The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Backyard Farming. Urban Homesteading Sustainablity
The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Raising Ducks in Your Backyard

IMG_1173Few species are more helpful in creating a thriving, biodynamic urban farm than the domestic duck. Like chickens, many duck breeds are prolific layers of large, high-protein eggs, but unlike chickens ducks are easy on crops; ducks love nothing more than an afternoon in the garden, dodging established plants while helping you with your weeding and taking care of that slug problem before it starts. Duck manure is high in nitrogen but not as hot as chicken manure, so you won’t have to worry about it burning your plants. Duck eggs are nearly twice the size of most chicken eggs, and are excellent for baking. Duck eggs are also high in protein and Omega-3 vitamins and some people who are allergic to chicken eggs can still eat duck eggs. Duck eggshells can range in color from pale blue or green to bone white and even black. While breeds like Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell often take the prize for most prolific layer, Cayuga, Blue Swedish, Buff, Welsh Harlequin and many others produce a respectable number of eggs in a season and can add interest to a flock.

Ducks and chickens can happily coexist in the same coop and run, but ducks do have some special requirements. Ducks naturally prefer to sleep out in the open, preferably on the water, so they won’t head to the coop at dusk as your chickens might. However, domestic ducks are even more vulnerable to predator attacks than chickens, so they need to be kept in a secure enclosure at night. Luckily, ducks love routine and are easy to herd into the coop.

While you don’t need a pond to raise happy ducks, you will need to provide some source of clean water for your waterfowl to
bathe, play, and drink. Ducks go through a lot of water each day, so plan for your chosen container to have a drain: we like stock tanks with built in
drains toward the bottom. To get the most out of having ducks, attach a hose to the drain so those valuable duck effluents can water your squash hills or berry bushes.

Ducks can also be a great source of flavorful, healthy meat raised no farther away than your backyard. Many of the duck breeds we sell are dual-purpose, meaning that they are great egg layers but also great table birds. Watch for breeds like Khaki Campbell, Blue Swedish, Buff, Muscovy or Rouen if you’re interested in raising your own duck meat.

One of the biggest joys of keeping ducks is taking home ducklings! Like chicks, ducklings need to stay inside under a heat lamp until true feathers replace their down. Ducklings eat chick starter (non-medicated only) for the same duration as chicks; start transitioning your ducklings to a grower pellet between 4-6 weeks of age. Ducklings need a larger waterer than chicks because even when they are newly hatched they need to wash their tiny bills after eating.  A standard 1-gal. chicken waterer will do just fine.

Because ducklings go through so much water and love to splash and play, we recommend brooding your chicks and ducklings separately. Once they are both feathered out, however, they can share the same housing.

Ducklings can easily get cold and love to make a mess of their bedding, so try to clean the brooder as needed to make sure your babies have somewhere dry to sleep. While your ducklings are under a week old, make sure to only provide lukewarm water–cold water can shock their system and can be fatal.

We hope you try your hand at raising a flock of ducks this year! We will carry several breeds of ducklings over the course of the season, so be sure to check in and ask about the differences between the breeds. As always, we are happy to try to answer any questions that might arise as you explore adding ducks to your urban farm.

For a list of expected ducklings and chicks follow the link below to get to the calendar tab of our web site. Be sure to click on the date to get a drop down box of all expected arrivals.
http://eugenebackyardfarmer.com/calendar/

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Soil Preparation or Winter Garden?

By now our tomato plants are winding down and we have already pulled our summer squash. Winter squash is still a couple weeks away from harvest but the peppers should be ready by the end of next week. Now it’s time to decide what to do with all this garden space.

webmail.eugenebackyardfarmerWe live in a climate that allows for plenty of winter gardening opportunities, and we have plenty of cole crop starts available now with more on the way. Most Brassica crops, such as kale, broccoli, or cauliflower, will do well with little fall and winter maintenance. Just a plant cover should protect them from freezing on extremely cold nights.

Fall is also the perfect time to plant garlic, onions, and shallots. These plants require a freeze so you want to get them in the ground by mid-October so that they can develop enough of a root system to withstand winter temperatures. Our new favorite trick is to plant them along the perimeter of the garden space for pest control and so they won’t take up valuable spring planting space before they are ready to harvest. We have some onion starts available now and garlic, onion sets, and shallots should be available early next week.

But if you don’t want to tend a winter garden, there are still things you can do this fall to help your garden rest for a few months. If you have chickens, consider giving them access to your garden. They will scratch and turn the soil and will leave some fertilizer behind.

If you don’t have chickens but need to restore your garden space over the winter, we have a fresh batch of fertilizer and many soil amendments in stock, including our custom Indigenous Micro Organism blend. These IMOs are cultured and grown at the store and make a great soil amendment or compost accelerator. Turn these amendments into the soil then lay down some newspaper or cardboard and cover the area with leaves or straw.

