Animal of the Month – Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck

The Tufted Duck is a Eurasian duck that , in the winter months, is usually found across Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is a diving duck that will sometimes reach the eastern and western coasts of North America during the fall and winter migrating season, but this is lesser common. During the breeding season, they will go as far as Siberia and Iceland.

Tufted Ducks are somewhat smaller than mallards and the males are solid black with white sides. They also have a “tuft” on the back of their heads. Females are brown with a bit of white on their bellies. They might have a “tuft” as well, but can also have none. Their legs and feet are black as are their broad bills. Tufted ducks are sometimes confused with Ring-necked Ducks and scaups. They sometimes interbreed with Greater Scaups, which can be confusing for those trying to identify them.

We have found the Tufted a great species to raise in an aviary. Diving is their second nature, so they require ponds or pools that give them ample opportunity to dip under the water. They are not aggressive and get along well with other species. Of course, we do not have the small shellfish and crustaceans that these ducks so enjoy in the wild, but we have found that they will eat mealworms and duck pellets.

Birdwatch Ireland has a nice website with basic information but especially nice photographs, as does Animalia.

New Season – Swap Meets for 2021

We are happy to say that we will be at the following swap meets this fall of 2021:

September 11, 2021 – Montrose Orchard, 12473 Seymour Road, Montrose, MI 48457

September 18, 2021 – Shipshewana Trading Place, 260-768-4129

October 9, 2021Kent County Youth Fairgrounds, 225 South Hudson St., Lowell, MI 49331

October 16, 2021 – Shipshewana Trading Place, 260-768-4129

We will have many different birds at the swap meets – please be sure to visit our For Sale page to see updated prices.

Animal of the Month – Canvasback Duck

Canvasback Duck

The Canvasback Duck is a relatively large diving duck that is successfully raised in private collections, though its natural habitat is lakes and marsh areas across North America. In the winter, they migrate to the coastal shores and some inland lakes that do not freeze over. In the summer, they can migrate as far north as the Tundra.

Canvasbacks are diving ducks, so they dive in shallow water to feed on the bottom. Their diet consists mainly of vegetation such as plant tubers and seeds, as well as pondweeds, wild lettuces, and wild celery. On occasion, they will also eat mollusks, insects, and small fish.

Here at Lifesprings Farm and Aviary, we have found that they love it when we throw dried mealworms into the water for them to retrieve.

Identifying Canvasbacks is fairly easy, though they do resemble a Redhead Duck. Canvasback Duck females are a pale brown and gray, and have dark eyes. Breeding males, however, have white bodies with black on the chest and the rump. Their heads are a chestnut color and their eyes are red.

According to The Cornell Lab, their size is somewhere between a crow and a goose. They can weigh anywhere from 30.4 oz to 56 oz. Not only do they look similar to a Redhead, but they are nearly the same size, with Redheads being slightly smaller.

This summer in our aviary, we have hatched and are raising some Canvasback ducklings that we will have available for sale later in the season. They are a fun bird to watch dive and play on the water. Keep watching for further updates on the sale pages.

Of Farm Animals, Compost, and the Results of it All

Composting makes all the difference in my garden. This year, we used well rotted goat/sheep/chicken/rabbit manure and bedding as well as green wastes from the kitchen for the majority of our homemade compost. Other items we tossed in from time to time included paper, coffee grounds and untreated coffee filters, wood chips, weeds pulled from the garden, etc. The compost then sat for almost a year before we decided we really should use it.

In the photo above, you can clearly see where the compost is already thrown down and where it has not. Since putting this down, we did brush the compost off of the leaves of the cabbages and broccoli that you see in the picture. A good watering came next. We are in no way done with laying down the massive amount of compost we accumulated over the year (it’s actually been very hot here so it’s been slow going), but we will get there. We collected the waste material used in making the compost by a large round area fenced in with chicken wire. We would just fork it all in there and let it be. No, we did not turn over the compost regularly – or even at all.

Dorper Sheep

Animals, such as sheep and goats, provide manure that is great for composting and then for use in the garden. Chickens and rabbits do too. However, the only manure you want to use straight off without allowing to break down well would be rabbit. Chicken manure is very hot and will scorch your plants if not allowed time to really compost well. We do not have horses so we have no experience with their manure, but we have used well-composted cow manure in our raised beds (mostly in the greenhouse). Cow manure can be too high in nitrogen for some plants. If using composted cow manure, you should probably add a little wood ash to balance it out.

Animals on a homestead are essential to the entire ecosystem. Without them, the land would have to rely on chemicals created in labs to fertilize and put nutrients back in the ground. Erosion would occur and people would suffer with poor nutrition as well as famine. I recommend watching the documentary “Biggest Little Farm”. It’s entertaining but oh so informing and inspiring.

