Duck World

Duckling World

We had a mini crisis. I had managed to safely hatch a couple of ducks and one chick, but the rest of the eggs had died (I suspect this was due to being placed over a rather shaky washing-machine—I will rethink the position next time.) Anyway, the hatchlings were safely in a plastic crate under the red heat-lamp, and we were walking the dog when Husband happened to glance through our hedge. There on the pond was a tiny yellow duckling.

Now, I knew that one of the ducks was sitting on a nest in a hutch, and I had in fact been barricading her in with balanced paving stones and old bricks because there were signs of the fox trying to dig her out at night. But I had decided that if she managed to hatch any, I would leave them to take their chances on the pond. I decide this every year. I never do.

We rushed back into the garden, with the dog trailing behind us looking confused and wondering if we had forgotten we were going on a walk.

On the pond, the mother duck was swimming around, followed by four ducklings. All very cute. But I wasn’t sure whether she would protect them when the crows heard and swooped in for a snack. We stood, watching.

Mother Duck and Four Ducklings Struggling to Stay With Her

Mother duck went up onto the island. The ducklings swam round, wanting to join her but not understanding about the ramp. One found it and struggled up, the others cheeped in alarm, all the while getting more tired and water-logged. A duckling has the oils from the mother’s feathers to waterproof it for a while, but as that wears off they get soaked and cold and sink. We decided to intervene and Husband went inside for his waders while I stood guard. As soon as he entered the pond, mother duck jumped off, and he managed to grab the duckling on the island. He also spotted another one, lying on a ramp, cold and still. We thought it was dead, but it managed to lift its head when it heard the mother, so we grabbed that one too and I rushed it to the incubator, which was luckily still warm.

When I returned, mother duck had found a spot on the bank, and two ducklings were underneath her. I realised that she would probably stay there for the night, making easy-pickings for the fox. The only safe place is the island, and the ducklings couldn’t get up there. Ducks never return to the nest once the last egg has hatched (it usually has at least one dead egg in it and a lot of smelly egg shell). I approached the mother, and she jumped into the pond, leaving the ducklings on the bank. I put them in my pocket, and watched to see how she would react. She went on the island, and started to clean her feathers, apparently unperturbed. I took the ducklings inside.

I checked a few times, but the mother seemed happy without her ducklings, and was busy swimming or resting—she certainly wasn’t looking for them. I decided to keep them (well of course I did!)

The nearly-dead duckling continued to look nearly dead for a couple of hours, but then perked up, so I added him to the plastic crate in the garage. Ducks are lovely birds, when you introduce a new one they come to investigate, but I have never known them to be anything other than accepting.

The mother duck was white. I’m not sure if that is the reason, but the new ducklings adopted the chick as their mother, and tried to sit under her. She was rather bemused—especially as they were bigger than her. After a day, she seemed to accept her role, and continues to sit on top of the ducklings. I suppose that when you were curled up in an egg a few hours ago, the whole world seems strange; having fluffy ducklings climbing under you is probably no more strange than everything else. The chick (am really hoping it’s not a cockerel) mainly looks perturbed when the ducklings splash in the water. I have noticed it always drinks after the others have finished.

They adopted the chick as mother.
She accepted her role…
Drinking is a shared experience.

Hope your world is not too weird today. Take care.

Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

Building Stonehenge and Disappointments

This week has been a busy garden week. We decided to try and create a vegetable patch in the garden. This is probably unwise, as neither of us are gardeners, and we both think the other person is going to do all the hard work. I suspect we will simply create an eatery for slugs and caterpillars, but perhaps that’s overly negative.

Once we had decided the position of the vegetable patch (which took longer than you might expect) Husband decided to mark it with a border of sleepers—which we have left over from when we moved the pond a couple of years ago. Moving sleepers is very difficult—they are extremely heavy and all our children have inconveniently grown-up and left home. I helped by muttering about hernias, and maybe waiting until the boys next visited, and was it worth the effort when we’d only grow slugs anyway?

