Incubator Trouble

The bad news is that the Incuview’s control module died this morning. The good news is that IncubatorWarehouse.com guarantees all their products for a year, and their customer service is stellar. You can call and talk to a real person in Idaho. After talking me through some troubleshooting steps, the rep offered to send me a new control module free of charge. Should be here by Monday.

The last cochin egg has died in the meantime, apparently before this morning’s incubator failure. So that’s that. We plan to adopt a friend’s half-baked (figuratively speaking) hatching eggs in the near future, just as soon as we get the incubator up and running again.

In the meantime, we have long grass, a push mower with new wheels that won’t start (again!), and a robot to repair.

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(No, I didn’t go dumpster-diving behind the miniatures shop on the set of the latest Star Wars movie. This is my very own domestic droid, awaiting some replacement mosfets in the charging circuit.)

Inexpensive Poultry Leg Bands

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Leg bands are essential if you plan to breed your birds, or just to keep track of who is who in the coop. They’re good for marking clans, generations, new arrivals… and for separating the sheep from the goats, as it were.

While the spiral leg bands you can get from the feed store work fine, you still have to refit your chicks with larger sizes as they grow. A cheaper option, requiring only nominally more maintenance, is to use colored wire ties, a.k.a. zip ties. They can be had in bulk online at sites like eBay and Amazon. My local Harbor Freight store had some heavy duty ones, and it’s quite possible your local hardware store has some, too.

The only real difference we’ve found is that since the spiral leg bands do have a little room to expand as the bird’s leg grows in girth, you have a little more time in which to change the bands as the birds outgrow them – although they will eventually get painfully tight. The zip ties do not stretch or expand at all, and must be clipped off and replaced with a larger size before the bird outgrows them, to avoid ugly, unnecessary, often-bloody injury to the constricted leg. (I figure if I’m not inspecting my birds often enough to notice that a leg band is getting tight, I’ve got bigger problems.)

We have three different breeds of chicken that we have bred or have plans to breed (White Chanteclers, Icelandics, and Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes), and have found it useful to have a large variety of colors and sizes of zip ties.

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Spiral leg bands run from about $0.15 to $0.25 each.

Amazon currently sells a pack of 500 count 6″ zip ties in eight assorted colors for $9.99, which works out to not quite $0.02 ea.

Even cheaper, on eBay I bought a pack of 500 count 4″ zip ties in five colors for a grand total of under $6.00, including shipping from Hong Kong (didn’t take too long to get here, either, considering the distance – I don’t know how sellers like this do it, but I hope they’re making a profit from the volume if nothing else).

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I also got some of these from Harbor Freight. They’re beefy 8″ ties, and “on sale” at $2 for a pack of a hundred, they’re nothing if not cheap:

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The tool of choice for removing these, and for clipping off the excess length when applying them, is a pair of side cutters, a.k.a. “dykes”, like this:

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Duck for Dinner, an Injury, and some Housekeeping

150728-Injury_duck_for_dinner-[squash_flower]-2We ate two of the drakes, roasted, for dinner Friday night. The two-month-old bird was scrumptious. The four-month-old was a little chewier, but still decent. We definitely preferred the younger one. We plan to try butchering some more right before the next molt, probably at around 12.5 weeks of age. As you can see from the picture, it was yummy enough that some of it was gone before I could even get my camera out.


I caught the tip of my boot while stepping over some three-foot-high poultry netting last week. I caught myself on my folding knee as I fell, and unfortunately my sternum took the bulk of the blow. I seem to have cracked or bruised my sternum or a rib in the vicinity. Deep breaths, extending my arms, and getting up or down are a lot less than comfortable. I’ve been treating it with ice packs, ibuprofen, kinesio tape (Mrs. D. calls me “my X-man” – sorry, no pictures), and as much rest as my stay-at-homestead-dad lifestyle will afford me. So my wife is chipping in with a lot of the lifting I would normally do, and my children have become my hands and feet even more than usual.


As mentioned in an earlier post, I posted at two different forums about the disappointing dressed weight of our Rouen meat ducks, in hopes of getting some feedback. I’ve had no responses at either forum, but BackyardChickens.com deserves special mention, since, despite the lack of any overt policies against external links, “staff” came through and edited both of my posts and gutted them of all hyperlinks to source info. I had linked back to my blog post, and to an article that suggested 12.5 weeks as a butchering age that facilitates plucking.

While they do prohibit the use of their site to promote “competing sites,” presumably other poultry forums, all of my links were essential source material that related to the topic at hand. Having faceless “staff” strip hyperlinks (this is the internet, after all) from posts with no explanation or warning is a sad welcome on a site with as friendly a façade and user base as Backyard Chickens. It’s not like I was promoting sildenafil citrate for roosters or something.


In other news, I discovered last week that the Facebook “follow” button in the right sidebar of this site was not working. Apparently it’s only possible to “follow” individuals on Facebook – pages need to be “liked”. Anyway, I installed a working “like” button in place of the old one, if you want to follow our page on Facebook.

150728-Injury_duck_for_dinner-[squash_flower]-1A squash flower after the storm.

 

All Hail Breaks Loose

150724-hail-2Yesterday we had what will likely end up being our largest rain event of the year. A sudden onset of torrential rain was soon accompanied by large volumes of pea- and chickpea-sized hail. Our house sits at the bottom of our hill, and I knew that water coming down the hill wouldn’t drain terribly well after it hit our foundation. Yesterday it came down the hill in torrents, through the bare dirt near the house, and accumulated to a depth of several inches, getting up to the bottom of the siding, but not quite to the crawlspace vents.

