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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cockerel and hen

Chicken Choices

I can hardly believe it’s May already. Many of the spring flowers are already over, though the bluebells are holding on – just! My garden is at that wonderful stage of every weed going completely bananas, and growing much faster than I can pull them out.

The animals are also going bananas – especially the foxes, and I have some bad news to report. When we arrived home from Norfolk, I let the chickens out of their cages again so they could roam around the garden during the daytime…and I think there must be fox cubs somewhere near…and I hope they are happy. I am left with one cockerel and two hens.

I therefore decided that I would hatch some more eggs. As the cockerel is related to the hens (mother and sister) I thought it would be best to buy some more eggs on Ebay. I’m not sure that the morality of the situation matters, but the hatchlings might not be very healthy with such closely related parents.

I then had fun choosing which eggs to buy. The chickens I currently own have at least some Maran in them, as the hens are dark and the cockerel has lovely chestnut neck feathers. However, Marans were bred initially for cock-fighting in France, and some of those fighting genes are still in evidence today, so I decided to try a different breed.

I ordered three different types of eggs. Some are Cream Legbars, which will lay beautiful blue eggs. It’s an English breed, and a cross between Barred Plymouth Rocks (a speckly grey bird) and Brown Leghorns (a brown bird). The adults should be a sort of pale brown, slightly speckled bird – but the main thing is those lovely blue eggs, so I do hope some are female. These chickens were ‘designed’ in Cambridge, and the hatchlings are different, so the males have a white spot on their heads, so I’ll know immediately if I have some females. (Usually, sexing chicks is pretty impossible!) I will keep them all, whatever the gender, I’ll simply be depressed if they’re all male…

I also bought some Leghorn eggs. These are big white eggs. The birds came from Italy, they are big white chickens, and sometimes their crown sort of flops over, which I think makes them look very Italian!

Finally, I ordered some Speckled Sussex eggs. These chickens are brown, and speckled (no surprise there) and they have been in England for years, are a very old breed. They lay a pale brown egg — which is smaller than I was expecting (so I hope the seller didn’t send me bantam eggs — that’s the trouble with Ebay, you can never be sure).

Well, the eggs arrived, delivered by the postman with a letter from the bank and a leaflet advertising new windows. They were packaged quite differently (the eggs, not the letters) — some in a polystyrene box, some in egg boxes surrounded by either straw or scrumpled newspaper within another, bigger box — but they all survived. The people selling the Sussex and Leghorns added a few extra eggs (perhaps because they were packed less securely). I actually have more eggs than I want, but I don’t know which ones will survive, so I will put them all in the incubator. They have to settle for a day first, pointy end down, then they go into the incubator and I just have to wait 3 weeks. If I have 18 cockerels I shall be annoyed.

I would like one of the outside hens to go broody, so she can raise the chicks for me. I am leaving her eggs to encourage those broody hormones. So far, she has about 20 eggs – which she just keeps looking at – no sign of broody at all! Maybe she remembers the trouble that chicks are, and has figured out what makes them hatch (I can relate to her feelings of not wanting the hassle of more children, honestly I can). Am hoping she changes her mind. I will let you know. If the  hen goes broody, I can then give her the  hatchlings from the incubator, and even though the eggs she’s sitting on are infertile, she will hopefully accept the chicks…hopefully.

Hope you have a good week.

Take care,
Love, Anne x