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ducklings — no day at the beach :-)

Ducklings are 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 weeks old. Not all survived the first day they arrived, and one was looking not so good, so the farm graciously sent me four additional duckings the following week as replacements. The duckling on the fence survived and is doing well, so I now have 11 ducklings on the homestead. They are past their cute little duckling phase, and wow, had no idea how messy they could be. If you’re considering ducks, be prepared for a lot of maintenance early on.

The first couple weeks they were fine in the duckling pens I set up indoors in the garage. I used masonry mixing bins and built a little duck “tractor” with a hinged lid to place over the top. A couple heat lamps provided enough heat to keep the young ones warm. I lined the bottom with softwood shavings, added new shavings as the old got wet, and dumped and hosed out the whole setup every 3 days at first.

Once the older ducks hit a couple weeks old, maintenance started taking a couple of hours or more a day. For one, they start going through about a gallon a day of water per duck. Not all the water is for drinking. Much of it gets splashed around as they use it for cleaning. This means lots of water at the bottom of the pen and soggy shavings.

Oh, and the poop. They poop everywhere — in their water, in their food, on the sides of the pen. They like to huddle together in the pen, and when they have to poop while in a huddle they just lift their tails and poop on the back of their neighbor.

All this means the pens, food trays, and water dishes have to be dumped and hosed out every morning and the pen re-set up. Water has to be cleaned and refilled at least six times a day. Food has to be replaced at least three times a day. It’s a lot of work.

Fortunately, the weather is nice outside so I can put them on the grass in their pen or duck tractor most of the day. I move the enclosure daily to minimize cleanup. In the meantime, I dump and hose out their indoor pens and replace the shavings. They go back inside the pen at night, and by morning the pens are a stinky, poopy mess again.

Next week duck fencing and outdoor shelters arrive for a more permanent setup. They won’t be old enough to stay outside overnight without a heat source for another two to three weeks. I’m hoping that when they are in a new, much larger outdoor enclosure maintenance will be easier. I’m installing tube feeders which will hopefully eliminate the poop in food issue.

Come winter, they’ll be big enough to harvest. The current plan is to keep a drake and a few hens to replace the population and put the rest in the freezer. Since I’ll have adult hens to raise the little ones and keep them warm outside, I expect to avoid having to deal with another indoor brooding setup. Will let you know how that goes when the time comes.

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goats!

Zsa Zsa and Comet, Nigerian Dwarf goat kids, arrived on the homestead last week. I’ve wanted to add a source of dairy for some time, and Nigerian Dwarfs seem like a great option. If you’re thinking of getting goats, here’s a good place to get a sense of the basics as you’re getting started:

Why Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Nigerian Dwarf goats are the smallest of the dairy goats, yet two does can produce plenty of milk for a family. Their milk is high in butterfat, averaging 6.5% compared with cows at 4-5% and other dairy goats at 3-4.5% depending on the breed. The high butterfat should make it great for cheesemaking, yogurt, and other cultured dairy products.

Full grown they will weigh around 70 pounds, making them easy to handle. They also contribute an almost odorless source of manure compost for the garden.

Best part is they’re friendly and charming entertainers. I hadn’t expected to enjoy them as much as I do. Zsa Zsa in particular is a total snuggle bug. Comet is more independent, but not so independent she won’t butt in when I’m brushing Zsa Zsa with a look of “do me next!”

Shelter and space needs

At the moment I have them in a covered 4’x8′ shelter (converted dog kennel like this one) at night that opens to a 50 square foot fenced in area (I used kennel fencing like this) giving them room to play during the day. I added a tarp wrap around a corner of the sleeping pen to block drafts. The kennel and fencing walls are (so far) plenty strong to handle hanging a relatively heavy manger like the one in the top pic as well as dealing with goats attempting to climb them. [I don’t earn any revenue from the sites linked to; just provide them as examples].

Since we have wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other predatory critters about, the entire area is ringed with an electric fence. The electric fence stands far enough away from the interior fence so the doelings can’t accidentally reach through to the electric fence and get a shock.

For two doelings, the space seems to fit perfectly and keep them safe and warm even when we had a big storm the first night they arrived. Once they have kids–shooting for next summer–space needs will of course change. The plan is to build a barn next year with space for kidding pens, an indoor milking parlor, plus feed and equipment storage. I am holding off on that investment until I get a better sense of what will be the best setup.

Feeding

Feeding needs are relatively simple. In addition to the hay manger, I have a flat-backed 8-quart water bucket that hangs on the fence with a hook, a couple small containers for minerals and baking soda that hang on the fence, and a small trough for treats. That’s pretty much all you need for in-pen food and water containers.

A combo of alfalfa hay, timothy grass hay, chaffhaye (a fermented hay good for their digestion), and a special mix of goat grain I got from the farm I purchased the goats from makes up their main diet. Goats also need special goat minerals and benefit from access to baking soda to help with their digestion.

I give free access to the alfalfa and timothy grass hay, as well as to the goat minerals and baking soda so they can eat as much as they need. The feeding guideline for chaffhaye is about 1 pound for every 50 pounds in weight. I divide that up into two servings per day. The girls love the chaffhaye and get excited when I bring it to them. About 1/4 cup of grain per doeling once a day rounds out the feeding schedule. When they get to be adults, that amount can increase to about a 1/2 cup a day.

If I notice they’re gaining or losing too much weight, they look bloated, their stool is soft or some other “off” indicator, I’ll make adjustments. So far, though, they seem to be thriving.

