Category Archives: Farm: animals

Pests to Pets: Swallowtail Butterfly Farm

It is a widely known (I hope) fact that Monarch Butterflies are in danger due to Milkweed annihilation. Letting Milkweed grow is a wonderful conscious step to remedy this problem. Milkweed makes pretty flowers and usually grows away from the garden in a flower bed or in a field as a weed.

Swallowtail butterfly, on the other hand, unlike the Monarch, feeds on the plants we actually cultivate in the garden: dill, parsley, carrots, rue etc. This is a significant difference, because this makes the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar a garden pest. And even though most gardeners know that butterflies are beneficial pollinators, as well as pretty to look at, dealing with their caterpillar damage may be frustrating. The problem worsens due to the fact that gardeners often do not identify the caterpillars correctly and simply destroy them.

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Swallowtail butterflies start as little, individually laid pearl-shaped eggs, which turn into little spiky brown-black caterpillars with one white stripe, resembling bird droppings. The caterpillars shed their skin a few times and are most often seen in a green/black striped garb with yellow dots. They have little orange horns that pop out when threatened, which release a very stinky odor. In a few weeks of feeding, the caterpillars make a cocoon and in a few more weeks – butterflies emerge.

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We have been raising Swallowtail butterflies for a few years now and release dozens of them out into the wild. We would like to encourage people to think Pet, not Pest. You can have your dill and let the butterfly caterpillars eat it too!

The easiest solution is to plant some extra dill/parsley away from the garden or on the side and let the caterpillars feed on their own patch. This will protect your main crop, but won’t protect the caterpillars, which often vanish in our garden due to high population of wild birds… So to save both, your garden plants and the caterpillars, a caterpillar farm is the answer. It is so incredibly easy to make and is fun, educational and beneficial to your garden!

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Late winter and spring surprises

Our gardening this year was started by us trying to find our garden. Under of three feet of snow. Its a first for us.

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Another surprise this spring was finding a hidden nest of duck eggs in one of our planters under the tarp cover on our porch. We still have no idea how they snuck it in there and managed to continue laying for weeks without us noticing! Its never boring here with the critters. 🙂

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Raising Ducks

This year we have decided to pick up a couple of ducks along with our first batch of chickens back in March. The duck breed was not marked and we are still not sure whether they will migrate or not. For now, we are just enjoying the time we do have with them. They are messy and stubborn, yet so terribly amusing that we cannot imagine our farm without them.

Ducks live well with chickens, yet they require a few additional needs met and we wanted to share how we handled these to make for some happy ducks.

1. Feeding and watering: Ducks eat by gobbling up food and then mixing it with water, splashing it everywhere and making a terrible wet mess. While still babies, living in a box inside, we raised their water and food off the floor and put multiple levels of consecutively smaller plates under the water to create a makeshift water catching system for their splashing. Adding paper towels to the plates also helps. This worked really well and actually kept the box (and their chicken neighbors) quite dry.Outside they share the food and water with the chickens and except the fact that they mix dirt with the water (which needs to be changed more frequently) and make tiny holes around the waterer (which needs to be moved on occasion) while digging for food, we have not had to make any special concessions for them.

Ducks need more niacin than chickens. Their feet may not develop correctly if they do not get enough. However, we believe supplements are only necessary if there is a sign of deficiency. Since regular chicken food has all the necessary vitamins included and ducks eat more than chickens (and grow faster!) they get more of the vitamins as well. Duck need and like more protein than chickens and foraging outside for bugs and worms is very beneficial for them.

2. Pooping: Ducks poop on average every 15 mins. Very productive little birds. They prefer to poop in the water, which is why their pool needs to be emptied  or filtered regularly.

3. Housing and swimming: Ducks like to nest on the ground, not big on climbing stairs. They also absolutely adore water. So what we did when the babies were ready to sleep outside, is to grab a 55 gallon blue food grade drum, split it in half and use one half for housing and the other half (with little wooden support and stairs) for the ducks pool. $17 for the drum + some wood and bricks = done. To prevent the birds from sleeping in the pool (which was still too cold to do in early April) and also since the chickens had a brilliant idea of trying to sleep with the ducks – in the pool – we put the stairs on a hinge to be able to pick them up at night. Also, the opening of the drum allowed for a simple hose attachment for convenient water drainage.

The best place to get these drums is Craiglist or a local person that resells them (as we did). New ones can be purchased from a wholesaler, such as Costco etc. They are great for water catchment systems, planters, storage and more!

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Ducklings in the bathtub!

Here is a fun video we wanted to share of our baby ducklings taking one of their first baths in our bathtub.

They have grown up so much since then already – they live outside now and have their own little pool. I will post some images/videos of their new habitat as soon as it stops raining outside.