Muscovy Ducks On The Farm

Muscovy Ducks swimming on a farm duck pond.
Muscovy ducks on the pond.

How It All Began

Our son, Chris, arrived home from university three years ago. Parking on the front lawn, he produced out of the battered depths of his rusty Toyota two bags and a big box. One overflowing with dirty washing, another filled with hardly-used books and, finally, 10 tiny ducklings —  closely followed by their disgruntled mother and a couple of large, surprisingly mellow, drakes (males). Yes, you read that right, our son brought home some Muscovy ducks.

“These were on the duck pond outside my house,” he casually explained. “The owners didn’t want them anymore. I kinda like them, so I brought them home.”

The big question in my mind, however, was “Who’s going to feed them?”

It was obviously a rhetorical question, you can guess who fed the ducks. And their offspring. And the next generation too. Because now the ducks have made themselves well and truly at home.

Close-up of two muscovy ducks.
The ducks are well and truly at home on the farm.

Muscovy Ducks On The Farm

Muscovies are fascinating birds. They may look alike but their personalities are quite different. Some are shy, others pushy: always arriving first to the meal bucket. Some stick close to the pond while others range far and wide over the paddocks. One duck is a loner and likes to potter up the gravel road far from home.

In Spring and Autumn the ducks and drakes pair off, and begin to prepare their nests. These could be found anywhere: under a bush… in the rushes… between two hay bales… But the one place you’ll never find them is up in a tree. Muscovies are big, heavy birds. They can fly but tend to stay low to the ground. They would never dream of doing anything as precarious as nesting in a tree.

Close-up of Muscovy duck on a nest in the hay barn.
Nesting quietly in the hay barn.

One peculiarity of Muscovies — and this is truly bizarre — the ducklings cannot get wet!  

Say what?  Hey back up — these are water birds that can’t get wet?

Yes, strange as it may seem, if Muscovy ducklings get their backs wet and cold in the first few weeks of life it can be fatal. However, neither ducks nor ducklings are aware of this fact and they scramble to dive into water whenever they see it. I’ve been known to administer life-saving first aid in the form of a warm hair dryer and a towel by the fire when, despite all our care, three ducklings managed to fall into a small bucket of water last spring.

Close-up of mother muscovy duck and day-old ducklings.
Safe from the rain and predators in the sturdy hutch, built for us by the local school’s woodwork class.

So we keep the mothers and babies in sturdy hutches for the first month or two. After that they are free to enjoy the pond on fine days, but we still shut them in at night or when the weather is rough. The cages protect them from more than the weather. There are plenty of stoats, wild cats and even hawks around, all looking to snaffle a tasty treat.

Group of muscovy ducks eating grain.
The ducks love their grain.

Twice a day we head up the paddock to feed the ducklings. I take the early shift as part of my morning walk. The Farmer takes the evening shift. That’s when all the ducks congregate. When they hear the little Polaris chugging towards the pond, they rush in from far and wide to gobble the scattered grain.

Too Many Ducks

Muscovy meat  is tender and sweet, and the eggs are huge and tasty. Both are considered delicacies amongst the duck-connoisseurs in our community. But these birds are our pets, and although we eat the eggs, somehow we just can’t bring ourselves to eat the ducks. However they are prolific breeders and we can’t keep too many of them because the pond won’t stay healthy and clean if it’s overpopulated.

Mum, Dad and the kids. The fifth and final batch this autumn.

So the first time the population rose above 40 I put an ad in the local paper. “Muscovy ducks for sale.” I couldn’t believe how fast they sold. We haven’t had to advertise again. Those same customers now phone up every season:

“Are the ducks for sale yet?”

And when the answer is yes, they can’t get here fast enough. I don’t ask what they do with their ducks. I don’t want to know.

 

Indigestion: Such A Horrible Pain

Have you ever experienced indigestion?

Indigestion is an innocuous word for an absolutely horrible feeling. At best it feels like acid rising out of your stomach and up towards your throat. That’s painful enough but antacids will quickly solve it.

But at its worst, pain grasps your stomach, throat, belly and chest. It claws at your gut and refuses to release. You breathe in shallow gasps because it hurts to fill your lungs. Your abdomen is tight, bloated and full of wind. Even your heart hurts. Antacids take forever to kick in. Walking around eases the pain a little, as does drinking hot water. Often it just goes on and on until you vomit.

As you can imagine, after an attack like that your stomach is upset for hours, sometimes days. It’s not much fun!

