Table of Contents
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Join Nicole and Keith with Flatlander Farm as they discuss the many facets of raising ducks on pasture for eggs.
What You’ll Learn
- How Keith went from vegan to farmer
- Why Flatlander Farm raises pastured ducks
- The difference between duck and chicken eggs
- Free range ducks as an enterprise
- Keeping birds warm in -30F winters without heat
Lisa and Keith Drinkwine own and operate Flatlander Farm in Starksboro, Vermont, where they raise pastured chicken, duck, goose and goat for meat as well as duck eggs.
Flatlander Farm specializes in slow growing pastured poultry production. Their birds are given plenty of space in their day range system and are moved often to a new pasture spot after the goats have mowed ahead of them. Finally, their slow growing poultry is tastier, richer in flavor and make incredible roasting birds.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Flatlander Farm Instagram
- Flatlander Farm Facebook
- Email Keith
- Flatlander Farm Website
- Email us! [email protected]
*Denotes affiliate links
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Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from heritageacresmarket.com, where we talk about all things, Backyard Poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
Nicole: Good morning everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm Nicole and today we're joined by Keith with Flatlander Farm and he's here to talk about his farm and especially their operation of raising ducks for eggs. Thank you so much Keith for joining the show.
Keith: Yeah, thanks for having us. I appreciate it and happy to chat.
Nicole: Yeah, I'm excited. We have ducks as well on a small scale so I'm excited to hear how you guys raise your ducks but can you kind of give us an overview of kind of who you guys are and some more about your farm?
Keith: Yeah, absolutely. My wife Lisa and I, we run Flatlander Farm. We're located here in Stark Sparrow, Vermont, which is essentially located between Burlington and Middlebury. We've been doing this since 2013. Started with two goats that we were just milking and I had kind of had the bug to raise some meat chickens. We're doing that and that all kind of spiraled pretty quickly to having a production flock of not only layer ducks for eggs but expanding our pasture chicken offerings, doing some pasture goose as well as doing around 300 plus meat birds a year. I bought Pekins in Muskogee and honestly we also expanded our goat herd as well, have more of a focus on goat meat, over milking dairy goat. And in all of those enterprises, all of them are pretty central to pastured poultry and goat.
Keith: But when I started farming, I had no real interest in raising ducks. It kind of just grew out, just the passion to learn more and to do more. I certainly wasn't super interested in keeping ducks year round and having them be used for eggs and the whole duck egg market in and of itself and trying to break into that. If you had asked me six years ago when we started, where would we be in five or six or 10 years? I probably would not have mentioned duck eggs but for us, the real growth sector, we can wholesale them.
Keith: There's a pretty good demand for them in our area. There's not a whole lot of folks doing it. There's certainly no one doing it on our scale. That makes it a little bit easier. But compared to our meat birds that we process ourselves on farm, that's a heck of a lot easier just bringing whatever our store needs for half dozen of duck eggs to them every week and not having to deal with the regulations and all of the hangups and holdups that come along with processing birds and getting them to customers. Eggs are nice, not as perishable, no freezers involved. It's pretty handy.
Nicole: It's funny how things seem to spiral out of control. It starts with two innocent goats and then next thing you know you've got a whole farm.
Keith: Yeah. We're a classic case for that. Yeah.
Nicole: Yes. You got the farming disease.
Nicole: How did you decide duck eggs instead of chicken eggs?
Keith: To take us back a little bit farther, I grew up in the suburbs of Albany, New York, moved to Vermont to finish my college degree and in that time ended up at Green Mountain College. They had a real big focus on agriculture and food systems and even though that's not directly what I was studying, it really rubbed off on me, gave me a big perspective. I was actually even a vegan for six years and those years kind of nestled while I was at Green Mountain College. There's definitely a period where I had really pushed aside animal farming and the practice of monocultural farming and factory farming and confinement in operation. And that led me to my days as a vegan. But that was more of a reaction of not really being grounded in an agricultural community and seeing what folks were doing and could do with animals out on pasture.
