make way for ducklings

it’s been really wet in the northeast US this year, to the extent that i never actually got my garden planted in the spring. we have clay to clay/loam soil which is prone to compaction and it just plain never dried out enough for me to turn all the soil. the things planted in raised beds (tomatoes, peppers, and radishes) rotted in the ground. two-thirds of my pea vines likewise withered and died from the wet before making peas. this means the grand sum of my garden this year will be last fall’s garlic plus a few early spears of asparagus. we’ll get a couplefew pints of blueberries from our bushes and hopefully a few quarts of blackberries from the wild and thorny blackberry patch down the driveway, but this lack of summer produce is amazingly depressing. i don’t even know who i am any more if i can’t sojourn off to the garden for a dirty little snack of carrot or bean.

whether or not i was influenced by the rain and the spongy ground or not, i procured five possibly-fertile pekin duck eggs from a coworker near the beginning of june. i had  broody silkie (like, what else is new?) and i was tired of watching her sit on an empty nest with that birdy look of complete determination. in vain! in vain! as goes murphy’s law, as soon as i gave her a nest full of eggs to sit on, she stopped setting. fearing i would lose the viability of the eggs and not really having anything to lose, i snaffled another silkie hen as she walked past me one evening and bunged her into the brooding cage. by next morning, she’d set up shop on the nest. talk about going broody at the drop of a hat….

she did a good job. about a week before projected hatching, a stink started to come up from the nest. the next day, she had dumped one of the eggs out of the nest and onto the floor of the cage, mercifully without breaking it. i tucked that one deep into the compost heap and let her finish doing her thing.

on 3 july, i took a peek under the hen and found a duck pipping. by the end of the day, three ducklings had pipped out.

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by the end of the following day, the hen had broken the last egg (an alarmingly stinky dud) and started trying to raise ducks…

she has only been partially successful.

she’s not a fantastic mamabird anyway. last year, she brooded some silkie eggs and got three out of four, but would frequently wander off and leave her biddies or flee from danger without taking them along. she does, at least, tell them when she’s found something good to eat or there’s something possibly dangerous. her limited skills don’t really work with ducklings, who don’t speak chicken. i had to show them how to eat and drink and, of course, swim. as a result, i had a trio of very happy, clownish ducklings now who weren’t really sure if they were ducks, chickens, or people.

ducklings2 week four

ducklings week four

i went to lock them up one night and all four were snuggled up in the corner, the hen with one tiny, defeathered wing slung over the necks of each of two of the ducklings. about as warm as a scarf! good thing they’ve got lots of down right off the bat.

anyway, i’m not really sure about ducks. they’re extremely comical to watch, but i no longer think that chickens are messy since i have ducks. i’ve been researching duck house and pen construction like mad, trying to fiture out how to build something that will drain, drain, drain. they certainly can’t live in the chicken coop, where the brooder pen is currently standing water under the shavings every evening. i was talking idly about selling them, but my daughters forbid it. i mentioned that the person who has to do duck chores gets to make duck decisions and lo! when i went out to begin chores last night, the duck pen had been cleaned and bedded and they’d been watered, too. my spawn are amazingly averse to exerting themselves in any way that doesn’t involve personal payoff (classic geminis, those two) so maybe my plan should be to threaten duck sale often enough that i get an occasional reprieve from scraping up wet shavings….

one duckling left last week to go be a companion to a lonely pekin drake. the new owner is looking forward to having a pair, but i fear she will have to invest in an incubator (or silkie hen) before she gets her own ducklings. i have my own too-closely-related pair (hard to know whether they’re siblings or cousins or what) and time will tell if i can conquer the duck mess or it will conquer me.

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