3 Years, 1 Bucket – Fermented Grain for Chickens

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So, how does my fermented grain bucket look after 3 years of being refilled and never completely cleaned out or changed? Great!

Above you can see my 5 gallon bucket ready to be restocked. There’s about a gallon of liquid left and a few inches of grains. I always refill it before it gets too depleted because I want the goodness of all that mature bacteria to get spread around as much as possible.

Every morning my ducks get one scoop and my chickens and pigeons get two heaping scoops from this bucket and believe me, it’s the highlight of their day. They know they’ve been bad if I make them wait for it (like when they try to wake me up early for it by screaming bloody murder) and I like that I can continue to feed it all winter long and provide them with at least some type of “living” food when the plants are dead and gone.

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I add supplements every other time I refill the grains. I put in a good 2-3 TBSP each of kelp powder (the cheap stuff for gardens), garlic powder, cayenne powder and turmeric. I get these all for very cheap at a bulk store. Then they usually get two number 2 scoops of whole corn, two scoops of whole wheat, and a smaller scoop each of whole barley and black oil sunflower seeds. If I have other things lying around like wild bird seed that the wild birds don’t care for, I’ll dump that in too. The only thing I advise against using is pelleted or crumbled chicken feed. I tried that once and I got mold on top.

Everybody’s favorite is the (most expensive) corn and that gets gobbled up first. Least favorite and cheapest is the barley, but they eat it eventually. I always do my refill in the evening so the grains have a chance to absorb the liquid. I love the smell of the contents of the bucket, it reminds me of really good salad dressing!

 

 

Eggshells Instead of Bone Meal for the Garden

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Plants need calcium, especially things like tomatoes which will suffer from blossom end-rot without sufficient amounts.

I save all my eggshells and my birds generate about 5 to 10 pounds worth per year. I dry them, crush them and every spring I spread them all over my gardens. Today was eggshell-spreading day! There are usually none left over, but when there are they get fed back to the birds who love them.

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I really appreciate that I don’t have to purchase bone meal, which is a by-product of the beef industry. It’s nice using fertilizers that are generated right here on the property and it saves me money. I don’t bother crushing them to a powder, I just do the best I can and they decompose over time.

It’s a myth that eggshells will prevent slugs in your garden. Tests have shown that they actually attract them! If slugs are a concern for you, turn your eggshell into the soil so they’re covered. I don’t bother with this because my ducks eat most of the slugs around here and I like the way the shells brighten things up.

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Springtime Duck Family

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Well, our little lonely duckling born in the cold month of December is now all grown up into a beautiful female! That means she gets to stay. The Muscovy duck family is now up to three ducks and a drake and they have had full run of the yard since winter. They spend their days eating grass and bugs and rooting through my compost pile. They are very happy birds.

For now my youngest duck is a solid brown, but she will soon moult into her white head and wing patches. Her mother is already well underway on her next nest and has at least a dozen eggs laid already. I’m really hoping for a full, healthy clutch of ducklings this spring. It’s so cute to see them all running and tumbling together after their mom. We’ll know how it goes in about 45 days!

New Winter Duckling

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While I was away visiting family for the holidays I received a text from my house sitter right around x-mas: “You have a new duckling”.

I knew my two Muscovy hens had been sitting on eggs for some time, but I didn’t expect any to hatch in the cold weather we had been experiencing. Apparently there were initially three ducklings but two didn’t make it past their first day. I gave instructions to add a shallow water dish and change the feed over to chick crumble in order to try to keep the remaining duckie alive.

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We’ve been having the coldest winter since I moved here and I wasn’t sure this little duck would be able to stay warm, but somehow he has. He’s a few weeks old now and doing very well. Since the gardens are now kaput I’ve opened up the duck pen to give them free reign of the yard and now they meet me at the back door every morning for their portion of fermented grains. Such a cute little family!

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Preparing Muscovy Duck Feet

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My trio of muscovy ducks only produced one duckling this year, and it was a drake. He ate very well for a few months, but the air is growing chilly now and there’s no need to overwinter two big drakes. It was time to harvest him.

