Settling on the land, living a life of self-sufficiency, and a nod to the simpler times before us all come to mind. In reality, it is a million different things to a million different people.
From those of us that have large acreage and fully functioning farms to those of us raising a handful of chickens in their suburban backyard.
From those who grow and can their fruits and vegetables to those who raise their animals for meat.
In our journey through homesteading we have learned a lot in a short time. We have learned what works as far as planting fruits and vegetables, and we have learned what doesn’t work when trying to cram a backyard with birds.
To me however, the most important thing about homesteading is that it is so much more than what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. Each step in the right direction towards self-sufficiency and enjoying the outdoors is a step forward! The thing that has been the most rewarding though has nothing to do with growing or planting, collecting eggs or raising animals.
The most rewarding thing is how this lifestyle has allowed us to reconnect, with nature and and plants, and animals…but most importantly how it helps is reconnect with each other. To me, homesteading is all about family, good crops or bad, full egg baskets of empty, rain, shine and everything in between.
1. Duck eggs are healthier. The number one reason you should be eating duck eggs are that they are healthier. Now we all know the value of the “incredible, edible” chicken egg, but did you know that duck eggs are higher in essential vitamins and minerals? The free range ducks seem to have the highest quality of eggs, duck eggs in general have more vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, B6, B12, Niacin, firemen, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, and retinol. Not to mention they have a higher protein content! Whew!
2. Duck eggs have more Vitamin D. Especially if your ducks free range, duck eggs have more vitamin D than a chicken egg. Vitamin D has a long list of benefits including skin and bone health as well as some evidence that it improves your mood.
3. Duck eggs are the special ingredient in many Baker’s products. Did you know that duck eggs make for a fluffier cake, a lighter cookie, and a moist and delicate addition to most bakery items? The higher protein content in the egg whites of a duck egg make them a fantastic choice for baking.
4. More omega-3’s! By now most people know how important omega threes are, but still many people don’t know how to add them to their diet without supplements. Omega-3’s help keep your heart healthy and may reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is generally understood by scientists to be a potential cause for many diseases. Also there is a link to omega three consumption and it’s positive affect on mood.
5. Lastly, I truly believe duck eggs are the food of the future. Ducks are a very easy animal to care for. Their feed is simple, their needs are basic, and they are consistent layers as chickens generally have months where production slows down. The thicker shell of a duck egg makes them last longer than chicken eggs, and their unique make up generally allows them to be a suitable substitution for those with chicken egg allergies.
This isn’t the most loveliest of photos but we were feeding a few eggs back to the ducks and chickens (benefits them by providing protein, omegas, and calcium from the shell) and this is just ONE duck egg yolk.
It was hard to focus on but man, the duck egg yolks can be so much larger which increases the good fats and omegas that come with it. The color comes from all the free-range time they have during the day. They forage on all the plants and bugs.
The duck eggs are usually white, but we will be having some chocolate runners laying in a few months and they will lay mint colored eggs.
Here are some of our duck eggs:
Here are our chickens eggs:
Chicken eggs do taste very similar however with the higher fat content a duck egg yolk has, I’d say they are better for baking and fluffing things up.
One of the most frequent deficiencies in the nutrition of ducks is a niacin deficiency. Mainly seen in young ducks and ducklings fed incorrect feed meant for the older chickens in the group.
Niacin is also known as vitamin b3. This vitamin is essential for the health of developing waterfowl. They also need more than your chickens do. Some chicken feeds do have enough niacin in them, but the best would be a waterfowl feed already formulated for their dietary needs.
Niacin deficiency is ugly and it’s important for the duck owner to supplement the best they can. Allowing them to free range can help as well as niacin is in bugs, fish, worms and other things they can root through and find. With symptoms including low weight, trouble walking, leg development issues, and other irreversible damages, niacin is a big deal. Crack out the peas!
With that knowledge, the biggest question is… “can I give my duck a human vitamin.” Well, yes and no.
Because of how often I see and hear this question, first off, niacin is niacin. It’s niacin if it’s in peas, salmon, sardines, brewers yeast, liver, or a supplement.
