Last year I bought some ducks, two hens and a drake. I’d made them a nice secure run and knocked up a couple of coops for them, dug a small pond and ran a water line to it. They had plenty of space, vegetation to hide amongst and plenty of feed supplemented with vegetables and suitable table scraps. Life for them was pretty idyllic.
I still haven’t found a couple of geese so that poor old Goosey the Gander can unload his sauce, so recognizing that he must be up to his bottom beak in dirty water and might harass the ducks, I built him a separate pen.
The very next day after introducing the ducks to their new accommodation, I was rewarded with a nice fresh egg. Unless you have cracked open a really fresh egg, you will be surprised at how gelatinous is the white and how proud both yolk and white stand from the plate. I have cracked open fresh eggs before but it was a long time ago so I was pleased to be reminded of what a fresh egg looked like. It tasted great.
The day after there was another egg and so it went on for a week. Then there were no more eggs. I supposed it might be due to the change in environment or diet so made sure they were getting absolutely everything recommended by Michael Grashorn in his excellent book on fowl, “Geflügel – Das Fotobuch für die Praxis”, with which Herr Klein had been kind enough to arm this novice.
Still no eggs.
The three birds I had bought came from a much larger flock along with sincere assurances of their egg laying propensity. I began to wonder whether the drake that had been encouraging my ducks to lay wasn’t the drake I had been sold. The bird fingered as the drake was certainly bigger and uglier than the two females but he didn’t really betray much anatidic masculinity. My concern regarding his libido was transformed to alarm about his possible sexual orientation when he broke into Goosey’s pen and mounted him. The fact that a much bigger bird would allow himself to be rogered without at least putting up a stiff resistance made me realise that Goosey had probably been without the company of females of his own kind for far too long.
Now I’m a live and let live sort of guy and have no problems with how consenting adults get their kicks but I was feeding and housing these buggers and I wanted eggs!
In the end, such was the passion of the drake for the unfortunate goose, I had to release the goose permanently into the garden, effectively sacrificing my crop of kohlrabi. Clearly, if the drake had eyes only for a snow white gander, it was no surprise the ducks weren’t laying.
I determined two things: I must find two geese for Goosey, and the next time the Duck Lady came round, I’d have another drake off her. In the meantime, peace having been restored to the roost, I carried on feeding them, and buying my eggs.
Having long since given up exploring the nooks and crannies of the pen in search of eggs, it took something quite unusual to make me have a good look around. Such an instance occurred yesterday when I went to feed them. First, the bottom of the shade netting surrounding their enclosure had been ripped open; second, one of my ducks was missing.
Had this been the result of feral dogs, I would have found a lot more than just the odd few discarded feathers normally floating around the floor of a duck pen. There would certainly have been no survivors. ‘Perhaps it is loose somewhere in the garden?’ I thought, after all, if it were here, surely it would be with the others flapping around my ankles to get at the feed? So I dumped the feed and went off in search of the missing bird. Nothing. No sign whatsoever, no tell-tale pile of duck down anywhere. I found Goosey under the shop, surely he would have been an easier target?
Sadly I made my way back to the pen to swab out the water pond and refill it with fresh. The duck pond, as for want of a better name I call it, is about the size and depth of a large bath. Made of concrete cast over a mesh, I hadn’t bothered with a drain so once a week I have to scoop all the water and accumulated muck out of it. This sludge is great for the garden. So as not to waste it, I trundle in a load of dirt and it is onto this that I throw the slurry. After a few weeks, I shovel the healthily revolting looking mixture back into a wheelbarrow and cart it over to my raised beds. If you are trying to get slurry to soak into soil, it is best to start with a hole into which you shovel the dirt to be soaked. If you don’t, you’ll discover that water runs off a pile of dry dirt just as well as it does a duck’s back. The position of my hole is between the pond and the first of the two coops and I, with gay abandon, was busy chucking bucket after stinking bucket into it, splashing everything within a six foot radius when, with an indignant squawk, the missing duck shot out of the coop as if it had been propelled by a punt gun.
If anyone asks me now, I say that the lids of the coops, which are really only very large nesting boxes, were cunningly crafted so that they could easily be lifted for egg inspections. In reality, never having given much thought to the design, it was only because I ran out of nails while building them that they are now blessed with such useful functionality. I lifted the lid and discovered this:
I don’t care if, now the drake has been denied his true love, it is a case of any port in a storm, the ducks are paying their way again and soon I’ll treble my anatidae holdings.
I bet I’m not half as relieved as Goosey, though…