Monday, September 5, 2011

How we spend more time playing than working

We are working on a project on our duck stall/coop. There is something to say for getting up early, going out and feeding, cleaning, and working on a farm; even if it is a hobby farm.  I like chores but mostly I like being with the animals.  So, we try to keep the chores to a minimum.  I like having the animals but as soon as I feel like I am working more than playing with's time to change something. 

Since we are bringing the ewes in and out each morning and night, chores have more to them.  The ducks stay in a stall in the barn that has been converted into a coop.  Last year we lines the bars of the horse stall with chicken wire to make raccoon safe.  The ducks do really well in the stall as it's pretty insulated from weather.  Cool in summer and warm in winter but, it's messy.  In the morning we open the stall door and all the ducks come running out and down the barn isle.  While this is all well and good, they have to then go back down the isle to get back to the stall at night.  (they are free range during the day)  So, since this is a well traveled path, sometimes they hang out in the barn/stall/doorway or wherever.  So, needless to say, the poop is a bit much in the barn isle.  If you have ever lived with ducks, you know that mess they make.  Now, we cut down on the messy part by not offering water in the stall.  They go out, play in the pools all day and so we feel they can make it all night without drinking.  This makes the coop floor itself stay nice and clean for a number of days.  It also forces the ducks to keep moving; in the coop for food, out to the pool for water, etc.

There is one detail of shorter days coming and the early darkness means, to a duck, predators.  I have lost many ducks to raccoons and other things and I don't want to feed those creatures anymore.  We have been lucky here but that is exactly what it is, luck.  As the daylight gets less and less, we have to think more about our schedules to get home and lock up the ducks.  They go in the coop but, the door stays open.  Anyone that has had a 'coon in their coop...knows the carnage that is left behind as they all get cornered and that's that.  

We added some turkeys to our collection and they have added a new feature to the mess.  They roost and poop from above.  So, I added a roost in the barn as they tended to roost on the edge of the food bowls and crap in the food. A roost is simply a 2x4 screwed diagonally in the corner so they can get up off the ground. So, we added a roost, put a pen under the roost so the ducks can't get under them drop eggs under the turkey 'bathroom'  and now we are working on an outside entrance to the coop.

Paul cut a door and made a neat guillotine style door with cable and pulleys so I can open a door from inside the barn but NOT in the coop.  The birds go out and don't hang out in the barn isle anymore.  I put the nesting boxes (those ducks that use them) right by the door along with the feeders so I can do all I need without actually walking into the coop.  So, of course, me not wanting to spend my time 'working' with my hobbies and would rather play means, I can do even more.  Having this door to the outside also increaded our predator chances.  It means a raccoon doesn't have to come into the barn, walk all the way down the isle past other animals to find the ducks...he/she just walks to the outside of the barn and goes in a little door made just the right size.

This door was a hoot to try and get the ducks through.  The first time, we put them in the barn and through the big door as usual with the little door open.  So, down the barn isle, in the stall, and straight out the door...not missing a beat.  Geez, that was easy, they didn't even think about it.  Ok, we gave them a few hours to wander around and maybe go in on their own....yeah, right.

Dusk came and I thought I'd better get those ducks in before dark and loose all chances of teaching them a trick.  So, this time, I got the dog...good 'ole Trim.  If she and I can't do it then maybe Paul will take a few flank commands.  Trim rounded up all the ducks and the turkeys (they think they're ducks) and we (Trim and I) started to push them to the new little door.  All the ducks stopped at the door, looking for an escape but not ready to go through the hole.  I waited patiently, not pushing too hard so they wouldn't run over trim or me to get away.  I let them think about it for a 1/2 minute.  Jerraldine, a sensible runner, stood closest to the door with her head tilted, eyeing that hole.  The others were of course not going to be brave, but I was sure they would follow.  I suddenly hear from the back porch of the house, Paul, commentating on the scene.  "Duh, which way do I go? In the hole? I don't know what to do."door. Finally, as if on cue, Jerraldine went in and all the others followed.  After some work with the turkeys we got them in with the ducks. 

Tonight, we got home about 8:15 and all birds were inside...turkeys, too.  So, they learned the door in one day...

Day two...ducks go in and out for their food and "just because"...

So, it's time for the automatic door opener and closer.  No more driving home after staying out past dark wondering if the ducks are still alive or not.  This is the project now....stay tuned for photos and video.

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