Copyright 2016, Lori Fontanes
From suburban lawn to backyard homestead…with ducks. A journal by Lori Fontanes
Copyright 2016, Lori Fontanes
Every year, the digital elves at WordPress gently suggest that I consider writing more about ducks and cold weather. According to their algorithmic analysis, many people need this information and seek it from my website again and again. So, rather than appear churlish by not sharing more of my ducky wisdom, herein lies the 2016 edition of my most popular blog topic–waterfowl in winter.
Tip #1: Collect eggs early. See photo above.
Tip #2. A frost-free spigot is a duck owner’s best friend.
It took several winters before a contractor suggested this to me but better late than hauling buckets! Those of you who live in toastier climates (like I used to), may not know this but in winter, pipes burst, hoses freeze and your birds still need liquids no matter what the thermometer says. In year three of our duck odyssey, I finally discovered you can install an outdoor faucet that will work even when you don’t feel like it. Where have you been all my poultry-related life, frost-free spigot?!
Caveat #1: you still have to remove the hose between uses unless you want it to go Popsicle on ya. Caveat #2: the spigot needs to be on the side of the building so don’t use it under a snow- or ice-covered roof (danger, falling objects!) Luckily, this snowless season, I’ve had non-stop access to running water even in the (finally) brisk New Year.
Tip #3. Create shelter not just for cold but for wind.
You can’t think only about air temps, you gotta factor in that fave topic of meteorologists, wind chill, too. As naturally down-comforted as they are, ducks still dislike drafty conditions and even the plumpest hen needs a dry, windless place to hang out during the day as well as at night. We use straw bales around the perimeter of our duck pen and find them to be useful in many different ways. In addition to providing shelter, the bales also harbor (good) bugs for handy duck snacks, break down slowly into warming compost and, in the spring, serve as instant planters for our heavy-feeder, cruciferous vegetables.
Tip #4. Consider installing a heater in your garage.
Another contractor tip: a hard-wired barn heater. That first spring, we started out with just one brooder lamp but by the time our first real winter rolled around, we knew that little bulb would not be enough. In ordinary cold, say above 20 degrees F or so, the ducks are okay in a wind-shielded pen and, between 10 and 20 degrees, tucked into their coop. But if it dips below 10, or if snow blocks the door, or if a nor’easter shows up, staying outside isn’t a great option. On nights (and even days) like those, we keep the ducks in our garage in a kiddie pool filled with wood shavings and caged with plastic poultry fencing. Stylin’!
Still, though inside is oodles better than outside, when we get to talking subzero or close to it, even the garage gets arctic and–forget the ducks– we don’t feel like standing on that cement floor, either! For times like those, an electrician-installed, thermostat-equipped wall heater can be downright luxurious. Our model is heavy-duty and placed safely out of the way, much more reliable than a space heater and you don’t have to stay awake all night wondering whether your girls will knock on the door asking for hot water bottles.
Tip #5. The end of winter can be the most dangerous time: Everything is hungry.
Hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes. ‘Nuff said.
Bonus Tip: Ducks may be cold-hardy but humans are not.
Think about how you’re going to get to/from your birds with their water/food. Best time to do that–summer, not winter.
Okay, WordPress bot, sure hope you’re happy now. Or, at least until 2017, that is!*
*Or maybe I just made it worse! Maybe even more folks will come seeking cold duck discussion. Aieeee! It’s a vicious cycle!!!
Copyright 2016, Lori Fontanes
Most folks fill their New Year’s resolution lists with items of the lose five pounds/eat more broccoli variety. We writer-types go for more outlandish or just plain incomprehensible stuff. Take my list, for example. Throughout the year, whenever I see a curious headline or bizarre blurb, I tear it out or send myself an email as a reminder for a future post. As the months chug along, some of these gems get stuck on my dust-bunnied desk or lost in a badly labeled cyber-file. This year, however, I’m determined to start off right. By publicly listing the following, I invite my blog buddies to noodge me on my sluggard status if I haven’t gotten around to pontificating on them in due time.
