Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We’re already having duck drama, and they haven’t even arrived yet.
This past weekend, Dan and I attended the New England Meat Conference in Concord, N.H. One of the classes we took was on raising alternative types of poultry, namely geese, ducks, pheasants (which I’m told technically aren’t considered poultry), and quail. This class was important, as Dan and I placed our order for chicks and ducklings last month and we’re expecting them to arrive the end of April. I was in charge of placing the order (Actually, I kind of assumed this duty because I like shopping) and in addition to our agreed upon chicks, I threw in some Pekin ducks for meat and some Indian Runners because I’d like to see what it’s like to raise ducks for eggs.
Indian Runners have had a special place in my heart since I saw them at the Bolton Fair, an annual country fair held in Lancaster, MA. This was early in my farm infatuation days and when I was walking through the poultry tent trying to get my agricultural fix, I saw this adorable upright duck standing very politely in a cage waiting for the 4-H show to begin. I stopped dead in my tracks, immediately felt a warm feeling fill my chest (it was love) and read on the placard that he was an Indian Runner. Since I was too shy to take his picture, I jumped on Youtube once I got home and spent way too much time watching videos of them running around eating bugs. I was surprised at the sudden affinity I felt for this bird and kept thinking about how nice it would be to have my life and career set up in a way that I could have some ducks of my own. It occurred to me then that I could if I had a farm.
During the Alternative Poultry class, one of the first things the presenter mentioned was not to keep ducks near your house. “They quack all the time.” I could sense the sideways glance from Dan. He continued, “They quack all night. If they hear a dog bark, if a cloud drifts across the moon…” Background info: My dog’s goal in life is to bark at people and small animals. We can also see the moon in New Hampshire. The sideways glance turned into a 90* full body rotation and narrow eyed stare. The sensitive response would not have been laughing, but that’s what happened. All I could imagine is the dog barking at the moon induced quacking spree, then the ducks quacking more because of the barking and the continuing cycle, all happening in the dead of night. Since I will be at Polyface all summer, I will not have to deal with the impending quackapalooza, even though they were solely my idea to add to the order. Sorry Dan. The next order of business will be to find a remote corner of the property we can stick them so Dan can actually sleep where we won’t bother the neighbors either.
The next thing that came up is that ducks are, apparently, really annoying to process. The presenter mentioned that removing the feathers is a huge pain once they’ve reached the pin feather stage and that their skin is delicate and prone to tearing. He indicated we’d have a hard time finding a processor and where we’re not set up to process on site, this caused some anxiety. Since then, I’ve found some licensed places in our state who will process the ducks, but the pricing is double that of the chickens, so we’ll have to build that into our pricing when the time comes.
The First Year
At the conference, many farmers told us the first year is the hardest. As I’m sure all you seasoned veterans know, you have to set up systems, find reputable vendors, analyze which feed is best for your needs, wade through regulations, take care of your animals, make sure neighbors aren’t appalled by what you’re doing, build infrastructure, try to stay under budget, all while building a social media presence and finding markets for your products. Luckily for us, the process has been, for the most part, exciting and fun. It is a privilege to say we’re going to be farmers and we’re happy to pay our dues. I am also looking forward to the Polyface Summer Internship, not only to get away from the quacking (just kidding), but because I have a lot to learn.