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Winter Duck Enclosure – Functional Rustic Approach

The Muscovy Ducks of Functional Rustic have a new enclosure for the winter. Everyone is very excited.

3 Muscovy Drakes

Last year I only had a handful of ducks so one barn stall was sufficient to house them. This year though, I have 12 large ducks to care for. I could eat some of them and keep the smaller stall, but I’ve had a lot of animal deaths this year and am not keen on adding to the list.



(Did you know that Muscovy Ducks taste more like beef than typical a water fowl? Muscovy ducks spend most of their time on land eating grass – same as cows. Although Muscovy do have water proofing oils, because they do not spend as much time in the water as other water birds they produce less oil and therefor taste differently.)

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My chief complaint with the duck set up in the barn last year was the lack of proper lighting. There is a small window in the stall and a light bulb but, with the barn closed up it is very dark in the barn during the winter months. In order to keep the barn some what insulted in the cold Michigan winters I covered all of the openings with roofing paper last year. (I only used the roofing paper because I found a roll of it in the barn when we moved in. It was free and available so I made it work.) The roofing paper is black though, and blocked all of the sun light into the barn.



This year I wanted to make sure that if the ducks could not or did not want to go out in the snow they would still have lots of natural light. Added bonus, natural light in the stall means duck pictures and videos turn out better! To achieve this increased light while still keeping the barn insulated I chose to wrap the entire back of the barn with 6 mil plastic sheeting.

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The back of the Functional Rustic barn is a covered area with the south and east walls open to the outdoors. I hung the 6 mil plastic across all of the openings and secured it to the walls/ground with a carpentry stapler. I chose 6 mil plastic sheets because I wanted a plastic that was durable enough to endure Michigan weather but not too heavy to hang with staples. The 6 mil plastic sheeting works perfectly. Plus, it’s clear so the sunlight pours into the enclosure.




It is my hope that the clear plastic will provide some solar heating. The idea is that the warm sun rays will come into the barn and the plastic will keep the heat inside. I don’t expect it to be warm in the winter – but if I can keep the stall above freezing I would be thrilled.

Duck Enclosure Flooring

One of the new stalls off the back has rubber mat flooring that I added straw to while the other stall off the back of the barn has only a dirt floor. Last year I used the dirt floor of the duck stall to make compost. It worked splendidly. The poop was controlled, no bad smells and the floor actually gave off some heat.

The original duck floor consisted of dirt, straw, leaves and landscaping scraps. I added new layers as needed and mixed everything together to turn it into a compost floor. The ducks helped keep it mixed up by digging around in the floor for bugs. My pile of composting material on the floor started at about six inches deep. Over the past year of adding layers and housing ducks, the floor is a beautiful, rich compost nearly one foot deep. I plan to use my duck compost in the spring to plant the Functional Rustic orchard.



The plan with this year’s new dirt stall was to repeat what I did last year in the original duck stall. That was the plan. Ha. Michigan weather decided I needed a different approach this year. Functional Rustic is lucky to have acres of fallen leaves to collect and add to the compost pile. The kicker though, is the leaves need to be dry for me to use them.

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Well, Michigan has seen a fair amount of rain and now snow. I never collected the dry leaves. That’s a big problem for my compost floor. The snowfall over the weekend melted yesterday so the plan today was to rake up the leaves and store them in a dry place until they could be used.



Two inches of snow last night. Ugh. It looks beautiful and the ducks are adorable running through it – but the snow officially ends the search for leaves. So, today I started digging up the original compost floor. You see, the ducks have three stalls they can explore now. The rubber mat area, the new dirt area and the original duck stall. Since adding the plastic though, I have yet to see the ducks spend time in the original stall beyond using it to get outdoors.

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Well, if they wont be spending much time in the old stall – I don’t need that floor to be heated by compost. So, today I started digging up the original stall and moving the compost to the new plastic enclosed dirt area off the back of the barn. It is not as visually pleasing as fresh straw, but the coverage it provides is impressive. Plus, the floor I dug up is full of bugs that the ducks are having a grand old time hunting down. I continue to add layers of straw each day to promote more composting, keep the ducks feet dry and warm and to control the poop smells.



