I never liked chickens, or to be precise, I have always been afraid of them. There is something about their beady eyes and the sharpness of their beak that puts me off. I doesn’t help that I was chased by them as a child.
I am not too keen about birds either, so it was a great surprise to me how I have taken to my ducklings, literally like a duck to water (if you can excuse the weak pun).
The ducklings came as a little bit of a surprise and was as usual not the most organised or planned activity. I always had in mind that ducks would be ideal for the natural pond and turlough Kevin has been cleaning out in the last year, but as the chicken coop is in production on site, I figured ducks were a project for later.
But around here things fall naturally into our laps and we tend to go with the flow when opportunities appear. One of our neighbours had a large selection of ducklings for sale and it was just a matter of going and picking up the breeds we wanted. As ducks where my interest and I had done the most research, I was sent to pick up “about ten, I guess”, said Kevin, from our very entrepreneurial neighbour Fergal.
Now, let me tell you about my neighbour Fergal, who also sold us our cows. A lovely fellow, into about everything you can think of related to farming. Very down to earth and helpful,
but a salesman through and through.
“I’ll take ten, Fergal. A mix of laying ducks and ducks for the table”, I said.
“Did you say thirty? I know you have the space for it. There’s as much work in feeding ten as feeding thirty”, says he.
“Fine, I’ll take fifteen”, says I.
“I’ll give you a few for free, just for you”, says he.
Today I am the proud owner of 22 ducklings, which I bought at a week old. There are seven Aylsbury, table ducks, two mallards (which Fergal assured me wouldn’t fly off, fingers crossed), two unusual Cayuga, a couple Indian Runners and Khaki Cambells.
My lovelies started off residing in a long cardboard box in my utility room. While I could have put them in the shed, I was afraid they might be killed by rats. During the sunny days we have been having, they have been out on the lawn in a temporary pen.
The ducklings are so much fun! I can spend ages looking at their antics and listening to their funny little quacky squeeks.
As they cannot swim yet, they don’t have feathers only down, I made up a shallow pool (compliments from Pinterest) for them. It is simply a large plastic painting tray, that with water looks like a miniature children’s pool. They just loooove the water and as the days are warm and sunny they don’t get cold.
With the dry mealworms I got in the pet shop, I am slowly taming them and when they see me they stand attention to see if I have any treats for them. I also fill their pool with chopped up weeds, herbs and lettuce, and you would be hard pressed to find happier ducklings when they dive after their treats.
Now here is another strange development, I now scour my polytunnel for weeds such as the previously hated bitter cress and check my lawns for dandelion leaves, all used as treats for my ducklings who simply love them. I caught myself today, thinking that I might leave the cress to grow a bit more around my tomatoes, just to have more to give my ducks. I had to pinch my arm, just to make sure I copped on to myself.
They grow at an alarming rate and grew out of their box in no time. The ducklings, not so small any more, now reside in a handy pen in the shed. They still get the chopped weeds, but have now grown onto the grower feed.
The best thing of all; this is the first time I have lost my fear of fowl. Ducks are fun, they leave a mess and are extremely dirty, but will put a smile on anyone. They might lose their duckling cuteness as they get bigger, but somehow I doubt the funny quacks or the waddle gait will dampen their charm.
Will I be able to eat them? Yes. I love duck meat. Also, not all are meant for the table, most are actually meant to keep for eggs. Although a few of those might go, depending if they are ducks or drakes (females or males).
The golden rule in this house is “don’t name anything you are planning on eating”. With the farm animals as with the garden, what I grow is to be eaten, has an additional benefit or uses. This is why we have very few decorative plants and only one pet, our dog Bella. Even these earn their keep; the plants by attracting bees and other useful bugs, and our dog Bella is a great companion and watchdog. Useless with the sheep though.