While away from the farm last week we "rethought" our Saxony flock. Yes, ducks are still part of Lilac Hill; their comical manner, thrifty nature, and delicious meat benefit the farmstead.
Building the flock while filling the freezer is slow going. Building a customer base interested in duck eggs and meat is also slow going.
We have only 3 ducks for our two drakes, the fourth duck disappeared late last winter, giving us over a dozen eggs a week. Because the girls will drop an egg whenever and wherever the mood strikes, finding the eggs, when they free range is a bit tricky.
I prefer to have Buckeye hens set the duck eggs. After hatching the hens are excellant mothers, raising the ducklings on grass in open bottomed pens. With hens I do not need to monitor temperature and humidity for 28 days in the temperamental incubator. Chicken mothers protect ducklings from cool nights and summer downpours and teach them to hunt tasty tidbits in the grass. Encouraging broody hens and buiding pens for setting will be components of our future duck venture.
I usually place nine eggs under a Buckeye to start the 28 day incubation period. The last two hens have hatched 5 ducklings. The clutch due to hatch later this week has 6 remaining eggs so hopefully we will have similar success (but remember the adage," don't count your chickens before....). The literature recommends that I spray the eggs with water regularly when set by a chicken but I do not like to disturb setting hens often and when outisde in a pen the ground seems to provide enough moisture.
The small scale of the duck project during this 'duck-management-learning-phase' does not fill more than our freezer but there are benfits to the duck flock beyond food, pest control and soil fertilization. Due to their efficient use of feed, their rich dark meat and large eggs are economical. Applying the lessons I learn from this small flock will hopeflly minimize costly errors as we increase the flock size.
Once we decided that ducks are staying on the farm, we needed to come up with a better system for collecting eggs and keeping the ducks out of the pool. The terraces I carved out of the hill passed the barn are in dire need of fertilizing, especially if the lush orchard of my dreams is to be achieved. So with 20 new t-posts, 100' of 3' high fencing , another 100'+ of scavanged pieces of fence, zip ties and fence staples we created a pen for the ducks. It is large enough for the small laying flock and with the addition of duck waste, old hay and pulled weeds the soil should slowly improve. Because it is behind hi-tensile fence, the ducks and their feed are protected from the attentions of the four-leggeds - donkey, beef and sheep, and I do not have to construct and deconstruct the annual winter duck pen.
The ducks will still free range, but under supervision, at least until the pool is covered.