Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dreaming of Potatoes and Eggs

It's official...hell has finally frozen over. After many months of panning the idea, Marc is beginning to express an interest in having chickens. I am actually surprised that he has brought up the subject several times now. It seems I have our friend Juliana to thank for this. Some ideas, I guess, just don't sound as crazy when they come from someone other than your nutty spouse.

Ironically, I'm now the one that's on the fence about this. For some reason, I just have it in my head that chickens can be difficult to care for and would require much more responsibility than I can provide at the moment. Between work, raising a toddler and maintaining a vegetable garden, is there time left in the day for chickens? I seek the wise counsel of my blog readers on this one.

I'm also intrigued by the idea of raising ducks for eggs, partly because they seem much friendlier than chickens. I take Jonathan to our local feed store ever so often to see the baby chicks and ducklings. Without fail, the chicks get a bit skid-dish if we venture too close to the cages while the duckings all run over to get a closer look at us. Are there any duck-lovers out there?

Anyway, back to the garden - my All Blue potatoes are flowering at the moment. Potato flowers, in my opinion, are really stunning. I wonder how much longer I'll have to wait before I can start hunting for some new potatoes.

My raised bed of potatoes are waist high at the moment. They are drastically outperforming the ones I planted in pots this year. It'll definitely be interesting to see what the difference in yield will be.


  1. I am of no help regarding ducks or chickens, especially as far as raising them for eggs. I can safely say I don't recommend raising ostriches for their eggs, as they seem to be very high maintenance. However, i digress.

    I believe I have a lot more reading in my future. I thought that once potatoes went to flower, they were toast. Apparently, not. And, you're right, those flowers are quite beautiful.

  2. Fantastico!

    It's easy. MARC raises the chickens, ducks, chucks, dickens, whatever.

    And you all eat the eggs. Or the dickens.

    My brother recently tried to give all his chickens to my other brother because the birds were scratching up his whole garden. Then again, these were elderly ex-factory chickens rescued from the pot, so they had Issues. My brothers also have issues so the first brother still has the chickens cos the second one never picked them up.

    Feel better?

  3. I must agree with Marie: if Marc wants the chickens then that should be his responsibility... sorry Marc. But they are a lot of work, so says farmer friends of ours who also raise their own lamb and beef.

    Thomas, your potatoes are putting mine to shame. Several of our potted ones are not doing well following removing them from the greenhouse: many of the vines are dying. So we are dumping, finding a few to eat, and repotting those little ones still clinging to the vine in hopes of starting others.

    Hope you are having a great week.

  4. I've read ducks will eat garden bugs but not your plants, certainly a good aspect. I'm no expert but ducks seem hardier then chickens too.

    I planted out some of the red scallions today from your seed. I will get some photos up of them soon.

  5. I have been raising chickens since March and they are an absolute delight and so easy to look after. We have chicken fencing around part of our garden because they kept eating from our veggie garden and this has worked for us.
    I also have 3 children and they love letting the chickens out in the mornings and collecting the eggs when they arrive home from school.
    I started with 4 chickens and have already started breading my own. I have 4 new baby chicks and 10 in the incubator as I speak.
    I have found chickens much easier to care for than I initially thought and would say to you to go for it!
    Good luck

  6. I don't know anything about raising ducks for eggs, but I did have a pet duck the summer I had to take Biology in high school.

    Garth was a mallard drake chick who lived in a pen outside of the science building, but rode around in my bra when I was at school, peeping at everyone we passed. (There was much more room in there back then!) He sorta learner to walk on a leash, and got me thrown out of the library more than once.

    Garth was a delight to raise from chickhood, but when he got older, he took off for the local canal in search of companionship of a more feathered kind. I always think fondly of him!

  7. I've been raising chickens, ducks and turkeys for several years on our farm. I think they are very easy to care for and the rewards are plenty. You get fresh eggs, meat and manure for your compost pile. The birds will eat your vegetable scraps and bugs. If you decide to get them and have questions, I would be happy to help. Good luck.

  8. First off, I have severe potato envy!!

    Thomas, we have six laying hens. They are very easy to care for with minimal time involved. My husband and I both work full time, plus a multitude of other activities that take us away from home and we still do not feel we are stressed for time with the girls.
    The chickens are fairly friendly and they learn you represent food so they will come to you. No experience with ducks, so I can't pipe in on them.
    I'd be happy to answer any questions about chickens you may have so feel free to ask away! Not that I'm the expert, for sure, but just one woman's perspective on how to incorporate them into busy lives...
    Good luck!

