It has been really cold here since my old dog Javi passed away, nights now usually in the single digits. This is FAR colder than what we are used to for November, and we’ve had quite a bit of snow too. We went from a sunny, dry and pretty dang perfect autumn to awful hardcore winter, basically overnight.
It’s mid-November and the ducks keep on laying eggs. With temperatures like 5 degrees though, those eggs will freeze and crack open, which is fine for the pigs or us to eat, but not our egg accounts. Luckily ducks lay their eggs early in the morning, and not usually throughout the afternoon like chickens. I’ve been pushing myself to find out just exactly how early in the morning the ducks lay. So far the earliest I’ve managed to get my butt out there is 2:30am, when it seems about 1/3 rd of the total eggs have been laid.
I wake from our cozy bed in the upstairs of the farmer barn to go collect the first round of eggs. I bundle up, pull on my boots and trudge in the dark on the snow path to the old house to wash my hands and get the egg buckets. The old house is being shut down for the winter; water turned off and there’s no heat running in it, except for our egg room which has a small heater in it.
The ducks are not happy to see me, they dislike any interruption from humans. It’s hard to not take offense, as I raised all of these ladies up from ducklings, but now they act like I am a deranged killer chasing them. I’ve taken to wearing my ipod in the barn, so that the earbuds will protect my ears from the voiciferous shrieking quacks in the hundreds as the ducks move like a school of fish together, swarming like bees as far away from me as they can get, as I move to their various nests and pick up eggs. Some eggs lay in the middle of the barn, like they were just dropped out of the ducks. It’s those out-in-the-open eggs I need to get as soon as possible after laying; they emerge hot from the duck, but will quickly freeze. Most eggs are nestled in cubbies and corners, carefully covered by the ducks with hay.
As the nights at nearly 0 degrees increase in sequence though, the number of eggs is dropping. 430, then 370, 330 and then 275 and it’ll keep dwindling until they all shut off their egg makers. We’ve been blessed that the ducks did so well this year. I and my wrists will enjoy having a total break from my egg routine for a month or so, until they begin laying after the harshest part of winter passes.
For next year, we’re investigating a few things to improve the duck and egg set up- first is an egg washer that our egg inspector recommended and approves of. At $2,000 it seems crazy expensive, but if it cuts the time needed to clean eggs by 75%, it would totally be worth it. If all the ducks lay eggs 100% of the time next year(which they won’t, they NEVER lay as well as you read) but we’ll have around 800 layers, so we could have 800 eggs a day somedays. That’s a LOT of eggs to clean one by one, by hand with a scrubby. I’ll do it though, it’s my job.
The other thing is a grain bin for the duck feed. Right now we are using a gravity box, which is not exactly meant to be used as a feed dispenser. It works, and it is WAY better than what we used to do (unloading 50 lb bags into barrels, and then scoping feed out of barrels to feed the ducks.) A grain bin with an auger could dispense feed more cleanly and RIGHT INTO THE BARN! There are so many pieces of farm equipment that I just didn’t know about, that now I know I want!
The last thing I wanted to write about is how awful this week is going to be. I am not trying to be a complainer, but dear god, what a mess we’re in…we have 70 chickens and 14 geese and 21 turkeys to harvest, in forecasted 17 degree (daytime!!!) weather. I am NOT happy about this at ALL. We’ve always harvested our fall birds the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the coldest it’s ever been is around 30, when we whined about our cold fingers and had some struggles with keeping the hose running, but this time? Well, the good news is that since we are not living in our old house, it is an available sort-of-protected space now! We’re going to set up our poultry harvesting equipment right outside the door. Kill, scald, and pluck outside, and then bring the naked birds into the house to eviscerate, and package up. Since the house is as cold as a refrigerator (or colder) we can just have the birds sit in there until our customers come pick the up this weekend. Wish us luck!
Next weeks’ docket includes going to look at piglets, now there’s something to look forward to!