In August my sister, Devin, and I drove two hours to collect a family of Muscovy ducks from a former colleague of mine. Her neighbor had raised them as a small home business and couldn’t take them with him when he moved. The ducks wandered over onto her property and hatched a clutch of ducklings; she didn’t want to keep them but she did grow rather found of the two adult males of the group. We took two adult females and 11 six-week old ducklings.
Originally we housed them in a pen constructed of T-posts and welded wire with a dog igloo habitat. This worked well until they were fully grown when there space was limited. Devin helped me convert our outbuilding (“barn”) into a shelter for them with a large run. During the three months we raised them we lost two. The first to our dog, Dashel, who pushed his way out the side door and did what dogs of his kind were bred to do. The second to a great horned owl one night before we had a cover on the pen. The owl removed the adult duck’s head and neck, leaving his body in the pen until morning. We burned the duck’s body.
With ten ducks left, 3 males and seven females including the original adult pair (named “Mama Duck” and “Masi Duck”) we decided we needed to reduce the herd. Neither Sammit nor I are comfortable slaughtering an animal ourselves at this point, though I hope to build up to that one day. I found a place about an hour drive north of our house that would process our ducks for $8.00 each. We made the decision to keep Mama & Masi ducks in part because we had given them names and in part because they are the matriarchs of the group and again in part because they would be tough meat. We decided to keep one male to either line breed with or trade for another male to improve genetics. We also decided to keep two younger females because we aren’t sure how old the matriarchs are and want to make sure we have eggs and can hatch more clutches in the future.
Last night around dark I penned the five most generic looking of our 10 ducks. We’re keeping a male that is in recovery from a leg injury (“Limpy”) and two additional females who are easily identifiable (“Wingding” a duck with a wing that doesn’t lie flat, and “Rascoon” the only one who still sports an all black face). It was easier than I thought to pen them. I did it alone and there wasn’t an hour of chasing like I had imagined in my mind. I just had to be smarter than the ducks. They spent the night in dog crates in our garage and Devin and I loaded them into the back of the Lexus at 6:30 this morning.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this process. I had a dream last night that I snuck into the garage and set them free from myself. I’ve felt like I’m betraying them and their trust which I think is a lot of projection; I actually don’t think they’ve ever liked or trusted me but rather see me as a food dispensing device but I can’t help up interpret their wagging tails at dinner time as affection. I’m not ready to become a vegetarian so I could not very well let myself “save” these ducks (that were never meant to be pets) while eating my chicken shwarma for dinner. We thanked them for their lives and for dying to nourish our bodies. For the short time they were alive they were allowed to be very “ducky” – given free roam of not only our property but that of our neighbors as well. They were supplemented with a little grain at night when they were penned in a[n eventually predator proof] shelter. They ate all the bugs and weeds they wanted and always had a pool to splash in. They could fly where ever they wanted and waddle in puddles – in short, we gave them the best lives we could.
I cried this morning when I got back to the car, just for a second, but long enough to have my relationship with our food system changed forever.
Mama Duck and some ducklings on their way home
Exploring their new home.
A water dish big enough to swim in!
Everyone hanging out together.
Masi Duck watching the littles.
Spending some time at the pool.
Eating bugs this summer.
Helping me in the garden.
Their old pen.
Devin helping build their new pen.
Duck mansion finished.
We’re expanding in lots of ways! While our website is staying right where it is our actual physical location will be moving soon. Sammit and I bought our first home. It is SW of Ann Arbor (one of our favorite places) in a city called Saline. We have some work to do on the house before we move, but next growing season we’ll have plenty of space to expand beyond our current 700 square feet to fill as much as the 2.3 acres as we want (which will probably be a little at a time). It’s zoned as agriculture which means we’ll have no problems adding chickens or goats to the mix – though no word on when that’s going to happen. We are very excited and will post more pictures and updates as they happen.
Also, we’re adding to our family very soon (hopefully next week)! Please be patient and stick around through the next two months though we may not have much material posted while we adjust to all the changes.
- We have cherry tomatoes!
- The cucumbers are coming in nicely, but have started to show signs of wilt/disease.
- The squash is growing nicely.
- The corn is growing nicely.
- We’ve been able to harvest a few more beans (they’re fighters)
- No peppers yet, but some blossoms have arrived.
- I don’t predict a large harvest in September.
Note: I added a harvest tally to the sidebar –>
- The garlic is doing great! It’s almost shoulder high with beautiful scapes.