Keith: Once I saw what could be done and what was being done, that's when I decided to buy some meat birds. I'm still growing Freedom Rangers and that's turned into what we do now, which isn't even solar growing, 12, 14 week brought out time for our black label broilers that we raise. For us, it's been about really kind of pushing the envelope. Great. It's awesome that chickens are out on pasture but maybe the Cornish Cross isn't really the best option, especially not for us, but we think there's a better tasting bird out there and there's a healthier more welfare appropriate bird to be raising outdoors. In all of that soul searching, I just summarized about 10 years of farm soul searching. My wife and I met down in Poultney, Vermont, which is where Green Mountain College is and was located.
Keith: I was working on a veggie farm and fell in love with agriculture, produce farming specifically in those early years. We just started kind of piecing it together. We didn't own land. We kind of had a dream of what we wanted to do. There was a period where in four different seasons we moved the farm every year, four different times until we found the piece of land that we live and own and farm on now and Stark Sparrow. For me, moving in general, it's not fun, but trying to move a farm operation, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Moving goats is one thing but having to move a flock of birds is just absurd. For the first four years until we found the property that we ended up purchasing, we're obviously still here.
Keith: I was just like, no overwintered poultry of any stripe because I know we very potentially might have to move them. Once we found a piece of land that we could call our own and not feel bad about leaving bog gallon buckets strewn all over place and having to keep super tidy. We have been raising meat birds because those are seasonal, right? We get them in the spring or early summer and processing them in the fall and then it's a lot easier to move a frozen chicken than a live chicken. When we did finally land here, we had been selling chickens and ducks and goat meat. We had started attending the Burlington farmer's markets and some other farmer's markets and our general area, and you really get a pulse for what people want, think they want and what they absolutely have no idea about sitting in front of a farmer's market booth for many hours every Saturday.
Keith: In that spell, because obviously we're selling meat ducks, people started asking us for duck eggs and the first couple of times I just kind of shook my head and was like, "Duck eggs? What are you talking about? "I hadn't had them before and again, we didn't have the land base or the permanent space for me to fully wrap my head around it. But we ended up just getting a small flock of 30 bucks. Our first season, some production birds to start, some hybrids but also some chocolate muscovies from farming friends in the Northeast kingdom.
Keith: The eggs started trickling in that first spring and we brought them in the market and for every person that bought a six pack of duck eggs, there was 10 people asking us what the difference was between a duck egg and chicken egg and we finally just slowly built that market to the point where the demand for our wholesale account is such that we're taking a bit of a hiatus on the farmer's markets all together and the time that it takes me to deliver a decent order to a store, it's maybe half an hour in and out if you include a little bit of our drive time. I would sell the same amount in five hours standing at the farmer's market, so that goes back to just the non perishability or the less perishable nature of the duck eggs and this slowly kind of building that demand.
Keith: To circle back to why duck eggs and why not chicken eggs? There's a lot of farming activity up here, a lot of young farmers really trying to create a niche for themselves.The chicken egg market in season is saturated. If you have eggs when other folks are off peak season, you can do just fine. But in season, which is when our eggs are in season, heavy from March until September. We would have a hard time even getting someone to answer our call about chicken eggs. And I went back to my whole mindset of like, "Let's really differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. Let's do slow-growing chicken, let's do pastured duck. Let's do stuff that's not already represented. Stuff that folks can't find in the store, that other growers aren't raising."
Keith: For me it was that but also ducks are just inherently more expensive or they're way more of troublemakers than chickens are. I'm not ashamed to say that chickens are not notorious for being very smart but I think ducks are a little bit of a notch below them. There's a huge learning curve with the ducks. And so because the costs are more, we need to naturally charge more for our duck eggs. For me, when I sat down and ran the numbers on duck eggs, us landing at like 120 bird flocks for duck eggs was about the equivalent of doing 600 to 800 chickens, which is the minimum that you would need to be doing to be even running a viable enterprise.
Keith: The other backstory in all this is that my wife Lisa and I both worked full time. We both have full time jobs up in Burlington, so between that and the commute, we have very limited time here on the farm to get everything done. The fact that we're able to collect and wash and pack fewer eggs and get the revenues that we need from them, it all really kind of interlock in that special way when you know that you found an enterprise that works for you and your farm.
Nicole: From a business standpoint, it definitely sounds like the duck eggs were kind of the perfect solution for you guys with your time and availability. When you said that people asked you what the difference between a duck egg and a chicken egg was, what would you tell them?
Keith: Yeah. Folks who are just funny. It would always be a challenge for what they were actually asking. Just being at a market and in general it's always a challenge because there's price consideration, we obviously are going to charge what we need to charge. I guess I'm going to leave that all aside because markets are just a challenge. I have a flashback. Some of the really silly questions we've been asked over the years, generally speaking, a chicken egg and a duck egg, there's not a huge flavor difference and that's what folks are always asking about. They're like, "Does it taste different? Does it taste ducky or gammier?" It's more intense. It's more of a bold egg. It's richer, it's creamier, there's less water in it. We would always use the selling point that it was more nutrient dense. Baker's really enjoy duck eggs for that kind of fluffy rich richness that it lends to their baked goods.
Keith: And usually at this point in my pitch, people would either be pulling out their wallets because they wanted to buy some or they started to turn their head a little bit to the side. It's like, "Who talks that long winded about an egg?" Because you're trying to differentiate yourself. But I finally had to be just like, "You can use them interchangeably. It doesn't need to be a funny or weird or even a special occasion thing. It's just a better, more enjoyable eating experience. And we use them for omelets. We use them for quiche. We use them any way that you'd use a chicken egg, you don't have to use as many because they're generally bigger and they're more dense. It's just a better eating experience."
Keith: And it always kind of tied into our philosophy. We don't think chicken is chicken. We don't think an egg is an egg. One of the main reasons that I put up with having an off farm job and still farming gear for ourselves is because I want people to have that amazing experience. And I don't think that they necessarily need to go pay a lot of money to have a really amazing evening. Having a really well trained chef, make a meal for them. I think there's so much that's been lost historically in our skillsets, in our understanding of not only culturally around agriculture and farming and food systems, but just culinarily in our kitchen. If there was a secret mission to our farms, it's to really empower the home chef and get them to be creating amazing meals just because they're using better and more just flavorful ingredients. And that's really where the duck egg really slides in and does its job
Nicole: Well, as far as secret missions. I think that that's a great one. I totally agree there's a lot that's lost and a lot to be said for having high quality foods in your kitchen, that makes a ton of difference.
Keith: Yeah. In my opinion, it makes all the difference. We used to grill up some of our chicken because we would be there on a hot July day and no one wanted to take a frozen chicken home and then I would start grilling them to give people samples. Their first question was always. "What did you put on this? And I'm like, "It's quite simply, salt, pepper and a little bit of garlic. What you're tasting is just good ducken. There's no secret cooking trick, it's just better. That was the backbone our secret mission there for sure.
Nicole: I guess your secret's out.
Keith: There it is. Have at it.
Nicole: What breed of ducks do you raise now?
Keith: Yeah. Just out of more of a simple kind of nature, we just trying to be a little bit less reliant on some of the big hatcheries that we obviously use for our meat birds. But we started using the Khaki Campbell just as a straight ahead breed and they've been wonderful for us. They do a great job. They're not super heavy birds, so the amount of grain that they're eating to produce eggs isn't super high. There's not a lot. There's next to no information about duck egg production out there. I spend the winter and a lot of downtime and especially early on reading and just trying to learn and going to different conferences and talk to the growers that would be willing to chat with me.