Duck Enclosure Walls

Initially hanging the plastic only took 30 minutes. However, the next few weeks involved lots of small fixes to make it just right. First of all, Muscovy Ducks have claws. When the plastic was first installed the ducks did not know what to make of it and tried flying through it. Ha. Amusing as it was to watch – they understandably freaked out when they hit the plastic and scratched at it with their claws. Needless to say, there are more than a few gashes repaired with duct tape.

The ducks aren’t the only ones flying into the plastic. There are a couple families of barn swallows living in there too. Despite the plastic being up for a few weeks now, the little sparrows continue to fly full speed into the plastic. It was funny at first but now I just feel bad for them. Someone is going to get hurt. I will say though, it is adorable to see 6 huge ducks on a wall with a family of tiny barn swallows perched beside them.

Fixing cuts in the plastic from sharp duck claws was the least of my problems. Wind was the bigger issue. The day we hung the plastic there was only a slight wind so everything seemed secure. Less than 24 hours later the wind was up to 40 mph gusts. Whole walls of plastic were falling off. Ugh.

When we (my husband and I) originally hung the plastic we placed the staples about 12 to 18 inches apart. Although the plastic was flat against the wall when it was stapled, the large gaps between the staples allowed wind to come in and blow the plastic around.

The bottom of the plastic sheeting was held down by stones and pavers. One big wind and the plastic slid out from underneath the stones as if they were pebbles. I found heavier items to hold down the bottom of the plastic, but since I still had the gaps in my stapling, wind was still coming in and causing the wind to whip around inside the stall – again causing the bottom to slide out and blow around.

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On another particularly windy day, I went out to the barn and examined where the wind was coming in. That is when I learned that my staples were to far apart. I immediately got the stapler and started stapling everything I could reach. That plastic was secure!! Having secured the plastic to the top and sides of the openings I thought I was all set.

Nope.


The plastic may be securely attached at the top, but the bottom is still loose. The stones and pavers are ok if the wind stays below 30 mph, but it’s Michigan, so that’s not going to happen. Again, I spent an hour just sitting in the duck stall trying to learn how the wind was moving around within the barn.

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As it happens, the wind is not actually getting into the barn. Apparently the plastic, although securely attached, is loose instead of taut so even if the staples hold strong, the plastic flaps back and forth. The flapping is what causes the stones to slide off the sheeting.

No amount of staples and stones was going to do the trick. The openings I am covering are over 12 ft x 12 ft. I need some sort of support in the middle to provide stability to the plastic. As it happens, I have a bunch of wire around the barn. The fencing around their enclosure came bound together with long pieces metal wire. I stretched that wire across the opening and duct taped it to the plastic on both sides.



Shockingly, it worked. Now that the plastic had the stiff wire in the middle I was able to get it to lay flush against the flat surfaces so it can be attached. Now the sheeting was able to pulled taut. Before stabilizing the plastic, even a small breeze caused the plastic move in or out. Stapling the plastic while it is blowing makes the final product flappy.

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No longer trusting the stones and pavers, I replace them with a wooden pallets. The pallets are heavier than the stones AND I can staple the plastic directly to it. Now the plastic is weighed down by the pallet while also being attached to it. Now when the wind blows the plastic barely moves at all.

It has been about week since I made the last repairs and I am proud to report that despite, strong winds, heavy rains and two snow falls – the enclosure is still in great shape. Also, the inside of the barn has remained consistently warmer than the outside. I am quite proud of what I accomplished.

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Winter Duck Feeding Routine

Another new change is how I feed the feather babies. Normally I pour their feed into a feeder and let them gorge. Since I secured the plastic walls though, the ducks don’t seem to want to leave. Staying in the barn all day means they are not exercising as much. To help keep them active I now distribute the food everywhere and make them hunt for it.