Tablets Can Help Sometimes

There’s a whole heap of medicine out there dedicated to the relief of indigestion so that you don’t get to that worst-case scenario, and I’ve taken them all. They worked fine for a long time, but in the past few months the long- term, daily-dose pill suddenly stopped working. Oh no! There I was, back in that state where I was popping antacids two, three, even four times a day  just to keep the indigestion at bay.

A Lasting Solution  

Once my sisters and I started the Blitz — Healthy Eating Challenge: Putting on the Blitz — I learned a very important lesson. My body simply won’t tolerate processed junk any more.

During the first three weeks of this healthy eating challenge, I’ve only had indigestion once , and that was the weekend we went out for a meal twice in the same day.  I ate the healthiest things on the menu (which wasn’t saying much) but that night — OUCH! Not the worst kind, but it sure hurt. Back on the Blitz the next day and my stomach was back to normal thank goodness.

A Wake-Up Call

This is a wake-up call because now I realise with my whole being, this is not a game. It’s not something I can do for a while, but then let old habits slip back over time (as has happened in the past.) Forget about  losing weight — that’s a nice by-product, but it’s not the goal any more. Now the health of my digestive system is my number one priority and motivation.

Of course I won’t be Blitzing for life — that’s not realistic. But I will be committing very seriously to eating whole, healthy food once the Blitz is finished. You won’t see pizza, cakes or chips in my hand again. I’m not even tempted by them. I’d far rather eat food like this:

Indigestion Buster: A bowl of quinoa, rice, mushrooms,, spinach decorated with pear slices.
A delicious meal from Week 2.

Gathering In The Grain

Gathering In The Grain

A paddock of ripe barley, mountains in the background.
Ripe barley, waiting for the harvester.

The grain is ripe, gleaming gold in the sunlight. Paddocks ripple when a breeze rustles through the tall stems. We’ve been so thankful for our wet fortnight but now we pray the rain will stop. We need dry, windy weather to harvest the grain. Anticipation has been building for days. The combine harvester has been checked and cleaned and the transport truck is on standby. Once the moisture content of the barley kernels drops we’ll be good to go.

A Vital Crop.

Undoubtedly the most important crop to harvest on the farm is the grain. The barley and oats are vital winter feed for our animals.

In the winter it’s too cold for the grass to grow so we feed the sheep grain, hay and baleage (individually wrapped bales of fermented grass). Every spring we sow many acres of seed, and each autumn we harvest the grain to fill our silos and sell to local farmers.

Garston doesn’t have endless crop-filled plains like the US or Australia. In those countries huge combines chug along day and night in a straight line, their drivers almost on autopilot. But our paddocks are small, bounded by wire fences and filled with bumps and hollows. The driver must be alert at all times. He has to watch out for dips or rises in the ground, not to mention the occasional rock. He must always keep the combine even and has to constantly make small adjustments. One of my many brothers-in-law is the driver. He likes to begin harvesting on the outside of the paddock, and moves in ever-decreasing circuits until the last one is done in the middle.

Close-up photo of ripe barley kernels on a stalk.

Will the Combine Last the Distance?

Finally a nor’wester springs to life. In Garston this is a hot, dry wind. During the summer drought it sucked every bit of moisture out of the ground and we shook our fists at it; but now we’re smiling, because it will dry out the grain. (We can’t harvest wet grain because it will spoil in the silos.) So now we have but one, fervent wish: that the old combine will not break down.

Twenty years ago, she was a sparkling, brand new Massey Ferguson Harvester. Not the biggest, but perfect for our needs. I still remember the day she drove up, gleaming red and ready for action. Lenny, the proud salesman, followed hard on her heels; delighted to show her off and bask in our excitement. His Scottish accent broadened till we could hardly understand him, as he explained all her wonderful features. We christened her with cups of coffee and cake. Then she rumbled into the paddock and our first-ever trouble-free harvest began.

The MF replaced an ancient harvester which constantly broke down every season. No wonder we were so delighted with our new machine. In her first few years harvesting happened without a hitch. But those days are long gone. Now the old girl is showing her age — as are the farmers. But we can’t afford to replace her, so we start the season, once again, with our fingers crossed.

What Exactly is a Combine Harvester?

A red Massey Ferguson Combine harvesting grain.
Our faithful M.F. Harvester.

A combine harvester combines the actions of cutting, threshing and winnowing the grain— which used to be done with separate implements — into one machine. It’s a complicated beast: full of cutters, wheels, cogs, chains and belts. There’s lots of potential for things to go wrong.

Close up of the front cutter and reel of a combine harvester
Image by Barescar90 on Pixabay

The front has a long blade which cuts the stalks close to the ground. A reel goes round and brings the grain-filled stalks to an augur which then drags it up into the machine. An auger is a metal tube with a giant screw inside. The screw turns and the spirals take the grain up the auger.

