Ducklings, Fingers Crossed

Our duck population is now down to only 4 ducks — one drake (Daddy Duck) and three duck hens, two of which are white and one is brown with a beak deformity, we call her Twisty.

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Duck and Hen stand-off. The hens have learned to engage in less fighting.

Twisty was given to us in exchange for one of our ducks some 2 years ago. Because she was only a little duckling then, we didn’t notice her deformity until later. The owner told us that Twisty’s siblings have all died because they were unable to feed themselves. We managed to keep Twisty alive by feeding her separately from the other ducks. She is able to eat better if given food in a deep container. Otherwise, it is impossible for her to pick up food from the ground with her beak.

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A few months ago we took the risk of letting Twisty sit on her eggs. We assumed she would have deformed ducklings but we already knew a way of keeping them alive by separating them and using deep feeding trays. We wouldn’t let them breed anyhow but would just cull them when they get big. But that never happened. Twisty’s eggs never hatched. It is possible that Twisty is infertile, the work of natural selection. So from now on we will keep Twisty just for the eggs, she’s a very good layer.

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The other two ducks successfully hatched their eggs this week – one duck has 3 ducklings and the other has 7. Hopefully, this will be the start of a new younger generation of ducks for us to revitalise the dwindling population. I’ve learned that it is best to keep a young population of duck hens, no more than 3 years old.

Natural Farming: Does it really work?

When we started breeding and raising pigs in a backyard setting, we decided to keep everything small-scale and as close to nature as our resources could allow. Ideally, this means pasture-raised pigs. However, we don’t have the luxury of the space. So we kept only a few pigs and provided spacious accommodation for them, roughly about 20-25sqm for 1 boar or 1 sow or 5 growers.

We built pens for our pigs that are large, well ventilated and get plenty of sunshine. The pens have grass, bushes and soil flooring, not concrete. Apparently, pigs love rooting and digging the soil, thus, the conventional pigpen designs with concrete flooring would be against our principles.

The natural principle also means giving pigs plenty of green forage, fruits, roughage and other organic materials to eat. Again, our limited resources make it impossible to give even a few pigs 100% natural diet. So we supplement with commercially-produced pig feeds in pelleted form.

To imitate the pig’s preferred natural habitat of the forest, we introduced plenty of organic material (mostly dry coconut leaves) which absorbs moisture and urine and at the same time provides soft bedding for the pigs. When a pig gives birth (or farrows), we provide plenty of dry banana leaves for nesting. Every now and then, we put wood shavings and rice hull into the pens to keep the flooring dry and provide entertainment for the pigs. Ashes and burnt pieces of wood from cooking are also collected and placed into the pens after we learned that ashes were good for piglets.

Perhaps due to the “lucky” combination of these conditions, our pigpens did not emit irritating odors. The only time we had an odor problem was when the roof of the pen started rotting and rain flooded the area. It seems that a large majority of irritating odor problems associated with pigs take place when the water content of beddings are over 30% and in the case of concreted floorings, when water, urine and manure are mixed, no matter the amount or proportion. This is why concreted floor pens need to be cleaned and washed with large amounts of water several times a day. Our pigpens never need cleaning.

We have had 4 farrows with no incidence of disease amongst the piglets. This is surprising for many who see the piglets amidst soil, rotting vegetation, manure, urine and mud, all widely perceived as unhygienic conditions. While we have had no problems after 2 years, we do think about the possibility of build-up of pathogenic bacteria in the pigpens after a longer period of time. This is why we are currently taking measures to rotate the pigs in different pens so as to enable the vacated pens to fallow and completely turn into compost before seeds of cover crops are sown over the area.

After 2 years, we seem to have established a system of pig-keeping based on farming philosophies more widely known as Natural Farming (pioneered by the Japanese Fukuoka Masanobu) and Korean Natural Farming (KNF, promoted by the Korean Han Kyu Cho). These are broad farming philosophies and principles that have numerous applications.

Although our own principles and practices are fairly successful so far, we are now experimenting with KNF, particularly, the role of the diversity of indigenous microorganisms and beneficial microorganisms in keeping healthy pigs in a healthy natural environment. We are particularly curious how the more focused and directed approach of microorganism production and harvesting would be most useful – not only for livestock, but for crops as well.

