Monday, October 19, 2015

Things I never expected about ducks

The last one was fun so I'm doing it again!

  1. Male ducks do not quack.  They in fact sound a lot like Donald Duck, only quieter.  Somebody on the Disney staff actually knew a thing or two about ducks.
  2. Female ducks make up for the lack of quacking from their boyfriends... especially laying breeds.  High strung ducks = LOTS AND LOTS OF QUACKING.
  3. Ducklings, no matter how often or how gently they are handled, seem to go through a crazy panic bird phase starting when they are about two or three weeks old.  This is about a week before a lot of mama ducks give their babies the boot in nature, apparently, so it makes sense.  It is still obnoxious.
  4. When the panic bird phase ends depends on the breed.  Meat breeds settle down right around when they start laying... when they are 20 weeks old.  I'm still waiting for the laying breeds to settle down.
  5. Domestic ducks (except for Muscovies, which I'll get to later, and Mallards, which I don't ever want to own) do not fly.  They also have stupid flat feet and look a lot like a wind up bath toy when they run.  They are still faster than you.
  6. Muscovies fly.  I mean they really fly, like "oh hi I'm a duck and I want to roost on top of your house" level of flying.  I keep having this idea that I can leave their wings unclipped and it will be fine.  I don't know why I keep having this idea.
  7. While ducks are extremely stupid, they are creatures of habit, and if you can make them do something for about three days (say, go into the coop at sundown), they will do it basically on their own ever after.  This is wonderful most of the time, but terrible if you need to get them to do something else instead (like sleep in the other coop).  Because they will do everything in their power to make everything exactly the same always forever and ever, including running you over with those stupid flat feet, which isn't as funny as it sounds like it should be.
  8. There is a saying, "being nibbled to death by ducks."  I will tell you, I have been bitten by ducks (broody mommy ducks are full of rage), and it is actually quite painful.  Especially when it is done over and over at high speed and accompanied by valiant attempts to beat you to death with her wings.  Just don't mess with broody Muscovies.  It's almost always a mistake, and very rarely worth it.
  9. Mother ducks are extremely protective of their babies.  The problem with this is when the hen across the way also hatched out some very nice babies, and she decides that those must be her babies, too, and OMG THAT EVIL MONSTER HEN IS STEALING MAH BABIES!!!1  When hens fight over the ducklings, the ducklings always loose.  I have ended up with more brooder ducklings this way than any other issue with the hatching process.
  10. Speaking of ducks hatching eggs... sometimes, when the eggs are hatching, the mother ducks will push pipping eggs and wet ducklings out of the nest.  They can't get back in on their own, obviously, and the mother ducks either can't or won't help (although they will call to them - the mother ducks may just be stupid).  When you try to put them back you will get bitten.  A lot.  I like to just put them in my incubator and avoid that whole mess.  This is the second biggest reason I end up with brooder ducklings.
  11. Do not gauge a duck hen's ability to hatch eggs by the first nest she sits.  There will be quite a lot of rotters and dead ducklings the first go around, and you may panic and think that you will never have enough ducklings to raise for the freezer.  Her second nest she will probably hatch twice as many ducklings as you thought she had eggs under there, and you will suddenly have an army of ducklings breaking into the feed corn like they own the place.
All in all, I wonder why I keep ducks about four times a year.  But then there are the times when I sit on my front porch and watch peaceful roving packs of ducklings grazing in my front yard, keeping the place free of basically all bugs in the process.  Plus roast duck for dinner and poached duck eggs?  Yeah, they'll be staying.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tips for new beekeepers

  1. Even if you are just going to refill the feeders, bring the hive tool.  You never know when you'll find a bit burr comb that needs scraping off, or what the bees will have glued together next.
  2. Give the smoker a little puff every couple minutes to make sure it is still burning in there.  They can go out with just the air flow from the spout.  Or just for no reason at all.  You want to make sure that's smoking before you open the brood box.
  3. If you turn the smoker sideways, unless you are holding on to the lid, it will pop open.  You have been warned!
  4. Sometimes even a happy, well-mated, healthy queen will lay two eggs in a cell.  I theorize she does this to cause me anxiety, in revenge for digging through her hive.
  5. Sometimes bees make a hot mess.  Even on foundation.  When you clean this out it will make them very angry.  Try to catch them early.
  6. The moment you say "don't worry I stand there and watch them all the time, and they  never sting me," somebody will get stung.  Or at least have a bee crash into their face and make them think they were stung.
  7. Grass can and will grow through your screened bottom board and out the entrance of the hive.  This is not fun to clear out.  Don't skimp on the landscaping cloth under your hives.
All together bees are really fun and rewarding, even before you harvest your first frames of delicious, delicious honey.  They are not however as easy as beekeeping websites make them out to be, if only because every time a newbee starts a new hive, they (like us) will find new and exciting ways to derp it up.  Fun!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Things I never expected about chickens

  1. Different breeds of chickens don't just have different personalities... they have different voices.  Wyandottes chatter.  Faverolles grumble.  Silkies almost coo.  Easter Eggers glare at me and hiss.  I don't think they like me.
  2. Ever hear the phrase, "madder than a wet hen"?  It's true, they do get pretty cranky when they are wet.  Unless they happened to grow up in a brooder full of ducklings.  Then they lie in the mud with their "sisters" when it gets hot.
  3. Two roosters do not crow twice as much as one rooster does.  It is more of an exponential equation.  We have three roosters and the crowing basically never stops.
  4. You quickly learn to recognize roosters by their crow.  Punky Rooster (silkie) greets the day in a clear, piercing tenor.  Chick Jagger (Wyandotte) is our bass - he almost sounds like he's howling.  Chikki Hendrix still has a derpy cut off crow that we had hoped he would grow out of.  Inexplicably the hens seem to like him best.
  5. You also quickly learn to ignore all the dang crowing.  They start about an hour before the coop lights turn on at five, but as long as the windows on the coop-ward side of the house are closed, I don't think anybody even notices.
  6. Pecking order makes no sense.  Punky manages to be head rooster despite being literally half the size of the other two (and most of the hens).  Perhaps they remember him feeding them when they were babies.  Perhaps they are in awe of his singing voice.  Perhaps he triples in size when no one is watching.  We will never know.
  7. Supposedly, a hen's comb and wattles suddenly grow and turn red (as opposed to pink) right before she starts laying.  Chickens are also jerks, and we have been waiting nearly a month for those "any day now" hens to quit being freeloading slackers.
  8. It is somehow always surprising when the layer pellets run out.  Not the scratch corn, because I have yet to come up with a method of keeping my millions of ducklings from breaking open the bags and throwing crazy scratch corn parties.  But there always seem to be tons of layer pellets until suddenly there are none at all.

In summary, chickens are endlessly entertaining, and I think every household should have at least six hens.  The eggs will be the best thing you ever tasted, and you will get bonus free chicken TV, all for the low low price of every bug they can reach and those magically disappearing layer pellets.

The three pound king of the barnyard.