This year, our summer has been busy. We have hatched out more pheasants, ducks, chickens, and quail than in the past few years. The Lady Amherst pheasants did not lay for the second year in a row, but the Golden pheasants and the Silver pheasants did well. We hope to see some of you at the swap meets in Shipshewana, Indiana and those across Michigan this season.

Incubation – When to Incubate Eggs and When to Leave it to the Birds

Incubating Chicken Eggs for a Trial Run

At Life-Springs-Farm & Aviary, we have fired up our incubator for a trial run. Every spring about this time, we thoroughly clean and disinfect our incubator and hatcher using a reliable disinfecting spray made for incubators. Once that is done, it’s time fire them up and make sure they come up to, and stay at, the correct temperatures (roughly 99o F). Also, humidity needs to be kept at 55%. For the humidity control, we use only distilled water in our machines. Our incubator automatically turns the eggs so we don’t have to do this by hand. If your machine does not do so, you will have to turn them yourself at least four times a day. Another rule of thumb is to candle the eggs (put a candler or flashlight against the egg to see inside, sort of like an egg ultrasound but with light) when the time is getting close to be sure that the eggs are viable and not rotten.

Our trial run is done with chicken eggs – we raise Buttercups (a type of Leghorn) and Speckled Sussex. Chicken eggs hatch out in roughly twenty-one days. Once they are “pipped” – that moment when the chick is beginning to hatch, we move the eggs to the hatcher. Any baby bird must go through a drying off period before being placed in a brooder. After a day or so in the hatcher, they go into the brooder with chick feed, clean water, and a heat lamp (we use infra-red bulbs which discourage picking at each other).

The main use for our incubator is to hatch out pheasant eggs, as the mothers are not the best at sitting. These take about twenty-three days to hatch. The humidity should be about 51% and the temperature 99o F. Some breeds might take a day or two more and others a day or two less. Again, once the egg is pipped, it is moved to the hatcher. We have put pheasant chicks in the brooder with chicken babies because the chickens help the pheasants learn to eat.

Duck Nesting Boxes

The ducks we raise – wild species such as Wood Ducks – are allowed to stay in the nests until they hatch, as they do best with the mothers sitting. At that time, we must be on top of our game to get them out of the nest (wait until they are dry but haven’t jumped out of the nest box) and take them to a brooder. Once the babies jump out of the nests, they are very difficult to catch and can actually slip out of the netted sides of the aviary.

If you want to learn how to hatch domestic species duck eggs, Cornell University has a great website at:

Last week, we had a number of baby Wood Ducks hatch. They are now in the wet brooder (a brooder with a heat lamp, dry area, and small swimming area) and doing well. If the weather is decent for us up here in the cold north, we should have a great year hatching and raising ducks, pheasants, and quail. For those of you hatching out your own broods, we wish you the best for a productive season.

Animal of the Month – The Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

The Mandarin is a bright and colorful wood duck from Asia, primarily China and Japan, but they are also found in Siberia and North and South Korea. They are Asia’s counterpart to our North American Wood Duck. Easy to raise in captivity, the Mandarin is a duck that is becoming more and more in demand by collectors.

The male Mandarin Duck is easy to identify, as his plumage is a bright orange, purple, blue, with patches of black, green, and white. The female Mandarin is actually a bit larger than the male and is brown, gray, and white. She looks very similar to the North American Wood Duck female. Males will “plump” themselves up during mating season in order to become more attractive to the females.

Mandarins nest in hollow trees and will use nest boxes if they are provided. They lay about 10 eggs on average. Their natural habitat is found in marshes in or near wooded areas. Once their babies hatch, they drop out of the nests and begin swimming.

Mandarin Ducks are omnivores and they love mealworms and small fish. They also love seeds, greens, and grains, making it pretty easy to keep them in an aviary. As long as they have food, clean water, and suitable nesting, they will be happy.

We did not get a good hatch last year due to an unexpected late freeze which affected the eggs. The 2021 season looks promising right now, but be sure to keep your eye on our sale pages in the days ahead.

Going Back to the Good Ole Days

These days, I am more obsessed with farming and gardening on a larger scale than I have in the past. Mind you, I have been growing an organic garden since 1988. However, as the years have come and gone, I have found myself expanding in both my thinking and my actual gardening practices. A few years ago, we added a business with raising and selling gamebirds and wild waterfowl. While the business isn’t sustaining itself financially yet, it is growing and it has been a wonderful addition to the farm.

Two years ago, we added Nigerian Dwarf goats (one of them is mixed with LaMancha – funny ears!). They have been fun too and this year the girls each had a baby. Trying to keep tiny baby goats warm when Michigan was in a cold snap was not the most fun, but we did it and have learned much in the process.

