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Muscovy Ducks and ground/litter materials

 
Rawo Rahi
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TL : DR Would fine gravel or sand be an appropriate material to line the floor of the sheds and the duck run/range area?

I'm in the early stages of planning a small organic / free range Muscovy duck farm for the production of Duck Prosciutto and other meat products.

What I'm curious about is efficient/ecological and clean materials for the litter and range area.

I've done a fair amount of research and the information I've found seems to be focused on either factory farming where the ducks live in barns perhaps with small runs or ducks being housed in small home or farm settings - I haven't seen anyone taking the approach that I have in mind.

The way I'm planning the space out, is three fenced resting/range areas each with 3sq ft of internal shed space per duck, and 12ft of range space - these three areas also open out onto a constructed wetland area with a small pond for swimming and plenty of insects/snails/worms for foraging surrounded by about 15 sq ft per 3 ducks (as only 1/3rd of the population will be on it at any one time) of pasture area and I would rotate each flock into the wetland/pasture area every third day.

Additionally the wetlands are designed to naturally treat the effluent and waste water from the duck farming operations and reduce the overall water usage of the project by replenishing the aquifer after treating the water.

So the idea is to have an easily cleaned area that would drain into the wetlands. To that end I was considering using either fine gravel or sand for the enclosures so that the waste will filter down and drain into the wetlands, cleaning could be done while the birds are in the pasture area by an installed sprinkler system and the ground would air dry fairly swiftly.

Any thoughts either on the benefits/problems with my idea and/or suggestions on how to improve it or other materials which would suffice?

Additionally, if you have any other questions or need other information please let me know

(and btw thanks for an excellent forum, and hello from a first time poster)
 
Saybian Morgan
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Woodchips are your answer in a 3 fold yield, you can't compost sand, the ducks will muck through it and erode it and if it's too coarse it will get hot in the summer. You getting your bedding from the chips, you shovel off well manured bedding into a heap and add water. Next you plant your wetland forage system with your compost until your sick of the fertility in woody plant growth that produce herbaceous forage without them destroying it. I've grown insane comfrey in block gravel mud by filling holes in the wetland with this hard compost, the drainage and water retention go through the roof. I end up with allot of oil pungent tree's so I leave the chips where they dump it and let it roar off the hot oils in a precompost you could say for 2 weeks. It all comes out brown and absorbent, the stuff in there exposed run is probably 12 inches deep, our runs are on a torrential winter mudscape. It makes crazy soil even if you just keep layering it with mud and shit, but over a much longer time and a ground full of worms they can't get to unless you flip the chips. Even in something as pedantic as bedding there are permaculture means catalyze synergistic connections amongst elements in your project design.
 
Rawo Rahi
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Saybian Morgan wrote:Woodchips are your answer in a 3 fold yield, you can't compost sand, the ducks will muck through it and erode it and if it's too coarse it will get hot in the summer. You getting your bedding from the chips, you shovel off well manured bedding into a heap and add water. Next you plant your wetland forage system with your compost until your sick of the fertility in woody plant growth that produce herbaceous forage without them destroying it. I've grown insane comfrey in block gravel mud by filling holes in the wetland with this hard compost, the drainage and water retention go through the roof. I end up with allot of oil pungent tree's so I leave the chips where they dump it and let it roar off the hot oils in a precompost you could say for 2 weeks. It all comes out brown and absorbent, the stuff in there exposed run is probably 12 inches deep, our runs are on a torrential winter mudscape. It makes crazy soil even if you just keep layering it with mud and shit, but over a much longer time and a ground full of worms they can't get to unless you flip the chips. Even in something as pedantic as bedding there are permaculture means catalyze synergistic connections amongst elements in your project design.


Interesting, I had to read it about four times and I'm still not sure I understand it all.

I'm more interesting in setting up a drainage field where the effluent will drain down into a catch basin and then be rinsed into / filtered through the wetland area. We're talking about roughly 1400 ducks per acre here (gross of 31 sq ft per duck) and setting up a system to compost litter seems like it would add a significant labor requirement which I'm trying to avoid.