  9. Well I'm not much help. Growing up my mom raised ducks, geese, and turkeys. The ducks were friendly, the geese mean, and the turkeys were stupid. Their pens surrounded three sides of the garden and they kept the grasshoppers down. We didn't have chickens though so can't say if they are as friendly as the ducks. You do have to keep water available for ducks to swim in. I've heard chickens tend to lay their eggs in nests that you build. The ducks would lay all over inside their run, which was very large and had meadow grass everywhere. I don't know if this was a normal thing for all ducks, but our ducks weren't at all consistent and we had to hunt for eggs.

  10. I have 2 sections of fingerlings, and section is outgrowing the other, both are in raised beds. One side of the bed is even triple the height of the other- I have been driving myself crazy trying to figure out why.

    Just more soil for you in the ground maybe?? I can tell you that my containers are packed with roots, but then again I put too many seeds in each one.

  11. I'm curious as to the difference also!

    Do you read Kate's blog from Gardening Without Skills? She keeps chickens and does a really good job of telling the pros and cons. Google her if you don't read it already.

  12. I am no help with chicken vs ducks either. My grandfather stopped raising chickens when I was about 4 and we didn't have any on my mother's farm either.

    Your potatoes look great! I am just hoping for some potatoes after the vole incident!

  13. I have had worked with chickens, ducks, and geese at various points of my life.

    A lot of it depends on your practices with regards to husbandry.

    I note that kitsapfg at Modern Victory Garden has new chickens, so I'm sure she will have an opinion soon (grin).

    I've noticed that people who are starting this off often don't think about:

    amount of effort involved in maintaining a movable chicken enclosure, and moving it. The area you need to enclose and move goes up rapidly with the number of fowl you have.

    predators: all canines, felines, mustelidae, some rodents, snakes, and birds of prey regard your fowl and/or their eggs as fair game. This means you have to protect them from running, jumping, flying, crawling, burrowing things, including neighbors' precious pets. However, since you are apparently overrun with rabbits, you may have a shortage of predators in your immediate vicinity. I once tried to keep very large geese when I lived on a farm and predators ultimately got a majority of the flock, which was depressing.

    Ducks and geese need more water than chickens, like enough to get in.

    Visit people who keep chickens the way you want to keep them, hopefully including the # of chickens -- this will tell you much about relative levels of chicken shit over everything, and how much use (and trouble) they may be.

    Are you going to eat them at some point? I grew up knowing that we were going to eat Old McDonna when she stopped laying, but some folks get squicked at the notion.

  14. I know next to nothing about chickens and ducks, but I had to chime in. Your comment "Some ideas, I guess, just don't sound as crazy when they come from someone other than your nutty spouse." had me laughing out loud. My husband has been hesitant about my garden (to say the least). One trip to the local nursery where he found blueberry bushes has made a believer out of him! Chickens, however, I don't think he'd ever go for those. What a shame..

  15. Thomas-
    I've read before and found it true last year that you can start digging up some of the potatoes as soon as it flowers. It is safe to dig up 20% of each plants crop. However, the potatoes will be small...but if you are dying for a potato salad or roasted potatoes fresh from the garden then go ahead a dig up a few!

  16. Here is already provided a number of interesting points on raising chickens and ducks. I don’t have any of my own, but all of my neighbors have them. I never ate duck egg, but once I tried home raised chicken egg, after that I have never bought one in a store. The difference is huge - in color, taste... only for that reason I would be willing to put more effort into having my own chickens.
    Ducks I would have just because they are so cute. Geese are mean, that is true.

  17. Oh gosh, your potatoes are doing really well! You'll have an awesome harvest, I bet.

  18. We're hoping to raise chickens and ducks, guineas and turkeys among others. I don't know anything about them, but I've been reading a lot of magazines and blogs.

    We'll share the work though, so like the others, I'd say let Marc have the fun of the chickens.

    I know I bought eggs a few days ago, and in spite of the carton saying they had a month on them, I know the one I had today was quite old. I am looking forward to my first farm fresh egg.

