Happy February! We got our first duck eggs yesterday — I wasn’t expecting them to be laying again so soon. Anya and I took a break after lunch to cut dried grasses for the ducks’ bedding. As we opened the coop to put in the new bedding, there were two duck eggs in the farthest, darkest corner of the coop.
In addition to growing open pollinated, heirloom vegetables — we’ve got a flock of heritage turkeys. These guys are Black Spanish turkeys. Unlike the broad-breasted turkeys raised commercially today, they walk around and do turkey things all day. They are all waiting by the gate as we walk over to the poultry pasture, and there are always a few turkeys following us around if we’re working in their area.
The two males we have from last year were amazing with the little poults this Spring. They’d take a share of poults and snuggle them at night to keep them warm. They’d march around them as the little ones pecked around during the day. Even now that the younger turkeys are almost fully grown, the older turkeys stand guard and make sure everyone gets access to food and water. Watching the adult turkeys with the younger ones has been right educational, and I am eager to hatch some of our own poults next year!
Duck and Turkey Milestones
We no longer have 22 tiny birds in the house! Stream (the new duckling) spent Monday night outside in the duck coop. We’ve been letting the little one out into the duck yard to hang out and get used to each other, but bringing it into the house at night. I got up at 6-something on Tuesday morning to make sure the little guy was OK and the ducks are now hanging out together in the yard. It was cold — mid 50’s — when I let them out of the coop this morning, and they all were napping next to the pond in the sunshine. The little one was sleeping right next to one of the big ducks.
Then, in the evening, we put the turkeys into the pasture with the big turkeys and chickens. They’ve been hanging out in the baby tractor next to the pasture, so everyone has had a chance to get used to each other. The little turkeys can fly really well — on Monday, Anya got sidetracked bringing the turkeys into the house. She left two thirds of the turkeys in the baby tractor with the zipper open! I noticed the chickens and turkeys were not in the coop, and I walked over to let them in. All of a sudden, this dark shadow comes flying at me … literally, it was a baby turkey who flew some twenty feet and cleared my shoulder. Since they were able to fly themselves out of the pasture, we trimmed feathers on their left wings. Now they look a little asymmetrical, but they mostly stay inside the pasture. Unfortunately, the mesh isn’t small enough and they can pop themselves out of the fencing.
The turkey farm where we picked up four turkeys last year — the owner said the male turkeys take turns sitting on the nest and taking care of the baby guys. I totally believe that after seeing how the big turkeys are with the little ones. They puff up and circle around the gaggle of baby turkeys. When the babies split out into multiple groups, the two big turkeys kind of round them up into two groups and each watch over his group. Anya says they even tuck the little ones around them to sleep.
Tiny Turkey Army, Take Two
The new turkeys arrived today — last year, USPS shipping was a horrible experience. This year, I called a few hatcheries to confirm they’ve been able to delivery healthy, happy poults. Meyers said they hadn’t had delivery problems, so we ordered 20 Black Spanish turkeys from them. They shipped yesterday, the shipping notice was delivered overnight, and the USPS clerk called at 6:30 this morning to let me know they arrived. Wow, was that early!
We got all the little ones into their brooder, fed, and watered (having more healthy birds seems to help because one little guy eats or drinks and a whole flock of little ones come over and copy it).
Scott set up one of the ESP32’s that we use as environmental sensors to monitor the incubator. There’s an audible alarm if it gets too warm or cold, but that’s only useful if you’re pretty close to the unit. We had gotten a cheap rectangular incubator from Amazon — it’s got some quirks. The display says C, but if we’ve got eggs in a box that’s 100C? They’d be cooked. The number is F, but the letter “C” follows it … there’s supposed to be a calibration menu option, but there isn’t. Worse, though — the temperature sensor is off by a few degrees. If calibration was an option, that wouldn’t be a big deal … but the only way we’re able to get the device over 97F is by taping the temperature probe up to the top of the unit.
So we’ve got an DHT11 sensor inside of the incubator and the ESP32 sends temperature and humidity readings over MQTT to OpenHAB. There are text and audio alerts if the temperature or humidity aren’t in the “good” window. This means you can be out in the yard or away from home and still know if there’s a problem (since data is stored in a database table, we can even chart out the temperature or humidity across the entire incubation period).
We also bought a larger incubator for the chicken eggs — and there’s a new ESP32 and sensor in the larger incubator.
First Duck Egg
Ducks Growing Up
Today was a great day to be a duck again — warm-ish weather, the pond isn’t frozen over. So they’ve been enjoying splashing and swimming. But, this morning, I could only count five ducks in the pond. Checked around the yard, but I didn’t see the other duck. Then a ducky head popped up from underwater and … well, it looked like one duck was trying to drown another duck! Then something I read in a duck forum popped into my head — ducks mating can seem like the drake is trying to kill the female. Or it could look like the drake is trying to drown the female (which … IMO, seems a lot like “trying to kill”. So I’m not sure what exactly the person was trying to convey there!). Our ducks are about five months old and, evidently, have matured enough to start mating. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hatch some new ducks in the spring!
The thirteen eggs Astra incubated yielded one chick — a really cute one, and the first one born on our farm. But not the gaggle of broilers we were anticipating. So we decided to buy some more hatchlings for her to raise. The Tractor Supply had Rangers last week, but we didn’t manage to make it out there in time. So I called around to all of the TSC’s in the area trying to find some. No luck, but the next TSC to the south had a lot of birds they were trying to get rid of. Cornish x Rock’s at two for a buck. That’s a great deal, so we headed down. They also had pekin ducks for the same price … and we picked up two to try out raising ducks. I love those little bills!
Well, introducing the ducks to Astra didn’t go so well — they’re pretty active, and they either didn’t want to listen to her or didn’t understand chicken talk … but they wouldn’t go back into the nest when she called them. And now we’ve got ducks in the brooder and a bunch of chicks snuggling up with Astra.