Inside it goes into a drum which knocks the grain kernels out. They fall through sieves, and onto an elevator which drops them into a big tank.

The straw, dust, and chaff (husks and smaller grains) then pass over a series of riddles which catch any further grain and send it to the elevator. The rest is blown out the back, to lie in neat rows. It’s a noisy, complicated, fascinating process.

Harvesting Begins.

So off we go on the harvest treadmill. Round goes the combine with the transporter truck waiting patiently in a corner of the paddock. When the combine’s tank is full of grain, an orange signal light begins to blink and the truck driver knows to drive alongside. A small auger winds out from the side and all the grain is pumped out into the truck’s enormous bin. This will happen over and over again until the bin is full. Then the truck will head to the silo where it will tip the grain into another auger, which will take it to a hole in the top of the silo. Down it pours, into the dark depths, and the truck trundles back to the paddock ready to receive the next load.

A few rows behind the combine, my nephew is driving his tractor and baler. He’s gathering the straw into big, round bales, which he will sell to a local dairy farmer who winters his cows inside big barns. The straw will make excellent bedding for the cows.

The transport truck waits near the combine harvester to receive its next load of grain.
The truck is ready and waiting for its next load of grain.

Round And Round We Go.

This cycle goes on and on, broken every now and then by my arrival with a meal. Morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner… even supper if the wind is still blowing and they are harvesting after dark. It’s a much-needed break for the drivers and they stretch their legs gratefully as they chat over coffee and food. But all too soon it’s back to the machines and the harvest grinds on.

And the combine  breaks down. Again! This time it’s a tiny, innocuous button on the joystick that raises and lowers the front. Oh, so small — it’s been under the driver’s thumb every harvest toggling east, west, north, south, making small adjustments. I didn’t even know it existed until it broke, but apparently it’s essential. And it’s difficult to replace —  not to mention expensive!

Farmers are resourceful people — the men repair the button with Blu Tack and Superglue, and carry on. The repair lasts for a few hours, but that blasted button continues to break down. They call in the local engineer… the mechanic… the whizz-kid from down the road… each one makes a temporary repair — and the grain harvest continues until…

Finally Finished.

The last grain topples into the silo. The engines switch off and peace descends over the farm. Harvest is done for another year. We’d celebrate — if we weren’t all so exhausted. The combine drives back into her shed. Now we’ve got a year to source and repair that pesky button, before we start the process all over again next autumn.

Harvested paddock dotted with straw bales.
The harvest is finished. The round bales of straw wait patiently for the tractor to move them.

Did you enjoy reading about the grain harvest?  If so, you’ll probably like the other posts in this series:

Mushrooms Galore

Precious Pears

Hops in a Hurry

I’d love to know what you think. Do you have experience of harvest time on a farm? Maybe you’re from the city and interested in other ways of life?

Let me know in the comments below.

Healthy Eating Challenge: Putting on the Blitz

Pineapple with leaves, fruit and smoothie

Healthy Eating (Again): Part 1.

You wake up feeling sluggish. You didn’t sleep well — again! In the shower you make a promise: “Today I’ll start my diet. Today I’m going to be healthy. No sugar — no snacks. I can do this!” You step out of the shower completely resolved. Today’s the first day of the rest of your life.

You eat breakfast   feeling good so far. You skip the biscuits at morning tea — now feeling virtuous. Lunch is a big, healthy salad — great.

By 3pm your energy is beginning to flag. 4 o’clock drags around and those biscuits are calling. You turn your back, grit your teeth and carry on.

By tea time you’re ravenous. You load up your plate: healthy but huge. Somehow it’s not enough. All that food and your mind says more, more. I want pudding. You give in. Out comes the ice cream or the cake. You’ve blown it again. “Tomorrow,” you vow. “I’ll try again tomorrow… or maybe next week.”

Sound familiar? This was my life for YEARS. Every day I blew it. Frustration, failure, misery — I knew them all intimately.

Then one day everything changed!

Help Is At Hand.

18 months ago I found a programme that seriously kicked butt. It’s called the Blitz. Run by “superwoman” Tania Campbell of Fitness For Life in Queenstown, the Blitz has changed my life. Not a diet, but a healthy eating programme, the Blitz is guaranteed to help me lose weight AND, more importantly, change my eating habits.

The Blitz gives you six weeks of meal menus, shopping lists and recipes, plus coaching, encouragement and accountability. You have to report your progress to Tania each week, and that’s a huge motivation right there. It costs: that’s part of the motivation too. After all, you’ve forked out good money for this programme. If you cheat it’s all been wasted.

