Egg-cicles and Ducks in the Deep Cold
Despite my best intentions of being on top of this blogging thing, here is a blog I should have posted back in February. Early February we in Minnesota had a cold snap. For those of you who aren't from North country, "cold" for us means temperatures didn't get above 0 degrees for about a week with nighttime lows under -20. For foreigners that's 0 Fahrenheit, so a high of about -18 Celsius.
But you know, it's a dry cold, so it's not that bad.
Jk. It's cold. Even for a true blue Minnesotan. However, I can bundle up and stay in my house, but what do my ducks do?
The good news is that ducks are INCREDIBLY resilient.
Ducks are more tolerant of cold than chickens. Their waterproof feathers insulate them, but what about their feet? I will admit I did find small signs of frostbite on a few of my ducks' feet last year, but I consider that pretty impressive for an animal with naked legs in sub-zero temperatures. This year I'm happy to say we had zero frostbite! Ducks keep their feet through something called "counter-current heat exchange." The veins and arteries in a duck's leg run very close to each other. As the warm blood travels down the arteries it warms the blood returning from the toes, cooling as it goes. This means blood traveling to the feet is already relatively cold by the time is reaches its destination and less heat is lost. This keeps everything just oxygenated and warm enough to function.
Ducks also keep their feet warm by doing a lot of sitting. (Ducks pictured here are not sitting, because I spooked when taking this picture.) They sit on their legs to keep them warm. This is why it is so important to have a lot of fluffy bedding in a winter duck house. The cold ground steals a lot of heat from the underside of the duck. I had been using saw dust as bedding, but during our cold snap I sprung for a few bails of straw to really fluff up the space. Another step I took on our frigid nights was keeping ducks in the house during the day. Ducks can handle cold temperatures but cold winds bother them. I fed and watered them in their house (something I usually avoid to reduce mess and rodents), and kept the door closed to keep out the wind and snow. Luckily, they have a very big house with picture windows so they didn't seem to mind.
I also treated my ducks to some high calorie treats including popcorn and peanuts (pictured above) since they'll be spending a lot of energy keeping themselves warm.
But what about eggs? Ducks can lay eggs all winter. It isn't the cold that determines laying, but the hours of sunlight. When we hit these cold temperatures I put a heat lamp in the duck house actually resulting in increased egg production. But eggs are mostly liquid, so guess what happens?
The ducks bury some eggs, but ones they leave out often freeze and crack open. Obviously, I can't sell cracked eggs, but you know what I do for myself? I throw these frozen eggs in my freezer and eat them later. Sometimes I wash off the shell first and sometimes I throw them straight into a pot of boiling water for some odd looking hard-boiled eggs. You can also crack open these eggs and freeze them in large ice-cube trays or other freezable containers. Huge disclaimer here: I am not a doctor nor a food safety expert. When an egg's shell is cracked, the contents are no longer sterile. If you're concerned or sensitive don't do this! But if you regularly ate food off the floor as a kid, have faith in your immune system, touch duck poop regularly, and HATE wasting food, give it a try. Let it be noted I always cook these cracked eggs thoroughly before eating.
Something really interesting happens to duck eggs when frozen and thawed: the yolks become solid. They become the texture of something between butter and a hard-boiled yolk. This makes it easy to separate out whites, but you won't be able to scramble the white and yolks together. If anyone knows the science behind this, please share!
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