It’s springtime (well sort of… This is Ohio) and I am eager to expand my flocks of chickens and ducks so I can continue to work on my enclosed ecosystem here at Mezzacello. My New Zealand Rabbits are stable at five (two does and three bucks) and my fowl are mixed success. The chickens are healthy and hardy, but the ducks… Oy. I’ve done a lot of research about the fowl I keep here. I choose the animals I do to meet the ecological and environmental constraints of Central Ohio, North America. That being said, I don’t always chose wisely.
I chose my first chicken breed, Rhode Island Red, because it was a sex-linked hybrid that laid prolifically. But I got greedy on my tiny footprint of urban garden. Those chickens were mean! So I switched breeds to the more docile and cold tolerant Buff Orpington and I have been very happy. The Buffs are gentle, handle temperature extremes well, and they don’t have an overly aggressive temperament. Also, they are great mother birds, and the one rooster I’ve had was a handsome and gentle bird. The chicks are extremely hardy and I have never had a problem. The hens will step in to help rear the chicks and keep them warm. But I am facing a crisis with my ducks.
The first breed of duck I tried was the Welsh Harlequin. Great egg layer, cold/heat tolerant and the mothers were doting and the ducklings were hardy. The only problems were that they are very aggressive and the males attack everything (think Donald Duck), and their small bodies fit through the wrought iron gate and fence and thus out into the street. So I switched to the Saxony breed. A lovely breed of duck. Rare, handsome, much larger, and a decent layer. Well, I have not had much luck. They seem to be weak, and have a lot of health issues. I’ve lost three hens and one drake. The pair I have now mate, but she has yet to lay a single egg. I may have to reconsider.
It’s important that all the animals (including the humans) at Mezzacello pull their weight. The margins on this third of an acre are pretty tight. The Buff Orpington hens and the New Zealand rabbits are hardy and very easy to manage. They produce hardy young and are great for manure, eggs, and meat. But the ducks, they pose more than a few problems. I am committed to continuing to try to integrate the Saxony ducks into the ecosystem, but they have to give me more to work with. I’m trying for six ducklings this spring. Maybe I’ll get this flock of aquatic birds integrated into the farmyard, the pond and the food cycle. Only time will tell.