    Good luck! :)

  19. We have chickens (since March) and they are WAY easier than my cat. I have nipple waterers and large capacity feeders, so I don't have to do the feed and water everyday (my husband and I both work FT, have a 5yo son and a multitude of activities).
    So yes, chickens are totally doable. I still go out there everyday and give them treats because I really get a kick out of them.
    By the way, all chickens scratch around at everything, that is not a special issue of ex-battery hens. Keep a fence around your garden or build them a run and only let them out of the run under direct supervision. Good luck--I love them! Anna

  20. Thomas, I'm sort of where you are in your thinking about chickens. I just don't want something that requires that much attention and responsibility.

    I can leave the garden for a few days, or a week. We can board the cats. But find a chicken sitter? So we signed up for a CSA that gives us 2 whole chickens(frozen) and 2 dozen eggs a month.

    Wow, that bed of potatoes is looking good! I can hardly wait to dig some of ours, but it's not time yet. I'll be interested in seeing your comparison too.

  21. Here's my 2 cents - I don't have chickens now due to military relocation pending, but I did grow up on a farm! Ducks are mean, and unless you really like duck meat or duck eggs (some pay good money for these!) I would pass on them. I personally prefer chicken eggs, as do most people just because that is what they are used to so therefore it's easier to get rid of the excess. Chickens are not difficult AT ALL, but you do need to prepare for predators, and have some type of tractor or enclosure so they will only destroy the beds you specify, like at end of season, LOL! But I have no doubt that you would be very attuned to all their needs and have everything in place before you started, you are phenomenal that way! If you are looking at alternatives, have you considered guinea fowl? If slugs and ticks are a problem, they'll be gone fast and they tend to be a bit better alerting to predators. But you have to decide if you like guinea eggs. I'm sure you already know the massive benefits of your own fresh eggs so I'll skip that. Or maybe a combination? I can't wait to see how this pans out, very exciting stuff for you guys! Way to go, Marc!

  22. and OH! Your potato bed looks AMAZING!!! Jonathan is going to have a good time filling little red wagon loads of potatoes!

  23. Thanks for all of the great advice, info and stories everyone!!! Maybe we can find a way to make it work...next spring. By then, I should have this gardening thing down. (Did I just jinx myself?)

    My biggest worry is if they were to die...(Althugh it would be a powerful tool to teach your kids about life and death). Predators and disease are hard enough to get over when it comes to your plants!

    Also, what happens if one of your chicks ends up being a rooster?! I've always had a great amount of respect for people who kill for their next meal. I have no problems boiling a lobster but gutting a chicken might prove difficult for me.

  24. I've had chickens for two years now and all I can say is that they are the best investment I've made thus far. I am a mother of two, work two part-time jobs, raise rabbits and chickens, tend my garden, and wash diapers most of my days. Yes, I am busy but with proper planning, fenced yard, access to open grazing, self feeders/waterers, and a secure coop I bet you'd feel the same way. The intial investment may seem to outweigh the idea of raising chickens but it will eventually pay off. I don't own a tractor and don't feel it's necessary because we have a 1/2 acre fenced for the chickens to scratch around in. This access to open grazing cuts down the cost of feed. Plus we grow some feed for winter use/storage. We've never had problems with predators but we do live in a small rural community. I love my chickens, they are friendly, they come to me when I call. I think the hardest part of raising them will be the idea of stewing them up. Bottom line, chickens are very forgiving creatures and don't require to much maintenance. With a little research and planning you too could enjoy the benefits of these animals.

  25. Hailey - thank you! Your words are very reassuring.

  26. If you find yourself in that situation (old chicken or rooster), put an ad in craigslist or just let you feed store know, sometimes they have a list of people that are willing to take them off your hands and do it themselves!

  27. You potatoes are looking gorgeous. I am growing potatoes in grow bags this year. It's the first time I have grown potatoes, so I'm not sure if they are doing well or not. They look ok, but yours look so much better. I'm thinking that maybe I should try them in the ground next year.

    I'm not allowed to have livestock where I currently live (against city code), but I have thought that it would be nice to have ducks. I have read that kacky campble (spelling?) are good layers and very calm. They aren't flashy, but I think they are still pretty. And ducks aren't supposed to root up your gardens, so you can let them into the vegetable garden to catch bugs. I hope you get some.

