Before I dive in headlong and divulge what Queen and ducks and dinner have to do with each other, a note about the cover photograph – this one was taken by one of my best friends from school. Even in that era Jannes was very proficient with the camera (and the guitar). We lost contact when I departed from my birth town to do my military service, but we have recently re-connected on FB. Different media, sure, but we are still having just as great conversations and sharing music as in the old days. So friendships can persist. This photo was selected by his local photography club, Fotoclub Heerenveen, in Holand and used as their cover photo. I still joked at the time that I also wanted to use it as a cover photo, but wasn’t sure for what yet! Anyway, this post presented itself in a sort of unannounced way, and good friend that he is, he immediately agreed. Velen dank (thank you very much) Jannes! Click here to see the full photo.
So rushing headlong…. My son, in addition to his love of Elvis, has taken a liking to Queen too, all on vinyl, of course. So when we literally got sucked into this whirlwind project, this song just kept playing over and over in my head as we were (and still are) trying to juggle priorities and projects amidst the flurry of year end activities.
Our goal for this summer was to extend our “urban farm” by taking on animals. Patricia’s initial plan was like, get the chickens first and have them fully raised and settled, then get the bees and then once all these and the ground covers in Dreamland were established, then get some ducks. (Somehow I slipped the worm farm in in-between all these when a bath miraculously presented itself!) Anyway, remembering how long the chickens took to get hold of, I innocently started doing research on bees. One of the things I read was that’s it’s best to move bees in late spring / early summer – so the bee project was buzzed through. And so, remembering how long the chickens took to get hold of, I innocently started doing research on ducks…
We understand the concept, thank you mr Holmgren
With regards to ducks, our criteria were quite simple – docile, kid-friendly, mostly self-foraging, non-flying, average layers. So from previous site visits and other permaculture studies Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner ducks came to mind (although Campbells can fly). But somehow we are always drawn to rare and heritage breeds. Nothing wrong in assisting a bit with the preservation of a good specie. Patricia had a Cayuga duckling when she was small, so when we studied them, they fitted the criteria very nicely, and they’re considered a rare breed in Australia too. During the search we stumbled onto Saxony ducks, also a rare and heritage breed. A big bird, but very good on all our criteria – especially self-foraging.
We found nice row-by-row comparisons on the Metzer farms website and on the Livestock Conservancy website. They both have extensive lists, but I had such a challenge creating tables on WordPress the last time I tried that I just did a quick cut and paste of the image from the Livestock Conservancy site. So here’s a comparison chart (slightly edited for our purposes):
So we settled on either Saxony or Cayuga ducks, with Cayuga slightly ahead on our list – not so much for its laying rate, but because it’s a bit smaller bird and we like the green sheen colouring. Makes logical sense, right? And so, remembering how long the chickens took to get hold of, I innocently started doing research on the availability of ducks…
Looking around for Cayuga ducks turned into a similar search we had for the heritage chicken breeds. Nothing to be found in our area. We found Saxony ducks on the Mornington peninsula (a two hour drive or ferry trip, one way, so do-able.) But their breeder was dubious about eggs being available late in January, which was our time frame for starting to think about doing something about ducks…
And then one day, the posts of the Ballarat Poultry Swop and Sell were scrolling past my screen. A lady was looking for ducklings for a Christmas present for her children. Innocently I opened the post to see what the responses were – you know, looking whether there was a market for ducklings, what breeds were going, and so on, as you do. And then BOING! It was as if a magic word jumped out at me. Cayuga! If you say it with enough passion, you can even envisage magic happening! (OK maybe I had too much coffee this morning…) Anyway, this lady had Cayuga ducklings. So, innocently I enquired whether she would have eggs by late January? She responded that she had one last batch of eggs, she’s done for the season, and it’s an all or nothing deal (for a very good price at that.) With them being quite scarce, how do you let this one slip past?
Long dialogues (at home and with her) and long story short, the next open day I had there I was on the road at 7:00am to collect our Cayuga eggs. Picking up eggs has become quite a “downer” for me… I would so like to see people’s setups, what animals they have, how they operate, what permaculture principles they apply, how, and so on. This time I had to collect the eggs at the lady’s work. Nice Christmas decorations, and a nice coffee shop three doors down, but that is about it.
Considering the size of our pond (4m x 4m edge to edge), the size of Dreamland, the overnight space in the coop, etc., we estimated we’d need about 3 ducks, hopefully one drake and two hens. Well we got dealt with way too many eggs. We managed to fit 18 into the 24-egg incubator – duck eggs are considerably larger than chicken eggs. So 3 became potentially 18, although somehow I doubt a 100% hatch rate.
So all duck or no dinner? No, we’re not planning to eat them (well, not yet). The expression refers to a situation, action, or effort resulting in either total success or total failure; like all or nothing. It’s going to be a tight schedule – the chicks would hardly be out of the brooder when the ducks hatch, and we have way more than we ever hoped to deal with when starting out. Somehow, we’re just going to have to make it work – all of it. Nothing isn’t an option now, is it? No slow and steady here mr Holmgren, 18 little lives may depend on it! Mind you, they say it is good to have your batches o through the brooder bedding one after the other – something about healthy bacteria and pathogens.
Well, to add a bit of Christmas cheer, dear Santa just received this in his letter from one animal-crazy duck besotted darling little girl: