As you may recall I got seven new ducklings for 50% off from Tractor Supply in August. In one short month they are now almost the same size as the grown ducks. Although this was exactly what happened with my previous ducklings, I remain astonished. That’s probably because I’m comparing them to my chicks, the ones that arrived August 5th. The chicks are now fully fledged but they’re still so small.
For the record, I think I’m going back to the Cornish Cross (or the Cornish X, as they’re sometimes called). I decided to try these Red Rangers because they’re supposed to be far less susceptible to bone breakage, not that any of my Cornish Cross broke legs. I expect that’s because the Red Rangers grow more slowly. They’re also supposed to eat more grass. Thus far, both these things seem true, however taking longer to grow means they eat more purchased food. For sure, they’re a prettier bird than the Cornish X, which is short, dumpy and boringly white. If I stay with the Red Rangers, it’ll be because they taste better than the previous batch of Cornish. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine. Even raised over the hottest months of the summer, those Cornish are pretty darn delicious.
But this post is about the ducks and ducklings who have this week proved themselves to be far more daring than I expected. I mean, these are birds that waddle off in the opposite direction if anyone so much as looks at them. If you sneeze, panic definitely erupts.
What I most feared finally happened. Seven ducks in my pond is too many. They ate up all the pond grass. My first clue was that, after being fairly indifferent to the commercial food I was offering them, they began to beg for it. Then, they began to run at me when I came with scoop, moving at top speed, talking at the tops of their ducky voices, which are impressively loud. That was really unusual for these flighty birds (who don’t fly). So I got down to water level and took a good look at the pond. Yep. Harvested clean to the bottom.
That left no me choice. I opened the front pasture gate and set the ducks free. I did this only hoping I could figure out how to get them back inside the pasture fence at night. This is not because I’m afraid of some outside predator, say an otter, killing them in the ditch. It’s Moosie. As I’ve said, we have an agreement. I put my birds away at night and he doesn’t kill them. He’d love nothing more than to chase and kill the ducks in the water at night.
While I was hoping they’d graze in my orchard, they instead made a turn and headed for the ditch. Down the side they went and into the fast moving water. I was only willing to let them stay there because the current in the ditch is powerful and I have a weir of sorts back by the turkey barn, to keep things from swimming around the gate and escaping the pasture fencing. That means the ducks can’t escape my property in either direction.
The first evening, this flock responded very nicely to the sound of their food shaking in the scoop. They came into the fence, ate their dinner then spent the night on the pond. The second evening, they were a little more reluctant to leave the ditch. Two of them ended up missing the gateway and had to be chased down and put inside. Day three dawned and they ignored the food I spread for them on the ditch bank. Uh-oh.
Sure enough, bringing them in that night included getting wet. As I started into day four of ducks in the ditch, I spent some time watching them. They were little eating machines, cleaning algae and roots off the brick wall that frames one side of my ditch channel, eating the grasses and newly sprouted plants on the ditch bank, and nibbling on crawdads when they caught them. No wonder they weren’t interested in their food!
This was the same day I realized that the seven ducklings had outgrown their little tractor. So I let them free, thinking surely they, who had spent time–albeit confined in a little pen–in the garden, would stay where they were familiar. I was also certain they’d avoid the ditch because of the grown ducks. After all, when I added the three duck hens to my flock, the established ducks reacted aggressively toward the newcomers.
Silly me. I didn’t count on a duck’s determination to be part of a flock and live in duck heaven. By midday the little ones had gone down to the ditch to investigate. The instant they saw other ducks, they slid down the bank and into the current. There was much noisy discussion among the older ducks, but World War D did not immediately ensue. The elder ducks first tried denial, drifting a little downstream, trying to avoid the newcomers. The ducklings followed. That started another noisy conference among the oldsters. This time, they swam upstream. Again, the ducklings followed.
By mid-afternoon, detente had been achieved. The two flocks were about three feet apart, floating in the water as they grazed the side of the bank in beautiful, peaceful silence. That is, until they saw me watching them, and they all exploded into commentary. I’m sure none of what was said about me was good.
Although the ducks had settled their differences, I hadn’t yet figured out what to do about nightfall. As sunset approached, I was back in the water, chasing ducks. It didn’t take long to discover that if I sent the ducklings upstream into the strongest current, they ended up paddling like crazy and getting nowhere. That made it easy to pluck them out, two at a time, and take them home. Then I went back for the older ducks. Apparently, older is wiser in a duck. They let me push them upstream, then made a swift turn to port and shot past me on their way back downstream. No way was I winning that battle. I went up to make dinner, all the while worrying about what would be left alive the next morning.
The miracle happened as dusk gave way to real darkness. All of the sudden the older ducks were at the pasture fence, waiting to go in. I ran down, confined the puppies, just in case they decided to chase the ducks which they were likely to do, opened the gate and…in the ducks waddled, the drake first and all his girls behind him single file.
Yes, I said it. My ducks were in a row.
This morning, the two flocks are again quietly enjoying the ditch and its bounty. I’ll wait until just before dark tonight before I shake the scoop of food. Wish me luck, because, for critters who have always seemed constantly panicked, they have a daring streak a mile wide.