Husband was more inventive, and after I had left and gone into the house, he set to work. The first job was to move the old duck house, which had been on the island before we moved the pond but was a nuisance as it was always full of eggs that I couldn’t reach so had since been moved to the compost heap (because that is obviously the ideal place for a duck house). Husband moved it to under the oak tree, using a system of rolling logs. He then created a series of levers and rollers with old logs, and managed to move the sleepers into place. When I went to check he wasn’t lying in agony with a hernia/slipped disc/broken foot, I found him standing next to the frame of our vegetable patch, looking extremely pleased with himself. He explained his method of using old logs and branches to make rollers and levers in great detail (really, I am saving you from a lot of physics here). It was apparently akin to how people built Stonehenge. But better (obviously).

The plan was to remove the weeds from the inside of the excellent frame, and then fill it with compost. However, the chickens had other plans. They were released from their prison a few days ago, when DEFRA announced the bird-flu threat had reduced, and my chickens have been loving the freedom. They clearly decided that Husband had been making a communal bath for them, and have used it ever since as a place to bath. (For the uninformed amongst you, chickens clean themselves by digging into dry earth and kicking it all over themselves. This dust-bath is a very good way to clean feathers.)

I am still not convinced we will ever manage to grow vegetables, but will let you know.

I have also been trying to grow ducks—but not much success there either. I had 20 eggs in the incubator, and they all seemed to be developing well. But then all went quiet. One duck hatched very quickly, and I named him Aleph and put him in the garage. He was lonely, so I gave him a mirror to chat to. He spent long hours in conversation with his reflection.

A day later, Bet hatched. The following day, Gimel emerged from the one chicken egg (because I prefer brown eggs—am hoping the chick isn’t a cockerel). But then…nothing. Very disappointing.

I opened a few eggs, and the birds all seem to have developed to a certain stage and then died. I’m guessing they died a few days before they should have hatched—no idea why. Perhaps something knocked the incubator, or there was something in the air. None had gone bad (which can kill the other eggs) so it must be something external.

It’s especially disappointing because the fox has been visiting again (I think it must have cubs) and I lost two of my female ducks. The remaining female is currently safe because she’s on a nest in the hutch (not the old one Stone-Age-Husband moved). I’m hoping she has more success with hatching her ducklings than I did.

The fox caught two of these ducks. Such a shame.
Having a chat.

Hope your week went better than mine.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Covid and Cockerels

Hello, have you had your Covid vaccine yet? I had mine this week, and it was both more fun than expected, and more time-consuming. I had booked an appointment online, so went to a nearby vaccine centre in Tonbridge. This took a whole chunk out of the day—whether you are trying to write a book or attempting to learn Hebrew verb conjugations, always real life gets in the way. But perhaps that is good for me.

Anyway, the vaccine was more fun than expected because I had not really focussed on the fact that everyone there would be about the same age. When you are waiting in a sport’s hall with about 200 people of your age-group, you cannot help but compare how you are doing. I went at the same time as Husband, so I checked out how he is doing too (and I think I chose quite well actually, there were a lot of big bellies and bald heads amongst the other candidates!)

My main advice when you have the vaccine is make sure you’ve combed your hair and worn something flattering.

As far as what to wear, it’s also worth wearing something with a sleeve that will roll up. I was surprised how many people had not really thought about what they were going for—unless they thought it was going to be stuck somewhere other than their arm? One person seemed to be having a major strip-tease going on. It reminded me of when I taught the reception class, and without fail when you told the class to change for P.E. there was always one child who got carried away. You would tell them to change, start collecting equipment and then glance up to find a naked body in the room. It matters less when they’re only 5.

It was hard to not think I was having side-effects because at every stage we were told what to expect, given a booklet of scary things to watch for, and were even told by our nurse how ill she had been afterwards. Husband had read somewhere that in trials, about 38% of people had side-effects. He also read that about 20% of people who were given the placebo had side-effects. Hard not to think your little toe feels odd if someone asks you.