We also like to plant low-maintenance cover crops by mid-October to fix nitrogen into the soil during the off season. We sell buckwheat, crimson clover, and winter pea by the pound. When you’re ready to turn over your soil or till in your cover crop, remember that we do rent a broadfork to make a tough job so much easier.

While so many of us look forward to spring as the time to garden, the fall offers just another reason to go out and play in the dirt.

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Visit Coop Town, USA on Saturday, June 27th

The Eugene Backyard Farmer will once again host the annual coop tour on Saturday, June 27th from 10-4. EBYF_cooptour_2015

This self guided tour is a great chance for aspiring urban farmers to see what it takes to raise chickens in the back yard. It is also a great opportunity to get ideas on how to improve your own coop. The coops on display represent a wide range of styles and approaches and the coop tour is not meant to be a beauty contest. Some coops are made entirely of reclaimed materials and others are professionally designed and built.

Guide books will be available the week of the event and will include a map and description of each coop. These guide books allow you to plan your route and look at however many coops you want to and in whatever order you wish.

This year, the coop tour will be implementing higher levels of bio security to avoid spreading any pathogens such as bird flu. Bird flu does not spread as well in warmer months, which is why we moved the tour from May to June. Each stop will also have a shoe bath and you will want to step into the shallow tray of diluted bleach water to keep any germs from spreading between the coops.

Once again part of the proceeds of Visit Coop Town, USA will go to Habitat for Hens. This is a program where we find a family that could benefit from chickens but can not yet afford them and we provide a coop, some hens and some feed.

This year’s coop tour will be sponsored by BRING recycling.

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Bee Swarms

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A swarm of bees can be a most powerful thing to witness. Seeing thousands of bees flying in unison and then landing on a tree branch can certainly be considered an awesome experience. It is such an amazing thing so it is understandable how some people can become afraid or intimidated by their presence. But we want to help get these swarms into a safe and welcoming environment and you can help.

A swarm is a sign of a healthy and thriving bee colony. When an active hive becomes too large to be sustainable it will make a new queen and the old queen will take half of the established colony and go out in search of a new home. A swarm could land on a tree branch or the side of a building and they have even been known to land on a locked bike, mail box or any other stationary object. When bees swarm they have no hive, honey, or brood to protect and are for the most part very gentle and rarely sting.

A swarm consists of a few thousand bees with the queen in the middle and will be about the size of a basketball. Just a bunch of bees flying does not make a swarm. Once the bees are in a temporary location, they will then send scout bees in search of a new home. The scout bees can fly up to five miles and when they think they have found a suitable home, they will share that location with other scout bees. This is a highly democratic process as the bees compare all their available options in search of their perfect home. A swarm can stay in this temporary location for as little as five minutes and for as long as two weeks.

When the scout bees have all decided upon a perfect new home, the swarm will move en masse to the new location. Their chosen location could be a vacant hive or a hollow tree but the bees could also move into a place like a shed or a wall where they are not welcome. For this reason, we want to capture the swarms and introduce them to a welcoming and safe vacant hive around town. Capturing a swarm is normally a very easy process assuming it is low to the ground (under 12 feet is ideal).

Most swarms happen between April and early June. If you see a swarm around town, please call our store or a beekeeper friend so that we can reduce the time the bees are exposed and transfer them to a safe place. A honeybee swarm is in a vulnerable state. Considering the plight of the honeybee, we want to everything we can to help them along.

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Raising Turkeys in an Urban Setting

The more involved we are with urban farming, the more we want to try new things. In addition to our ever changing gardening landscape, we have hens, broilers, ducks, and beehives as well as composting systems to support these activities. Our next goal is to learn how to raise turkeys so we took a few turkey poults from our July hatch and raised them for store use. Here are some of the things we learned.

IMG_1282First check with your local regulations to see if turkeys are allowed. Raising domestic turkeys in the city of Eugene is illegal. We did so anyway not out of disrespect to the city but rather to learn how turkeys behave in an urban setting.

When you talk to large-scale or rural farmers you will find they rarely raise chickens and turkeys together. Indeed both the USDA and ODA recommend raising them separately. Blackhead, a nasty and fatal disease that chickens can pass on to turkeys, is the main reason for separating the species. Of course, urban and small-scale farming is entirely different from rural and large-scale farming and as a result we do not always have the same issues. We raised our two turkeys with three broilers with no ill effects. The broilers were butchered a few days ago and their internal organs looked healthy. Back at the store, our turkeys continue to look healthy and active. Of course the “it worked for us so it isn’t a problem” is a poor argument. If you do raise the two together, do so with caution and monitor for illness.