  28. We got our chickens in October of last year and so far they have been the easiest pets to care for. We have lost 2 of them to cats (I think) but pretty much they stay in their coop and run. We give them food and water every morning and clean out their coop every couple of months. Plus they're manure makes great fertalizer.
    Only one of our chickens is skittish. She's a white leghorn. The others are very friendly and like to be held by anyone and will follow us around the yard.

    I would love to get ducks but I thought they were more work. Would they need a pond or anything like that?

    Either way, good luck to you on deciding!

  29. Hi,
    I've found your blog through Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op.

    I have a dozen chickens and 3 ducks in a run we made in part of the garden. It's built so they can be separated (ie ducks in one house and run, chickens in another) or together. They go into their own houses at night automatically even if they've had the full run during the day. This is better because the ducks get their house quite wet, which wouldn't suit the hens at all, and they also don't go to bed when it gets dark and settle down like the hens, so this keeps them all happy. The ducks would sleep next to their pond at night, given the choice, but as their 'pond' is the bottom half of a children's sand pit it won't give them much protection from predators- a fox wouldn't even get it's feet wet! Mine do now go to bed when you tell them- you can't train chickens to do that!

    I wouldn't keep ducks with less water than this- they love it too much. They can splash and get completely wet, but I can change the water easily and keep it clean.

    Chickens scratch and peck, ducks trample, so both would trash a flower bed or vegetable plot. I take mine down to my allotment where they spend a few hours eating slugs etc on the bits I haven't planted yet (I have moveable fencing).

    IME, ducks are hardier than hens, but need their greenery etc torn up into bite sized pieces :0)
    My chickens eat pretty much anything vegetarian, and they both eat the same layers pellets, supplemented with wheat, corn and other goodies. The ducks will eat the big fat slugs that the hens decline :0)

    Both are very entertaining and no more trouble to keep than the same number of pet rabbits or guinea pigs.

    Contrary to popular opinion, you can cook duck eggs exactly the same as hens eggs, except they make rubbish meringues! Fresh, they make perfect poached egg. Incidentally, a shop bought egg with a use by date of 1 month is likely to be up to a month old already...

    Sorry, long reply. The short version is go for it! I wish I'd done it years ago. As long as you keep them clean, fed and watered they're fine. My problem is spending too much time just watching them all! Far too distracting! BTW, I have 3 children under 11, a part time job, dogs, cats, (husband!), allotment, various committees and I'm a leader for the equivalent of daisy scouts, so they can't take up too much time for me.

  30. Regarding roosters: I had one "iffy" chicken who kindly crowed for me on a Saturday morning--stunning my husband and I. After hearing several confirmation crows, I checked CraigsList on Sunday, found someone who wanted him (and could have a rooster) a 3 minute walk from my house. He was gone Monday night. Saturday crow, Monday gone: now that's what I'm talking about! Gotta love CraigsList. Oh, and he was not for meat, he's to alarm the hens they already have when there's a predator. We have rooster visitation rights because of my son :) We've seen him once so far and he looks quite happy, still friendly.

  31. Anonymous - that's for the great comment! I love reading about other people's experiences. There's no better advice.

  32. I have both chickens and ducks. I don't think they are much work, but you need to do something every day - check eggs, food, change water for ducks. Like comment above I keep mine separate - chooks in an enclosed straw yard set up, and ducks free range in my orchard area (to fertilise and get rid of slugs and snails), with a knee high fence to keep them contained (choose a domesticated breed of duck that doesn't fly - I have cayugas, they are beautiful). I also put my ducks in a small pen at night time for predators and let them out mid morning so they lay their eggs in the pen which are easy to find. They will go broody more than laying chook variety - and I keep one male and three female ducks, and let them raise one clutch of ducklings a year. I thought they would be good for children but mother ducks are very protective! My chooks are friendly. Laying breeds of chook will generally produce more eggs than ducks. If you feed your ducks chook laying pellets (I do) then they will taste exactly the same (in my opinion), but produce bigger eggs. Cooking with fresh eggs is totally worth it for me. Producing some of your own fertiliser is a more sustainable way of gardening too :) On a purely emotional level I like the ducks best and my husband surprised himself by getting quite attached to chooks - that's quite common apparently!

