Friday, May 11, 2007

Ping Pong and Pi

All of the ducklings and chicken chicks are adjusting to their new life here. The resident Scrub Jays have decided to become part of the "flock" now that the chicks are too big to eat. They drink from the kiddy pool and eat the organic crumbles I put out for everyone. So, the backyard is full of birds. The Towhees have discovered the bird bath and try to use it whenever the Scrub Jays leave the yard to gather nest materials. It's busy back there!

In April our friends in Fillmore gave us a duckling. Someone in their family had gifted their grandkids with two ducklings for Easter and only one survived. We were planning to buy ducklings when we returned home so we took it as a sign that we should take "her". We did not know its gender or breed and so we were taking a chance. Well, "she" turned out to be another Pekin and here we are again. We are just hoping that "she" is a she. If not, "he" will be joining our other Pekins out on the pond. She's certainly acting like a "she". The new Khaki Campbells- Ping and Pong are convinced that Pi the Pekin is their mother. They sleep as close to her as possible and follow her everywhere. She loves the attention and seems to take the job quite seriously. When the chicken chicks went exploring in the berry patch today she ran out there and herded them back to the coop. A little later as I worked in the garden I heard lots of contented peeping coming from those same bushes so I guess they worked it out.

We hope to integrate the chicken chicks in with our single Rhode Island Red. While she was supposed to be weeding and eating snails today she flew over the four foot picket fence (no match for her) and went to meet the chicks. We have our fingers crossed that all will work out when it's time to put them together. They can't have the run of the yard like the ducks. Chickens are much, much harder on the garden. On a small lot such as this the chickens have to be penned and given specific places in the garden to work. We haven't built them a proper chicken tractor (a portable open-bottomed pen with a top) yet but we certainly intend to do so.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Permaculture Pet Extraordinaire

In the latest issue of 'RIPPLES- a revolutionary journal of seasonal delight' published by Daily Acts ( our backyard duck Dabbles is described as a "slug-eating Permaculture pet extraordinaire". Bill Mollison once said something like, "You don't have a snail problem. You have a dearth of ducks". Well, he's certainly correct. Our neighbors are now bringing us their snails and asking if they can borrow our ducks for a day. Even the kids at the local elementary school garden collect snails for us. It's a family event to come through our back gate and feed the ducks what they've gathered.

We''ve learned a bit since we invited Dabbles and his mate Dee Dee into our backyard. We had not done any research on which duck breeds are best suited to backyard life and more importantly who lays the most eggs. We are an urban homestead so we have to stack functions as much as possible. The ducks eat slugs and snails, fertilize the garden, entertain us, and lay eggs! What could be better?

It was all going great until Spring rolled around and our male Pekin (Dabbles) started feeling his oats. The ducks and the chicken were all peacefully coexisting until about March. Then, what we humans saw as charming- "Oh, look! He follows us around the yard!" turned into "Hey, stop chasing me around the yard!". And, "Oh look, he really likes the chicken." turned into "Get off the chicken and stop pulling out her feathers!". Lessons learned: Pekins are really big, bred for meat, just o.k. egg layers, and male ducks in general can really be a pain especially if you have other poultry around. If you don't care about eggs and you just want a pair of pet ducks Pekins are great. They are charming, beautiful and will eat all of the slugs and snails they can find. They look really good in the garden too. They just weren't the right choice for us. So, Dabbles and his mate Dee Dee now live on a farm near here with a two acre pond and lots of other duck friends. It was not an easy choice for us but we have to utilize every inch of this place so there was no room to house a renegade duck and his girlfriend. Dabbles really liked his purple turtle kiddy pool but I'm thinking he'll like the pond even better.

We've done our research and learned that Khaki Campbells and Indian Runners are the best egg layers and well suited to backyard life. Enter Ping and Pong our female Khaki Campbell ducklings. They arrived last week at the local feed store and have moved right into our hearts. We also added three chicken chicks to our flock. Two Americaunas and a Barred Rock. We had a close call with the resident Scrub Jays (who find chicks tasty) but everyone is doing fine.