I have kept laying hens for a few years now, and I love the way they fit into the productive home system– turning my kids’ leftovers into eggs, and meanwhile making beautiful compost for the garden. This year I expanded my animal element to ‘small farm’ status with 18 chickens and 18 ducks, most of them destined for the table.

I am trialling several breeds. The chickens all came from Sandhill Preservation Center. I have Partridge Rocks, Gold-Laced Wyandottes, Spangled Russian Orloffs, and Cuckoo Marans, all dual-purpose breeds so that we can eat the roosters and keep the layers. The ducks came from Holderread Waterfowl Farm— Silver Appleyards for meat birds, Welsh Harlequins for eggs and bantam Appleyards to be natural brooders to next years ducklings.

Ducks figure big in the “rainfarm” concept, equipped as they are with built-in slickers. Aside from fitting well to our climate, ducks eat slugs, something I had never before been able to see as a ‘resource.’ We have a massive population, including the incredibly invasive European black slugs. I am thrilled to see that the ducks do in fact eat even the giant blackies (with relish!)

I also enjoy the ducks for their gentle temperaments. Chickens are dicks, to be blunt. I guess I had thought that was a bird thing, but now I realize it’s just a chicken thing. People say that ducks have more personality, I don’t think that’s true, I think we just like their personality better. Chickens remind us too much of a part of humanity we would rather not recognize.

The flock has a decent run in the backyard, about 20×30 feet, almost 17 sqft/bird. Nevertheless, they chewed it down to bare mud in a matter of weeks. I have been chucking every compostable I can find over the fence, and hopefully by next spring, I will be able to put some forage plants into the enriched and cleared dirt. I would like to figure out a way to keep the run full of living green ecosystem– not the denuded desertscape so common to chicken rearing.  I think the key is large bushes and small plants protected with chickens wire, all underlain with a very thick, carbon-rich mulch.

On such a small town-sized lot, and with such a large number of birds, they will not likely be able to forage a significant portion of their diet. Raising poultry in this setting is essentially turning purchased feed into meat, albeit at home. We are going through about 50 lbs/week at the moment.

I am very interested in home mixed feed and am currently experimenting by adding soaked and sprouted grains to the commercial ration. I’m also looking at possibilities for local feed supplements, particularly protein sources such as redworms and waste meat from game butchering.

I admit to jumping the gun on this project, expanding my flock way too fast and following the classic “If they come, I will build it” philosophy, which I cannot recommend. It has inspired a stressful summer, to be sure. But, in the end, it will be done, and I will have a freezer full of roasters and all the eggs I could possibly use.ducks

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