Then, last year, we added two ewe Dorper sheep. They have blessed my heart so much I can’t even begin to explain it. The two year old ewe, Yolanda, is probably pregnant, but it’s so hard to tell until the last month. She will lamb around April 27 if she is indeed pregnant.

Also new last year was a greenhouse. It’s not very large, about 8 x 10 feet, but is big enough for what we need at this time. We got a Planta from a company in Canada and it is great – a hard sided polycarbonate material. The plan this year is to start more plants than I need and sell any extras. Last year, I gave away starts and I will continue to do that for families in need if I can. However, the goal in farming is to make a profit in order to avoid being labeled a hobby farm, and that is what we are working toward.

Seeds and plant starts are becoming more difficult to obtain and I only see that as a continuing trend. It is CRUCIAL for people to not only grow food, but to save seeds to ensure a future crop. Do you have heirloom seeds? Perhaps this is the year to be sure you get some. While hybrid plants can produce useful seeds, they can be very unpredictable. Better to be safe than sorry.

As for animal products, keeping a rooster or two with the chickens is a great idea if you have a flock that supplies you in meat or eggs. Allow the chickens to set for a spell and you can regenerate that flock from time to time. Last year, we were able to raise some extra chicks and sell them when they were close to full grown, increasing our farm income by a tiny bit.

When my dad passed away last year, I inherited some of his farming and homesteading books. A new favorite of mine was published in 1976 and is a compilation of writings from the mid 19th century. Wow! What a great resource. The Yankee Farmer, edited by Robert F. Hudson, is packed with New England farming wisdom from that era. And yes, a northern Michigan farmer in the 21st century can use the information contained within.

One section in The Yankee Farmer that is especially of interest to me is on squash – specifically winter squash such as the ever popular hubbard. They also talk about the turban squash, and also of a marrow squash. I had to look that one up; apparently it refers to a summer squash.

I think it’s time to go back to the basics of farming. Seeds are hard to come by. Grocery store prices continue to go up. Meat is difficult to buy at a reasonable price any more. And all the while the quality goes down as GMOs increase and herbicide use goes up. No, most of us don’t want to ditch tractors and modern inventions and go to horse drawn implements instead. That’s not what I’m suggesting. However, learning to compost and save seeds can help save us. Learning the best ways to keep our animals healthy and happy can also help save us. And might I add that hard work along with sunshine and fresh air can help save us?

If you can find old homesteading/gardening/farming books and magazines, I highly suggest you do so. They are worth far more than their weight in gold.

Baby Goats and Winter

After a shaky start, this little guy is strong and healthy, never staying in one place for long.

Nigerian Dwarf goats go into heat every 21-28 days. We learned early on that the boys can successfully breed at an early age.

This winter has been a mild one for us in northern Michigan. When we found that we had not taken our little Nigerian Dwarf buck, a.k.a. Bucky, away from the girls early enough, he had already bred our two females (cross between Nigerian Dwarf and LaMancha), we weren’t overly worried. Sure, they would kid in January or February, but the temps would not be so bad this year. Or so we thought.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I went out to the goat/sheep barn to do the morning chores. We are still learning about goats, so to my surprise, Dottie had already had her kid sometime in the early hours before daylight. He was standing in the stall all dried off and seemingly healthy. The temperature was somewhere in the 20’s and we thought he would be fine with the heat lamp that is set up out there along with a warm momma goat. However, by evening we found that the baby was not doing so well. He had no suckling reflex and seemed to be ill.

He needed to wear a sweater for warmth.

We found out that this baby goat had hypothermia and needed to be warmed up quickly. We brought him inside and warmed him with a blanket. We also gave him some vitamin supplements through a syringe. By the next morning, he was doing fine and he tried to nurse every time we brought him to his mother.

We kept the kid in the house for almost a week, bringing him out to nurse and then back inside to stay warm. His suckling ability was never the very best but his mother sure took the best care of him that she could, never rejecting him in spite of how often we took him away.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, the kid was 5 days old. I brought him to his mother, made sure she was nursing him, then brought him back inside to stay in my daughter’s room until she returned home from work (I had to leave for work myself). The kid was contained in an area where he could not hurt himself.

When my daughter arrived home, she found a floppy and barely responsive baby goat. Needless to say, we needed to have an emergency veterinarian visit.

Here’s what we learned:

Baby goats should have a CDT vaccination via the mother sometime in the final few weeks of pregnancy. Ours did not because we gauged the birth later than it actually was. It should be noted that none of this baby kid’s ailments are related to the CDT. Still, it should be done before birth. We have vaccinated the other doe while pregnant, so her baby (or babies) will be ahead in that area.

