The other night I heard the rain drops as they loudly started falling on the fiberglass porch roof outside our bedroom window. I felt the cold air blowing in through that window, pulled the covers up around my neck and cuddled up to the warmth emanating from my sleeping husband.
It is September in Wisconsin. Sometimes this month is a gloriously warm “summer” month to enjoy, but yesterday we had a wet, windy, cold day to charge into while Andrew lugged feed buckets and I collected eggs. I had bedded down all the ducks the night before, anticipating the rain. The siting of our duck barn is still allowing a lot of rain water to go right into the barn (we need to do some more earthwork to get this resolved) which isn’t horrible if there is fresh bedding on top of the deep bedding pack. Ducks love wet and mucky, and will do their best to make that happen ASAP, but it’s not the ideal for their night housing arrangement.
We currently have three groups of ducks, technically 5 different age groups, but they are grouped into three flocks. The oldest ducks and now 4 years old, in their third laying season. We did not expect them to still be laying, which is a blessing, but has complicated our flock rotation a bit. The other two groups are Khakis we raised over last fall with another group of Khakis we raised this April, and the 3rd group is Golden 300’s (Goldens are a khaki cross) we’ve raised up since May with a few “white layers” we received as a substitute to make up for Metzer’s mess up on our order. That’s another story. Really Metzer, you didn’t load the hatcher right when we pre-ordered our ducklings? I bet it was because they over sold on their ducklings. Anyways all our ducks are all doing wonderfully. The Khaki group from last fall and this April are laying eggs (not at peak production though), and the Goldens should begin laying in the next month or so, they are becoming full sized and getting extremely loud and sassy, which I have found is a reliable precursor to maturity and egg laying. I love collecting eggs so much. These porcelain looking orbs are the fruit of my dreams, the product of our hard work, investment and faith. Back in the beginnings of my duck adventures, I was SO thrilled when I was collecting 30 eggs a day from my small beginner flock. These days it’s hundreds.
We are finally going to begin delivery of duck eggs to the Wily Street Co-op in Madison this week, thanks to the Wedge’s Co-operative Produce Warehouse offering drop shipment for local farmers. All of our local co-ops are rocking the duck egg sales, as this is the time of year when people start ramping up cooking at home and just generally eating more. We did time these new layers’ arrival in April and May specifically for this reason. Having layers begin laying right before winter is a bit of a risk (the cold and gloomy winter days are not conducive to egg laying), but we are hoping that with night lighting and a cozy, happy life, they will keep laying into the winter so we can supply that vacant niche. When we only had one flock of all the same age birds, they dictated when our duck egg season was over for the year, and that has usually been around Thanksgiving. We had the whole busy “holiday baking time” missing from our farm revenue stream. So fingers crossed that this works.
My in-laws are here this afternoon working with Andrew to start the shingling of the roof on our cabin! The windy and wet weather yesterday was not a good time to be climbing around on scaffolding or the roof, so instead they fixed the flat tire on the horse trailer, so we could move the goslings and turkeys to their new pasture placement. The horse trailer is their night coop, a solid and safe place to get locked up each night. They love it. We had let them out in the morning and herded them over to their new pasture, and once the tire was replaced on the horse trailer, Andrew pulled it over to the pasture with the tractor. The birds know their coop and all came running over to see it in it’s new location.
Since we harvested our Bubsters, who shared the horsetrailer coop and pasture with the goslings and turkeys, the turkeys have literally doubled in size. Apparently the giant chickie Bubs had been hogging all the feed! This small and very manageable group of turkeys (20) and goslings (14) is actually so lovely. Last year we had such a nightmare of stress with raising 100 turkeys and dealing with owl predation, that we decided to take it easy on turkeys this year. What a nice decision this has been! We are now re-enjoying turkeys, because in a smaller group we can just manage them so much better. However, it always makes more sense financially to raise as more birds in a group, to up the total revenue from your feed hauling and tending efforts -which usually doesn’t change much from a small to medium sized group. But when we went from 40 tureys in 2012 to 100 turkeys in 2013, we didn’t have the proper infrastructure in place and learned that scaling up lesson the hard way.
We have found over the years with turkeys that not many people think about where their bird is coming from until the weeks right before Thanksgiving, which makes raising the right number impossible to plan for. We ask for deposits at the beginning of the season, and those who did that (thank you!) are on the list. Having only 20 turkeys this year means we will have to turn down a lot of sales, but sometimes, taking a year to get back on track is the right decision over risking failure again to make a buck.