Essentially, I'm trying to find a way to use economies of scale without resorting to the conditions present in most commercial duck farms. So I'm looking at materials that will be easy to clean and relatively self--draining without having negative ramifications on the health and well being of the birds.
 
John Polk
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1400 Ducks per acre is certainly big commercial.
At that stocking rate, manure disposal will become one of your biggest tasks.

On a year-round basis, 1400 ducks could produce enough manure to burn 30-40 acres beyond use.
Perhaps, a huge pile of 'soiled' wood chips could be composted for sale to local farmers.
It wouldn't be as 'hot' after composting. Secondary income.

 
Rawo Rahi
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John Polk wrote:1400 Ducks per acre is certainly big commercial.
At that stocking rate, manure disposal will become one of your biggest tasks.

On a year-round basis, 1400 ducks could produce enough manure to burn 30-40 acres beyond use.
Perhaps, a huge pile of 'soiled' wood chips could be composted for sale to local farmers.
It wouldn't be as 'hot' after composting. Secondary income.



Actually from what I've read - large scale commercial farms start at 5000 birds (one agricultural white paper I read listed the average for a commercial operation at roughly 10k birds) and move upward at an average density of 3-4 sq ft per bird. Where as I'll be running an average density of 31 sq ft per duck so that should reduce significantly the stress on the environment.

I am aware that manure will be a significant issue which is why I have been looking into a constructed wetlands to process the effluent (although I'm still waiting for for feedback on the feasibility of this from two firms that I've contacted with experience designing such systems.

That said, if you have any information you can link me to which would help me to evaluate the impact of the manure and examine different methods for processing it, I would be grateful.

Thanks for taking the time to respond.
 
John Polk
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For chickens, the numbers range between 40-50 birds per acre for sustainable operations.
That works out to around 1,000 square feet per bird.
This considers both feed requirements AND manure output.
Anything higher will eventually degrade the land.

If you are providing feed, that eliminates that requirement.
But essentially, what you are describing is a CAFO.

Hopefully, your designers will devise a system that works for you. I still believe that you will have excess manure to sell.

I used to work on a large (by South American standards) egg farm.
The owners used to (half jokingly) say "If it weren't for the chicken shit (manure sales), we'd be broke."

 
Rawo Rahi
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John Polk wrote:For chickens, the numbers range between 40-50 birds per acre for sustainable operations.
That works out to around 1,000 square feet per bird.
This considers both feed requirements AND manure output.
Anything higher will eventually degrade the land.

If you are providing feed, that eliminates that requirement.
But essentially, what you are describing is a CAFO.

Hopefully, your designers will devise a system that works for you. I still believe that you will have excess manure to sell.

I used to work on a large (by South American standards) egg farm.
The owners used to (half jokingly) say "If it weren't for the chicken shit (manure sales), we'd be broke."



Interesting information, I really appreciate it.

Yeah, I intend to provide feed and supplement it with grazing/foraging in the wetlands as well as production of worm protein through vermicomposting.

I was aware that the manure output would be problematic given the layout which is one of the reasons I am looking to construct a wetlands designed to process that waste and filter the water. Obviously a determination of feasibility in this regard is what the hydrology engineers will have to figure out.

What I was hoping to figure out here, was more a question of the impact of different types of materials on the Duck's health.

I'd like to create a self-draining space that allows the effluent and manure to drain into a catch basin for processing - I've read that slats or wire floors can cause health issues with the ducks. So I was curious if a sand/gravel combination might provide the drainage I'm looking for without a negative health impact for the birds.

Although you make a good point about manure sales, perhaps that is something I should look into more. I had been avoiding it conceptually for the labor cost and space issues but it occurs to me also that in the location where the farm will be located, soil fertility is an issue so it could be complementary.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond, I greatly appreciate the thoughts you've shared with me.

