Brush Creek Aquaponics: Duck Eggs and More!

The Former Home of Rover the Duck and Her Sisters

Our Team - Note: we have retired and closed the business

Sandy and Ralph Birkenmaier

Sandy and Ralph were the operators of Brush Creek Aquaponics. Sandy (CEO - Chief Eggs-ecutive Officer) graduated from Virginia Tech in 1977, with a degree in Biochemistry, and saw no reason to leave the area. She worked for Virginia Tech as a lab technician and scientific editor in the fields of Horticulture, Anaerobic Microbiology, Veterinary Medicine, and Food Science, until her (semi-)retirement, with 30 years of service, in 2008. Sandy has been doing crafts all of her life; her mother was a long-time member of Fad of the Month Club, which sent a project every month.

Ralph (CEO - Chief Engineering Officer) moved to Roanoke, Virginia, with his family in the mid 1960s. He's a licensed electrician, certificated in refrigerant use for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and does plumbing, carpentry, and auto mechanics. He's been doing solar since the '60s. He was also a part-time school bus driver (sporting events and educational field trips) for Montgomery County Public Schools for 11 years.

Sandy and Ralph raised ducks continuously from the early 2000s through late 2016, although Sandy's first experience with duck care was many years earlier, when she helped the neighbors care for their chickens and ducks, and decided she liked the personalities of ducks better.

 Sandy, Rover, and Ralph, at the Shawsville Farmers' Market

We have also been doing aquaponics in the backyard since the late '90s. This is the source of the business name. We had hoped to have a commercial-size greenhouse to offer aquaponically-produced greens, herbs, and cut flowers for sale, but life got in the way.

The Ducks

The ducks, of course, were the source of the eggs we marketed, and a great source of fun. We chose Welsh Harlequins because they have such a good reputation for egg production and are good foragers. They're not overly-large birds, and they are very sweet. They are an endangered breed, however, and there are few breeders who produce them.

We hatched Rover the Duck from an egg from our older ducks. It seemed, at the start, that hatching our own ducklings in an incubator (since our ducks weren't interested in sitting on eggs) would be a simple project. Once we collected enough eggs for enough weeks from our two layers, coordinated our schedules for turning eggs three times a day, dealt with power failures, and discovered that newly-hatched ducklings were very good at ignoring "do not disturb" signs on the eggs that hadn't finished hatching, we wound up with three ducklings from about three dozen eggs. We wouldn't have even gotten Rover (our only girl), if Ralph hadn't over-ruled Sandy and started a second batch of eggs a week later. DD (Disco Duck), Zippy, and Rover were named for their antics in making sure that few of their siblings would hatch.

          

        Disco Duck (DD) and Zippy            Rover with the Big Boys

After that experience, we decided to purchase ducklings in the future. The following year, we ordered day-old Welsh Harlequin  (Rover's breed) ducklings from a breeder in the Midwest, but found that they weren't Harlequins. Six of the 15 (plus two "bonus") ducklings from that batch grew up to be girls.

Rover (foreground) and Featherbrain

Then we went back to Holderreads' in Oregon, where Rover's parents had come from. We ordered 20 Welsh Harlequins, and received one "bonus" Harlequin and four Stanbridge Whites (white Magpies), in addition. Of the 25 babies, there were 10 girls. Then, we acquired a foster duck, Frankie (a Black Swedish girl).

 

Goldilocks (the Stanbridge) and 2008 Harlequins (left), Frankie, in the back, with her siblings before joining our flock (right) 

In 2010, we got more ducklings from Holderreads'. We ordered 20 Welsh Harlequins, and got two bonus Stanbridge Whites. Rebecca took three ducklings (which turned out to be two girls and a boy), and Regina took two (a boy and a girl), and later took an additional boy. Of the remaining 16 ducklings, six were girls. Mary took the ten boys.

Since then, we've gotten more Harlequins from the Holderread clan, and then discovered that we could order female Harlequins from Meyer in Ohio, with a guarantee that 90-100% would be girls.