Equipment

Eventually I’ll be milking these girls, so I purchased a milking stand like this one to get them used to it. The stand also works as a trimming stand for grooming and hoof trims. Currently it serves double duty in the pen providing the girls with something to climb on and parkour off of when they get the goat zoomies.

Their hooves need to be trimmed about once a month. For that I have hoof trimmers, a small wire brush to remove debris, a hoof knife for cleaning up edges, and a pocket rasp for a final smoothing.

Comet and Zsa Zsa both love to be brushed with a curry comb. It’s good for removing loose hair and debris to keep the girls tidy.

After winter shaving them down with clippers is recommended to keep their coats and skin healthy. Other than that there are standard vaccinations, dewormers, and the like. I’ll rely on my livestock veterinarian to keep all that in check.

Keep an eye here for updates, tips, and what I’m learning as the doelings grow.

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ducklings!

Ten new ducklings have arrived at Planet B Gardens. They’re Rouens, the famed French meat duck. They were born June 15th. Looking forward to seeing the little guys and gals as they grow…

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new raised beds

After converting a patch of lawn into a kitchen garden, building the soil over five years, and growing lots of delicious veggies, had to give it up. Gophers invaded for the first time Spring 2019 and ate everything.

This spring installed 210 square feet of raised beds with a hardware cloth bottom to keep those little buggers out.

Once the bed frames were done, added straw bales and conditioned them for 6 weeks before adding compost and a soil topper. So far it seems to be working.

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christmas elk

Elk migrating through the yard Christmas Day!

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bear pastrami recipe

I love wildlife as much as anyone and probably more than most. Sometimes, though, it’s down to us or them. This male black bear is probably 2-3 years old and establishing his territory for the first time.

Unfortunately, the bear decided he lives at my house now. He stood his ground whenever I tried to scare him off, broke through the electric fence to get to the beehives, and made his nightly bed in my front yard. That’s what you get for being on hiatus from the homestead I suppose.

It was sad to have to finally bag him this morning. My neighbor was happy for the chance to use his bear tag and get his share of the meat for his family. As conflicted as I was, I had a work crew coming to do maintenance around the property, and couldn’t very well have them battling a bear. Also, I’m pretty sure I would have lost had he chosen to enforce his claim on my property.

Mr. Bear is now on his way to the processor, and I hope to honor his life by turning him into delicious bear pastrami.

Bear Pastrami Recipe

This recipe starts by corning the bear meat for 5-7 days. Once the meat is corned, I use an oven shortcut with liquid smoke to mimic the taste of wood-smoked beef pastrami. I’ve only done this with beef brisket so far, but looking forward to trying it out once I get the bear from the processor. I hear bear meat benefits from long, slow cook times and the added moisture of this method. Trichinosis, BTW,  is not a worry since you’ll be cooking at 200F  or more for 10 hours.

Ingredients:

  • 2 gallons distilled water
  • 8 lb. bear meat (hind leg, brisket would work, depending on the size of the bear)
  • 16 ounces Morton’s kosher salt (by weight)
  • 4 teaspoons Prague Powder #1 (pink salt)
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons ground juniper berries
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 4 tablespoons fennel seed
  • 4 tablespoons cumin
  • 4 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 4 tablespoons smoked paprika

Cure the meat:

  • Mix all ingredients, except meat, and stir to dissolve salts into brine.
  • Divide brine into two 8-quart containers, and place half the meat in each.
  • Weight, if necessary, to keep meat submerged.
  • Cure for 5-7 days, stirring up mix once a day.

Prepare the meat:

  • Remove meat from brine, rinse, and place in bowl.
  • Cover meat with boiling water, let soak for 30 minutes.
  • While the meat is soaking, preheat oven to 250F and make the rub.

Make the rub:

  • In spice grinder, place 4 tablespoons each:
    • Fennel seed
    • Cumin
    • Black peppercorns
    • Smoked paprika
  • Grind until mixed well.

Prepare the pastrami:

  • Drain meat and pat dry.
  • Place meat on flat rack in roasting pan. The rack should be feet down so the meat is raised above the bottom of the roasting pan.
  • Generously cover top and sides with rub, flip over, and cover other side with rub.
  • Add 4-6 cups water to the roasting pan – enough to fill the bottom 1-2 inches.
  • Add 2 tablespoons liquid smoke to the roasting pan water.
  • Wrap entire roasting pan, with brisket inside, with 3 layers foil.
  • Place in preheated oven, and lower temperature to 225F for 8 hours.
  • Increase temperature to 250F for another 2 hours.
  • Check internal temperature of meat – should be 200F. If not, continue cooking until 200F internal temperature is reached.
  • Remove from oven, unwrap, and let rest on cooling rack for 1 hour.
  • Slice against grain, eat or freeze up to 6 months.

Will let you know how it turns out!

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hiatus over

Black bear napping

This is what happens when you’ve been away too much. Young adult male black bear decided he lives here now, and that I’m in his territory. More to come on that.

The hiatus lasted longer than planned between having to work off the homestead, knee replacement surgery and recovery, and lots of travel.

Back just in time for winter!

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hiatus

Planet B is on hiatus for the fall and winter as we go a-traveling. We’ll pop back in October to winterize the garden, plant garlic, and prepare the earth for next spring. Then we’re out and about until March 2018. Check back then for updates on what’s new and happening at Planet B Gardens.

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chocolate habanero

I’ve tried growing habanero chilis the last couple of years with little success. This year is looking up — likely due to the unusually warm summer. Good to see a Chocolate Habanero making an appearance…

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august harvest

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