Friday, June 1, 2012

our homestead: I guess we might need a farm name

Peeking in on momma and babies
I grew up with chickens and ducks. I remember my dad built a chicken coop so beautiful it could have been a playhouse. And I remember being very naughty and chasing and being chased by our roosters, or looking out my window to see my little toddler brother squeaking in dismay with a rooster in hot pursuit. Poor, stressed-out roosters. I remember eating green eggs about the same time I was reading Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Suess and thinking, hey, what's the matter with green eggs?! I also remember our plump, white ducks would come running when you'd call, "Duuuck, Duuuck, Duuuck!". Something about their eggshells seemed to always produce richer colors when you'd dye them for Easter, as opposed to our chicken eggs.
Since then, my mom has always kept birds and is truly the Chicken Master. I'm sure she'd appreciate this title. This year she applied for her WSDA egg dealer's permit, so she can now officially sell her colorful Araucana chicken eggs at the farmers market in pretty, pale blue paper egg cartons. I still think she's undercharging.
In envisioning the life I would like to have in the future, tending a flock of birds was always in there, along with growing my own vegetables, fruit and flowers. Pretty simple desires. Anytime I head down to the coop and bring up some eggs, or pluck a few radishes, green onions and arugula for a simple spring salad, I feel the satisfaction that I can provide a little food for myself and my family on my own terms. I guess it's okay to take a little bit of humble pride in the knowledge I'm cultivating for myself. Every year my garden gets a little bit better, and every year I'm able to grow more. I think it's important to keep this kind of knowledge alive, so hopefully I'll be able to impart that which I've learned to others later. I still consider myself quite the gardening greenhorn, but sometimes I surprise myself with my own knowledge when helping others. I guess you don't really realize you know something until you're able to teach it to someone else.
Anyway, back to the birds, this is the first year my husband and I have my dream flock of birds. The first year I don't just have to rely completely on my mom's overfilling wire egg baskets of goodness, though I do adore her beautiful green and blue eggs. The coop our birds are living in won't be winning any style awards (it was pieced together with random boards and bits of wood- I guess you'd call it "refurbished"), but it's functional and comfortable. My birds have a nice yard to roam about, a big open coop full of straw with poles for roosting and a couple nest boxes, a tall window and a spacious lower section (the "nursery") to house my ducky babies and their momma away from the rest of the flock while the ducklings are itty bitty. The duckies even have an enclosed outdoor playpen that keeps them safe from eagles and cats.
The ducks have a tub of water to splash in and a hanging feeder which I fill with Scratch and Peck feed at breakfast time. I also keep a bowl on my counter for kitchen scraps which are safe for the birds to gobble up such as vegetable trimmings and fruit peels, old bread, leftover rice and noodles, etc. Usually I'll bring this bowl down to the coop and give it to my birds in the morning. I also like to head over to the vegetable garden and pluck fresh kale, arugula and chickweed for my birds. I even planted a separate potato patch for the ducks for making them mashed potatoes later in the season.  Next year, I plan to devote more of my garden to the birds, to cut down on feed costs while providing them with excellent nutrition.
My husband and I are exploring raising ducks for eggs and meat. Our plan is to start very, very small. We'll probably stay very, very small. Which is good. Everyone's heard the ills of the mass-produced meat industry. I want to know the meat that I eat. Already, my husband and I don't eat a lot of meat, but  I feel that if we are to eat meat, we should be the ones to raise it. I had a friend say to me (who eats meat), "How could you eat something you raised? Don't you love animals?". Yes, I definitely love animals, and that's why I want to know, appreciate and care for the animal I eat. I think people are far too removed from the animals they eat...we have lost the connection between the animal and the styrofoam-and-plastic packaged chunk of pink stuff in the grocery cooler case or the $0.99 burger at the drive-through window. I want to feel connected to my food again.
Anyway, as we adventure down the road into raising meat ducks, we're also discussing selling some of our duck in small quantities to local restaurants and farmers markets. I can think of a few upscale restaurants which are currently serving Moscovy duck. I would also like to provide locavores with a good duck to roast up for Christmas while attending a winter farmers market. I guess we'll have to think of a farm name then.

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