- I have tall tomato plants and one huge green tomato on which I cannot wait to see some color.
- The cucumbers have survived the dogs’ rearranging session and are starting to climb up the trellises.
- Carrots, radishes, and beets are coming along nicely.
- Our strawberry plants are establishing runners.
- The corn is calf high, about 6 inches shorter than everyone else’s crop 😦
- While I spent the weekend in Connecticut someone came through and ate the leaves off of all of my green and purple bean plants 😦
- The squash is coming along but is moving much slower than I remembered.
- My peppers are hit or miss – some are thriving, others are being eaten.
- I never put my broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage in the ground; I’ll try again for the fall.
- Weeds and Violets have taken over the beds by the garage.
- The dogs LOVE to climb into the beds and dig around in the loose soil.
Note: I added a harvest tally to the sidebar –>
The side beds and a quarter of the u-shaped bed are done. I have to finish the u-shaped bed, the garage bed, and decide if I’m going to start our pumpkin bed. The heat, humidity, and low-energy from the pregnancy have been slowing me down.
Dashel taking a break from the hot outdoors.
Gir never goes outside but he’s feeling the heat and humidity in the house.
Side Beds (2 of 4): Beans, Squash, Sweet Corn
Strawberries are in the ground.
First harvest of the season: 0.15 ounces of strawberries. Very sweet!
Mesculin Mix, Peppers, Melons
Beans, Cukes, Beans
Today I started hardening off my transplants from the basement. I had a late start to the season, with the whole finishing grad school and growing a human being, but I think they’re looking good! I may still purchase a few tomato transplants to get a head start on the ones I have. If these guys make it they will be my first successful transplants ever.
Sammit and I may or may not be looking at a farm nearby and I’ve spent a significant amount of time reading the thrilling zoning conditions of the land. I came across this beauty:
Traditional family farms are no longer economically viable in the urban environment created by population growth in Oakland County and the Township. Farming, for the purpose of wholesale distribution, cannot survive in the Township because of the direct and indirect additional costs of farming in an urban area. Land and labor costs far exceed those of competing farms in more rural areas. Farm equipment and material suppliers are no longer located within the Township or the area. Farming for direct retail sale of produce is also non-economic. The produce departments of large supermarkets and grocery stores are able to supply fruit and vegetables at our near the cost of a farm market and often supply such goods at below cost as a means of encouraging store traffic. Direct retail sale of farm produce is limited to a few weeks a year and is extremely dependent upon weather conditions for success. Notwithstanding these concerns and difficulties, the Township wishes to encourage the use of land for farm purposes. Farming and farm land provide valuable open space within the Township for the enjoyment of all residents while still utilizing the land productively. Farms help maintain the connection to the Township’s rural past. The direct sale of produce from Township farms helps promote a sense of self-sufficiency and community often missing in an urban environment. Promotion and preservation of farms and farm land is of great benefit to the Township and its residents.
- The 10 acres of horse pasture that we’re looking at buying which backs to a wooded state recreation area does not feel like the urban environment the zoning describes.
- The comparison of land and labor costs between rural and urban areas as well as their economic viability should not be a generalized zoning statement and is dependent on many factors.
- “Equipment and suppliers are no longer located in the township?” But they are located just outside of the township and at the very furthest in Ann Arbor and Detroit (*cough* urban areas) which is still fewer miles than many of those wildly successful rural farmers have to drive.
- “Farming for direct retail sale of produce is also non-economic.” Well “non-economic” seems a bit harsh but I’ll make sure to send that right over to all the CSA managers and overnight it to the Michigan Farmer’s Markets, which have over tripled in number from 90 to 280 in the last decade. They need to know that their success, increasing demand, and keeping Michigan money in Michigan by buying directly and locally is not working for them.
- “Large supermarkets and grocery stores are able to supply fruit and vegetables at [or] near the cost of a farm market” is not true in my experience – I can get fresher produce from the Eastern Market for FAR less than I can get it in most grocery stores. And barring spoiled food, I have never experienced a grocery store selling produce below cost.
- After 2/3 of the paragraph indicating how unwise it is to even think about farming, the remaining 1/3 is slightly redeeming and very confusing given the former statements.
- I became excited when I finished the paragraph and realized that the township might support a small sustainable farm until they listed one of the requirements as needing a minimum of 30 contiguous acres, of which we would only have 10.