Raising backyard ducks: Final thoughts (for now)

Much has changed since I first started raising ducks and chronicled my experiences here in 2002. Then, backyard poultry was almost unheard of, a thing of the past I was fighting to revive. At the turn of the century few urban places in the U.S. allowed poultry in residential areas; now, in many mid-sized cities, it’s become common, or at least not surprising, to hear the bwaaawk of a neighbor’s chicken. In 2002 the Internet was still a fairly new medium, and it was hard to find and share personal experiences with the few people who did know something about raising poultry. As resources I had a book written for professionals, a couple of skimpy websites, and a veterinarian whose workshop at a sustainable agriculture conference first got me thinking about ducks. For day-to-day details I was on my own.

For the first few years, I received hundreds of emails from around the world — literally, six continents and, if I recall correctly, more than forty countries — from people asking questions and sharing experiences. Those conversations with fellow “new agrarians” was the reward for building this website. What I wrote here seems to have helped a great many people get started raising ducks on a small scale, and for that I’m grateful.

Over the years, what I built in 2002–03 seems increasingly dated (hard to believe, but those tiny movies were high-res back then), even though the information and advice is still perfectly sound; and there are plenty of other places to get help. Moreover, I no longer keep ducks — that’s a long story; I hope to again someday — and I have no more experiences to share. My “Raising Ducks” collection has become effectively an archive. But I’m going to leave it here and preserve it, in hopes that it may still help someone. If you have questions or thoughts, do feel free to email me and I’ll try to get back to you.

To close it out — for now, at least — I’ll stage a brief interview with myself about the experience of raising ducks. There’s also a movie below the jump. Continue reading “Raising backyard ducks: Final thoughts (for now)”

The thirty-dollar shaving horse

Until my first day doing living history I’d never used a shaving horse before, never used a drawknife or a spokeshave. I’d always thought that someday I might like to take a chairmaking class, just for fun, but that it wasn’t something I really saw myself doing much.

Shows what I know. One day muddling my borrowed-tool way through demonstrations and I knew I needed a shaving horse and tools of my own, if only so that I could pay decent respect to the real craftsmen whose role I was playing. It turned out, though, that even though a shaving horse is one of the simplest, rough-and-tumblest workbenches a man can make, it might just be harder to make in 2011 than it would have been in 1700. I had to get a little inventive. What follows is the story of my thirty-dollar, down and dirty, twenty-first century shaving horse. Continue reading “The thirty-dollar shaving horse”

Khaki Campbell egg production

During their first year of laying, our seven Khaki Campbells laid 332 eggs each. That is 47 pounds (21 kilograms) of eggs per duck, in a single year.

When we were debating breeds of ducks, we read that Campbells typically lay about 300 eggs a year. (The record laying bird of any breed, any species, was a Campbell duck who laid more than 365 eggs in a year.) Several sources confirmed this figure, but we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to believe it. It just seemed fantastic. An egg a day, with only an occasional miss and time off for molting? Surely these ducks must be pushed to the limit of their genetic capacity.

But we never consciously pushed our birds. As far as I can tell, they’re just extremely happy and healthy ducks. Continue reading “Khaki Campbell egg production”

Duck eggs: A primer

Never eaten duck eggs? Most people haven’t. The differences between chicken and duck eggs, while slight, are noticeable by people who aren’t used to the latter. Most of the people I know who have tried them prefer duck eggs, but not everyone likes them. In this primer I’ll set out the differences between the two, but you really will just have to try them for yourself. Continue reading “Duck eggs: A primer”

Winter care for ducks

As the weather grows colder in the fall we make some minor adjustments to our housing and management. They do not seem to mind the cold; they do fluff up their feathers and huddle together to sleep on cold nights, but the first thing they do every morning is to jump into their pool—even if we have to break up floating ice first to let them in. They also eat more to keep warm (and because there aren’t any bugs to eat after a hard freeze). Continue reading “Winter care for ducks”

Daily routine

Our adult ducks live in our backyard, in a secure house at night and in a movable grazing pen during the day. The grazing pen has a baby pool, which they use in lieu of a pond for bathing. When we’re home during the day, we also give them some "free range" time to roam the backyard. The grazing pen gives them enough room to move around comfortably while keeping them from tearing up the yard or the garden. (See my notes on backyard pasture.)

We manage their routine so that the bulk of the work is in the evening; all we have to do in the morning is move them, give them fresh food, and collect the eggs. This is much easier when you have to work off the homestead during the day. In total, managing the ducks takes less than ten minutes in the morning and ten to fifteen minutes in the evening, unless it’s time to clean out their pen. Continue reading “Daily routine”

Backyard pasture for ducks

Raising poultry in the suburbs or in a rural backyard requires some unconventional thinking, both about your backyard and about sustainable livestock management. Our goal was to develop a system of rotational grazing that wouldn’t destroy our backyard. It’s been a success, if not a complete one; we always have a few bare patches at the back of the yard waiting new growth, but the ducks do well, and most of the yard stays usable for us. But see the update at the bottom of the page. Continue reading “Backyard pasture for ducks”