 
Saybian Morgan
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Sorry my setup sounds convoluted but I had no idea you were trying to keep over 1000 ducks on 1 acre, it's basically a feed lot vs an apartment complex. If its a labour issue scooping out the bounty for windrow composting then i don't know what your going to do about your birds flying away outdoors. Muscovy's fly and are not loyal during egg laying season, maybe the labour was frightening because the surplus manure wasn't factored into your business model. I didn't get an answer on how the ducks won't scorch themselves in summer, your gravel idea is the most stable but it's really just sidestepping a concrete floor which is what you end up at with that much overstocking. It seems the constant human need to bypass labour is how your going to end up with an effluent stream that produces the same ill effects as conventional systems. 60 birds to the acre is a sufficient manurial input year round, i don't know where your going to get 20 or so acre's to take that off for you yearly. I know i want to do it by flooding run's into swales that feed downhill, but it's another empty suggestion if the machine or human power isn't there to windrow woodchips to create soil that grows forage or sells as surplus. There are plenty of people selling mountains of chicken manure, not many selling composted chicken manure. Im not going to talk you out of this plan but I did hope to amend it with a few surplus insentives to get you to diversify your reason's for doing it. Bill M. use to say by all means keep your cow but sell the worms.
 
Rawo Rahi
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Saybian Morgan wrote:Sorry my setup sounds convoluted but I had no idea you were trying to keep over 1000 ducks on 1 acre, it's basically a feed lot vs an apartment complex. If its a labour issue scooping out the bounty for windrow composting then i don't know what your going to do about your birds flying away outdoors. Muscovy's fly and are not loyal during egg laying season, maybe the labour was frightening because the surplus manure wasn't factored into your business model.

I didn't get an answer on how the ducks won't scorch themselves in summer, your gravel idea is the most stable but it's really just sidestepping a concrete floor which is what you end up at with that much overstocking. It seems the constant human need to bypass labour is how your going to end up with an effluent stream that produces the same ill effects as conventional systems. 60 birds to the acre is a sufficient manurial input year round, i don't know where your going to get 20 or so acre's to take that off for you yearly.

I know i want to do it by flooding run's into swales that feed downhill, but it's another empty suggestion if the machine or human power isn't there to windrow woodchips to create soil that grows forage or sells as surplus. There are plenty of people selling mountains of chicken manure, not many selling composted chicken manure. Im not going to talk you out of this plan but I did hope to amend it with a few surplus insentives to get you to diversify your reason's for doing it. Bill M. use to say by all means keep your cow but sell the worms.



I wasn't ruling out the labor factor but I was hoping to minimize it. The cost of labor isn't prohibitive - it is more that I was trying to streamline/simplify the process and obtain efficiencies where I could find them. Obviously if I have to account for and set up a processing system for the manure, I will and there is budget room in the project plan, not to mention that I was also looking to have a vermicomposting set up to augment the natural populations of forageable feed in the constructed wetlands, so it is really more of an adjustment to rather an complete revision of the plan.

With regards to the birds flying, I was intending to use fencing and clip the feathers. As the birds will only have a lifespan of 85-90 days that should not be required more than once during the birds lifecycle. As for heat management, I have been looking into a misting / ventilation system for the housing areas and was examining a few different options for using a geothermal subflooring for additional temperature regulation.

It sounds like I have been severely underestimating the manure/effluent output. Is there a rule of thumb that I could use to calculate the manure output?

Perhaps in X weight per 100 birds per Week or Month type format?

I've currently wrapping up the negotiations on a long lease (99 years) on 10 acres with an option from the government on another 10 acre adjacent, which I've planned to divide into 9 areas of ~1.1 acre each (I've attached two images which show the rough idea for the layout - although I expect significant alteration once I get the various environmental/hydrological engineers in the loop and up to speed - I'm currently in the process of looking for and selecting the firms to perform those studies).

I've designated 5 for meat ranges, 1 for processing, 1 for composting & storage, 1 for small scale egg production (and likely 25 or so free range geese) and 1 for administration. My initial project scope starts with a single meat range and develop an additional area every six months or so based on various metrics with the option for developing the additional 10 acres after that should it be viable.