I read an interesting article about side-affects from the vaccine. Apparently, they are due to the body having an allergic reaction to the vaccine—much as chicken-pox spots are due to an allergy to the disease rather than the actual disease causing spots. (I think this is different to things like hay-fever, so I don’t think anti-histamine would help.) As older bodies have a less responsive reaction to allergies (and rarely have hay-fever) so too they are less likely to have a big reaction to the vaccine. The younger you are, the more likely it is that your body will decide it doesn’t like the vaccine and produce a temperature or headache. This is completely separate to the antibody producing bit, so whether you have a reaction or not, the antibody count is likely to be similar. The good news is that if you have a bad reaction with the first dose, when you have the second dose your body will realise that it’s not harmful, and there is unlikely to be the same allergic response.

I didn’t have much problem with side-affects (clearly too old).

One thing that did hurt me was being attacked on Wednesday. I was collecting the eggs, and had stooped to reach into the nesting box, when suddenly I was walloped on the leg, which caught me off-balance and I fell over. The wretched cockerel had decided I was interfering with his women and had sprung into attack. He’s attacked me before, and I have picked him up and marched round with him tucked under my arm until he’d calmed down, but as it clearly hasn’t stopped him it was more of an issue this time. A nasty cockerel will attack people, cats, dogs, ducks—everything really. Big problem. Plus it really hurt. His spurs had cut right through my trousers, and although the cut was only about 1cm wide, it was fairly deep.

I wasn’t sure what you’re supposed to do with a wound from a cockerel spur. Is it like a bite and needs special attention, or do you just clean it and stick on a plaster? I went for the Savlon and plaster method and it seems to be healing. Don’t ask what happened to the cockerel, but he won’t be attacking anyone else.

Hope you have a pain-free week. Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Plants That Ducks Don’t Eat

Hello, what kind of a week have you had? I am enjoying seeing all the spring flowers, the lambs in the field next to the house, and a few blue skies. Spring time has so much promise. The pond is lovely, though it is sadly bare of plants. Even the grass on the bank is being dug up and eaten by greedy ducks—perhaps in retaliation for my stealing their eggs.

Ducks are generally terrible mothers—they often lay their eggs in random places, and although occasionally one will make a nest and hatch the eggs, as soon as they hatch she leaves the nest and goes back to the pond. The ducklings have to struggle to keep up with her, or else be eaten. I am usually aware that the eggs have hatched because I hear the crows and magpies as they circle the pond, ready for a tasty snack.

I am currently collecting the eggs as they are laid, and will incubate them when I have enough. I’ll leave three in the nest. There is one nest, the other eggs are laid randomly on the bank, some roll into the water, some are collected by crows—my ducks clearly never read the ‘how to build a nest’ manual. I’ll then raise them inside until they’re too big for the crows to eat (they’re full-grown in four weeks). Am hoping to time it so they are on the pond before I have to start serious revision for my exams.

Ducks having a chat.

Ducks are lovely, but they do tend to destroy anything growing around the pond. I have tried protecting plants with nets and fences—but they don’t look very nice. In the early days, I used to believe the people in the garden centres who would assure me that I could buy certain plants and ‘the ducks won’t eat them.’ They either lied, or knew very little about ducks.

So, if you hope to both keep ducks and grow plants around your pond, here is a list of plants that ducks will eat. Some of them are poisonous, so they shouldn’t really be planted near a pond (though none of my ducks have ever died from eating plants that are listed as ‘poisonous’). It is quite a long list.

