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.
My last post was a little over 10 months ago. I know this without even looking. How? Because I have a 10 month old kid bouncing in her activity center right now. All things agricultural have been put on the back burner as she and some problems with our first home are taking up all of our attention. While I am excited to expand on the garden, plant fruit trees, get chickens, and get back to trying some new recipes right now I’m washing diapers, picking up choke-able sized objects from the floor, and figuring out how to pay for basement waterproofing.
Funny and accurate advice from Forrest Pritchard. [Picture links to article]
The sober reality is that most urban agriculture projects are underfunded, understaffed, and confronted with difficult management challenges. Urban agriculture is not seen as the “highest and best use” of vacant land by most local government policy officials who would like to attract “better” tax paying uses on this land. The conventional view is that food production is something that takes place and belongs on rural land and requires a lot of it to create a profitable enterprise.
Unblight.com has a thoughtful post over on their site: “Food for Thought: The Promise and Disappointment of Urban Agriculture in Low-Income Communities“. I have rolled the questions of economically sustainable urban agriculture in my head for years now. What do you think? Is this a passing fad? Can it work without subsidies? Is the financial bottom line the only measure of an urban farm/garden’s success?
I’m interrupting your apparent subscription to youtube to bring you a delicious dinner plan. My absence has a few reasons behind it. I’ve started my last semester of graduate school (yay!) and have been caught up with a nasty cold and overall fatigue that doesn’t seem to be letting up. The only good thing about it all is the 9-10 hours of sleep a night I’ve been getting. I’m sure I’ll have some more things to say once seed starting begins.
I haven’t been cooking a lot lately so I’m really geeked about tonight’s dinner. We’ve been eating a lot of pita pizzas, which are amazing and simple, or roasted chicken, but I really needed to shake it up.
Barbecue Chicken Burgers
Ingredients (Makes 4 burgers)
- 1 sweet onion
- 1 lb. ground chicken
- 1/4 cup finely grated mozzarella, extra set aside for condiment
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp minced dried onions
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup BBQ sauce (love our Local Folks Food Sweet BBQ Sauce), extra set aside for condiment
- Olive oil – plenty
- 4 Buns, buttered and toasted
- Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan, add Julienne sweet onion and toss. Cook on low until caramelized. Set aside.
- Toast buns (we use the onion pan for the everything).
- In a large bowl combine chicken, shredded cheese, bread crumbs, egg, BBQ sauce, and spices until well mixed.
- Heat another splash of olive oil in the large pan, add the burgers (don’t crowd them) and cook for 4 minutes. Flip and cook for another 4 minutes. Add cheese to the top (optional) and put a lid on the pan to finish cooking. Even if you like medium well burgers, heat until at least 165(F) because this is poultry.
- Plate on toasted buns, top with caramelized onion and extra BBQ sauce.
I served these with two sides, roasted green beans (tossed in olive oil and salted) and roasted mixed potatoes. Both and be placed in the oven before you start the burgers at 375(F) and should be done on time. We jokingly call our mixed potatoes “oven fries” but they never turn out crispy because we always overcrowd the pan. Delicious none the less. We slice up yukon and sweet potatoes, soak in a little cold water to wash away some starch, dry them, toss in olive oil with some salt, pepper, and paprika.