Keith: But there's very little literature out there about duck egg production. If you want to be a serious commercial chicken, pastured chicken producer, there's literally books and articles and how to guides and there's even mock budgets out there and they're pretty easy from the type of theaters you have and we're in a place and how high up to place them to what breed you should be running and what that percentage of egg looks like exact down to the exact poundage of feed per egg produced. It's pretty easy because spent a lot of money and a lot of research into that. But for us it's been a lot of observation. It's been a lot of patience to kind of get to a place where we feel like it's starting to really clear and be a really robust enterprise for us. And compared to our other enterprises, which are all meat meat-based products, the eggs are six to eight months. Very robust production and in those six to eight months, that's all cashflow, which we don't see as even as a cashflow distribution with our entire meat birds though.
Nicole: What is your setup? I imagine that kind of the housing requirements for the ducks is probably somewhat different anyways than the requirements for your pasture chickens.
Keith: Yeah. We're up in Vermont and we're also up in elevation of that where out west that may not seem like much this may not seem like much but it can be pretty dramatic when we drop down into the valleys but we're up at like 12 to 1400 feet of elevation and we're on the Western side of the start of the Green Mountains. We get a lot of wind and we get a lot of snow and our winters can be pretty severe. It's not common to have a couple mornings every winter that it's negative. The lowest is in the negative 20's and we're out there in the negative in the negative teens trying to make sure that everyone has water is comfortable and good to go.
Keith: But we don't have a lot of money. Everything that we've created here has been through labor of love. We've obviously taken out some loans and had family offer up assistance, whether it's monetary loan, one that we've paid back or just come over and help us get stuff done. We're first-generation farmers as well, so we don't have a lot of cash to throw at a lot of problems. This is all leading up to me to say that our duck egg is about 12 pallets that are all kind of hitched together and that's kind of all framed in with siding. It's got a steel roof over it. It's not completely air tight by any means. And then off the front of that is about a 30 foot long green house that's made out of what used to be some of the portable pastured chicken and duck structures that we would cart around the fields in the pasture. We just have those kind of three of those lined up.
Keith: And then just skinned with the heaviest green grass plastic we could find on the internet. That honestly does the job. There's definitely days that it's a little squirrelly. The ducks don't like being confined. They get very agitated if they don't have access to outside. If that greenhouse space kind of acts as a run for them but pretty much if it's pushing 20 degrees above freezing, those ducks are outside and they're fine and they're happy in their content. During the winter it's all about just making sure they have water that's open to them. And it's really just about keeping them dry so a lot of vetting and just keeping the wind off of them, which is what that structure for the most part does a good enough job but they're just able to stay dry and they're able to get out of the snow if they need to.
Keith: I actually learned this from my veggie growing days. Some greenhouse growers would always say that if they were using supplemental heat in the greenhouses, it was the days that it was in the '20s and '30s that they would be using the most oil or propane or wood heat for supplemental heat. It was on the days that were in the single digits, they didn't have to use any supplemental heat and that's because when it's that cold, it's that cold because all the clouds are not overhead when the clouds are all overhead the sun's not coming through the one things up. I knew that there's a good working plan of just having a large enough greenhouse structure that could act as a heat absorber even in the winter to help get those ducks through. And then their own body heat and we do a bedded pack home system in their houses as well. We definitely had our issues mainly in the first season, definitely some frostbite but since then and since we've put this parent structure together, we have almost no issues.
Nicole: I'm glad that mentioned the supplemental heating because that's a big debate as to whether or not you should add heat lamps and stuff and we actually have a podcast that'll come out about mid September, early October, that's about heat Lamps and overall I don't support them in 99% of the situations. I liked the idea of kind of having their own attached greenhouse for lack of better terms...
Nicole: ...to absorb the heat. I think that's a really creative idea in a way to overcome the need for electricity and then of course the danger of a heat lamp.
