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  • Writer's pictureElie Ravitz-Basser

Life on the Farm-Springtime

The start of April in Northern Virginia marks the start of springtime. Colorful flowers---tulips, lilacs, dandelions---stud the ground like jewels. The Cherry Blossoms and Ornamental Pear Trees are in full bloom, and white and pink petals can be seen both hanging from branches and sitting delicately on the ground.

On my family farm in Middleburg, Virginia, two Weepy Cherry Blossoms line the entrance to the property. They always bloom in the first week of April, coincidentally the same time as my birthday. I always feel so special each spring to be able to look up at the beautiful flowers and know that my birthday is coming.

For many, birthday presents come in the form of a car, new clothes, or jewelry. For my birthday last year, I begged my parents for ducks. Over the year, my sixteen American Pekin ducks dwindled to nine ducks. Predators, namely foxes, were to blame for the duck casualties. The foxes would wait until the ducks were let out of their coop each morning to free-graze, and then they would pounce. Because foxes feel much more comfortable in the dark, they would strike very early each morning. Now, we wait until the sun is out and the coop is filled with light to let them out of the coop.

The coop itself is a historic structure. With it's red roof and white wooden panels, the coop has been a staple of the property since the late 1800's. In previous years, our brood of chickens in the spacious coop. Both the chickens and the ducks love the nesting rooms equally, and spend much of their time there pecking and scratching for worms and crawling critters.

Our ducks play just one role in the cyclical, biodiverse habitat that is our farm. The ducks act as pest control, reducing the population of slugs and various insects without the need for chemical pesticides. Chemical pesticides contaminate soil, water, and air with toxic substances. By using natural pest control, we are being environmentally conscious while still limiting insect populations.

As our ducks forage, they also fertilize the soil with their droppings, enriching the land with nitrogen and other nutrients. This natural fertilization enhances our pasture health and productivity, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

By integrating our ducks on the farm, we are also creating a more balanced ecosystem for the other farm animals, especially the cattle and goats. Because the ducks feed on potentially harmful insects and larvae, the goats have healthier grazing patterns. They are much less likely to ingest certain types of parasites and diseases. In previous years, many of our goats have fallen victim to parasites in the springtime. The high temperatures and humidity cause an increase in parasite populations. However, many fewer goats have shown parasite-like symptoms since the ducks' arrival. This is not a coincident, merely an example of how integrated farming practices can be beneficial for many animals.

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