So, in no particular order, some of the headlines that caught my roving eye in 2015:
Wall St. Journal, “Social Bias Creeps Into New Web Technology” by Elizabeth Dwoskin (can’t find on WSJ site but other outlets covered this study, too.)
New York Times, ” ‘Smart Objects’, Dumb Risks” by Zeynep Tufekci (“We’re building the Internet of Things on a very shaky foundation”)
The New Yorker, “The Doomsday Invention: Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?” by Raffi Khatchadourian (Worth it just for the Nick Bostrom video embedded in the story!)
In These Times, “It’s Not Easy Being a Green Chemist” (I’ll say!) by Valerie Brown.
Popular Science, “Get Dirty, Stay Healthy”coverline for print story actually titled “Bugged”(by Rinku Patel). Either way, good read.
The Atlantic, “If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy: Life in the surveillance society” by Walter Kirn. Enough said.
Yes!, “The Antidepressant, Anti-Anxiety Backyard Garden” by Daphne Miller–been there, grown that but happy to read some science about it.
And last, but not at all least:
Acres USA, “Beavers Aid in Nitrogen Removal”. I wish I could find a link to this little piece but it doesn’t show up on their website. Guess you’ll just have to trust me when I assure you that it says researchers in Rhode Island came out with a study highlighting the above-cited conclusion. Makes sense to me, though. Rodents can pretty much figure out anything.
PS, happy happy 2016 to all!
Copyright 2016, Lori Fontanes
For Immediate Release
Contact: R. Dasher
December 24, 2015
Santa’s Village, North Pole– Based on preliminary estimates of global misbehavior rates as well as projections from the Pentagon, the insurance industry and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Santa today unveiled a revised program of coal allocation for his annual distribution effort.
To that end, workshop officials presented this year’s coal-reduction scheme that includes “three levels of stocking fulfillment commensurate with previous year’s goodness output.”
According to the jolly fellow’s new plan, those who are non-crying, non-pouting compliant should expect current gifts to match historic rates (i.e., no coal). Occasional criers and pouters will receive a warning slip. Those who continue to cry, pout and kick seats on airplanes will get kale.
“Vegetables are just coal minus a couple hundred million years,” Santa explained.
North Pole spokesperson Rudy Flyer declined to provide names of expected kale recipients, citing privacy concerns.
“Let’s just say,” reminded Flyer, “we know when you’ve been bad or good so be good for the planet’s sake, okay?
If you own a bunch of ducks, it might help to actually be smarter than the ducks.
Now I tell me!!!
Okay, it sounds pretty easy. Humans have bigger brains and lots of years on Wikipedia so, of course, we should be able to out-think/out-maneuver four pounds of feathered feisty, right?
Take the homo sapiens penning this post, for example. Most days I can probably outscore my flock in Geography, History and Intermediate French. Some mornings, though–especially when I’m one or two cups short on java–it’s pretty clear the ducks just leave me in the academic dust. (Or mud, as it were.)
To illustrate, I’ve decided to share with you a case study that highlights my critical thinking skills vs. those of six modestly equipped ducks. I leave it to you, Gentle Readers, to dole out final marks.
All right, as you know, ducks do this funny thing called “egg-laying”. Any given day a mature hen can lay an egg, depending on her breed and her age. That means when you have six youngish ducks (give or take*), you’re sure to end up with more than enough eggs to scramble daily.
Egg production, however, has its seasonal aspects, especially in areas with real winter. Cold weather generally puts paid to laying but all bets have been off this year thanks to the disrupting effects of the current El Niño. And what an El Niño it’s turning out to be. We’ve certainly endured some unseasonable Christmases but nothing compared to this relentless balminess. Really, who wants to worry about mosquito bites in New York in January??!
Let me paint a clearer picture. By this time last year our girls had already stopped laying and we didn’t expect to regain those daily cholesterol packets until March. In 2015, we appear to be witnessing a whole ‘nother story. What with the hardy young Buffs, age-defying Lucy and probably either Puff or Bonnie, I’ve been picking the occasional egg off the pen floor well into December. And, since juvenile ducks take a while to get the “nest” concept (it’s more like, oops, there goes that heavy shelled thing and, boy, does that feel better!), I’m also pretty sick of crawling around for eggs hither and under yon rhododendron.