Plants that ducks will eat include:

water starwort 
willow moss
frog’s lettuce
water violet
water milfoils
water lobelia
water crowfoot

They also eat floating plants such as:

water soldier
(all kinds)

Marginal plants they will eat include:
great water plantain

water hawthorn
bog bean

arum lily
sweet flag
flowering rush
bog arum

yellow flag
corkscrew rush
golden club
pickerel weed
large-flowered spearwort
Old World arrowhead
zebra rush

T. laxmannii
T. minima
Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’
marsh marigold
Bowles’ golden sedge

Carex pendula
C. pseudocyperus
golden buttons
Houttuynia cordata
Japanese water iris

Iris versicolor 
Mimulus cardinalis 
M. lewisii 
M. luteus
M. ringens
water forget-me-not
Saururus cernuus

Plants that ducks do not eat include:






Nope, cannot think of any. Trees I guess—but only because duck feet are designed to swim not perch, so they cannot reach the leaves very easily.

Hoping your plants grow well this spring.

Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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A Green Chicken and The Black Farmer

Green Chicken and a Black Farmer

This combination resulted in blue eggs.

I have a few chicken-related things of interest to tell you. Firstly—very exciting news—the hens that I bred from my longbar cockerel and leghorn hen are now laying, and the eggs are blue. I was so hoping they would be, so I am very happy!

The first blue egg.

However, the green chicken from the title was not so good (but you must read to the end to understand). I had invited Mum for dinner, and was chatting (well, listening) and carving the chicken, when I saw what looked like a green pellet embedded in the breast. I dug it out, and it was soft, and green and looked as if it had been somehow injected into the chicken. I only buy organic chicken, so I was somewhat perturbed, and fished the wrapper out of the bin.

An unappetising green lump in my dinner!

The chicken came from The Black Farmer and there were contact details for their customer service, so I took some photos of the green lump and fired off an email, asking whether we would now die from eating green-pellet-poisoned chicken. (I didn’t actually phrase it like that.) I received a reply very quickly, assuring me that they do not inject their birds with anything like hormones, and asking me to send the lump. However, the following morning, before I had time to package the green lump (what a fun activity that would have been!) I received another email. The helpful customer services person informed me that further research had found that the lump was probably  something called Oregon’s/green muscle disease. It wasn’t harmful, and occurred sometimes in the muscles of chickens if they flapped their wings too much.

I checked online, and there were pictures showing exactly what I had found, as well as some photos where great swathes of chicken meat were green. It is something to do with the muscles not having enough oxygen, and I have no idea if it’s uncomfortable for the chicken but it looks horrid when you carve your Sunday lunch.

I was very impressed with The Black Farmer producer—they had replied promptly, done some research, and offered to refund my money. As we had already eaten the chicken and I was feeling pleased with the service I had received, it seemed unnecessary for them to send a refund, so I suggested they put it into their charity box. They support the Mary Seacole Trust, which I had never heard of. I decided to look up both The Black Farmer and Mary Seacole—because I was interested by what seems to be a very well-run company.

To my surprise, The Black Farmer is in fact…a black farmer! I had assumed it was simply a name, like ‘Green and Black’s’ (though maybe that is also run by a black man and a Martian). The farmer is called Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (great name) and he was born in Jamaica and grew up in Birmingham, UK. He had various jobs, but when he was 40, he bought a farm in Devon. This is a man I can relate to, I wish I had bought a farm in Devon when I was 40. He seems to do lots of good things, like running a scheme for inner-city kids to experience farm life, and he has won awards. Plus he seems to run a very good business. You should look at his website—you will be impressed I think.

I had another surprise when I investigated Mary Seacole—why had I never heard of her?

Mary Seacole was also born in Jamaica, then moved to England in the 1800s. During the Crimean War, she went over to help, because she had some nursing experience from her days in Jamaica. She opened an hotel near to the frontline, and nursed injured soldiers. Now, I knew that Florence Nightingale did that, but I had never heard of Mary Seacole. Apparently, she was very famous in her day, appeared in magazines and newspapers and was heralded as a hero. But after she died, people forgot about her. There is now a statue, set up in her honour, at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.

I hope you discover some interesting facts this week too—and hoping all your chicken is free of green!

Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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A Matter of Life and Death

I don’t know about you, but I am always surprised by how much life bursts forth in the spring. Suddenly, every weed in my garden is ten-foot-high, the chickens start hiding their eggs and going broody, wild birds start to go bananas. It is mostly wonderful.

There are a few downsides though—like the bag of potatoes I found at the bottom of the larder, with roots practically piercing the bag. Maybe not so good for mash. I had the clever idea of planting them, so the chickens could eat the new leaves when they sprouted (wouldn’t take long!) I took them up the garden, and found an area against the chicken coop fence. Ideal, I thought, I’ll chuck them there, toss a bit of compost over them, they can grow through the fence and the chickens can eat the leaves. All good.

About 3 days later, the potatoes appeared in a bucket next to the door.

“Look what I found!” announced pleased husband, beaming all over his face. “These must be the seed potatoes you planted last year, and they’ve grown new tubers.”

I told them I thought they were possibly some old potatoes that I’d found in the larder (I didn’t go into too much detail), but he assured me that the roots were really long, and there was no way they could possibly be from this year. I checked the area next to the chicken coop. No potatoes or heap of compost. I keep trying to avoid the subject, but husband has mentioned it about 50 times since then, saying how amazing it is. Might have to confess.

The welcoming committee. . .

We also had birds in the nesting boxes that Uncle Frank made. He gave them to me ages ago, and I put them near the kitchen window (good plan) so I would see if any birds took an interest. We had some great tits in the area, and I guessed the eggs must have hatched when I noticed a welcoming committee of four cats staring at the nesting box. I started to shut the cats in during the day, letting them out at night. But then one morning, I came down to find one cat up the tree, and by the time I had run outside, he had fished a baby out of the box and was playing with it. I grabbed the baby, shoved it back into the box, and shut the cat inside. Husband then assembled some protective obstacles around the base of the trees. The view from my kitchen window resembled a cross between Guantanamo Bay and a WW1 trench. Not quite what I’d hoped, but at least the birds were safe.

A little like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ wildlife picture, but this is one of the birds.

We watched the parents feed the birds, and I did some online research. Did you know that great tits have a black stripe down the centre of their breast, and that the male has a wider stripe than the female? The width is directly proportional to how many sperm he produces, so female great tits will try to select a mate with a very wide black stripe. Our male was in the ‘acceptable but not a super-stud’ range. Cool fact huh?

We guessed the hatchlings were flying because several blue jays appeared in the garden. Am hoping they didn’t catch them all—maybe the blue jay family had a banquet that day. The next morning, the nesting box was empty except for moss and feathers.

In keeping with the explosion of life that is spring, I have some duck eggs incubating in the utility room, and my beautiful white leghorn chicken is sitting on some eggs in her nest. She has a choice of leghorn (white) cockerel or legbar (grey) cockerel to choose from. I am hoping to have a female chick from the legbar male, as they lay lovely blue eggs (though whether or not a hybrid will, remains to be seen). They are due to hatch next week, so I will let you know how they fare.

I also have a female pheasant (I can’t tell you how delighted Husband is about this!) I found her in a ditch, so am guessing she had been hit by a car. I knew the fox would get her, and I figured it would be nicer to die somewhere peaceful, so I carried her home and put her in an empty duck coop next to the pond. But she didn’t die. I’ve had her a couple of weeks now. I’m feeding her grain and apples (have to smuggle the apples out of the house because technically they belong to Bea’s boyfriend). She can’t actually walk (the pheasant, not Bea) but seems quite happy lolloping around the coop and watching the ducks. There is a ramp down to the pond, and I do have some worries that she might drown herself (pheasants are very silly birds) which means Husband will have to wade out and retrieve the body—which he will mutter about for several days—but at least it will stop him talking about the blessed potatoes!

I hope your week is full of life.

Take care, and stay safe.

Love, Anne x

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Another chapter from Counting Stars will be posted on Wednesday.