Keith: Yeah, absolutely. And again, going back we don't have a huge flock. 100 birds in the grand scheme of things is not a ginormous flock by any stretch and we have zero need to be adding any heat lamps during the winter. And again, I would actually repeat that some of our coldest nights can be pushing negative 30. It can be done.
Nicole: Absolutely. What do you do for their water in the winter?
Keith: Yeah. Water-
Nicole: Yeah, exactly.
Keith: No matter what's going on, the best days are when it's raining because-
Keith: ...they don't even care about the water you put out for them. If water falls in front of them it's like a minor miracle to them.
Nicole: That's my least favorite thing about ducks is the water
Keith: They are messy, they're gross, they waste. Trying to run an efficient pastured chicken, meat bird operation. You just sit there and you guys are the most inefficient water users I've ever seen and seeing the story of the duck and sitting in the water in the middle of winter but we just have open troughs that we can knock water out of. What we do is just leave one tub in with them when we close them up for the evening and we'll have kind of a dedicated area that's just, "Go ahead ducks, make it disgusting. We'll keep throwing shavings down but it's not going to be where you stand, so please don't stand there in the middle of the night. You have plenty of other warm fluffy bedded places to hunker down." I think that's really a good guiding post for any livestock production is knowing what and in life in general, I guess, knowing what battles to really fight back. We're just like, "All right ducks, you can have this one area that can be a total mess zone and we're not going to get irritated about it.
Keith: It's your mess, it's how you have water and then we'll open them up in the morning and there's more troughs outside for them and at that point it's just making sure that there's enough water out there that they can all get a drink and have some access during the day and honestly during the winter it can be a little bit of a challenge when we're not here during the day, so we'll set out really more water than they would really need but that's just to make sure that they can all be hydrated when we come back home. But it is a game of just knocking ice buckets out and filling them up. It's a game of just hauling water in the winter, even if it's just a couple of feet.
Keith: I have a sled that I used to bring them their grain and water because inevitably the frost free hygiene will not be so frost free in the middle of winter. When. it's really bad, I'll be hauling water from the upstairs bathroom and out to the house and just keep my gaze forward and make sure there is no... Well, I know there's looks and seize from my lovely wife but I just had on out and get the water to them whatever way it needs to get done. But water, out of all of this, the grossest, it's the messiest, it's the biggest challenge. And you just kind of have to get over their inefficiency. We have a well, a pretty deep well and productive well that we've never run into a water shortage. We're fortunate in that regard. If I was living in a water sensitive area, I might not consider running ducks, at least not at the scale that we're even doing. But be forewarned, it's true. Ducks are gross and messy and waste so much water.
Nicole: Well, that makes me feel a little bit better. We only have about a half dozen, obviously much smaller scale but there is no efficient way and it drives me nuts. And you're right, they're so gross. And sometimes I ask myself, why do I have you still?
Nicole: But I love them.
Keith: Yeah. I hear you.
Nicole: I couldn't imagine having 10 fold but we have... Oh my goodness actually would be like 20 fold I guess but so-
Keith: I still ask myself why even when the egg chicks are coming in this is so silly.
Nicole: Yeah. Do the ducks lay in nest boxes or specific place? Yeah, that's what I figured.
Keith: Is that a joke? No. Not even close.
Nicole: It's like Easter egg hunt every morning?
Keith: That's exactly what I say. People ask me what it's like being a duck egg farmer. And I'm like, "It's great. It's Easter morning every single morning." In the winter it's kind of manageable. Again, you're kind of waiting for it to warm up, so they're kind of enclosed to a space which we talk about how we get them into an enclosed space because they don't reus naturally. This is really turning into a seminar on why ducks are such a pain.