Last week, though, I finally noticed a slowdown in the laying department. The new gals had done me the favor of producing greenish eggs, so as I grumbled through the collection chore, I could attribute blame, I mean, authorship: the colorful eggs–Buffs, or basic white ones–Lucy or Puff. Then, on Saturday morning, suddenly there were none at all. It did reach a ridiculous 60 degrees that day but, heck, it was also almost winter so I chalked up the long-awaited egg stoppage to length-of-day rather than height-of-mercury. Gotta tell you, though, regardless of the reason, I heartily welcomed this overdue sign that Santa might soon be here and, hey, maybe even bringing that new omelet pan I’d been craving!
Then I decided to deep-clean the duck pen.
I skipped getting down on my hands and knees but otherwise did a decent job tackling the water bowls, inspecting the connectors and refilling the coop bedding. The wood chips under said coop had been building up over the long summer and since the ducks couldn’t really fit under it anymore, I hosed around the edges but didn’t bother going any further.
Until a little bit of out-of-place greenish white caught my eye. You guessed it: The Stash.
Not only had the ducks not stopped laying, they must have continued laying and started hiding the eggs weeks ago. And, not only had at least one of the Bufflings finally learned how to use a nest, they might even have been leaving a couple eggs outside just to keep me going that much longer.
I did say smart, didn’t I?
But how did they manage to squeeze under the coop? How did they conceal so many eggs? Did they lay them elsewhere then laboriously roll them underneath? How could I not notice all this feverish maternal activity?
The answers to these and other duck-related questions may never be resolved but I can say one thing for sure. I don’t care if he rides a surfboard, a hoverboard or a sleigh, Santa better get here and bring me that omelet pan–pronto!!!
*We acquired the above-photographed adult hen Lucy but, lacking the duck equivalent of tree rings, no one really knows exactly how many sunrises she’s seen.
Copyright 2015, Lori Fontanes
Yup, that time of year again.
While others are decking halls and fa-la-la-ing, I’m scanning trees, moving food bowls and leaving windows open a teensy, weensy bit so I can hear the ducks in case they need me. Not that I hope they need me. Not that any given day or hour they will need me. You know, just in case.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of our first hawk attack and call me unsentimental but I’d rather not celebrate with a repeat raptor visit. To avoid that unpleasant outcome, I’ve started acting like that kid in the old M. Night Shyamalan film except I see birds, not dead people.
Take, for example, this past weekend. My mom, my daughter and I were walking out of a charming museum next to a 19th century presidential estate and what’s the first thing I do? That’s right. Spot a raptor, a bitty thing at the tippy top of a leafless 70-foot tree.
I blurted: “Hey, Mom, isn’t that a kestrel?”
She looked. Couldn’t see it.
“Where?” she asked.
“There,” I indicated. “Right above that light post, follow the left side of that tree, a little to the right of that other tree and–”
My daughter peered into the drizzly sky.
“Oh, there!” she exclaimed.
I walked around to get a better look. Thing is, I’ve always loved kestrels. Technically, not a hawk but a spirited falcon, even more appealing and rarely seen in our neck of the Eastern woods.
“Yeah, you’re right,” my mother confirmed. “That’s a kestrel. How’d you see it?”
How did I see it? Well, let’s just say, I’m a duck owner. Of course, I see hawks. And falcons. And owls. And, alas, even ravens. Any large avian raises my hackles the same way it raises my birds’. Sometimes it’s triggered by a squirrel’s chittering. Sometimes it’s a blue jay’s alarm cry. Sometimes it’s a weird stillness when you expect a yard full of peeps and twitters. It’s kind of hard to explain exactly but you just feel something’s off and you immediately start looking. In fact, it’s fair to say, if you’re a poultry owner and you wanna keep being a poultry owner, you really gotta pay attention to your sixth sense.
Wait, did you hear that? Gotta go!
Copyright 2015, Lori Fontanes
This Latin phrase became a hashtag adopted by many in the aftermath of the 11/13 events. The motto of the city of Paris, according to Merriam-Webster it means “tossed by waves but doesn’t sink”.
