Compassion in World Farming

Monday, 25 May 2009

Here come the girls!

As the cage they were in, inside the chicken house, was getting a little small for them it was time to let our pullets out with the rest of the hens. It was a bit nerve racking as we weren't sure how it was going to go, but first one little head popped out...

One of the 'Dolly Birds' peers out into the big wide world

Then a few emerged.....

Here come the girls!

Then after a little patient waiting they were all out into the evening sunlight, exploring this big new world of grass & wide open space replacing wood shavings & cage bars. They were quite skittish to start with & if one was spooked they would all scatter in all directions. But as they calmed down they proved to be friendly little things, gathering around me as I sat on the grass & letting me pat their backs like little puppy dogs! They are about 14 to 15 weeks old now we think. All eight of them are cross breeds and as they are hard to tell apart they are collectively known as the 'Dolly Birds'. Only one of them stands out as her rear is a lot paler than the rest, so she has been named 'Dolly Parton'.

'Dolly Parton'

The other hens were distracted with bread crumbs by my middle son whilst the little ones were released, but so far the older birds have shown little interest in them. The only problem we had was that when we tried to put the ducks away for the night the 'Dolly Birds' had all gathered by the pop hole blocking their way, so we literally had to shove them up to get the ducks in. Today the young 'uns have spent half their time inside the chicken house & half out with the rest of the birds & fingers crossed the only squabbling has been between themselves.

Here are the rest of the hens that they share the house with:

'Hattie' the Rhode Rock, lowest in the pecking order before the pullets

'Bella' the Bluebelle hen

'Chicken Licken' the Black Rock

'Mother Hen' the Lohmann Brown

'Dottie' the Speckledy hen

'Fanny' the Welsummer hen - the prettiest

'Annie' the Amber Star

'Belter' (front of picture - crossbreed), currently top of the pecking order

'Clara' the Light Sussex hen

'Chicken Tikka' (cruelly named by hubby!) the Cuckoo Maran

'Ginger' the Goldline hen

'Twinkle' the Speckled Star

'Ellie' the Light Sussex Star

And looking after all these girls is Rodney, our bantam cockerel, who has seen the number of hens increase rapidly since we bought a larger hen house recently (nick-named 'Chateau Des Oeufs'). He is about 6 or 7 years old now & starting to look weary so we are letting him see his time out before buying a new cockerel as we don't think he could face up to the competition.

Chateau Des Oeufs (note the roofing felt has been removed from one corner of the nesting boxes by very naughty goats!!)

I do love my chickens - there's something really homely about them. We get an average 10 eggs a day from them, which will increase as the pullets reach point of lay, but to me that is just an added bonus of keeping them. Being a bit of a mad old bird myself, I would have hens as pets even if they didn't lay!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Like ducks to water!

Today has been a very moving day in the garden for me. I gave the ducklings a larger tray of water to splash in & it was such a wonderful sight watching them take to the water just as ducks should do.

Just enough room for two!

As I topped up the bird table with various types of feed I wondered if the ducklings would like some of the dried mealworms I put out mainly for my regular robin visitor. Well this is how much the ducklings LOVE having mealworms thrown into their water!!

While I play mummy to 'Chalk' & 'Cheese' I am aware of the flurry of activity going on around me as other birds busily feed young ones. The birds in our back garden seem to have got used to me being out with the ducklings and boldly overcome their natural fear to gather food from the bird table literally just a couple of feet away from me. We have starlings nesting in the eaves of our neighbour's roof & today the parents were busily collecting suet from a hanging coconut for them. This year we put up a couple of nest boxes for the first time & we are lucky enough to have blue tits nesting in one of them. The parents have been fearless in feeding them no matter what has been going on in the garden:

One of the parent blue tits arrives with food

I felt incredibly privileged to witness one of the youngsters close up, peering out into the big wide world:

One of the blue tit chicks looking almost ready to fledge

It looked very well feathered & I almost thought it was going to fledge right there in front of me, but I guess it won't be long now. Mother Nature never ceases to bring joy & wonderment if we just take time out to watch!

