Friday, December 23, 2011

Ducks in the High-Occupancy Vehicle lane

Farmall tractor at Nash's Delta Farm.
Last Friday we got a call from Scott, who works for Nash Huber of Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim. Scott had been tending a flock of Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner ducks for over a year, and for various reasons decided to shelve the duck project. He offered to give us the ducks, which he said were about 1-1/2 years old. He thought there were about 35 ducks in all.

David and I had already been discussing the possibility of increasing the size of our laying duck flock (we currently have 10 layers and 2 drakes), as duck eggs are becoming more and more popular around here. So after Scott's call, we debated only briefly before calling him back and accepting his generous offer. Although Scott had said there were a number of drakes in the flock, still we figured we would be at least doubling the number of our laying ducks. Also, the thought of bypassing the 5-month process of brooding and raising baby ducks before starting to collect eggs had an obvious appeal for us.

So, this past Tuesday, we folded down the back seats in our Subaru wagon, lined the whole back area with a heavy tarp and a thick layer of straw, and headed down to Nash's Delta Farm to catch us some ducks.

We were so thankful for the dry weather that day (although it was cold and very windy there), because the yard the ducks were in was all down to mud. Ducks move quite quickly, and these were all smallish ducks and good flyers as well. We moved the fence around to create a small corner, on the theory that we would drive a few ducks at a time into the corner, close it off, and grab the ducks.

Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner ducks

It worked reasonably well. One thing about ducks, they like to do everything as a group. And these particular ducks were very nervous, understandable since we were obviously strangers to them. Ducks in general truly hate to be handled, so we were pleasantly surprised at how calm these ducks were once we had actually picked them up.

It took nearly an hour and a half to catch them all, but we got them one at a time and put them through one of the back-seat windows into the car. And although it turned out that there were 40 ducks in all, they seemed to have plenty of room back there.

Our new ducks in the back of our Subaru wagon.

When we finally got on the road for the 25-minute drive back home, the ducks were understandably a little bit anxious, and they were naturally all quacking at once. All things considered, though, they were fairly calm during the drive. We knew that ducks like to be talked to (and even sung to), and we wanted them to get used to the sound of our voices, so we kept talking. At one point, David said, "Hey, anybody want to stop for ice cream?" A few ducks quacked. David tried again. "How about tacos?" This suggestion also generated some unenthusiastic quacking. To my offer of fried chicken there was no response at all. Finally, David called out, "Who wants some SLUGS?" Suddenly a loud chorus of excited quacking erupted from the back of the car. We just about fell off our seats laughing.

Once we got home, it was nearly dark, and the process of getting the ducks out of the car and into their new coop was quick and easy. We simply set up a ramp at the back of the car, lifted the back door, and once they figured out that the door was open, they all piled out at once. After a bedtime snack and a sip of water, the ducks headed into their straw-lined coop for the night.

We've had our new ducks for 2-1/2 days now, and they are settling in well and noticeably less nervous around us. We expect that by sometime in January, we will be starting to collect eggs, which is good news for the Alder Wood Bistro, the Red Rooster Grocery, and Nash's Farm Store.The Bistro has been buying our duck eggs for over 3 years now, and whatever extra duck eggs we have will be sold at the Red Rooster and Nash's.

It was quite an experience getting 40 ducks into our car and taking them for a ride, but it was well worth the effort. It occurred to us that if we had been traveling on a different highway, we could have used the HOV lane. And not once did we have to say, "Don't make me stop this car!"