  33. I myself am new to chickens and thus far love them minus our coop saga. We got our chicks in April so don't get eggs yet but I can't wait! Check out a recent blog note of mine that has a couple articles that might convince you to avoid store bought eggs (our coop saga is there as well). http://kate-wherethewindblowsme.blogspot.com/2010/06/all-about-eggs.html

    As for time... other than the coop building the chickens don't require much except I do waste a fair amount watching them! Hubby works fulltime and is working on his Master's degree and we have a 2 yr old and 6 mos old twins. So if we've got time to manage them then they honestly must not take much. As a disclaimer my garden is not what it usually is at all but I don't blame the chicks more related to having 3 kids under 3 and needing an extra set of hands or two till they can walk!

    One bit I recently did hear that I'll share is that although bantam chickens lay smaller eggs they have an upside in that they are faster at bug catching so you might look into them as well.

    Oh and I have heard that chickens are a gateway animal. ;) Now I want a goat! Hey if I can get hubby to go for chicks why not shoot for the moon!

  34. As FoodGardenKitchen mentioned previously, we added a flock of six hens to our property this year. We ran a horse barn for many years and are quite comfortable with the daily routine of proper animal husbandry but it does tie you to the property more than just the garden would. Something we do not mind at all but someone else may find it too lifestyle limiting.

    I would never let them just run in the garden as they love my produce too much and would destroy things in a hurry! Instead they have a secure coop and large covered yard (you can read about it on my blog by selecting "chickens" from the blog category list in the side bar menu. We do tractor/pasture them periodically to allow them to eat down weeds and find fun bug forage. I also toss all my weed pullings and lots of garden harvest trimmings to them and they gobble them up! They eat up to medium sized slugs as well so any slug I find now is tossed to them for a snack. :D Love that!

    It turns out my husband is quite fascinated with them and dotes on them as much or more than I do. We both enjoy visiting them, hand feeding them treats, and generally just watching their antics. Great creatures to have around and alot of fun.

    I work tremenously long hours at my job, manage a very large garden, and do my fair share of the household chores. The chickens have added a little more to my daily workload but it fits right in with my usual morning garden routines so it has been no big deal and I find it relaxing and enjoyable to spend some time with them. Periodically they need a little more time commitment to do the coop cleaning and run raking etc but it is easier than cleaning horse stalls and the dirty litter and debris has totally heated my compost pile operation up.

    Not for everyone certainly but we have totally enjoyed them AND you do not have to kill and eat them when they slow down or stop producing eggs. That is an option, but you can also treat them more as a pet that is allowed to "retire" and just be until they die of natural causes. Honestly, they are vulnerable to predation and many other hazards so it is unlikely that too many will make it to elderly status anyways. We do not intend to kill ours for meat. I know how but that was not our purpose in getting them and neither of us wants to do that.

  35. Sorry, didn't mean to post anonymously. I did add my name, but must have deleted it when editing.

    My name is Hazel and I live in the UK. (I know that makes me sound as if I'm a member of International Poultry Keepers Anonymous or something...)

    I'm very jealous of IG's cayugas- they are stunning. I have Khaki Campbells (not sure if they're available in the States) which lay as well as most of my chickens.


  36. Chickens are pretty easy. They almost take care of themselves. In fact they would if we didn't have to pen them in to protect them from the hawks. The only other work is to clean the coop periodically and maintain a fresh supply of water. And every day you receive a gift.

  37. Hi. Chickens are dirty and dumb. I vote for ducks. They are friendly and smart. You can get duck embryos (trung vit lon) at Asian supermarkets and incubate them. :)

  38. Thomas, Here's my two or three cents on having chickens:

    1. Don't have self feeder or your coop will become a restaurant for rats. Feed the chickens daily only as much as they can eat.

    2. Consider an electric mesh fence to keep chickens in and racoons and other chicken-eating predators out. The fencing is mobile and you can change its perimeter out regularly. Trust me, in one night racoons broke into my coop and killed all my chickens. (It took them 4 years to figure out how to do it. They were wearing black turtlenecks and carrying ball-peen hammers.)

    3. You don't need a lot of chickens to enough eggs. Start out small.

    4. Reconsider a huge elaborate coop. A Versailles for poultry usually isn't needed, the chickens don't notice and are bad housekeepers. Keep it simple, take a chicken coop tour for ideas.

    5. My vote is yes, get chickens--they are great, fine weed and insect eaters and mobile fertilizers, oh yeah and don't forget the eggs.