Someone else was enjoying the sunshine in the garden today - Jenny, our tortoise. Here she is helping hubby weed the path:

'Jenny' the tortoise helps with the weeding!

And guess who else likes mealworms? You guessed it!

Mealworms taste good to tortoises too!

I shall have to buy a bigger tub!

(If you were wondering how we got on with releasing the pullets out into the rest of the flock then we decided to wait another day & will try this evening)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

First a dabble .... then a paddle!

The ducklings may be imprinting me as some kind of mother figure as baby birds do, but one thing's for sure they are imprinting on my heart more & more with each day I spend with them. With better weather I have been able to let them out onto the grass more & I can quite happily spend hours just watching their engaging ways & their funny little characters emerge. They are very attached to one another, a definite pair. They are too big to be picked up together in one armful now & although they do not mind being handled by me they cheep loudly to one another until they are reunited.

I am pleased to say that they are thriving - bright eyed, healthy & full of an infectious zest for life. Food wise they have a more varied diet now - today grated carrot & snails for breakfast today with a spent potato plant for supper on top of their grower pellets & grass. No wonder they are growing right in front of my very eyes!

As it has been warmer & both are fairly well feathered on their undersides, I let them have a shallow plastic bowl of water to play in. At first they just enjoyed a jolly good dabble:

Then a paddle:

Chalk enjoys a paddle!

Then a lot of preening took place. They splashed water across their backs, pulled out loose bits of their baby fluff & had a jolly good shake of those new feathers. I told them how beautiful they were & they happily strutted about in their nice clean plumage, then posed for their close up shots:

'Chalk' above, 'Cheese' below

And talking of well groomed ducks, here's a picture of 'Donald' the Khaki Campbell drake ( I mentioned earlier that we got on the same day as the ducklings) with one his girls:

Now isn't he a handsome fellow? The two ducks, Jemima & Puddles, are a lot happier now he has arrived. We did have 4 Khaki Campbell ducks & a crazy Crested drake called Elvis (who had a wonderful quiff & for some reason spent most of his days dancing around in mad circles), but very sadly we lost 2 of the ducks & Elvis to a fox attack. It was the one night that somehow between us we forgot to shut them away, along with the chickens & geese, & I don't think we will ever forgive ourselves. I think it was only down to the fact that the birds share their field with 2 pygmy goats that we didn't lose all 5 ducks, possibly the geese & probably some of the chickens, because although they had roosted in their house the pop hole hadn't been closed. I'm sure the goats must have disturbed the fox & driven it away because I have heard that they usually massacre everything. I have a very loud alarm set on my mobile phone now, so that we will never forget again!! It was very upsetting.

Anyway to end on a happier note it's forecast to be nice weather again tomorrow, so the ducklings can have another lovely time paddling about. Also, we are planning to release our pullets into the rest of the flock of hens, so wish us luck with that because we aren't sure how it's going to go. The 8 pullets have been living in the chicken house with the other chucks, but inside a cage while we've been growing them on, so that the older birds can see them but not get at them, so we are hoping they will be fairly well received.

The pullets waiting to join the rest of the flock

I'll let you know.......

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Look what a difference a couple of days makes!

It's now only two weeks since the ducklings arrived and look at them today:

Now some may say that all ducks go through an 'ugly duckling' phase as they begin to feather, but if anyone dares use that term near my babies I will punch them on the nose!

The weather here has been very windy with very sharp, unpredictable down pours so the ducklings haven't been out on the grass as much as I'd have liked, but they don't seem to mind. They are, like all baby animals, just full of the joys of life! They are constantly astounded by new things, like the shadow of a big bird flying overhead, or the cries of the baby starlings nesting near to us as their parents arrive with food, or a sudden gust of wind ruffling their new feathers. They are excited about everything they are learning - they know the sound of the gate latch opening means I'm on my way with something tasty & that raindrops mean it's time to take cover.

