Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When I Was a Duck Mom....

My friend Ashley from William's Island Farm raises ducks.  Well, she used to raise them, back in the day when the weather was warm.  Her first batch was brought up in a yome on an island with no running water or electricity.  If you have ever been a poultry mom you would understand that the lack of those two resources are a little trying for raising young poultry.  So for this go-round she recruited me and my trusty help, Mike, to be the parents of twenty young Indian Runner ducklings.

I knew the drill, I've raised chicks out at Sequatchie Cove many a time.  You notify the local post office that a very loud and slightly moving cardboard box will be arriving ANY DAY NOW in the post, and to call you when it comes.  The post office loves this- after days of sorting Netflix and water bills, young fowl is a welcome and exciting diversion.

Here on Lookout Mountain I was a little wary of informing them about my upcoming package.  But Steve, the postman, was well learned in the ways of young birds.    A man in Rising Fawn ALWAYS orders chicks, he assured me. You have to dip their beaks in water ASAP,  he said, they are ok at first because they have been living off their eggs, but by the time they get to the post office they are hungry and thirsty, they need to be taught where to get water.  

I concluded that I was in good hands but woke up every morning for four days, staring at the phone, waiting for the post office to call.  When they finally did we ran out the door, coffee-less, and carefully put the peeping box in the back seat.  We rushed home and dutifully dipped each teeny beak in water and watched the ducklings as they stumbled around their new home.  We had prepared a kiddie pool with pine wood chips, a feeder, a grit plate, and a waterer for the young'uns.  The wood chips were covered with the latest Sunday New York Times; carefully picked pages to educate our flock on the latest styles and travel spots.  The newspaper was to keep the little birds from confusing the chips as food and choking on them.  All that night we heard wee peeps coming from the downstairs bedroom as the ducklings ran circles around their new home under the heat lamp, their flat little feet pattering on the newspaper.

Ducks are NOT chickens and ducks LOVE water.  After realizing half of their allotted drinking water was used in splashing their neighbors, we set a little pan in their house so that they could play in it at their will.  They took turns leaping in and swimming around, their tiny paddles furiously churning as they peeped and splashed contently.  Of course, this play time was limited and there was always a life guard on duty.  We didn't want any drowning to happen on our watch.

There was some inspection, but the young ducks soon learned, one at a time, that THIS was the place to be.

And they packed it in, getting the most out of their short allotted "play time".

I am assuming that I now know a little bit about being a parent.  Baby ducks poop, play, demand food at very high volume, and sleep like they might be dead.

They don't hold "normal" hours like the rest of us.  They eat when they're hungry, drink when they're thirsty, and peep when they feel like it it.   Two AM is not the wrong time for a loud and crazy "peep show'.

But everyone grows up and wants to sleep on the roof of their house.  Soon, the ducks became bigger and more experimental.  One followed the other until they got their roof privileges taken away.

They usually were confined to the kiddie pool full of wood chips, but every now and then we had to change those soggy (due to excess playing) wood chips and they got to play in the bathtub while that happened.
Unfortunatly for them, the whole tub wasn't full of water.  They had to be content with the plain-ol'-pool.

A few very special and well behaved duckling were even allowed outside as they grew larger (this takes about a week).

These ducks love to forage.  They love collards and kale, lettuce stems and chickweed, clover and grass.  After they got over the concern for their fellow ducklings they immediatly took to being out on an open range.

But after three weeks, their cute little bodies morphed into teen-age awkwardness.  Their down began to turn to little rough pin-feathers. Their tails that they wag so happily like little duck-dogs were sprouting one-two-three tail feathers. Suddenly their kiddie-pool was no longer the large open circular range that they knew in their youth; they were ready to fly the coop.

Ashley, I left on the William's Island voicemail, their peeps have almost turned to quacks.  It's time to take your ducks to pasture.

It was true.  In the morning when we went down to greet the angry waterless mob there were some strange croaking murmurings in the crowd.   They weren't exactly quacks yet, more like sick bronchitic croaks.

They're monsters, Mike said

They're teenagers, I said.  Their voices are changing and so are their bodies.  They are growing up.  This is not the end, it's just the beginning of something else.

They'll never be as cute as they were, but one day they will be sleek and business-like in their new suits of feathers.  They will still be the same busy ducks running from food to water, grabbing whatever weed or bug comes their way.  And their big green eggs will make the most delicious custards and souffles.   I just know it.

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