Friday, September 14, 2012

Duck habitat improvements - pond water filtering

With the ducks growing up we spent quite some time on the makeshift "pond" where they hang out. Its not really a pond, but a wide spot in a low spot. The challenge is to keep such a small body of water reasonably clean and safe for the ducks... since ducks are hard on ponds and smaller ponds are harder to keep clean. This is a real challenge.

First thing we did was devise a cheap version of a silt and manure collector. We sank a submersible pump into the lowest part of the water, and ran 1.5 inch water pipe to the far end of the water. This positioning keeps the entire body of water moving (very important!). The positioning of the pump also allows it to suck in a sizeable amount of floating sediment and debris. The pump itself is a type that can move solids (mud and muck) .. without plugging up.

Next step is to capture sediment... pond sediment is extremely valuable. It contains high amounts of natural fertilizers from the duck "deposits". Believe me.. it is amazing how much "deposits" 120 ducks make every 24 hours! So at the far end of the pipe, we have a series of 3 plastic 32 gallon trash cans. We cut slots right under the top rim about 6 inches long in each can. Then they are positioned so that the waterfall from the slots in each can pours into the next, creating a cascading waterfall. Beneath the turbulence the water calms and the sediment settles out to the bottom. Just this simple setup is collecting about 30 gallons of sediment per day. Since hte whole setup is mounted onto a pallet, I can pick the 3 cans up with the tractor, transport them anywhere in the pasture, and dump them for fertilizer. NOTHING GOES TO WASTE AROUND HERE!

An improvement on this design when we get time is to install baffles into the trash cans. This could be the grates from flourescent lights. They would be easy to cut into circles and drop in from teh top. This would provide enough stabilizing effect on the water to let it drop even more sediment to the bottom. Perhaps 2 or three layers of these sized to sit low, middle, and near top of each can. 

In the future we might create a drying bin to place hte sediment in. Drying it in the sun would allow us to package it and sell it for fertilizer.  Another profit center :)

The aeration from the cascading water also oxygenates the water so that beneficial bacteria (probiotics) can grow and prosper, further eating the organic waste and cleaning the remaining water. Its a win win! to help this along we dumped a triple dose of pond enzymes and bacteria.

It will take time, but this setup should reach equalibriam with reasonably clean water soon, and than maintain it until the winter rains come.  here are some pics of the water system:

The next step of course is pond plant.. a real challenge with ducks, especially heritage ducks. They seem to be eating machine that love salad! We tried a few floating plants and they would disappear completely before we even walked back to the house! Even something as prolific as duckweed has no chance with 120 hungry mouths scooping the water clean.  So we ordered a collection of water plants.. 6 different varieties and shapes, to see if anything would survive. WHAT A CHORE! planting in the water and mud is quite an ordeal. At one point I almost took a bath with the ducks.  

After a few days, about half of the plants are still there.. the rest trampled or eaten or both. The ducks do like them.. huddling around them in the day sun, but they simply cant resist eating a snack while resting under. the leaves... the snack being the leaves!

Here are some pics of the planting experience

The last step is shelter. We built two structures.. one for nesting and laying and another for escaping the hot oregon sun.  The nesting shelter is built from leftover pallets with fiberglass roofing top and sides. It could perhaps be deeper, but we'll wait to see how it works.  The shade shelter is simply the old roof from a horse shelter propped up as a tent with some 2x4s. The weight makes it sturdy enough to stand in the wind.  I suspect we will need to reposition this all for the winter winds, as it is now set to hide the summer sun. 

So there it is.. a functioning duck habitat. Winter will present a few challenges but we have learned to take things one step at a time here. most projects change as we learn more about them.. so it is pointless to think too far ahead. For now the ducks are happy and ready to start producing great pastured eggs and buckets of healthy fertilizer. 

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