Keith: In the winter it's pretty easy because they're all kind of stuck in one general area and you're digging through sawdust and pawn through all this different stuff, just to make sure that you're finding all the eggs. They're not completely broke, they're not complete anarchists. There will be some nesting areas that they'll use over and over again. But if those become unsettled or the moon's not full, they'll decide not to use that nesting spot anymore. In the winter it's pretty easy. It's not too bad. But during the summer even when we haven't closed within our electric polly net, there's just eggs everywhere. There's no rhyme or reason to it at all.
Keith: I borrowed from a chicken egg farming friend. I borrowed one of those roll away nest boxes that are pretty slick and I wanted with all my heart for that to be the answer and to walk out there with every egg clean and neat in the back of this roll away nesting box. And we got a couple of takers but it was maybe three eggs out of the 100, if not 100 but three eggs out of the 80 or so that we were collecting during the day. I sprayed it off and scrubbed it up real nice for him and gave it back because it wasn't working out.
Keith: Yeah, absolutely no rhyme or reason until they decide that they want to lay on a nest and then there's hardly any getting them off of that. They're pretty broody and pretty vicious and honestly they'll end up squirreling away in the strangest of places. At that point I'm like, "I'm not reaching under there for your eggs even if you weren't on them. So have at it."
Nicole: Do you intentionally breed them or do you just kind of let broody moms let it be or-
Keith: No. Every day, every morning the goal is to pick up every egg that we can see because we have very little use for them kind of taking the production into their own time schedule and hands or wings. It's all about just making sure we're picking up all the eggs. We're not coming across eggs that might be a couple of days old. And then we'll just put in, in order to get whatever we placed on layer ducks we need for this season. But if it happens, I'm not saying that I run the perfectly tight ship. We definitely we'll have ducks that go rogue and come back with some baby ducks and that's cute for a couple of days and honestly, they usually just end up dying off and I'm trying to raise several 100 meat birds and I don't have time to baby these three little ducks that the mom decided to make happen. The short answer is yeah, it happens but it's not part of our production plan by any stretch.
Nicole: Sure. What is the average production life of a duck? How long are they useful as an egg layer?
Keith: Yeah, we're still kind of figuring that out and we've got some birds that are four years old. It seems like they keep pretty good level of production even as they start to age on and again, I've read a lot of egg chicken laying literature and talked to a lot of folks and even in the pasture animal welfare scene, a year in and that's it even if you're out of your chickens. So I got that. I understood numerically why that was suggested and executed. Even on the pastured poultry scene but I definitely don't think that that rings true for her layer ducks at all. And a big component of that is that they're just so expensive to get to a laying age. It's almost as expensive as raising a meat duck even though they don't [inaudible 00:31:21] as my [inaudible 00:31:22]They will over the six months that it takes to get to their laying stage.
Keith: I believe it's about a little bit, just a touch more grain than a peek in Muscovy will by the time it's ready to be processed. There's a higher end cost and chicken egg farming friends they can just... It takes some planning, so it's not as easy as just picking up a phone and they get this ready to lay pullets delivered to their farm. But it's almost that easy from what I can tell and they're a fraction. They're nickels on a dollar compared to what it costs for me to get a laying duck to a laying age. That just means there's a lot of that investment into each individual animal is pretty significant. It also means to replace them is also significant. It gives them another couple of years in production before that return on investment diminish it. I hope I explained that well. I'm happy to tease that out if that didn't make a whole lot of sense.
Nicole: Well, I thought it made sense.
Nicole: Do you enjoy raising the meat chickens or the laying ducks more?
Keith: I like it all. I like that there's always something to do even though there's times that you wish there wasn't anything that needs to be done. My wife gives me a hard time because even with the adorable, cute, very friendly and personable goats that we have. When the post office calls that my meat chicks have arrived, I'm so excited. I really love working with chickens. I would say that they're probably my favorite animal to work with, especially the slow growing meat birds that we raise. They're just so much fun. And honestly, if I had to be really self-reflective on why I have such a passion for them is that they're only here for the summer and they're not over winter. It's not all winter long of shoveling out and breaking ice water and just all the work that goes into overwintering goats or any poultry. Yeah, I like it all. If I could only pick one, it would be the meat birds but I also if you're a go person, you love goats and you're raising goats for a reason, so it's like anything, you don't really have a favorite but there's-
Nicole: You're not making the best case for encouraging people to raise ducks for eggs.