The problem with it not being waterfowl specific (human vitamins) is how hard it is to give the correct amount evenly to each bird and what binders and fillers are used in the human vitamin supplement. How much niacin do the birds need? Are they getting it from natural sources, and their feed?
Personally, I think making sure that your birds have a varied diet with natural food sources of niacin along with a your niacin added waterfowl feed is a fantastic way to make sure they get their optimal niacin and nutrition in general.
So our consensus is…. to skip the human vitamins and make sure they have a varied diet, the correct feed and if a supplement is needed, it should be waterfowl specific.
There is a lot to be said for essential oils and how they can keep your coop fresh smelling and keep the bugs away. Many air fresheners have harsh chemicals that can irritate your chickens or ducks, so DIY is definitely the way to go.
Especially in a place like Florida where the summers can be both sweltering hot and soaking wet, a good coop spray is totally necessary.
Though using neem oil is probably my favorite natural way to treat for nasty bugs (on both plants and elsewhere), neem oil can be hard to find and I don’t use it regularly, so this has become my go to recipe for those in-between moments for freshening up of the hen house.
I’ve narrowed down my mix to only the basics and without further adieu, the recipe is as follows.
If you’re interested in why this is my “go-to”, peppermint essential oil helps to repel bugs. Plain and simple. When it gets humid and hot, the fruit flies have a field day on any spilled water, or anything else. For some reason, flies hate peppermint!
The tea tree essential oil is good for warding off both lice and mites. This can be sprayed in the coop, on roosting bars and in nesting boxes.
Vinegar is a natural cleaner and a good bleach alternative for some applications. I try to use it as much as I can in place of any harsh cleaners. Vinegar is biodegradable, but isn’t a registered disinfectant and isn’t strong enough to kill germs like staph, so though it’s good for this freshener, this spray is not appropriate for treating any major bacterial or biosecurity issues.
Our homestead has been recognized by the National Wildlife Federation along with the Florida Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. We achieved certification by creating gardens that offer food, water, cover and places to raise young for wildlife and maintaining them in a natural, sustainable way.
We were able to achieve this largely in part due to my husband’s hard work on our natural pond, our herb & vegetable garden, amble fruit trees, converting our shed into a coop and also raising free-ranging chickens and ducks organically which provide food for friends and family.
1. Chopped straw vs pine shavings in the coop has proven to be a great experiment. I didn’t know what to expect but I’m super excited to report that the chopped straw seems to stay cleaner longer and has been much easier to spread around..
2. Peppermint is a wonderful thing to grow in the garden, especially when you have chickens. Certain plants (like peppermint) will spread and take over. I use it daily in the coop, for the chickens to snack on and also, to freshen up the coop. Planting a small above ground garden in a tub, box, etc.. with herbs like Rosemary, Thyme, Peppermint, Lavender will be your coop cleaning friend.
3. If you decide on chickens, go big or go home. Within 3 months, we had moved the chickens from the small coop we had, into our shed (more about shed coop on the blog). It doesn’t matter how fancy it is, you’ll soon realize that you’ll want more space. There are so many options, it might even be worth it to build your own.
4. Chia, flax, clover and wheatgrass are great to grow around your yard, especially when you have chickens. They will forage and get extra nutrients from these things but they’re also super easy to get going, they sprout within a few days and provide awesome ground cover.
You may wonder why I collect herbs daily for the chickens… so let me take a second to explain the benefits of each:
rosemary – assists with pain relief and enhancing respiratory health, it’s also a great natural insecticide.
basil – great antibacterial, mucous membrane health, smells lovely.
lavender – helps relieve stress, can also increase blood circulation, great coop cleaner, insecticide
marigolds – great stress reliever, increases blood circulation, aromatic, insecticide, helps produce colorful yolks
mint – insecticide and rodent repellent, antioxidant, aids in respiratory health, wonderful digestive aid, lowers body temperature naturally which can keep the chickens cooler, smells amazing in the coop.
oregano – combats coccidia, salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian flu, blackhead and e-Coli, strengthens immune system
sage – antioxidant, antiparasitic, general health promoter, wonderful smell.
