“The most rewarding part is making good use of what’s around us and seeing it all work,” says Calum McCaskill, weighing up the benefits of running the 10 Maple Acre homestead in Ontario, Canada. “Sitting on the porch and looking at what we have built in only a short year and looking out over the fields at the wildlife—deer, turkeys and bald eagles lately—is so peaceful and rewarding.”
Having always aspired to be “some kind of farmer for as long as I can remember,” McCaskill originally ended up moving to the country with his wife and renting a small cottage-style abode. After getting outbid on a number of houses, the couple eventually found a place that needed a lot of work but was available for below asking price.
“One of the first things we did after settling in was get chickens and ducks,” says McCaskill. “We’ve been homesteading ever since!”
We spoke to McCaskill about living around ducks and the poultry pecking order. We also got into the wonders of blue eggs.
Sharing Space with Nature
Reflecting on the lifestyle changes that have come with dedicating themselves to 10 Maple Acre, McCaskill says that the biggest difference is being further away from many day-to-day conveniences. “But it’s worth it for the peace and quiet.”
McCaskill adds that the family has also come to grips with sharing space with nature. “We have had mice, crickets, possums and coyotes cause us some trouble,” he says “We have lost two ducks and two chickens to coyotes and possums.”
“One time, I woke up at midnight,” he continues, “hearing coyotes out back at the barn (the old barn that wasn’t closed in as well as the new setup). By the time I got out there, they had disappeared with a duck into the night, which out here is extremely dark. I camped out with my gun the next night, but they never came back.”
Read more: Protect your chicken coop from common predators.
Let’s Hear It for the Ducks
Alongside chickens, ducks also play a key role at 10 Maple Acre.
“We got the ducks because I’ve always liked ducks, and last summer we had an insane amount of crickets on the property and in our basement,” says McCaskill. “The chirping we’d hear in our room while sleeping could drive you nuts. The ducks ate a lot of them…. Just walking across the yard you’d probably see over 200 crickets.”
Pest Control, Entertainment & Security
When it comes to the order of the ducks, McCaskill says that a chap named Andrew (after actor Andy Griffith) is literally “the big duck. He is in charge of the run.”
Detailing some of Andrew’s adventures, he adds: “He has survived a few encounters with coyotes and possums that claimed the lives of his roommates. He is very big so must be good at defending. We trust he will keep the hens and the other duck [Warren] safe in the run should any predators come around.”
“So the ducks are mainly pest control, entertainment and security,” he adds. “I also recently dug about a 2,000 gallon pond for them to enjoy.”
Read more: Chickens? Ducks? These birds of a feather can flock together.
Digging In to the Pecking Order
“There’s a lot of interesting things about keeping the ducks and chickens,” says McCaskill, reflecting on the homestead’s resident poultry. “One that comes to mind is the pecking order. It’s a real thing!”
“We added new chickens to the coop this spring, and it took about two weeks for the original chickens to allow them to come down off the roosts and eat and drink with them,” he explains. “I’d come out to chickens bleeding and hurt. They establish who is in charge down to who’s at the bottom.
“Once that is decided, everyone gets along great. As far as the run enclosure, Andrew the Silver Appleyard duck is in charge.”
Behold the Blue Eggs
“Six of our hens called azure blue chickens lay blue eggs, which is something you don’t see a whole lot of around here,” says McCaskill when asked about the most eye-catching eggs his chickens bless the world with.
“We have 18 chickens: 10 red sexlinks, six azures and two barred Plymouth Rock hens. We named them by breed instead of individuals, as that’s a lot of names. The red ones are Rebas, the white ones are Sheilas and the barred rocks are Thelmas.”
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