Apples and Horses

Yesterday, while a break from canning, was a whirlwind of activity.  Living in the middle of nowhere means that it takes forever to drive to somewhere!  An hour trip north to the hospital to get my films for Dr. Foote.  A short jaunt over to the library – made much longer by the construction project that took a five-lane road down to two lanes, after which the older of my daughters had an appointment.  Seems like we had another stop in there, too.  Whew!  It was nice to finally get home.

Oh, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that we got two new horses.  Neither came with tack, so we headed back out yesterday afternoon, south an hour this time, to visit the tack store.  We decided that getting everything done in one day would be better than having to go out again today.


The paint is easy to spot – the other horse is just to its left, under the apple tree.  Thanks to the horses, we will only have a half-crop of apples from this tree: the top half.  Horses ate everything they could reach!

Today we’ll pick the rest of the apples.  We also have trees to which the animals don’t have access. The younger kids will get to spend tomorrow peeling apples.  My husband will spend the weekend filling the woodshed, and the older kids will go with him so I’ll lose part of my help.

My freezers (we have three) are full!  We have enough beef to last until spring, a few meals of steelhead, a few meals of chinook salmon, a bit of corn, and tons of zucchini.  My children claim that they never want to see another zucchini!

We usually do plums and peaches, too.  Unfortunately, our plum tree only has two plums this year.  After the apples are all done we’ll buy a few boxes of peaches to can.  I still have a couple dozen jars left from last year, so won’t need to do quite as many as usual.

What’s the Point?

Glad you asked.  The whole point of posting this here:  I’m finding ways to make these huge projects easier on my joints.  Sitting in one place for long periods of time to cut/peel/chop/etc. leads to stiffness and difficulty moving.  So I don’t sit.  Instead of working one particular spot on our assembly-line process of getting food from the garden into the freezer/cellar, I do different tasks for a short time-period, frequently moving from one task to the next.

The kids sit at the table for their tasks (cutting corn off cobs, peeling/slicing apples, slicing/grating zucchini (and the occasional knuckle).  I get the food ready for the kids and carry it to the table.  The kids fill bowls; I fill bags/jars/pans and cart it away.

It’s much easier when I keep moving.


Life is an Adventure


Voice On Phone:  Hello, this is your mother.*  You have four cows in my yard!**
Me:   Is the gate to the street closed?
VOP:  I’ll go close it now.***
Me:  Thank you for calling.

Background:  We live on ten acres.  Our next-door-neighbor has forty acres.  He is a very nice neighbor – he lets us run our cows with his, and he spoils my kids.  On the other side of that neighbor, we own an additional ten acres.  My mom lives in a house over at our back ten; it works out well because she has a place to live, we don’t have to be concerned about renters trashing the house, and we have someone to keep an eye on things.    Back to cows:  All our cows have been here most of the summer, but a few weeks ago we split our herd and put the yearlings at the back ten.  The cows we want to breed stayed here, and we (our nice neighbor, not us) bought a new bull.

When my mom said there were four cows in her yard, I thought that some of the yearlings got out, since that’s the cows that are over there.  Turns out my mom can’t count.  All of the cows that belong here escaped.  Maybe they got to thinking of all the apple trees in her front yard and thought they’d help themselves to a nice feast.

So much for my day of sitting around doing nothing, hoping my chest will heal.  My oldest son had oral surgery in the morning, so was not in any shape to go chase cows.  My daughters and I walked over to mom’s, noticed the huge discrepancy between the reported “four” and the actual “fifteen” cows in her yard eating the apples we’d looked forward to turning into applesauce next month, and headed them back toward home.  Funny, though, there were no calves with the mama cows.

Found the four calves at another neighbor’s.  Those people who just moved in and we haven’t met yet?  Yep, them.

My dear daughter opened the gate to let the calves come home; calves always want to find a way to their mothers.  Unless, of course, the mothers decide to take the entire herd to visit the calves.  In the new neighbor’s yard.

