I’ve wanted a flock of laying ducks for YEARS. Supposedly, they are gentler on a yard and garden area — chickens tend to really disturb their free range areas since they dig for bugs and dirt-bathe on a regular basis — but I’ve also read that ducks lay larger and creamier eggs than chickens do. How delicious does that sound? We have a great duck habitat here at the farm with a really beautiful, deep pond that’s crowned with an enormous weeping willow (which we call Grandmother Willow). I can’t wait to watch them waddle and paddle about our property. They’re going to thrive here.
What stopped me from having laying ducks in Pocatello was a crazy and omnipotent next door neighbor who may have had a screw or two loose with special regards to animal care habits. She made it her day job to monitor how everyone on the street was tending to their pets and animals and reported everyone in the neighborhood to the police at some time or another for “animal cruelty and animal abuse” — it was never warranted. She also trespassed in our yards to tend to our animals while we were away from our properties (on trips to the grocery store or jaunts to different states or countries). She poisoned plants in my yard that she didn’t like. She threw loaves of bread over the fence between our properties because she didn’t think I was feeding my dogs enough food. The list of weirdness goes on and on and to be frank, one of the reasons we sold our property in Pocatello was simply to get away from her. As some of you know, we were very fortunate to privately sell that property to good friends of ours and they’re now having to deal with the same neighbor issues.
This neighbor also had the habit of buying chicks every spring, or new chihuahua-mix puppies, or kittens, or button quail and she’d have them for a while and then they would mysteriously disappear and be replaced with some new baby critter. I don’t know what she was doing with them, maybe she was drowning them in her bathtub or simply putting them in her dumpster? She’d also come over and ask Robert to dispatch the animals she was through with, even if they weren’t sick or injured or suffering. She’d simply get tired of tending them and want someone to kill them for her. She once asked Robert to take her sick, blind chihuahua somewhere and shoot it because she didn’t want to pay the vet to euthanize it! I was horrified on a regular basis.
This is all to say, I was afraid to get a batch of laying ducks while living in Pocatello because I knew this neighbor would find them adorable and get some for herself and then ask Robert to kill them in the fall once they were full grown and she no longer liked them or had the patience to care for them. I loved our little Pocatello farm house with its incredibly prolific yard and its immediate access to the City Creek trail system but I tell you what, I felt a sort of spiritual oppression while we lived there and it was all because of this crazy neighbor.
Anyway, what I’ve noticed so far about ducklings is they are very active, taking only short sleeps every now and again, they consume a shocking amount of water and I’d describe them (no matter the breed) as eccentric! They’re hilarious! Our flock now has 3 runners, 1 Swedish black, 1 pekin and 1 khaki campbell — a beautiful assortment. The pekin and the khaki campbell are straight run (unsexed) so I’m hoping that one of them is a drake. We’ll be able to tell as their feathers come in. Keep your fingers crossed for me that one of those quackers has curly tail feathers!
I have to go to Colorado for work this weekend and I’m excited to go but I’ll be so sad to miss a few days with our baby critters. They’re already such a part of me.
Sometime in January, Sugar Baby had an affair with a manx tomcat from a neighboring farm. Then she ballooned up. Then she became restless. Then one morning, Rob walked into the studio and there were four wriggling kittens under a shelf in my studio. Imagine that! Four came out — two tabby and two pinto, a manx and long-tail of each coloring. The tabby long-tail was a fader. So let’s talk about that first.
I had a choice to simply let nature take its course and let the fittest survive and the less fit die but instead I chose to feed that sick little kitten with a dropper for a 24 hour period before she finally died, it caused some major sleep deprivation and worsened the influenza I picked up while at home in Saskatchewan but I don’t regret putting that kitten on an hourly hand-feeding schedule. Here’s why:
- I don’t know if there was something wrong with her physically that caused her to be a runt who fed well at first and then dwindled until she died or if her fade-out was because the other tabby kitten who thrived more quickly than the rest continuously pushed her off her nipple while she was feeding thus inducing her fade. Was she born a runt or was she made a runt by her litter mate? Who the heck knows? But she was certainly our little Wilbur.
- I think my job as a keeper of animals is to always do my best by them. If they get sick, I tend to them. If I need help tending to them, I take them to a vet. Simply put, I make myself a factor in the survival of my critters.
- I never want to regret NOT taking action for my animals when they are unwell.
The three kittens that remain are healthy, squawking, roly-poly beasts of love. They’re eyes should open this weekend and then they’ll become trouble. Precious, darling trouble. They’re starting to get mobile and it’s remarkable how strong they are. I watch them scuffle with each other already and sometimes I help them find their way to nurse and the others will kick at my hand and push with surprising force against my fingers.
It’s been fun to watch a mammal transition into motherhood. Sugar Baby operates fully on instinct. She had no midwife. She didn’t read ten books on what to expect while pregnant and get a ton of (unwanted?) advice from all the women in her life (and total strangers at the grocery store). It’s amazing to me that she gave birth to these guys on her own, chewed through their umbilical cords, consumed her own placenta for what would have been a huge energy boost for her post-delivery (most animals consume their afterbirth), behaves in a protective manner and guards over them fiercely, slips away once they have fallen asleep to go for a quick hunt or bathroom break, cleans up after them (the kitten nest is totally clean, no urine, no poops, she cleans their bottoms as they “go” with her sandpaper tongue)…it’s remarkable to watch her instincts in full bloom. As these babes become mobile it will be interesting to see how she changes the way she cares for them and monitors them.
Watching her do this motherhood thing has me wondering if women have these same kinds parental instincts? How many of our parenting habits stem from reading informational books before we give birth, how many stem directly from our instincts? When did we stop wandering off into the forest to give birth by ourselves, like a cow dropping her calf in a string of aspen on a mountain slope? I’m not a mother. I don’t know how these things work. I just hear moms go on and on about how you haven’t loved until you’ve loved the child you give birth to. How much of that love and care is purely instinctual, hormonal, written into female DNA so that there’s hardly any way to undo how we care for our offspring. Plenty of you are mothers (and fathers). Tell me about it? Did you feel any degree of instinctual override when your babies came into the world?
We’ll keep one of these kittens (the pinto manx). The tabby manx is going to friends of ours in Boise. The long-tail pinto was claimed by a neighbor. And that’s that! I tell Robert every day that I want to keep them all, but I know I can’t. Fortunately, we have a tsunami of critters arriving here over the next few weeks. Tomorrow we’ll pick up our ducklings from the post office. Then our chicks will arrive. Then our turkey-babies will arrive. And then, we’ll pick up our bees.
A lifelong dream of mine!
Pinch me. Is all of this real? Every single day Robbie walks into my studio in the afternoon, runs his fingers through his hair and simply states, “I’m just outside living the dream, living the dream.” We had our immediate neighbors over for an official we’re finally moved in dinner on Sunday and one of them asked me if I am happy here and I replied, “I am happier than I’ve been in a very long while.” And while I haven’t been unhappy, I feel like the cat who got the cream on a daily basis. And that is that.
[new peach trees for the fruit orchard]
Receive. Worship. Create. Comprehend. Believe. Give. Sacrifice. Compromise. Courage. Newness. Unify. Yield. Hinge. Sway. Heartbeat. Focus. Dream. Build. Commit. Accept. Trust.