Keith: I wouldn't be truly being honest, if I could really give my full support, it's been a long road.
Keith: Now it's certainly enjoyable but in the beginning it was not as enjoyable. It's better now that we've built up our market and I know that every egg that we produce, we can sell and then it's really helping our farms bottom line. It really has found that really perfect little spot among our stacked enterprises. For sure.
Keith: I would not just be a duck egg farmer.
Nicole: Yeah. Well, just like any business, you're not going to necessarily enjoy every single aspect of it.
Nicole: But if it helps support the things that you do like then-
Keith: Absolutely. 100%.
Nicole: You mentioned earlier that you had a story about a duck in the pond in the winter.
Keith: Yeah. No pond.
Keith: This is good actually. I should wipe away that picture as pawn duck image that everyone has.
Keith: We started off with Muscovies, they're actually a type of Wood duck. They would actually rather reus than sit around in water. When we started getting into the Pekins and that more traditional Waterfowl duck and our Khaki Campbells, we just always have water for them so they can pretty much just wash their whole head and jump if they need to. I did reference pretty early on that ducks are not the brightest bulb in the animal kingdom and the number of times that I've come home to ducks jumping or trying to get into a frozen tub.
Keith: It'll be one of those super cold mornings and I'll give them some water just so they can drink before it warms up a little bit more to give them all the water that they're going to need for the day. They're jumping in the water and the ambient temperature is not even North of zero degrees Fahrenheit and I'm just like, "What are you thinking? You're going to freeze in there before you finish even taking that bath." It's comical but I just shake my head every time. Yeah. I joke that someday I'm going to come home and there's just going to be a duck frozen in place and still alive, still happy, hunky duck but frozen in one of the water troughs because it refused to get out when the water finally froze.
Nicole: I can totally picture that.
Keith: Yeah. That's the picture for our duck farm whatever, the pain provokes.
Nicole: Now that I can't stop picturing of duck frozen in it's little dish or tank or whatever. You mentioned earlier that you had a bit of a technique to get the ducks to roost at night. You mentioned they're not exactly roosters to begin with.
Keith: Yeah, absolutely. It's on the grand order of your morning Easter egg hunt. It's at that level of ceremony for me and the ducks. This is again mainly because our layer ducks are in one location for easily six months through the year and you may say, "Wow, six months of the year." But we have snow on the ground at our location for easily six plus months of the year so they are in their winter housing during that time. I will say one positive thing about ducks, they do learn and they do catch onto systems and you can train them and this is always the challenge, the first week that we move into and out of the winter housing.
Keith: What we do is we are feeding them primarily in the evening so just there's a sweet spot right after dusk that we'll go out and we'll trump through the snow, we're bringing them their grain. They don't always follow us in but as long as the grains' in there, they're generally curious and interested in it and then the second it sees this is going out. The second positive thing I would say about ducks is that you can herd them. We'll actually herd in a direction that makes logical sense and I'm picking on my favorite animal, the chicken right now. So we'll walk in to the house, go as far back as we can, fill up their feeders, walk out without scooting too many of the ducks coming in that we want to stay in while we walk out.
Keith: And then it's a game of put on your border collie hat and try to convince them to walk into the structure so you can shut the door and make sure that they're all snug and warm and content for the night. And on a good evening if it's windy at all, actually rain, no, because they like the rain but if it's windy at all, they'll actually already be pretty much all in the house. But on a good night, they're all kind of hanging outside. You walk in, you walk out and they pretty much all kind of file in without too much direction. But on a bad night, even if it's in the middle of winter they know that you know what they need to be doing. They can just be stubborn as all heck and they can take... On a good night it's about 15 seconds and then filing in, 15 to 45 seconds of them filing in and there's definitely the nights I've been out there for 20 minutes trying to get them all into the shelter.