Remind me again why we moved out of the city…

*my caller id works
**don’t panic
***first contain the cows, then phone for help

How to Raise Ducks

It’s a little odd to be blogging about rheumatoid arthritis and have my google hit stats list “raising ducks” in the top five searches that led people to this site.  While I’m no expert, I have raised ducks for the past four years and can pass along a few tips:

  1. Create a safe duck yard
  2. Find a reliable source of feed
  3. Learn about ducks (ongoing process)
  4. Acquire ducks
  5. Enjoy

Duck Yard

Choose your location carefully.  The prevailing summer breezes should carry the scent away from your home.  A duck yard should have:

  • fencing
  • shelter
  • nest boxes
  • water feature (pond)
  • feed

This applies to all livestock:  fence first, then get the animals.  We have tried the reverse order a few times, and while it can work temporarily, it’s not recommended.  A fence is not so much to confine the ducks as it is to protect them from predators.   Dogs, coyotes, raccoons… domestic ducks don’t fly, so they can’t fly away to escape.  If you’re going to take care of ducks, you need to protect them.  To contain domestic ducks, a fence only needs to be about three feet high.  However, that is too short to exclude predators, so you’ll need a fence tall enough to keep out dogs and raccoons.  Four or five foot woven wire works well, but if there is a chance that you’ll hatch out ducklings, you’ll need to use chicken-wire around the lower foot of the fence.  Ideally, you’ll dig a shallow trench and have the bottom of the fence below ground-level.  This discourages dogs from digging their way in, and also prevents ducks from squeezing out when the lower edge of the fence rolls up.  Size depends on whether the ducks will always be confined to the duck yard, or if it is just for night-time protection.  I have a smaller yard because I turn my ducks out to pasture during the daytime.

Shelter should be available.  In the summer, ducks need shade.  In the winter, sometimes they like to get out of the snow.  Other than that, they’re not fussy.  Ducks don’t need roosts like chickens; they sleep on the ground (or in the water).  My ducks usually prefer to be outdoors.

Nest boxes are another good idea.  Adult female ducks lay eggs.  For some reason this basic biology surprises some people.  Anyhow, back to nests:  I have some nest boxes that are fairly open, and others that are small, dark, and private.  The ducks prefer the small, dark, private ones.  Just remember that ducks are pretty stupid about their eggs, and don’t always lay in nest boxes.  They’ll lay eggs out in the middle of the field, and even in the pond.  If your whole purpose in raising ducks is to obtain their eggs, you will want to consider enclosing the entire duck yard in bird netting.  Crows steal eggs.

Ducks are waterfowl.  They will be much happier if you can provide them with water deep enough that they can play in it.  A child’s wading pool will work as a short-term solution, but it’s not the best thing to use.  First, it’s not deep enough.  Second, you need to change the water frequently, and wading pools break when you dump them out.  Third, a wading pool isn’t very big; it won’t hold more than a couple ducks.  Finally, pools are dangerous for ducklings; they somehow manage to get in, but will drown when they can’t get out.  Your water feature will ideally be something that ducks can walk into, swim around in, and walk out again when they’re done swimming.

If you consistently feed your ducks in the same area, they can be trained to come for food.  You can throw food straight onto the ground, but if you’re using poultry feed, you’ll have less waste if you use a feed dish.  I have multiple feed dishes so that all my ducks can eat at once without fighting over the food.  They also need lots of clean drinking water at all times.

Duck Food

 I purchase unmedicated poultry food from the feed store.  The nutritional requirements of ducks is not the same as chickens, but it’s close.  If my ducks were going to be penned up all the time, I would spend the extra money on duck food.  Since I turn my ducks out to pasture during the daytime, they have a chance to supplement their diet by foraging for bugs and leaves; buy the less expensive poultry feed that people give to their chickens.  Ducks like leafy greens:  lettuce, spinach, dandelion leaves, grass… so don’t limit them to store-bought feed.

Ducks are finicky about their food.  They don’t like to change brands of feed, they don’t like to change between all-purpose and layer pellets, and they don’t like to change between pellets and crumbles.  To keep your ducks happy, pick one kind of feed and stick with it.  If you have to switch, do it gradually by mixing the old and new together, gradually changing the percentage of each.  If you abruptly switch, don’t be surprised if it throws your ducks into a molt.

Ducks also like to eat slugs.  You can turn them loose in your yard and let them feast — in which case I wouldn’t recommend going barefoot until after a few really good rains.  Another option is to pick up slugs, place them in a container the slugs can’t crawl out of, and then throw the slugs to the ducks — kinda like watching kids scrabble over the candy falling from a piñata.


Your public library should have some good books about all types of livestock, including ducks.  One of my favorite’s is Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks.  Another good source of information is 4H.


The above-mentioned book lists sources.  Your local feed store can order ducklings.  Want-ads might lead you to an existing flock.


Enjoy your ducks.  Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions.


Next… back to RA.