It seems like from what you're saying that a manure management and composting process needs to be designed into the plan and that my constructed wetland would be quickly overwhelmed. In which case your original wood chip concept seems to be a better approach.

I'm trying to avoid the concrete floor option and generally improve the quality of life / environmental impacts while maintaining a fair amount of the economies of scale that a larger production run provides. So while I'm going to hire professional to design the systems and processes down the line, I've found that the more I know and the better I can articulate my vision the easier (and cheaper) it is to work with the professionals. So I'm trying to educate myself as much as possible.

I really appreciate the time you've taken to answer my questions and respond to this post and I look forward to any additional thoughts, ideas or suggestions you may have.


p.s. I was planning to have a small scale (a couple dozen eggs a week) egg production facility, and I've been looking for some sort of formula or calculation to help me figure out how that needs to be laid out and staged to have a consistent number of eggs each week year round. Any thought or direction that could point me in the right direction on that would be very helpful.
10acre-layout.PNG
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Layout for initial 10 acres
1.1acreranges.PNG
[Thumbnail for 1.1acreranges.PNG]
Range Layout
 
jacque greenleaf
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Have you any personal experience with Muscovies? The reason I am asking is that your plans, if I understand them correctly, run counter to allowing the Muscovies to express their "duckness". 12 sq feet for range space is barely enough room for a full-grown Muscovy to turn around. True, a 3-month old Muscovy won't need so much space, but a Muscovy at that age is still a slender teenager, so I don't see how they would make good meat. I also don't see how it will be possible to keep that many birds at that stocking rate on anything resembling a natural surface, without it turning into a mucky mess, nor keep anything resembling a "natural" pond or wetland clean.

Also, you should check with USFWS regulations regarding keeping Muscovies. They are covered under the migratory bird treaty, and a couple years ago, the USFWS proposed a rule banning private ownership. Due to the reaction from private hobby bird breeders, the USFWS was reconsidering the proposal to allow for hobby breeding, but I can see no way that an operation such as you are proposing would fall under that. It seems to me that you might also need a water quality permit.



 
Rawo Rahi
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jacque greenleaf wrote:Have you any personal experience with Muscovies? The reason I am asking is that your plans, if I understand them correctly, run counter to allowing the Muscovies to express their "duckness". 12 sq feet for range space is barely enough room for a full-grown Muscovy to turn around. True, a 3-month old Muscovy won't need so much space, but a Muscovy at that age is still a slender teenager, so I don't see how they would make good meat. I also don't see how it will be possible to keep that many birds at that stocking rate on anything resembling a natural surface, without it turning into a mucky mess, nor keep anything resembling a "natural" pond or wetland clean.

Also, you should check with USFWS regulations regarding keeping Muscovies. They are covered under the migratory bird treaty, and a couple years ago, the USFWS proposed a rule banning private ownership. Due to the reaction from private hobby bird breeders, the USFWS was reconsidering the proposal to allow for hobby breeding, but I can see no way that an operation such as you are proposing would fall under that. It seems to me that you might also need a water quality permit.



I do not, although I've done extensive research on the breed. Actually the design I'm working with provides 4 sq ft of shed space, 15 sq ft of range space per duck and that is without consideration of the constructed wetland space which would add an additional 15 sq ft of ranging and foraging space per duck every third day.

Actually according to the people I've talked to who currently breed Muscovies for meat production, Ducks are ready for slaughter at 74 days and Drakes at 84 days, so I've planned on 90 to allow time for deep cleaning between batches.

Currently commercial operations actually run at a much higher density rate (close to 5000 per acre versus the ~1300 I'm planning for) but use concrete flooring and sawdust litters and raise the ducks in anything but a natural way (including removing part of the upper beak to reduce injuries) - I'm trying to find a middle ground which provides the economies of scale of a commercial option while providing for a higher quality of life and a more natural environment for rearing the ducks.

This farm is not going to be located within the US so the USFWS regulations won't be applicable.

Thank you for your response and I look forward to any ideas or thoughts which you might be willing to share.

 
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