As part of our pig raising experiments, we have a smaller pen, about 2sqm under the house, where a 10-week old piglet is kept. The piglet is fed a high-density diet (crude protein of about 16%) and a small amount of fruits and forage materials such as trichanthera (madre de agua), banana leaves, ipil-ipil, papaya, etc. Odor events in this pigpen are more frequent and were greatly minimized by spraying the area with lactic acid bacteria solution (known in KNF as LABS, made by fermenting rice washing with milk) and fermented plant juice solution (known in KNF as FPJ, made by fermenting shoots and leaves of vigorously growing leafy vegetables and brown sugar). These are also added to the piglet’s drinking water. Occasionally, wood shavings are thrown over the manure then sprayed with the solutions mentioned above. Given the small space for this piglet, the results of using fermented solutions have been impressive. We are yet to successfully produce indigenous microorganisms (known in KNF as IMO) and introduce that to our pigpens and surrounding gardens together with FPJ and LABS.

While NF and KNF systems seem to work quite well for us, we will be regularly sharing results of our experiments in the near future. We do have a number of failures which we will share here as well.

In the meantime, below are some resources that might help those interested in learning more about natural farming. Good luck!

Websites:

E-Books

Books

YouTube Video Channels

The Predator

I finally caught one of our bigger predators in action! I heard a screech outside which I thought was a bird, so I took my camera and here’s the result!

There is a growing population of frogs and toads in the ponds and I have worried about them going out of control. This young monitor lizard takes care of that for me!

Frogs in the Garden Pond

Having ponds for rainwater harvesting, lots of frogs and toads are attracted to the garden. This is good because frogs are a sign of good ecology and they keep pesty insects under control. Here is a video of frogs spawning, one female and two males! The white foam is a nest in which the eggs are deposited. The foam nest protects the eggs from microbes and predators, to some extent – I have seen the turtle in the duck pond eating the frog eggs!

Rainwater Harvesting

If you look around the village you will still see old water cisterns built many decades ago before running water became available in households. Some of these have been abandoned, broken but a few are still in good use. Rainwater harvesting is particularly crucial if you have livestock, crops and drought seasons, as well as failures by the municipal waterworks to provide continuous running water.

Currently, we have three ponds that harvest rainwater. The first (photo above) is home to some 30-40 tilapia and floating water plants. It is located next to the house on the south side catching a good amount of rainwater flowing off the edge of the roof. It’s about 146 cubic feet (or about 4 cubic meters). I keep two buckets under the overflow pipe to collect more rainwater during an overflow.

The second (photo above) is located on the north side of the house and has a volume of about 70 cubic feet (or 2 cubic meters). This is home to water hyacinth, water lettuce and frogs. We didn’t put fish in this pond because the fish kills the water hyacinth and water lettuce. The presence of frogs and tadpoles make sure there are no mosquito larvae in this pond. The water in this pond is used as drinking water for sow Number 3 who also loves eating the water lettuce.

The third water reservoir is this (photo above), the duck pond. Some water lettuce thrive here but not the water hyacinths which the ducks eat immediately. This pond becomes dirty (build up of mud, organic material, algal blooms) when the duck population is high – that is, over a dozen ducks. This pond is not large enough for that many ducks. At the moment, I have only 8 ducks and it is the rainy season so the pond stays reasonably clean. The water plants also keep the water clean, preventing algal blooms. There are also 2 turtles in this pond, plus an impressive chorus of frogs and toads. These and the ducks ensure that mosquitoes do not thrive in this pond.

Rainwater from the first two ponds have been crucial during the Bohol (2013) and Leyte (2017) earthquakes which knocked down power supply to the island for several weeks. Without power, municipal water pumps are non-operational and cannot pump water to many households. We were able to use water harvested in these ponds for cleaning, for the animals to drink and for flushing.

Now we are seriously considering building another pond to harvest rainwater run-off from the roof of the new pigpens. This pond would be closer to the pigpens and would ease use. A rain garden nearby, where the ground slopes, might also be an excellent feature to catch water that overflows from the pond.