I got two great big breast steaks and two nice legs, around five pounds of meat total. Normally I give the feet to the dog, but this year I wanted to see if I could use them. Duck feet are full of collagen and make excellent stock, but it’s best to remove the outer layer of dirty skin before dropping them into your stock pot. It’s actually a fairly simple process.

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Rinse off and scrub the feet if they are very muddy, and bring a pot of water to a boil. Submerge the feet for one minute, or until the skin begins to flake off when rubbed. You’ll only be removing a very thin layer, much like a snake shedding their skin. It will smell slightly fishy and the feet will tense up a bit.

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Then just peel away. It’s easiest to do while the feet are still hot. Soon you’ll have a little pile of flaky skin and some nice, clean duck feet. Sometimes the outer nail covering comes off as well, but in this case his nails stayed intact. Now they’re ready to pop into the freezer for the next time I make a big pot of bone broth. Can’t wait!

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Fermented Grain for Chickens 2.0

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I wrote some time ago about fermenting grain for my chickens. Back then I was doing it in a large glass jar in my kitchen. Yeah, that was never going to last.

Last fall I started getting serious about fermented grain. I tried so many times to grow fodder for my hens over the winter, but nothing I did could prevent mold from taking over every tray. I wanted the girls to have something ‘alive’ to eat during the cold months, so I set up a 5 gallon bucket beside the coop and dumped in a bunch of different grains and covered them with water. That’s about how hard it is to get started.

Currently I use whole corn (it’s crimped in the photos because the feed store gave me the wrong stuff last trip), whole wheat, whole black oil sunflower seeds, whole millet, whole oats, whole barley and some wild bird seed that the wild birds couldn’t care less about.

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It worked great. I read somewhere that you could add layer pellets to the bucket too, but when I tried that I soon had a case of moldy top scum on my hands. I dumped that batch out and started over, and now I don’t put regular pellets or crumbles into the mix. I haven’t had any more issues with mold.

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After a while I got adventurous and started adding things. I got some kelp powder, turmeric, garlic powder and cayenne. Now each time I add new grain to the bucket a tablespoon of each supplement goes in too. It smells great and the birds love it. Not simply the chickens but also the pigeons, ducks and pheasants.

The cayenne keeps rats away and was the trick to jumpstarting my Ameraucana hen into laying again this spring after she seemed a bit ‘stuck’. Did you know cayenne is one of the ingredients in the special red-factor ‘color enhancement’ food you can buy for canaries?  Birds don’t have the ability to taste capsaicin so to them it’s just extra delicious.

 

 

New Ducks

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One-eyed brown duck in the foreground

My lonely, one-eyed brown duck now has a nice little family! Recently I traded a rabbit for this nice young pair, a black barred drake and a brown barred duck. Research says that once they mature the barring will probably only be visible on their chests. I think it’s a nice feature that gives them a wild look.

Once these little friends arrived I invested in a large livestock tank for everyone to swim in, since I know they came from a home with a pond and I didn’t want them to be too disappointed in their new digs. The tank doubles as a mosquito hatchery which the ducks harvest daily.

These new ducks are very well-behaved, but all Muscovies are nice when young. It’s when the hormones kick in that the real personality comes out. My last drake needed to be culled because he became incredibly aggressive with my chickens, he was obsessed with trying to rape them and I was afraid he’d kill one before long. (He was also not the first Muscovy drake I’ve had who thought chickens were fair game.) Once he was removed, my Black Copper Maran head hen decided to get her revenge by poking out one of brown duck’s eyes. Thankfully she healed up ok and there have been no further incidents, but I think it’s absolutely time to get the ducks and chickens separated.

So, I’m in the beginning stages of figuring out where the new duck pen will go. Now that I have a very tall security fence around my property I am considering having an open top pen with 5 foot high fencing. The only thing I can imagine getting in would be a raccoon, but with six cats and two dogs on the property I doubt any raccoon would be foolish enough to try. I’d also like to set up their new tank under a downspout so they can enjoy fresh rainwater from time to time. You know, if it ever rains again, ever.