Baby goats need to have selenium given right after birth. Though we had given a supplement containing some selenium early on, it wasn’t enough. Two mL of selenium/vitamin E drench is standard for newborn goats. Our vet gave our little kid a shot of selenium along with an antibiotic for a gurgling in one lung. She was baffled about the lung, thinking that maybe the baby aspirated.

We have a new regimen for the next few days with this kid. We are keeping him in the barn with his mother for longer periods of time, but keep him inside the house at night right now. Nighttime temperatures are dipping below zero but daytime highs are getting into the 30’s. Too bad that by Saturday the thermometer will be showing daytime highs not even reaching the high teens for a while. The ultimate goal is to have kids who live like real goats and do not become “house goats”.

Little guy is growing like a weed now and has no desire to be quiet.

This little guy is doing great now. He jumps, climbs, and nurses like a pro. He is getting a fat little belly and is strong.

Raising animals is always a learning experience, no matter how many births you have had or how many animals you have on your homestead. We are learning still and likely will be until our days here on earth are done.

Now Priscilla is due to deliver soon and I have a ewe Dorper that will deliver sometime in the spring. Spring is also the time that the ducks, pheasants, and quail will be laying eggs. We had some losses last year due to a late spring freeze. This year we will be better prepared should that happen again.

Animal of the Month – The Falcated Duck

Falcated Duck

The Falcated Duck is a beautiful duck that used to be called Falcated Teal. The male has a shiny green and copper/brown head and a brown and white body. It is about the size of a Gadwall Duck and American Widgeon. The female is mostly brown with some gray/blue feathers on the wings. Naturally, it is smaller than the male.

This breed of duck originates in east Asia but adapts well to the North American climate. It has been known to breed from southern Siberia all the way to south China and Vietnam. Interestingly, some have shown up in Alaska, but they are believed to be escapees (or descendants) from captive flocks.

The Falcated is a good dabbling duck and adapts well to aviaries, but be sure to keep their water clean to avoid potential problems.

My Mother’s Book

My mom has been gone now for nearly five years. After my dad passed in August of 2020, we five siblings got to divide up what was left behind (in belongings, not land). This was made possible since they had a trust set up rather than a traditional will. My brother was trustee and he did a fine job.

I have to say that I was always a mommy’s girl and I miss my mom still. There are those days when I just want to talk – wow, what she would say about the shut-downs and COVID. Really, since I know that current events would bother her terribly (she wanted to vote for Ted Cruz after all), I think it’s a blessing that she left this broken earth for Heaven when she did.

But this post is not about American politics or the worldwide COVID stuff. It’s about finding some gems in my parents’ house that I am beyond thrilled to have.

One of those wonderful things is a set of the Foxfire books. Published in the 1970’s, this set of books holds valuable information about cooking, sewing, building, raising animals, making soap, etc. from the Appalachian people at that time. The books hold numerous interviews and pictures, as well as just valuable information for the homesteader of today. When my dad bought the books, one at a time as they were released, my mom thought he was crazy. I love them, though, and will cherish them for my brief time on earth.

Another wonderful find is my mom’s handwritten recipe book. Her writing is not the easiest to read, but I’m used to it and have had fun making some of the dishes from my childhood. Some of the recipes I will never make, as I did not care for them when I was growing up and I’m pretty sure I won’t like them now.

There are no recipes strictly created to be gluten-free, but a lot of them are just because of the nature of the dish. Others are easy enough to alter to make them gluten-free, as is the cornbread recipe that I made this morning. I’d like to share that recipe with you and hope that you will find it as enjoyable as I do. I changed up some of the ingredients to make the bread without gluten and hopefully a little healthier.

Cornbread (made gluten-free)

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal (substitute masa harina)

3 TBSP all-purpose flour (substitute 1 1/2 TBSP tapioca starch)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt (use sea salt)

2 TBSP shortening (substitute coconut oil; you could also use butter, bacon grease, or lard)

1 1/2 cups milk (substitute coconut/almond milk blend; you could use any milk of your choice)

1 egg, beaten

Sift together (or run a whisk through) cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Melt shortening in a 9 inch square baking pan (I used a 9 inch cast iron skillet) in a preheated, very hot oven 450 degrees Fahrenheit (I used 425 degrees). Add milk and egg to dry ingredients, stirring to combine. Add melted shortening from pan to batter. Mix well, but don’t beat. Pour batter into very hot pan. Bake in preheated oven 450 (425 if in cast iron) 20-25 minutes (Mine took 40 minutes).

*I take breads out of the cast iron pans after they have cooled anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Too long sitting in the pan creates moisture and makes the bottom of breads soggy – especially gluten-free breads.


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