Change is good. It’s hard too. No way around that. But change is good. Change means growth. It means supplanting things that no longer benefit. It means changing processes that don’t work. Change brings new ideas and new discoveries. Change stretches us beyond our former perceived limitations and takes us to new places. It was no different for the Charis Teaching Farm this past month as we prepared a place for our new flock of ducks.
A little over a month ago, we were offered a flock of ducks, for free(!). A mutual friend of the farm and our foundation had an overabundance of ducks that needed to find a new home. She didn’t want them all cooked up right away and asked if we would have them live on our farm to use as egg and fowl production. We thought about it. There were a lot of questions we had. Where would they be able to thrive? How would we care for them? What do they eat? How do we keep the random passerby from stealing them? However, these questions paled in comparison to what we stood to learn from the process of making it happen. One month later, we had 16 new tenants on the farm! Below of are some of the selling points of what we learned or accomplished through pursuing this new venture.
The Pond We spent the next few weeks doing a lot of manual labor. We moved at least 6 yards of packed clay by hand, digging a pond for the ducks just 2 meters away from our reservoir. As it turns out, water, while not completely essential for ducks, is very important for them to thrive. It serves as a health spa, social meeting place and cafeteria, all needs that we as human are less-than equipped to meet.
Reservoir Extension During the design stage of pond prep, we decided to run a 2″ pipe from the pond to the reservoir with a globe valve. This allows us to cut-off or restore water flow between the two bodies of water. While this may seem a small point, this opens many possibilities to us in caring for the ducks. We can lower the water level and collect manure for use throughout the farm. We can also raise feeder fish in the reservoir and then let them swim into the pond for the ducks to eat.
- Crop Field Elevation During rainy season and when the nearby dam is released, much of our crops are drowned. The excess dirt that was removed to make the duck pond had to go somewhere. Thankfully, we had a much needed locale already picked out. And it appears to be successful. The ground level where dirt was placed is markedly less saturated than comparative areas from last week’s dam release.
- Water Diversion In order to collect the water from rain and dam releases, we needed to capture it. We placed the duck pond at a lower point in one of our fields, but we knew that wouldn’t be enough. We also dug a contributory swale/trench from the neighboring field which very successfully captured the water and carried it to the duck pond. This actually exceeded our expectations. It was able to capture a sufficient amount of water that kept that neighboring field from flooding as it has in the past.
Permaculture Synergy The desire from the beginning was for the ducks to not just live on a section of the farm, but to also affect the farm. We had noticed two rice seasons ago that one of our compost fields, which was upstream from the rice fields, was passively fertilizing the rice fields. We had a very successful harvest that year. Accordingly, as we designed the duck pond, we implemented this passive fertilizing action by selecting the placement of the pond. During rainy season next year, the flood waters will overflow the duck pond and take those manure-rich waters out into the fields. Fertilizer is nice. Free fertilizer is best.
- Food for Families One of our primary goals at the farm is to produce food for at-risk families. While the ducks are cute, fun to watch and have taught us a lot, the clear goal for them has always been to use them for food. We have been collecting a small amount of eggs since their arrival and plan to begin breeding more ducks in the coming months.
Black Soldier Fly Larva There are piles of websites dedicated to the research and study of black soldier fly larva. Suffice it to say that this is one composting worker you want on your farm. They eliminate most of the stink associated with garbage piles while fending off disease vectors like the housefly. But beyond that, the BSF larva is high in protein (45%) which makes it a great source of food for livestock. We’ve been wanting to research the BSF, but didn’t have an application for it until now. Our initial attempt was fairly successful and we look forward to seeing how we can increase productivity.
As for the concern about people stealing the ducks, we have had the ducks on the farm for about 3 weeks now and they are still here. We set up a large area with 2 meter high fencing to keep the ducks in and critters out. The door, however, is never locked and yet, the ducks remain. It’s a risk we knew we’d be taking from the start. The way we see it, if someone steals the ducks, at least they got some food and we learned a lot about duck farming and natural agriculture in the process.
I hope our example of implementing our duck pond inspires you to take new risks and make changes to your existing processes. Change can be scary, but it also brings with it new life. If you are considering making a change in your farm, business or even your life, I encourage you to consider all sides, determine the challenges before you, evaluate the benefits you stand to gain and then, if it’s still a good idea, do it. You’ll be more prepared than just making a decision based on guilt or compulsion. You will be ready for the challenges that would have deterred you from succeeding had you tried without thinking it through. And, if nothing else, you will have learned something new… about the process, yourself and the world.