The girls spent their nights in our Duck House, where they were safe from the more-dangerous predators (we lost a duck to a bobcat at dusk in 2005). The roof of the Duck House is covered with clear corrugated polycarbonate. We have solar panels on the roof of the Duck House for operating the lights (and the air and pump for the aquaponics).

Daylight hours were spent in the mesh-walled Duck Yard or the pasture, with access to the Duck House in case of nasty weather. The Duck Yard is covered partially with translucent fiberglass, and partially with mesh, to keep away flying predators; various portions of the Duck Yard are shaded at different times of the day. The Duck Pasture had three large bathing and drinking basins, and two drinking buckets. It was surrounded by orange construction fencing; this was easy to move to reshape the pasture for fresh pickings, but equally-easy for the bunnies and groundhogs to chew through. 

The Mobile Pen, used when we had a small number of ducks, had a removable solid cover over half of it for protection from sun and nasty weather; the whole thing was covered with mesh, and it was equipped with dish pans for drinking and bathing.

                

             The Duck House                       The Mobile Pen (uncovered)

The Perimeter Alarm

Update: 

Our dear sweet Kuche, the world's best Puppy Girl, is gone. Kuche, (pretending to be) smiling right to the end, was age 15 years, 7 months, and 7 days. She was a member of our family from the time she was eight weeks old. It was devastating to watch her shut down from a back injury and kidney failure over a 48-hour period. She'll always be our smiling girl.

Kuche on her final morning

 

Previous:

Kuche (Bulgarian for "dog" - we're international folk dancers) and Vasil (named in memory of a Bulgarian friend) serve as our doorbell, letting us know when someone attempts to enter the driveway. Actually, Kuche does most of the work. She is half Siberian Husky and half "something red," and was the last puppy in an accidental litter. Vasil serves as moral support, although he has a fearsome bark when he spots a black snake in the yard, or if something else gets his attention. He is three-quarters Siberian Husky, and one-quarter Australian Cattle Dog. Part of the ancestry of the Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, Queensland Heeler) is dingo, chosen because the dingo hunts silently; ACDs were bred to herd livestock without upsetting them by barking. Vasil was the victim of a divorce, in which Mom didn't want any of the dogs, and Dad could only take two of their four dogs to his new place.

           

                       Kuche                                                  Vasil

Kuche takes her job very seriously, so she feels that she must spend most of her time outside, and would rather have Vasil out with her. Vasil would be perfectly happy as a 60-lb. lap dog, and would rather have Kuche in with him. We often have stand-offs in the doorway: "No, you come here."

Kuche is 15 and has a deficiency in a liver enzyme, not unexpected at her age. She takes 400 mg of SAM-e each day and 1000 mg of milk thistle on alternate days, doused in peanut butter, to support her liver function. She also gets two pellets of homeopathic arnica to enable her to keep bounding up the steps two at a time.

                                      Vasil's Zinc Deficiency

Poor Vasil, who is 14 (update: he turned 17 in 2019), has allergies to cats and some grasses (and maybe other things), but he also has a zinc deficiency, which is fairly common in sled-dog breeds. Before it was diagnosed, he had lost nearly all of his hair, and his paws were so tender he could hardly walk. He now gets 100 mg of zinc, mixed with canola oil and parmesan cheese or, better yet, cooked up in duck eggs (no spoiled animals around here!) each day with his already-zinc-enriched food (update: his meds, which now include glucosamine, MSM, and homeopathic natrum sulphuricum and RhinAllergy, are now mixed with canned food). He's now incredibly woolly and looks fabulous by comparison to his former self, although his nose and ears are still somewhat scabby. Too much zinc can be harmful too, so don't plan a preemptive strike for your snow puppy without evidence!

The Support Staff

Moral, and sometimes physical, support for our operation were provided by our friend Debra, and by our son and daughter-in-law, Emerson and Sam, and granddaughter, Rhayne. 

 

 

The Kids and Grandkid a few years ago

Son Austin and his wife, Elysha, live out of state and were not directly involved in the operations of the business, other than moral support.

Austin and Elysha at their college graduation a few years ago