem to be a part of the perfect lawn. I see weeds a little differently. To me a weed is a plant that offers no benefit. Shortly after I moved into my last home, I was visited by a lawn care specialist who offered to treat my “lawn” to get rid of the weeds. He didn’t like my response: “If its green and it doesn’t hurt when I walk on it, then it is the “lawn” “.

I grew up in a place where a lawn doesn’t consist of a specific type of grass. It is grass and clover and dandelions and a dozen other things I can’t even name. As kids we ran around barefoot and appreciated the softness of the Dutch White Clover (except when it was flowering and bees favored it) and we loved to pick the Dandelion puffs and blow them, making a wish as we did.

Since we moved to our homestead, I have been trying to learn about the weeds that grow here. Rather than pull plants indiscriminately, just because they don’t look like a grass, I try to find out what they are and whether they hold any value to us. Dandelions are valued here – and not just because of their puffballs! The poultry, sheep and goats devour them voraciously, obtaining important nutrients from them. Compass plants, considered by most to be a pest, are also a favorite of all the animals. Clover, Plantain, Knotweed and Burdock likewise grow here naturally and may be “weeds” but have value to me for the nutritional benefit to the animals who ultimately provide us with food.

On the other hand, there are some we have discovered that have no value to us whatsoever. Typically these are plants the animals will not eat and that, given a chance, will multiply and take over. Ragweed grows rampant here but worse, Western Ragweed, native to this area, has a firm hold and is spreading despite our efforts to contain it. We have thistles in our back pasture – fewer this year than last – and Buffalo Bur (also known as Sand Bur) will also grow unchecked if given a chance.

Yesterday I decided it was time to mow a path around the perimeter of our pasture, as a fire-break but also a chance for me to check on the state of our pasture grasses that will soon become hay. While doing so, I discovered a small area taken over by Buffalo Burs. Despite the pretty yellow flowers, it was NOT a pretty sight. This morning BOF and I set about removing them and fortunately were able to completely rid the area of Buffalo Bur in only a couple of hours – and without serious injury. You see, Buffalo Bur covers itself – stem, leaves and even the flower buds – with spiny thorns that make it painful to remove. On a more positive note, I’ve discovered that Potato Bugs and Blister Beetles both love Buffalo Bur and I would far rather they focus on eating it than my potatoes.

Before we started work:

Before - Buffalo Bur covers this mound

Before – Buffalo Bur covers this mound

And after a couple of hours of painful labor:

After - the mound cleared of Buffalo Bur

After – the mound cleared of Buffalo Bur

Because this stand of Buffalo Bur had a lot of Potato Bug/Beetle and Blister Beetle activity, I briefly considered leaving them there as “traps”.  However given that the plants were flowering (and attracting local bees that I want to encourage to my vegetable garden instead), I decided to remove the Buffalo Bur and in doing so, hopefully reduce the local population of bad bugs, before they migrate right on over to the veggie garden.

Blister Beetles

With gardening it seems, if its not one thing, its another. Having battled Potato Bugs and Beetles for the past few weeks and almost completely eradicating them, I thought the potatoes were all set to produce for me but a few days ago noticed something new crawling on them.

Found on potato leaves

Found on potato leaves

After searching for some time on Google Images, I believe this is a Blister Beetle and they are bad news. Apparently they do not bite or sting but can secrete a substance that causes blisters to the skin. Once my eyes were trained to “see” them, I realized the potato plants were crawling with them. So, armed with my trusty peanut butter jar, I set to capturing as many as possible. The jar is loaded with soapy water and by holding the jar under the leaf the beetle is on, and the lid above, I can snap the two together and scrape the beetle into the jar without touching it. Once in the water they do not appear to be able to get out (though a couple flew away while I tried to capture them so I know they can fly) and quickly drown. Back inside, I poured the jar down the garbage disposal and turned it on.

In thirty minutes, I probably captured 50 or more of them.  Over the next few days, I’ll find out whether these were just the tip of the iceberg, or the majority of them.