We currently have at least 20 dozen eggs in our fridge, now when I tell most people this, they assume we have a ton of chickens who lay very regularly for us. In truth, we only have 4 chickens, and 3 of them are small seabright bantams. None of which are currently laying, as winter is upon us and they are molting to top it off. The majority of the eggs in our fridge are duck eggs, from the 15 or so Cayuga ducks that free range our 19 acres.
Many people are unaware that you can even eat duck eggs, and just as many are skeptical to even try. We had never eaten duck eggs before we acquired ducks, but I knew that you could, in fact, eat their eggs. After trying our first duck egg, laid from one of the girls in the small flock of 6 that we started with, we were hooked. So, I'm going to share with you the benefits of duck eggs, and a little about how they differ from chicken eggs.
The first thing you will notice about a duck egg, is obviously that they are very large. Our breed of duck is not one of the larger breeds, so our eggs actually resemble the extra large chicken eggs you may buy in the grocery store. With the exception that in the beginning of their laying career, Cayuga ducks lay eggs with a gray/black shell. However after laying for a few months, they have lightened to almost white. However, many duck eggs can be almost 50% larger than jumbo chicken eggs. One of the advantages of a larger egg is that they contain more vitamins and minerals. More specifically, duck eggs are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, they contain almost twice as many milligrams as chicken eggs. Duck eggs are also higher in protein, containing 8.97 grams compared to 6.28 grams in chicken eggs. Duck eggs contain large amounts of B-12, Vitamin A, Selenium and Iron as well.
One of the most interesting things I've found about duck eggs is that because the proteins in chicken and duck eggs are slightly different, those with an allergy to chicken eggs can often eat duck eggs with no problem.
When it comes to baking, many people feel duck eggs have a richer taste than chicken eggs. Also, they contain more albumen, which will make your baked goods turn out fluffier and lighter than they would if you were cooking with chicken eggs. This is because the added albumen gives the baked goods a higher lift and more structure.
Of course nothing is without a down side, duck eggs do contain more fat, calories and cholesterol than chicken eggs because of their larger size. If you consume them in moderation this shouldn't be an issue, but you may want to be careful if you already struggle with cholesterol issues.
Even though we had never even tasted duck eggs before bringing the flock of quacking clowns to our property, we almost exclusively cook with duck eggs now. It takes a little experimenting to find the right ratio for your recipes, with the size difference you generally can't substitute one duck egg for one chicken egg but it's not usually a big issue. Duck eggs have many health benefits, and they are definitely worth a try, so next time you head to your farmer's market try giving them a try, you may just find they are an egg-stravagant treat!
The second fiber we produce on the farm and that I am gonna talk about today is alpaca fleece. Almost everyone has heard of alpaca fleece and knows how soft and warm it is. The first fleece produced by baby alpacas is the finest, softest fleece the animal will produce.
Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in the spring, and can yield 7-10 lbs of fiber. The fleece has the luster of silk, three times the insulating capacity of wool without the weight, and its softness has been compared to cashmere. One of the differences between wool and alpaca is that alpaca fiber does not have lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic and a good choice for those who are allergic to wool. Because it lacks these oils, alpaca fiber does not need to be washed with harsh detergents and chemicals. The scales on alpaca fiber are closer to the shaft and are more rounded than scales on sheep fiber, so it does not have the prickly, itchy feel of wool.
Alpaca fiber takes dye well, and in South America, alpacas were bred mainly with white fleece. Breeders in North America breed for a wide range of natural colors, and strive for uniformity, denseness and fineness in their fleece.
Alpaca fleece wicks away moisture, is naturally windproof, stain, and flame resistant.
There are two types of Alpacas, Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya is what we raise at Ironhorse Homestead, and what many people think of when they think of alpacas, as they are about 95% of the Alpacas you will encounter. They have fluffy, crimped fiber that grows outward from their bodies. Suri Alpacas have shiny, long hair that hangs in what resembles dreadlocks, their fleece has a high lustre and very silky feel. Suri Alpacas are much more rare, and consequently, their fiber is more expensive.
Alpaca fiber is judged and measured by its micron count, similar to how mohair is judged and measured. Royal fiber has less than 20 microns, baby has 21-23, standard Alpaca fleece is 24-28, adult is 29-32 and anything above that is considered coarse to very coarse. The fibers can also be judged by fineness, crimp, and lock structure.
Our alpacas are not show animals, but there are many alpaca shows where the animal is judged on the fineness of its fiber, as well as its physical conformity. We raise ours for the fiber, but they are really more like pets. The fiber is amazing to the touch, and they are inquisitive, quiet, somewhat shy creatures. I love to watch them grazing peacefully in the fields, and looking into their big, beautiful, soulful eyes reminds me how lucky I am, and what an amazing opportunity we have to interact with these otherworldly creatures. Their fiber is an awesome by product of keeping them, but they are mean so much more to us.