Copyright 2015, Lori Fontanes
No, not that kind of hot.
Like about twenty degrees Fahrenheit over average November temps kinda hot. People wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts kinda hot. Uncomfortable indoors because they have the automatic heaters on kinda hot.
So, when’s that climate conference at Le Bourget happening, again?
Marcel Proust had his madeleine but me, I had a peach. As it happens, not an American peach and certainly not a run-of-the-mill apple or orange, the kind of fruit frequently tossed from school lunch trays across our country. To be honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to whole fruit for years. Why bother with the real deal when we have so many fruit-flavored alternatives?
And then I ate that peach.
Right off I realized I’d forgotten what peaches were. How the flavors of tart and sweet tangle on the tongue. When I ate that peach in France six years ago, I instantly returned to the row home of my Philly childhood, a time and place when every kid could eat a perfect peach, not just foodies or world travelers.
Times and produce have changed.
Recently, we heard more from the trenches of plant food promotion with some mixed reviews of our national school lunch program. On one hand, we found that under the 2012 federal legislation school cafeterias became “healthier under new regulations” (New York Times, 8.28.15) and that a “majority of Americans support providing schoolchildren with healthy meals that consist of more fruits and vegetables” (N.Y. Times, 8.19.15). On the other hand, we received a dismaying snapshot of actual consumption habits in a recent public health report showing an increase in waste, especially vegetables. In their study, the “Impact of the National School Lunch Program on Fruit and Vegetable Selection in Northeastern Elementary Schoolchildren, 2012-2013”, the authors state that more than 80% of 240 school nutrition directors reported an increase in fruit and vegetable waste.
In other words, they’re still tossing those apples and dissing that broccoli.
As the Los Angeles Unified School District can attest, mandating a healthier meal is not the same thing as getting a child to eat it. In lunchrooms nationwide, students and meal service employees have grappled with the real world application of laudable aspirations, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. According to an L.A. Times story last year (L.A. Times, 4/1/14), LAUSD “students throw out at least $100,000 worth of food a day”, a very unappetizing situation.
This past winter as a part of my work as a community wellness advocate, I gained further insights when I listened to a panel of food service administrators give their side of the story. While it’s clear the staffers really wanted to find a way to feed our children well, I saw for the first time how the system itself works against rosy outcomes. It starts, of course, with cost. The food service reps cited a gamut of daunting federal guidelines and strict price constraints. We also heard about the queasy relationship between what kids prefer (chips and other snacks) vs. what they don’t (whole fruits) and how a meal service organization needs to keep the customer happy to make their budgets work. The meal suppliers see students as the customers, not their parents, but, frankly, no one’s all that happy. And, by the way, why are we blaming the children for the shortcomings of a system that can’t get better quality ingredients or create food that satisfies? If the system can’t meet reasonable demands for nutrition and taste, it’s probably time for the system to change.
Which brings us to how the meal program deals with fruits and veggies.
Under the 2012 regulations, “the meal selected by each student…must include at least one fruit or vegetable.” Right, so does this mean we can put any old apple or carrot stick on a tray and call it a day? Thanks, but pass the baked French fries! I’m pretty fanatical about healthy food but even I won’t eat just any fruit because I, like our children, have had so many bottom-of-the-barrel experiences. What’s worse, this “good for you” lunch item often sits off by itself. That’s practically daring a kid to ditch it. By treating plant-based nutrition in this way– as a money-wasting, begrudging afterthought– we’re demonizing fruits and vegetables and it’s getting us exactly nowhere.
So, what do we do? Well, the good news is that around the country many people are already working on creative ways to tackle this longstanding problem. With support from national initiatives like The Edible Schoolyard Project to regional efforts like the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, folks have warmed to the idea that our kids deserve better lunches, not to mention, breakfasts and dinners. We need to look at how we source, prepare and serve the food that our children need to fuel their days of learning. It won’t be easy because it requires a cultural shift at home as well as at school, yet meals that use nutritious ingredients in tasty ways are not only possible, but necessary. After all, we’re not just feeding our kids, we’re feeding our future.
Copyright 2015, Lori Fontanes