Spreading the food out forces the ducks to move around, keeps them from standing and pooping all day in the same spot and helps the compost floor to be turned regularly. Another benefit of spreading the food out is that everyone gets to eat at the same time. There is most definitely a pecking order in my barn. With one feeder, breakfast becomes a time for ducks to get bullied. I don’t like seeing the bigger ducks be mean to Larry and the smaller lady ducks. I know that this behavior is natural and healthy for ducks, but if I can prevent it from happening I will.

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I am pleased to report that since implementing this new approach Larry is looking much better as well. He was looking rough before – dirty, missing feathers and a generally an unkempt appearance. He’s a white duck that was coated brown with dirt. Poor guy looked miserable. Now, Larry is looking happy, bright and clean. He still gets picked on and chased around, but at least he has mouthfuls of food available wherever they chase him. (Interesting side note, Larry’s only son, Prodigy, is the duck that harasses him the most.)



In any case, the new enclosure has made for some happy feather babies and one very happy feather baby mama. Check out the videos below to see how the build enclosure progressed and how much the ducks love playing in it.

Written by: Sarah Palmer – Owner, Functional Rustic

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Ducklings Are Missing – A Functional Rustic Barn Story

I’ve lost 3 out of 4 of my ducklings.

Goldie with 4 Ducklings
Goldie, Muscovy hen, with four ducklings.

A few weeks ago my Muscovy hen, Goldie, hatched out four adorable ducklings. Three yellow chicks and one brown. Goldie is a dedicated mama duck and has spent the past few weeks tentatively caring for her babies. They follow her everywhere. Such a privilege to watch her teach them how to eat, drink and be a duck.

Check out the videos below to see what I mean.

 

Like I said at the start of this post, I’ve lost 3 out of the 4 ducklings. By lost I do not mean they died (though they probably did); I mean that I do not know where they are.

Each morning, as the sun is rising, I head out to the barn to tend to the ducks. This routine involves opening all the doors to the barn and the doors to the stall that the ducks/ducklings stay the night in. Since their birth, each morning I open the stall Goldie and the ducklings are patiently waiting at the door. I slide the door open and they sprint to the mini pond at the back of the barn. The pitter patter of duckling feet across the floor in the morning is a divine way to start each day.

After the ducks are released I take my daily video of the sunrise over the back pastures and get started on cleaning the barn. I have 16 ducks. They are free range and can go wherever they want, but they choose to hang out in the barn. As a result of their spending all day in the barn they poop all over the barn. 16 ducks worth of poop. So, after the ducks are released from the stall I start hosing down the floors, refilling the pools and giving the ducks their food.

Well, earlier this week I opened the stall and Goldie and her 4 ducklings came running out. As I always do, I immediately filmed the sunrise and then returned to start my morning routine.

Uh oh….I only count three ducks. This happens sometimes. A duckling gets separated from the flock and cries out for mama and then Goldie tracks them down and brings them back. But I don’t hear any duckling chirps. I immediately start searching the barn. The ducklings are little so there are numerous places they could hide or get stuck. I searched them all. No duckling.

What happened to it? Where did it go? If an animal had come in I would have heard the ducks (I do have 16 after all) react in some way. I found no blood. I found no feathers. Goldie did not appear upset. What the duck?!

And then there were three.

The next few days are just like any other – I go to the barn, let the ducks out, clean everything and let them roam free. Goldie and the babies do not leave the barn. They can – but I have not seen them more than three feet away from the barn. I like that they do not wander. Hawks live in the yard and have been very visible lately. Staying near the barn will keep them safe from the flying predators.

The other night when I went to close the barn up I realized another ducklings was missing. There were three feather babies when I let them out in the morning, but as the sun is setting I only count two. Goldie is fiercely protecting the two ducklings she has. Very territorial when I come in to close the stall doors.

But where is her duckling? I search the barn again to see if the baby is stuck somewhere. I found a dead barn swallow and some huge spiders, but no duckling. What the duck?!

So, last night, I tucked Goldie and her two babies into the stall as I always do. This morning – only one duckling.

No blood. No feathers. No corpse. No indication that any predator was in the stall.

What is happening to my ducklings?

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Goldie, Muscovy hen, with her one remaining duckling.

What do you think happened to my feather babies?

Written by Sarah Palmer – Owner, Functional Rustic

 

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