Turkeys eat a lot and the end product could be a very expensive bird. We started feeding this flock of five a 50-pound bag of turkey starter. When that was finished they were moved outside and they ate another 50-pound bag. We then switched them to a GMO-free turkey grower, then a 5o-pound bag of organic grower. Now that we are down to just two turkeys we will be able to get a better sense of how much they eat. What we do know at this point is this isn’t going to result in some cheap grocery store bird, but isn’t that the point.

In addition to eating a lot, turkeys will eat most anything. Ours gobbled up all the extra tomatoes from the garden as well as most anything else we would toss in for them. For example, we had a couple hybrid volunteer squash on the property. Half of one squash went to the hens and the other half  to the turkeys. The chickens barely touched theirs but the turkeys ate their half down to the stem. The other squash was taken home and baked into what turned out to be a nasty soup. Again the chickens barely touched their serving. The turkeys, however, not only ate the whole serving, they even ate the paper bowl. And since they eat so much, they leave ample droppings. We found ourselves picking up after them twice a day and the compost bin filled up rapidly.

Turkey poults are not sexed so you could end up with toms or hens. We ended up with one of each and were amazed to learn how quiet they are. They rarely made much noise and when they did “gobble” it was at the same level as a person’s normal talking voice. Indeed our turkeys were much quieter then some chickens we have known. Our tom started to strut his feathers at about three and a half months old. It could be that if you get two toms then they might get loud and start to fight at this point. But at this point you would have a good sized bird so you could butcher one tom early and save the other for a Thanksgiving butcher.

We have heard of people using less then flattering words to describe a turkey’s intelligence. We have no evidence to suggest that they are any more or less smart than other poultry. We will say however that they can be rather charming. They came running whenever we delivered treats. Their combs and waddles would turn bright red when they were happy and when the broilers went away one day, they seemed to be sad for a few days.

This being said, we are not looking forward to the butchering process. We do not name our poultry but we do feed them high quality feed and interact with them on a regular basis. As a result they have kind of grown on us and the butchering process could be emotionally difficult. We have embraced urban farming because we feel our food system is broken. Even those expensive turkeys you buy at the natural food store are fed cheap grains and live in less than ideal conditions. Just like veggies, fruit, eggs, and honey, if you want clean fresh food you need to either grow it yourself or know your farmer.

While urban farming is different from traditional farming, there are still some similarities. Butchering poultry is not fun but the rewards are great. This has been a good experience and we will most likely do it again next year. Or next year we might have a vegetarian nut loaf for Thanksgiving instead.

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The cost of backyard eggs.

A July 7th NBC article discussed the down side to backyard chickens.  The quote that stood out to us was, “some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive. ”  You can hear our response here.

For over a year, we have been keeping detailed records to see how cost effective backyard chickens can be. We were pleasantly surprised by the results.

From July 2012 through June 213 we collected 119 dozen eggs. The flock at the store varied from six to 11 and during part of that time frame, not all chickens were to laying age.  The flock ate $315 in feed, $43 in scratch, $15 in calcium, and used $24 in bedding.

This means that a dozen high quality eggs cost $3.34.

We have not done the math to factor in coop, feeder and start up costs.  Yet it is clear that keeping backyard chickens can be affordable.  Of course if you keep backyard hens, you know there are non egg related benefits.  Our chickens provide us with plenty of high quality fertilizer and they are often worth keeping just for the entertainment value.

Need another reason to keep backyard hens?  For every dozen eggs they produce, you are not supporting an industry that is not always kind to chickens.

The store is down to six hens since April and we are planning on keeping that number.  Then next March, we will have another full year of data.  By then we will also have figured out amortization and can factor in the costs of feeders and the coop.

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2nd Annual Eugene Bawk Celebration.

The 2nd annual Eugene Bawk Celebration is set for Saturday, June 29th from 2-6.

This fun event is a way to celebrate the backyard chicken and all they do to enhance our urban farms.  This is a free and family friendly event that surely will make you smile.

We will have live music and food booths and a bunch of activities.

One of the activities is the “name that egg” game where you have to guess where the egg came from based upon its appearance (factory farm, store bought organic or backyard).
On the main stage we will have a crowing contest as well as a chicken poetry reading (you read a poem about a chicken, not the chickens reading poetry).

The main event will be the incredibly popular chicken beauty pageant.  Chickens will be introduced, then will be walked down the runway by their people.  Some chickens are even dressed up.  And once again, we have assembled an all-star cast of judges.  This year’s judges will be Dawn Baby of Dawn Baby Salon, Joseph Calbreath formally KMTR’s Joseph in the Garden, and the Reigning Slug Queen.

After the beauty pageant we will have a DJ playing chicken themed music and plenty of space to dance.

Prizes will be awarded to all crowing and poetry reading participants.  And some special prizes have been donated for the chicken beauty pageant contestants.  We are still looking for pageant contestants so please e-mail us if you are interested.