Exercise is part of the deal, of course. It’s a simple formula really: eat healthy food and exercise regularly. I go to fitness classes and yoga, and of course I love to walk.

I seriously loved doing that first Blitz, and carried it on for 9 weeks. By the end I’d lost 12kg and felt wonderful. So much energy… so much more joy in life. Some of the recipes I loved and still use regularly, others I dropped thankfully. In the next few months I looked online for healthy recipes and wasn’t afraid to experiment and try new tastes. I knew I had to keep on with healthy eating if I wanted to keep the weight off and the energy up.

Pineapple with leaves, fruit and smoothie.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

This week I started another Blitz. Old habits have crept back into my life: bread, ice cream, chips… ahh. It’s time for a reset.

I’m extra excited because this time my sisters are joining me in the challenge. They don’t live in Queenstown; they’re doing the online version. It’s great to have that extra support and to be a support for them in return.  

This is what will happen:

  • We’ll lose weight.
  • Physically, emotionally, mentally we’ll feel great.
  • Sugar cravings will have disappeared.
  • Sleeping will be so much easier.
  • We will be properly hydrated.

I know because I’ve been there before. I’ve slipped off track recently, but not so far that it’s hard to go back.

I’m looking forward to this: Okay Blitzers  –  healthy eating here we come!

 

Please note, this is not an affiliate post. I receive no compensation for this post, it’s just something I really love to do and would recommend. 

 

 

Hops In A Hurry

All the stars aligned last weekend and suddenly the hop harvest was underway. The flowers are not supposed to be ready for another ten days, but the weather gods smiled and the hops ripened fast. Fortunately it was Easter and those of us with other jobs were free. The plans I had for a quiet holiday were shelved. The hops had to be picked fast, so the call went out — HELP! And, luckily for us, people responded.  

Hops are an interesting crop — and an experimental one for our farm. You see, according to the experts, hops won’t thrive this far south in New Zealand. It’s too cold; too windy; too far down at the bottom of the world. But the experts hadn’t seen the vine Cousin Matt had been quietly nurturing in a sheltered corner of his garden down the road. We knew that one hop plant would grow, but could they grow on a larger scale? We decided to find out.

Hop frames in a tree lined paddock.

It didn’t take long to identify the perfect hop-growing-spot on our farm. We call it the “Tree Surrounded Paddock.” Sheltered from the wind in every direction, flat as a pancake, beautiful soil… a southern paradise for hops we felt. And, two years down the track, the hops seem to agree.

Little boy measuring a hole in the snow.

Hops seedlings may start out small, but in just a few months they shoot up about three meters. Everyone in the family helped to build the frames needed to support such tall plants.

Tall Hop Plants

 

 

Hops need plenty of water and fertilizer, so we put in a small automatic watering system. Last year the timer worked perfectly. This year it didn’t. But, with the drought sucking every drop of moisture out of the farm for months, the hops had to get by on short rations, just like the rest of us. They got watered each week, but not on the ideal daily basis

Interestingly, the hops don’t seem to have worried too much. I mean, just look at all the flowers!

Hop plants on the sorting table.

To harvest the flowers we cut the vines at the top and bottom, and carted the whole plant to the picking room aka my brother-in-law’s carport. On a large hop farm with a huge volume of flowers, this is all mechanised but we must pick and sort every flower by hand. Again friends and family and even the brewers rallied round and we got the whole crop done in two days. It’s not hard work, but it can be tedious. Fortunately there was lots of good conversation, music and huge home-cooked meals to keep us all going.

Hop flower split to show yellow resin inside.

Hops are used for making beer. The flowers contain a yellow resin which is used to flavour the beer. Different varieties offer different tastes and a brewer will blend them to get a distinctive flavour in the beer. Normally the flowers would be dried and made into pellets, to be stored and used when needed. But this year our hops are heading straight to Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing, who plan to make a special green-hop brew. Time is of the essence: the flowers must arrive fresh. There is a very short window of opportunity when making this sort of beer.

In New Zealand, and indeed worldwide, there is a burgeoning interest in craft beer. Home brewing is on the rise and micro-breweries seem to be springing up all over the place. More and more people are becoming interested in beer as a drink to savour and appreciate. I think it’s all part of the slow living, back to our roots movement that’s happening all over the world.

Beer bottles with sun between them.

Our aim is to support our local micro-breweries by providing them with naturally produced, locally grown hops. Minimal food miles and maximum goodness. Sounds perfect to me. Cheers!