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I went out in shorts and a boonie hat and semi-frantically moved a dog-dig-barrier out from under a fence at the corner of the house, and then removed more dirt with a shovel to get it draining faster. After the storm abated and gravity did its job, the water along the back of the house had dropped by about an inch, just below the edge of the siding. An inspection under the house revealed a lot of seeping through the concrete, but no puddles, so it seems the ground was ready to absorb quite a bit of moisture – no surprise considering how dry it usually is here.

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The bare area of soil behind our house is on the list for some TLC, and this event just highlighted the need to get on with getting something growing there. It is a frost pocket in winter, and I don’t believe that helps with keeping ground cover alive.

We had obtained four adult Blue Laced Red Wyandotte chickens the night before, and during the storm they weren’t quite sure where to go. They sought shelter under a ponderosa, but still got pathetically soaked. I managed to catch three of them, and Mrs. D. dried them off with a towel. We put a heat lamp in the coop in hopes of keeping them from getting chilled further. All are doing fine today. I was feeling a mite wet and chilly myself by the time I was done reacting to the storm.

150724-hail-4We have been leaving the van out of the garage, since the garage itself is seeing a lot of use. Moving bikes, toys, and various projects out of the way in a hurry while trying to get the van in out of the hail highlighted how much keeping things tidy helps when you have to respond to an emergency.

The tomatoes and beans seem little worse for the wear. Our summer squash leaves look like they were blasted with a shotgun, but the plants will probably make it. The storm did no other noticeable damage.

 

Three Rouen Drakes Dispatched

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Our Rouens are about eight weeks old. We intended to butcher them at seven weeks, due to the rapid drop thereafter in the ratio of feed to weight gain, as discussed on page 209 of Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks by Dave Holderread (2nd ed.). Supposedly seven weeks is also a sweet spot in feather development that allows for easier plucking.

We singled out two Rouen ducks to keep for breeding, freed them to run with the layer ducks, and penned up the remaining eight Rouens. The four-month-old drakes ran free with the rest of the layer flock.

We dove headlong into the meat duck endeavor with only minimal research. We also were too busy to butcher them last week, so we figured better a little late than a lot late, and so Wednesday was the day. We figured we’d go through the process with two drakes, and then proceed with the remaining six if all went well.

I dispatched them with a sharpened hatchet, and Mrs. D scalded them in my stainless brew kettle on a propane burner on the back deck. The idea of putting detergent on anything I plan to eat gives me the creepy-crawlies (ingestion of detergent is implicated in declining male fertility rates, among other problems), but everything I read said adding a little dish soap to your scalding water makes plucking waterfowl much easier, so we bit the bullet and aimed a squirt of at-least-scent-and-dye-free dish soap in the scalding water.

Plucking by hand was fiddly and a bit time-consuming, as expected, but with three of us on one bird it went fairly quickly. I weighed the mostly plucked carcasses, and they both came in at 3 lbs. 11 oz. This was considerably less than we had hoped for. Dressed, they weighed just under 3 pounds each. Given that Rouens are a meat breed (second in size only to Pekins, I had read), this was disappointing. So we stopped to re-think, and do a bit more research.

Apparently the time windows for ease of plucking happen just before a molt, when new feathers come in. This happens at different ages with different types of ducks, and I understand the first window can be observed when the bird has gained all of its adolescent feathers at somewhere between six and ten weeks, and before the adult, breed-specific feathering starts to come in. Our four-month-old Rouen drakes already have iridescent green heads, so that is presumably after the pre-molt window we’re looking for.

In an entry entitled Raising Meat Ducks at Purely Poultry, Tyler Danke suggests butchering Rouens at an age when you like the flavor that the meat has developed, and not worrying about plucking every last feather if you are planning to eat them yourself, since a few stray feathers just get roasted off in the oven anyway. He butchers his drakes at 4 months, but mentions that some people prefer to wait 12 or even 18 months for richer flavor.

Murray McMurray Hatchery suggests, “[Rouens] can be dressed at 10-12 weeks or 5-6 months when well feathered and matured.”

As an experiment, and since we have a surplus of drakes, we decided to go ahead and butcher one of the 4-month-olds. His plucked weight was almost 5 pounds, but dressed, he still weighed just under 3 pounds, just like his juniors. He was marginally larger, and his guts were much more developed, particularly the kidneys, but it’s like that whole extra pound was in the innards, and not the meat.

These are free-range ducks, and we don’t expect them to put on weight like factory-farmed birds, but we were expecting a little more meat for the dinner table. Of course, our initial experiment won’t really be complete until we sit down for dinner tomorrow. Mrs. D. has been basting two of the ducks with honey and vinegar, in preparation for roasting.

If you have raised Rouens for meat before, at what age did you butcher your ducks, and how happy were you with the dressed weight and the flavor? Please leave a comment on this post, or send me an email. I’m also soliciting input about this at The Survival Podcast Forum and Backyard Chickens.

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Sharpening knives in preparation for butchering.

The sharperner is a Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. Knives are a Shun DM0700 Classic 3-1/2-Inch Paring Knife and its bigger brother, the Shun DM0701 Classic 6 Inch Utility Knife. I primarily used the latter for dressing the ducks.