There will be major road construction in the area and our parking lot will fill up pretty fast.  You can park in the alley behind the store as well as across the Washington/Jefferson Park on Jefferson.  There is also parking one block south of the store next to Subway.  Hope to see you soon.

 

 

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Visit Coop Town, USA

Visit Coop Town, USA.

Eugene is known as Track Town, USA for obvious reasons.  But urban farming in Eugene is just as popular as running, and for good reason.  Raising chickens in your back yard is just another way of contributing to  a healthy lifestyle.

This year’s backyard coop tour is set for Saturday, May 18th from 10-4.  This popular annual event is shaping up to be another great opportunity to peek into some of Eugene’s backyard farms.

Sixteen coops located in Eugene and Springfield will give aspiring urban farmers plenty of inspiration and design ideas.  Some are simple designs using reclaimed materials.  Some are professionally constructed and feature works of art.  All house some very happy and healthy backyard chickens.

The guide book will be available at The Eugene Backyard Farmer the week of the event.  All coop hosts are volunteer neighbors so we remind attendants the coop tour is only May 18th and only between 10-4.  Guide books cost just $8.00.

And just like last year part of the proceeds from the sale of the guide books will go to Habitat for Hens. This fun program allows us to put a chicken coop and some hens into a back yard of a family that could benefit from a coop but can not yet afford it.

So if you already have a coop, come see what your neighbors are doing and get some new ideas.  If you are just starting the process of building a coop, go out and get inspired.

 

 

 

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The Nesting Place: A Luxury Chicken Hotel Now Open.

Urban farmers differ from traditional and rural farmers in a number of respects.  Traditional farmers often do so to make a living where urban farmers usually do so to put healthy food on their table. Traditional farmers wait until after harvest before taking a vacation where urban farmers often take vacation in the summer.
And while tending for a backyard flock takes little effort, it still does require daily attention.
So what do you do with your flock if you want to go on vacation? The best option is to get a neighbor to feed, water and collect eggs.  This way they get to see how easy it is and will perhaps want to start their own backyard flock.  In larger cities you can even hire a chicken sitter to come twice a day and do the chores.  We tried this for a while but found it to be a large drain of time and since we commute by bike, it became impractical.

So if you can’t get a neighbor to watch your hens, why not check them into a hotel?  The Nesting Place is a luxury chicken hotel located right here at the store.
The Blue Andalusian Suite and the Golden Campine Suite both include a safe place to sleep, eat and lay eggs as well as an extended yard in which to scratch around.

Basic service is $2 per hen per day and includes fresh feed, water, some scratch and a daily coop cleaning.  Deluxe service is $3 per hen per day and includes the above as well as chopped organic veggies and turn down service.  With the deluxe service we will even text you photos of your hens.

Future suites will be added if this becomes as popular as we think it will. But until then space is limited so if you have a vacation coming up and nobody to watch your flock, feel free to give us a call.

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Help, my hen is loosing her feathers.

We start getting the calls this time of year.  “I went out to the henhouse this morning and there were feathers everywhere. What is wrong with my hens?”  Another popular observation is “My hens look terrible. They are missing feathers and I think they might be dying.”   Most likely your chickens are just going through a molt.

Just like other birds, chickens know when winter is coming.  Usually in the fall of their second year they shed feathers and grow a new coat for winter. Most molting occurs in the fall but we have seen hens go through a full-blown molt in the dead of winter.  Sometimes the molt is so mild and consists of just a hand full of feathers.  Other times it looks like there was a pillow fight in the hen house and your chickens look like they have hen pattern baldness.  Regardless, molting is natural and generally nothing to worry about.  There are still things you can do to help.

If they are loosing their feathers already, this might be a great time to inspect their bodies.  Since it is now easy to see the skin you can use molting time to look for signs of mites or other body parasites.  This also might be a great time to do a semi-annual coop cleaning. You can remove all bedding, spray a 10% diluted bleach in the corners, sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth in the corners, and add fresh bedding.  This will make the coop nice and comfortable for the winter.

Hens will not lay eggs while molting.  Since they need to grow new feathers before cold weather arrives, they put all their energy into that task.  Chickens need extra protein to help them grow new feathers.  The faster they feather out, the faster they will get back to looking good and hopefully laying a few more eggs.  There are a number of poultry supplements that can be added to their feed. Most of these have 30% of more protein which will help them re-feather.  When the hens at our store go through their molt we add dried cat food, meal worms, tofu or beef liver.

A molt can be over within a week or it can last several months.  The longer the molt, the harder it is to keep your refrigerator stocked with eggs.  There is no need to add artificial heat to their coop. We tend to recommend avoiding this so as to not create a fire hazard.  Don’t worry about your chicken’s comfort level. They know more about how to be a chicken then you do.  Just increase their protein intake and they should be back to beautiful backyard chickens before too long.

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