Thursday, September 30, 2010

Keeping the ducks safe at night

We have two ponds here at the farm, and one is a large natural peat bog. It is down the hill, below the woodshed to the east of the main house, and bordered on three sides by trees. Its situation makes it a natural sanctuary for many kinds of wild birds; we have identified 63 bird species.

Of course, being a good-sized body of water, it is a magnet for ducks, including ours. Because we let the ducks free-range during the day along with the chickens and turkeys, we expected that sooner or later, they would wander down the hill and find the bog. The question was, what would they do then? Would they come back up the hill to get their dinner and be tucked in at night? Or would they decide that life on the water was pretty nice for ducks, and camp out?

Some of both, it turns out. There were times when we would just stand at the top of the hill by the woodshed and call them (I'm not kidding), and they would come marching up the hill within a few minutes. Then there were the nights when David would spend quite a lot of time in the rowboat, chasing them around the pond. (This sometimes led to colorful language and threats, usually involving firearms.) It was nice to tell ourselves that they would eventually come back when they got hungry, but we also knew that they could last for quite a while on the rich frog population in the bog.

Besides worrying about the ducks being safe when they camped out, we also were obviously not getting the eggs we needed from them.This is especially disturbing now, when we have so many young ducks just starting to lay; once they get in the habit of laying somewhere away from the coops, it's almost impossible to get them to change their routine.

Then, early this week, an amazing thing happened. For some unexplained reason, the ducks (who have been happily racing down the hill to the bog every morning as soon as the coop doors are opened) started coming up the hill, on their own, about half an hour before they would normally be hunkering down for the night. For four nights in a row now, we haven't even had to stand at the top of the hill, calling and singing (not kidding about that, either) to them; they've just been coming up, gobbling down some grain, drinking water as if they haven't been on a pond all day, then letting us herd them into the coops.

What a relief! We love our ducks, some of which we've had for over two years now, and we just want to keep them healthy, happy and safe. We're very grateful now, as we tuck them in and tell them a little story, that they've figured out that we just want what's best for them.

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