Cheese (above) has more fluff left than Chalk (below)

I've used a board to create a shelter at one end of their run, because I'm worried that without a mother duck to oil them they aren't waterproof enough to withstand a soaking. I even stayed out with them in a down pour to make sure that they would take cover from the heavy shower - now that's motherly love for you. I got soaked to the skin myself , but, of course, they were clever enough to take shelter! I give them a quick towel dry before they go back into their hutch in the evening just to make sure they aren't damp ducklings at bed time.

The improvised rain shelter

But as they are feathering so quickly now, I've ordered them a kiddies paddling pool so that when they are ready they can take their first dip! (Can anyone give me some guidance on this? )

New, itchy feathers require lots of preening!

The ducklings spent lots of time preening themselves today. Chalk reached so far forwards to preen her breast, which is full of feather growth, that she surprised herself (& me) by doing a complete heads over heels! It must have felt fun, because she promptly did it again, then perhaps gave herself a bit of a headache because it wasn't worth a third time!

Looking around the back garden I thought to myself how glad I was that I made my own compost last year. For those of you that aren't convinced of the benefits of composting look at what's growing in mine:

Slightly wind battered onions, garlic, broad beans & beetroot seeds in one raised bed.......... and potatoes in the other!

..and I'm a complete amateur. My neighbour, who is a very accomplished gardener, laughs & says that I garden like a child because I tend to use my bare hands & no instructions! I've only got one wooden compost bin that I filled with plant trimmings, grass cuttings, soiled rabbit & chicken bedding & kitchen peelings until approximately July to August time last year, bunged in as many earth worms as I could collect from the garden & by the time it was time to sow this year I had lovely stuff to grow with. I was so excited (yes, I'm easily pleased!) that this year I'm having a go with a Wormery & Bokashi Bucket. I'll let you know the results.

While the sun was out briefly today I took some pics of our pygmy goats, geese, ducks & hens to add to my blog next time. The poor things have taken rather a back seat to the ducklings so far!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Snail horror!

A quick post to make you smile :-)

This morning when I checked the ducklings a snail had crawled up the hutch. Now I've read that Muscovies eat slugs & snails, so I decided to pop it in to the ducklings to see what they made of it. Well you would have thought I'd chucked a stick of dynamite in with them!! They were horrified & ran away into the sleeping compartment of the hutch! However, being generally inquisitive in nature & perhaps trusting the fact that I wasn't scared of this mysterious 'thing', they gradually popped their heads around to peer at it, then crept gingerly forwards in case the 'thing' should suddenly leap up & bite them. Then Cheese's curiousity suddenly completely overwhelmed him(?) & he made a dash for the snail pecking at it as if to render it harmless. Discovering it to be really rather tasty, he grabbed it & ran with it before Chalk could also discover what a tasty thing it was & greedily devoured it (sorry snail!). It was hilarious to watch!

There's been a lot of rain the last couple of days so I may go slug & snail hunting tonight & serve them up a feast. I'm sure it's a lot kinder than putting nasty slug & snail pellets down.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Introducing the ducklings!

When the ducklings came home with us they were 3 weeks old & just the sweetest little bundles of yellow & grey fluff. They were old enough not to need a heat lamp, but we were told they needed to be kept inside to keep them dry & cosy until they feathered. The best place to put them seemed to be inside a large, empty rabbit hutch that we had luckily kept as a spare, which I made nice & cosy with a layer of wood shavings topped with chopped straw. My youngest son Jake named them Chalk & Cheese & that was it - they were officially part of the family! It has to be said that being a very maternal kind of a person I was completely head over heels in love with them from day one, but who could resist the little fuzzy chaps?!

We initially had no idea of the sex of the ducklings & didn't know that much about rearing ducklings (although we keep poultry, ducks & geese & have previously reared geese from day old goslings) so it was a case of reading up & getting wise in a hurry. Having decided they were probably too old for starter crumbs I decided to buy organic Duck & Goose grower pellets for their main diet & having read that you could supplement their food with greens we soon discovered they absolutely love lettuce, as you can see from the video! They also needed fresh water in a suitable drinker, enough that they could dabble their beaks in but not soak themselves & get chilled, and fine grit to help them grind & digest their food.