Throw in some other herbs you have around your garden and you’re good to go.
First we got chickens, and the chickens needed a coop. So we turned our shed into a coop. When we got ducks though, what they really needed was a nice and natural pond.
After doing a little research, I learned there are many types of ponds that you can build yourself, much easier than I had imagined also. Somewhere in the search for inspiration, I decided that making the pond as natural as possible would fit our homestead lifestyle much better than installing pumps and waterfalls and using artificial chemicals to keep the water clean.
A natural pond not only spoke to our lifestyle but also kept in line with our low maintenance creed.
If you’re thinking about a pond, it’s as simple as starting to dig, and that’s exactly what I did. I picked out the spot, roughed in the shape and started to dig. I took out some rocks, and a few roots but mainly just started to dig. I wanted to go down a little bit further than the maximum depth I wanted to make up for the liner and under-liner material, and I wanted some areas deeper than others, so keep that all in mind as you dig.
Once I got the shape and depth, I dropped in some old carpet pieces to protect the liner from any roots that might try to puncture it, then followed that with the liner. I tried the best I could to make the liner smooth to the kidney shape we dug. The liner overlapped some on the soil and I kept it in place with some rocks around the border.
After this, I filled it up with water, and that was the last time other than topping off here and there I’ve had to add water. It’s mostly now filled by rainwater.
As far as a “natural pond” goes, plants are your filter so choose them carefully. There are plenty of plants that help, but I think looking at actual natural ponds helps to give you an idea what plants grow in your area and which ones help sustain a natural aquatic biome. If you’re lucky you can forage some for yourself and cut the costs.
Another concern was mosquitos, this easily was addressed by adding guppies, mosquito fish, and goldfish. They kept the water moving a bit and actually eat the mosquito larvae.
Simple additions like little solar fountains or sprinklers can help keep the water moving to discourage mosquitos also and help oxygenate the water some.
Lastly, make it your own! Plant around the edges, add solar lights, enjoy larger fish like koi, or just enjoy the natural aquatic pondscape you’ve made and the local plants you’ve foraged.
Here are some progression photos:
It can be as simple or as difficult as you like, but with my creed of simple being better, a natural pond is a fun, creative way to make the most out of your backyard or property and yes, the ducks love it!
The decision to turn our shed into a coop came on a whim. We had a small coop we were using but wanted to update the space. We started talking about the idea of using our shed as a coop when we decided to clean it out and it was nearly empty. The shed was purchased years ago and the local company came and delivered it, leveled it and made sure it was placed properly on our land.
I feel any shed can be turned into a coop when you have the basics already in place. The best thing about using what you have is you can really splurge on essentials without feeling bad. If you have a shed that’s not being used, this is definitely a fun project to do. Here are some photos for you to get an idea for your next project:
We use pine shavings from Tractor Supply for the bedding and flooring. It’s only approximately $6 a bag.
We used old wooden crates for nesting boxes. We bought cedar trellises from Lowe’s for their ladders. We used old crib slats for something for them to play on.
My husband took out the window on the door and added some chicken wire for better airflow.
I keep their food and bedding in metal trash cans. I use fresh herbs to keep the coop smelling nice. I planted mint by the front door.
The best part about this project is being able to use what you have. It’s fun to improve upon and create something that fits the needs of your chickens. So be creative and have fun.
I had no idea what all went into having chickens until we decided to jump in blindfolded. To say it is a rewarding experience would be an understatement. Before I go any further, I’d like to mention that having chickens is not super involved, it is fun, educational and it’ll add quite a bit of joy to your life.
I found the Tractor Supply chick days pamplet super helpful and full of information.
We started out with 4 female chickens (pullets) which were only a few dollars from Tractor Supply. We kept them in a tupperware while brooding so they would grow and also be kept safe from cold and predators.
They grow quick! Next thing I knew they needed a bigger space.
If you’re on the fence, get backyard chickens. It is so rewarding. Stay tuned for the shed coop reveal.