Keith: Yeah. They're not interested in going in on their own when the sun starts to go down. They're very independent. They have a very different way of sleeping than chickens do. Think I read once they almost log, sleep logging like whales do, which is why they're turning off one side of whatever tiny little thing they have inside of there. And if you watch them, it kind of makes sense because they'll kind of be all clustered together and there'll be ducks on the outside that have just one of their eyes kind of open looking out. They're always irritable. If you walk in there, even in the middle of the night, they're awake unlike chickens, they'll start running around. But apparently like waterfowl, goose and duck, if you watch them, they'll actually get up, not in the middle of the night but get up after quote unquote sleeping, and turn around and sit back down on the net so they can have a full rested evening because they're shutting off one side of their tiny little brains at a time.
Nicole: That's one thing that I noticed with our ducks again, much smaller scale, but it seems like you're always awake at night. That's interesting. I hadn't thought to look into why.
Keith: Yeah, which is nice from a predator standpoint because they're not going to get away. I don't want to joke too much about predators because we've lost our fair share of ducks at given points.
Keith: But for the most part because they are so irritable because they just don't settle down when something out of sorts and you would with chickens too. But even for chickens, I feel like there needs to be blood shed and chickens dragged out before they all wake up and realize something's terrible. And again, it comes down to just knowing your flock and knowing what can kind of set them off because it can be as subtle as snow falling off the house and they just lose it. But just kind of knowing what their group flock kind of mentality is. You can tell. You get pretty into with them, knowing if they're actually okay or just having a moment. Yeah.
Nicole: They definitely make good little security guards.
Keith: Yes they do. Yeah, absolutely.
Nicole: I enjoy your stories. Your stories are fun.
Keith: Thank you. I guess if you want to be a storyteller get a flock of ducks.
Nicole: Yeah, no shortage of adventures.
Keith: For sure.
Nicole: If somebody wanted to learn more about your farm and your duck adventures, how could they find you?
Keith: My wife, we said does an incredible job on our Instagram account. If you just look for Flatlander Farm for Lisa and Keith, you can follow us that way. That's really fun, easy kind of low threshold way of staying engaged with us. There's a somewhat regular newsletter. I write mainly just to let our customers know if there's anything new product wise, just to check in with them, let them know where we're at in the season. If folks wanted to just kind of see that and get the sense of the rhythm of our season, they could sign up for our newsletter and that's on our website at flatlanderfarm.com. Those are the main ways.
Keith: If folks wanted to come visit and talk duck or chicken and goat or even goose with us, we would definitely welcome that. They can send us an email. My email is [email protected] and I would just say don't be a stranger. Definitely folks would feel free to reach out. We like talking agriculture even if it spirals into what it usually does, which is a heck go doing this, if that's good camaraderie we really need to have our lists of location. We've really tried a lot of things, so we've made a ton of mistakes and the few things that have gone right are what's kind of working now. We can really feel a lot of questions just by trial and error for sure.
Nicole: Wonderful. And I'll put the links to all your contact information on your social media accounts in the description so that people can find you that way as well.
Keith: That would be awesome. Thank you.
Nicole: Of course. Well, Keith, thank you so much. I really enjoy you taking the time to talk with us today and tell us all about your duck adventures and the little insight as to what goes on your farm and I really appreciate your time.
Keith: Yeah, I appreciate the questions and sticking with me through the good and bad and ugly of duck egg production. Yeah, thank you. And good luck with that incoming snow. It's actually sunny here right now, which is rare, so I feel you.
Nicole: Yeah, the joys of spring, Colorado weather. It can be very exciting.
Keith: Have at it.
Nicole: Awesome. Well, thank you again for listening to another episode of Backyard Bounty and we'll see you again next week.
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