Right from the outset, because I'm the one who feeds, cleans & holds them they soon got to know me & they soon began to respond with excitement when they heard my voice. I'm hoping that because they have got each other as well as me 'imprinting' won't be a problem later as they grow up. It's such a wonderful feeling when I hold them & they become calm & cuddle in to me. I find them so engaging that I can sit & watch them & 'talk' to them for ages & they happily cheep back at me. It really does fill my heart with gladness - yes, I know I'm soppy!

Aren't they beautiful!

The ducklings have grown at such a fast pace that I believe I can almost see them grow! Very quickly they have developed quite different personalities - Cheese being the cheekier & more boisterous of the two. At 4 weeks old I began to let them have time on grass safely secured in a guinea pig run in our back garden. Straight away they began happily eating the grass & instinctively snapping at midges. Clever little chaps!

Just starting to get 'feather stubble'.

(Cheese is the duckling in the foreground of this photo)

This grass is yummy stuff!

They also started to show the first 'stubble' of feathers coming through & differences became apparent between them visually, Cheese becoming longer in the body with bigger feet & beak than Chalk. It was at this point we started to suspect they may be duck & drake.

Now at 5 weeks old they are eating & developing at a rate of knots. I have tried them with grated carrot & seedling thinnings from the garden & they have polished them off with gusto. Chalk is feathering much quicker than Cheese, which is another reason why we believe they may be drake & duck. Apart from vent sexing, which can hurt the ducklings if you don't know what you're doing (which I don't!), I've read the way you can usually tell Muscovy duckling & drakeling apart is by the drakeling becoming larger & developing the red caruncling earlier, but feathering later than a duckling.

So here begins the tale of Chalk & Cheese.... more news & pictures to follow shortly.

Muscovy duck information

Before I really get stuck into my blog about our own Muscovy experience, here are a few bits of information I've found out about the breed (although this is only what I've read, so please do bear that in mind):

adult muscovy
  • Muscovies are the only domestic duck not descended from the wild mallard.

  • Wild muscovies can be found in Mexico & S America & are black or dark brown & white in colouring.

  • Domestic colourings include black, white, chocolate, blue & lavender.

  • They have a very distinctive red, lumpy 'caruncling' above the beak & around the eyes which is more pronounced in the drake.

  • Muscovies are perching ducks and have sharp claws designed for climbing trees & roosting.

  • Muscovies are a large breed of duck. The drake can weigh in excess of 15lbs, with the duck weighing around 8lbs.

  • Muscovies have under developed oil glands (for water proofing feathers) compared to other ducks. It seems that a tray or child's plastic pool of water is enough for domestic Muscovies to bathe & preen in.

  • Muscovies are capable of flying, but from what I've read are likely to fly around rather than away from 'home'. (We have been advised to clip our ducklings' wings when they have feathered)

  • Muscovy ducks make very good broodies & are protective & dedicated mothers. They can hatch 2 or 3 batches of ducklings a year. Incubation takes on average 35 days.

  • Muscovies are a quiet breed - the drake makes a low hissing sound & the duck a short, weak quack.

Most importantly, everywhere I have read about these ducks describes them as being very individual, intelligent, funny & engaging characters. I'm very excited about raising our ducklings!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

I'm besotted with our Muscovy ducklings!

Chalk & Cheese the Muscovy ducklings

We 'accidentally' came home with Muscovy ducklings after visiting the Domestic Fowl Trust on 2 May. We were supposed to be going to have a look to see if they had a Khaki Campbell drake & possibly ducklings to join our 2 Khaki Campbell ducks! But when we were shown the duckling room, we just fell in love with the 3 week old Muscovy ducklings & came home with a pair! (By the way, we did also bring home Donald Duck, a very handsome Khaki Campbell drake for our girls. He's fully grown & settled in straight away, soon taking us his position as protector & mate)

Since then the little ducklings have completely charmed us with their funny personalities & sweet little ways & having searched the web for information on them it seems I'm not alone in loving these ducks. So convinced that there may be like minded people out there & just bursting to share my experience I have been inspired to begin my blog.

The photo was taken not long after the ducklings arrived home.