Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just Ducky

I may have mentioned this before: For a while we had a rather sizable and dense patch of daisies out by the plum and pear trees. We planted the flowers with the intention to encourage beneficial insects to hang out there, to protect and/or pollinate the fruit trees. The area was immediately adjacent to the path that led out to the barns, so we passed by it a lot.

During the middle of summer, when the daisies were in full bloom, I couldn’t help but notice that something smelled dead in the flowers. Not a huge stench, but noticeable. Searching the area, I found nothing. Yet the smell persisted. I eventually came to the conclusion that the odor emanated from the daisies.

Of course, daisies have been associated with death already in the phrase “pushing up daisies,” and perhaps now I know why. I have sense (sic) removed a lot of the flowers from the area.

Other phrases have also made sense from observations here on the farm, especially with the ducks. “Ducks in a row” refers to the formation the birds take as they run from the coop to the pond, single file. “Sitting ducks” is what happens when there is a threat from above. A hawk flies overhead, and instead of running for the cover of the lean-to, they just sit down where they are until the danger has passed, if it passes. If not, well, then they’re sitting ducks.

Another phrase comes to mind as I write this: Fuck a duck. Having seen drakes in action, the little rape machines that they are, rabbits don’t hold a candle to the male duck’s appetite. Relentless. The hens are helpless against the onslaught, and it might be that helplessness or a certain frustration the phrase connotes.

We started our duck experiment with three drakes, just to see what we would need to do to handle a larger flock. When we added eighteen hens to the mix, the drakes would not leave them alone, and even though the six-to-one ratio provided some respite, there was enough havoc created that we worried our egg production would suffer. And pity the smaller hens, for they by far had the worse of it.

A decision was made to cull the drakes from the flock. And by cull, I do not mean separate them from the hens; instead, we separated them from their heads. Dead ducks.
We didn’t enjoy the process. We just did what had to be done. It’s the way of the farm, and no different than putting another duck down when sick or injured.

While ducks may plop down on the ground when danger presents itself from above, when threatened from the ground, the birds scurry. The same holds true when either DW or I approach. Even though we have had these birds for six years, when they see us, they run away, sometimes in a row, and they are fast. If we need to catch one that it injured, we are better off trying to do so in the coop than in the open field.

Such was the case last week with the egg bound duck. Even though she was bleeding and most likely in severe pain, she was still nimble on her feet, and we had to wait until she was inside to catch her and take her to the chopping block. The same holds for the fattest duck of the bunch when she developed bumble foot (think really big wart full of bacteria on the underside of a toe) a few days ago. Although she limped, and was the slowest of the bunch to begin with, it was hard enough corralling her in the coop so I could inspect and treat the growing infection on her foot.

The usual regimen to effectively treat bumble foot involves a two-month stint of daily antibiotics and isolation in a dry environment. Well, I couldn’t see doing that for a six-year old bird and mentioned to DW that it might be time to put the bird down, which would leave us with seven ducks and one guinea. I was a bit surprised when she responded with “Perhaps it’s time to put them all down.”

Surprised but not astounded, for we had talked about this eventuality a couple months back. The girls were getting old and stopped regularly producing eggs some time ago. We were having a hard time justifying the expense of organic layer feed for the paltry amount of eggs we were getting, which is a good thing, for had we determined that the cost was not an issue, that would have meant the birds had ceased to be livestock and were now pets. That’s a mistake a farmer should never make.

So, this morning the birds remained in the coop. We were going to do it yesterday but it rained. You know: Nice whether if you’re a duck.


Crash said...

You explained it well, but it still is sad.

If I see you coming at me with a blade, you can be sure I will duck.

KenP said...

I was in high school when my younger sisters got ducks for Easter. One of the girls in their brownie troop lived on a nearby farm. A mallard had dropped in on her Easter present with his present and the results were to mixed breed males. The decided to give them to us because we lived on a lake.

This was their first encounter with the other sex and they proceed to grab hold and enjoy the swim with gusto.

There I stood with three women who decided they were trying to drown their pets and were yelling more than the other female ducks present. It is possible the Prevo women led too sheltered a life.

bastinptc said...

C - Couldn't resist, could you?

K - It is a bit startling, that gusto. Back when we had just the three drakes we began to notice that two of them were increasingly missing feathers on their necks. We thought mites and treated accordingly. The alpha drake never developed any symptoms, and no wonder, once we witnessed the real cause of the feather loss.