City slickers play Old MacDonald: Now ducks and goats join the chickens
Around Puget Sound, urban farming has extended to various small-plot livestock, with lots of city chickens, and now ducks for eggs and goats for milk.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Raising urban livestockIt's for weekends —
and every day
The slow-food, eat-local mantra has spurred a host of workshops on urban farming, not just focusing on starting an organic garden but also on raising bees, chickens, ducks and goats. Seattle Tilth offers workshops in the Mount Baker neighborhood, West Seattle, Issaquah and at its office in Wallingford.
For a complete schedule, see seattletilth.org/learn/classes-and-workshops/urbanlivestockclasses.
Here's a sampling of upcoming classes. Most are $36 to $40, with discounts for Tilth members. Unless stated otherwise, they're at Tilth's headquarters at Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle:
Beekeeping 201: Start Your Hive, 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, and repeating 6-8 p.m. March 24.
Backyard Beekeeping 101, 6-8 p.m. March 17.
Start with Baby Chicks, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. March 19. Learn how to raise baby chicks into healthy hens.
City Goats 101, 2-4:30 p.m. March 26.
Family Fun in the Chicken Run, 10 a.m.-noon March 27, Bradner Gardens Park, 1733 Bradner Place S., Seattle. Learn how get the most fun out of a family-run coop.
City Chickens 101, 6-8:30 p.m. March 31, at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way S.W., Seattle; and repeating May 21 and 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. June 16, at Good Shepherd Center.
Sustainable NE Seattle has a popular online forum for local urban farmers: sustainableneseattle.ning.com.
Seattle goat owner Jennie Grant's Goat Justice League website is a good source of information about raising dairy goats in Western Washington: www.goatjusticeleague.org.
For information about buying duck eggs, e-mail BJ Hedahl at email@example.com.
In the name of urban farming, there were a lot of ways BJ Hedahl could have transformed her spacious, fenced backyard in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood: putting in an organic garden, a beehive or a chicken coop maybe.
But no. Hedahl wanted ducks. Or rather duck eggs: richer, denser, with yolks bigger than your chicken variety, she said.
Here on a recent afternoon were her four ducks, hopping out of the kiddie wading pool that's plopped in the middle of her yard, each webfoot capable of producing about 300 eggs every year.
As one after another waddled by, I couldn't help but do the math. That's a lot of quiche.
But these ducks aren't a lot of work, she said. "They're lower maintenance than chickens and I think (the eggs) taste better." Hedahl now runs workshops showing Seattleites how to raise ducks in their yards.
These days, around Seattle you can find just about every conceivable workshop related to urban farming. The slow-food, eat-local movement has spurred hordes of city slickers to adopt some small measure of homestead mentality into their daily life.
Workshops are packed
The nonprofit Seattle Tilth, which offers the widest range of city farming know-how workshops in Western Washington, reports record attendance in recent years. Chicken-raising courses have wait lists. Sessions on beekeeping for honey fill quickly. The group's annual summer self-guided tour of chicken coops around Seattle has expanded to include homes with bees, ducks and goats, and now extends to the Eastside.
The widespread interest has led Seattle Tilth to diversify its class offerings to include raising ducks and goats.
Raising urban dairy goats, which was previously rare (and before 2007 illegal) in Seattle, has become trendy here and in other parts of the country.
Three years ago, Jennie Grant, who teaches the dairy-goat workshop at Tilth's Wallingford headquarters, convinced Seattle's city government to allow homeowners to raise miniature (100 pounds or lighter), dehorned goats.
Urban farmers consider goats to be "the city cow," a smaller milk producer that needs no more yard space than a typical dog.
Grant's class has gotten more popular with Seattleites who are curious about getting fresh milk to make cheese and yogurt. She tells potential goat owners to buy a breed that's quiet. Erect a 5-foot fence, build a shed and be prepared to milk day and night.
Urban farm with a view
Grant lives in Madrona, with a backyard featuring seven chickens, two goats and a view of Lake Washington. With the eggs and the goat milk, that's pretty much all you need for a souffle, she said.
She took me out back to the pen and chicken coop. It felt like visiting a house on rural Vashon Island.
Her La Mancha goat, Snowflake, greeted me with a couple of jumps. Her Oberhasli goat, Maple, nibbled on my coat zipper and notebook.
She pulled Maple into the pen, gave her a pail of oatmeal treats and milked her, in the same manner as you would a cow.
The trick is to finish milking before the goat finishes snacking, said Grant, or she might not remain still.
Her goats each can produce around a gallon a day. Grant has it on her oatmeal, her husband pours it over cold cereal and her 10-year-old son drinks it straight. The surplus is given to neighbors or made into chevre and mozzarella. It makes for a mean goat-cheese pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions, she said.
How does it taste? Clean and rich, similar to whole milk from a cow, with none of the awful tangy or gamy flavor that you can get from the goat's milk on grocery shelves.
Grant said her other goat, Snowflake, produces an even richer milk. "It's like drinking half-and-half."
Look for quiet quackers
For Hedahl, raising ducks has involved a bit of trial and error since there weren't many local duck owners to turn to for advice. An early mistake was unwittingly buying a breed that quacked loudly. That didn't win her any fans among the neighbors about three years ago.
She now has two each of the khaki Campbell and Indian runner breeds — a lot quieter, said Hedahl, who recently started teaching "City Ducks 101," a class with the subtitle, "Learn how to get started, raising your very own team of ducks — no lake required!"
She's perplexed that chicken coops are popping up all over Seattle yet many people still look at raising ducks like it's some kind of freak show.
"We live in wet, rainy Seattle. It's perfect for ducks ... People just aren't used to eating duck eggs," she said with a shrug.
Her ducks roam her yard during the day and at night stay in a 10-foot by 10-foot pen, to guard against marauding raccoons. There are usually two to three eggs waiting for her in the pen when Hedahl checks in the morning.
"I like to fry them up and eat them plain. You get a Teflon pan and put the egg in it and cook it real slow. No butter, no salt, nothing," she said.
Even when she makes quiche for a potluck, she uses little seasoning, to allow guests to note the difference between chicken eggs and the richer duck eggs.
A "Duck eggs for sale" sign in her driveway helps to sell her surplus, at $6 per dozen.
Hedahl's ducks share a yard with two vegetable patches, four apple and cherry trees and a greenhouse.
She's not so much an advocate of ducks as she is "about the movement — to grow everything in my own backyard," said Hedahl.
"I can tell the difference. You can taste the freshness. The carrot out of the ground tastes different from the carrot that has been in the store for a week. That goes for raspberries, blueberries, eggs, bread, you name it."
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org