Log-grown shiitake mushrooms are a growing interest of many Northeast Farmers. Barriers to entry include the labor-intensive nature of the process, frequent slug problems, and that laying yards are situated in woodland areas, often far from normal farm routines. Integration of meat ducks into the laying yard brings more yields for the farmer on a single trip, promotes effective slug control, and better utilizes forest ecosystems in the farm landscape. Ducks are an under appreciated farm asset with the potential to sustainably manage pests while providing high-quality products for market. Little research has been done to demonstrate the potential of integrated duck farming in the Northeast. Work With Nature, LLC has been developing mushroom systems since 2006 and conducted a successful home trial mixing seven ducks and thirty mushroom logs in 2011, which resulted in a significant reduction in slug damage. Grant funds support the scaling up to bring 40+ ducks into a 700-log commercial operation in 2012, where efforts will be focused around breed selection for temperament, foraging ability, and weight gain. In 2013, the operation will be around 1200 logs and the project focused on optimizing the system for maximum efficiency and profit. Throughout both seasons the mushroom yard, duck population, and forest ecosystem will be monitored for health and productivity. Results will be shared in concurrent mushrooms inoculation classes, with members of a CSA buying club, and through a short how-to publication and extension factsheets.
Project objectives from proposal:
1) Establish trial plots and duck populations (Spring 2012)
2) Monitor species performance and effectiveness of slug control (Summer 2012)
3) Host chef-driven taste test to determine preferred species for culinary use (Fall 2012)
4) Determine from data and trials optimal species and plan to optimize production (Winter 2012)
5) Implement system and document (Spring – Summer 2013)
6) Evaluate and produce educational materials (Winter 2013)
This trial will be conducted over two mushroom growing seasons (runs April through October), with the first season focusing on breed selection (2012), and the second season on system optimization (2013). My hypothesis is that an appropriate stocking rate of ducks will cause no harm to the forest understory and eliminate the pressure of slugs on the mushroom crop. The time spent in the mushroom yard while be comparable to my previous seasons and will result in additional income from the sale of duck meat.
The project will be managed by myself (Steve Gabriel) with the assistance of part-time employee to help with the daily checks (about 1 hour) that are necessary as part of routine maintenance. In 2012, I plan to set up three separate areas: two will trial different duck species, and one will serve as a control.
Each plot will be about a quarter of an acre. Each area will have approximately 200 – 250 logs, which will be managed in 8 groups of about 20 logs per group. (Mushroom logs need 8 weeks of rest between soakings.) Early in the season, I will fell and clear the site for hazards and to optimize forest health while maintaining necessary shade levels. A thorough GPS map and number will be assigned to trees in the stand. When foliage has leafed out, I will conduct a survey of tree health and also a sampling of the understory vegetation in each trial plot.
Each week, we will soak a group from each of the three trial areas on the same day. After soaking we will conduct a slug count of soaked logs every day until all mushrooms have been harvested (usually 5 – 7 days after soaking). We will also weigh and grade mushrooms harvested each day, noting and photographing any noted damage to caps.
In each of the duck runs we will evaluate 20 Peking and Muscovy ducks. These are breeds selected for their good meat production, general tendency to forage, and low maintenance needs. We are keeping the breeds separate because duck breeds, and Muscovy’s in particular, tend to be aggressive toward other breeds. At the end of the season we hope to have good evidence to favor one breed over the other, whether it is because of temperament, foraging ability, weight gain, or a combination of factors.
Birds will be purchased as ducklings and once they have feathered out, they will be released into the yards, with a targeting starting date of May 15th. During the time they are raised inside as ducklings they will be fed slugs whenever possible, to encourage development of a taste for them. Ducks will be given an appropriately sized house (as recommend in the NOFA guide for raising organic foul), adequate organic feed, drinking water, a pond for cleaning and swimming. Each paddock will be fenced with electro-netting charged with a solar charger, both to keep ducks in and predators out. Feed will be weighed daily to keep track of how much ducks are given.
In addition to the daily weighing and slug counts, we will be keeping track of labor hours, type of work done, and any associated costs. Steve will journal observations and make at minimum bi-weekly posts to an online blog. At the end of the 2012 mushroom season, usually around mid-October, we will slaughter the ducks on farm and sell to the general public. I’ve done chicken and turkey slaughters several times and expect to set up an area in a similar fashion.
In 2013 more attention will be paid to optimizing the production of both the mushroom logs and ducks. The necessity of separating breeds and having a control in 2012 will add some labor and material cost, since operations will be separate. During the offseason I will complete an analysis of the data and laying yard design and redesign a system for the following season that will aim to raise around 60 ducks (unless I determine that this stocking rate is too high in 2012 trials) in one ¾ acre enclosure. In the second year, all 1,200 logs will be managed as one single laying yard, allowing me to demonstrate the production system in detail and improve upon the lessons learned from the previous season.