Where to begin with this little story, I am struggling with that. Should I begin with the offer from a neighbour? The rainy night that brought the biggest rain of the summer? With the fact that I am, by birth and in my heart, an English girl and so have an achilles heel for things that remind me so powerfully of home?
I suppose, in truth, I should begin by saying we started the year committed to not bringing new animals onto the farm. No way, no how. We were done. Exhausted. Plates very very full thank you very much. We now how 4 cows, nearly 90 meat chickens, 4 pigs, a bajillion laying chickens and 50 ickbillion bees. Plus a vegetable garden, burgeoning fruit garden, trees to take care of, cow to milk, hay to bring in and on and on and on. We are busy. So while I coveted the idea of some ducks swimming around on our pond, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the year for it; I laid that idea firmly to bed and contented myself with a wistful look out over the pond every now and then. This year we were being sensible.
Of course that was never really going to go very well, sensible doesn’t land you on a small holding in Canada homeschooling 2 boys while trying homestead at the same time. No it does not. So when our neighbour casually mentioned to Stephen that a friend of his was giving away a bunch of ducks and did we want some, the answer, of course, was ‘sure!’. Now if I can just explain, briefly, in an attempt to justify my lack of staying power, these were free ducks. As in no money need change hands, no charge whatsoever. I don’t know if you are familiar with the farm karma of free but basically the rule is, if you turn down free once it probably won’t come your way again. So even if the timing isn’t right or it’s something you didn’t expect, you say ‘yes please’ and worry about the rest later. That is the universal rule and you don’t want to mess with the universe, who knows what might become of it.
So when our neighbour offered to scoop Stephen off, one monsoon-like rainy night, to pick up these free ducks, away he went. I grumblingly did the chores alone, feeling most sorry for myself with the rain pouring right through my coat as it beat down like someone had decided to follow me around with a hose on maximum blast. When the ducks arrived in our large pet carrier, soaked through and looking quite bedraggled themselves, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to receive them. But we carted them down to the polytunnel to give them somewhere nice to settle in for a bit and set them up with food and water. The next couple of days were set to be rainy and while this is, as they say, nice weather for ducks (ha!) it is not nice weather for tractors and not good for house moving and general infrastructure setting up, so into the polytunnel they went.
As it turned out Stephen ended up in hospital the very next day so it was good that they had a comfy place to stay for a week. In amongst the beans they went, immediately feasting on the little bugs they found there. It seemed to take no time at all for them to be fully settled in. Stephen was told that this was not likely a true family group, ducklings Mum and Dad had all just been scooped up together and sent on their way. Apparently it doesn’t matter, Mama will adopt and ducklings around her as her own and the Daddy would settle to them all. I was skeptical, I’ll admit, but in fact that is exactly what happened.
After a week or so of free ranging up by the house, hanging out with they meat chickens each morning and avoiding the laying chickens each afternoon, we were ready to move them down to their true home, the pond. We moved one of our mobile chicken palanquins down to the water’s edge where Stephen had mowed a nice area for them, and walked behind them, clapping gently to move them on their way. The little family will all stick together when you do this, allowing you to herd them, sheep like, into their house. After a couple of evening walks like this, they now head down to their house at dusk each evening, Mama and Papa now a true couple, chatting happily about their day as the growing ducklings rush on ahead, dashing in and out of the longer grass, jumping high to catch bugs and generally tiring themselves out with all the running around.
One thing we discovered, a little to my chagrin, is that this type of duck doesn’t like to swim. These are Muscovy ducks, also known as Scoby ducks, and they are meat birds. I don’t know if it is because they are heavier but swimming just isn’t their thing. After some initial pond enthusiasm they’ve stayed firmly land side, with occasional forays into the kids paddling pool as it deflated, making it just perfect duckling height. They seem happy with their summer house, the feed, the farm and even their mooing neighbours, but the pond is just for looking at as far as they are concerned. A nice water feature and nothing more.
It took about 2 minutes for these lovely creatures to fully win over my heart. They are full of character and watching them form close family bonds has been a joy. Though we know some of the ducklings are destined for the table, we enjoy them anyway, their antics giving us hours of entertainment. Of course their lack of swimming left me feeling like something was missing, something really wasn’t quite right. Which is why, dear reader, there is a Part 2 to this post. And if you can’t guess what that involves, well then you really haven’t been paying attention at all.
Ok I’ll give you a hint. It involves ducks.