Sunday, March 3, 2013

March -- Spring -- New Life -- Ducklings

As my family grew up on our farm, we were always learning lessons of life by the animals with which we cared for and also by which we made a living. My Aunt Gertrude, Dad's oldest sister, always had ducks and geese. I must admit that I, myself, was rather enamored by ducks. I really wanted to have some ducks to cared for and raise.

I knew that I could start with fertilized eggs and that I really did not need live ducks to get little ducks. Because of hearing stories about surrogate mothers for other animals and from my reading, I knew that I could get a chicken (a hen who was beginning to set) to sit and hatch out ducks. The hen would treat the ducklings as her own baby chicks and protect them and keep them warm, etc.
At the time that I came up with this idea, we did not have any setting hens. So I asked my grandparents(Grandpa and Grandma Borer) for a setting hen. Actually, Aunt Bernie was still living at their home at that time and she was really taking care of the chickens in those days. So she set me up with a setting hen.

I got about a dozen duck eggs from Aunt Gertrude and I was in business. I set up a warm setting place in the hay loft of the barn. I created a nice space with straw bales-- a cozy home for creating my new family.

The incubation period for ducks is four weeks. Four weeks was a long wait for me. Waiting for new life to burst forth from those eggs, I must admit, tried my patience.  Of course, Aunt Gertrude kept in contact with me and would inquire about how things were going. She even suggested that I should sprinkle the eggs with water in the last week of incubation to make the shell softer for the ducking to peck it's way out of the egg. Some of the eggs were not fertilized and never did hatch, but some did. Four of them! Here they are below.

The ducks in this photo are already several weeks old. I was really proud of these ducks and insisted that we have a photo of them. As far as I know, this is the only photo we have of the famous ducks.

The best view of them is the one my youngest sister is holding. Ruth is in front of me and two brothers, Jim, me and Bob. Ruth has a strange grin on her face, while she is squeezing the poor thing. Let me tell you, I was protective of those ducks.

If you look closely at the photo, you will notice a round-roofed building in the background. That was called the brooder house. Each year, we would buy around 500 baby chicks from the Hatchery in Albion, sometimes in Norfolk. The chicks were called a straight run -- supposedly half male-- half female. Being only one day old, they still needed warmth. So there was literally a gas brooder that cover most the area of the brooder house. The chicks would gather under the brooder as if it was a giant "mother hen" to keep the chicks warm.

After the duckings were old enough to survive without their surrogate mother, I asked if my ducklings could grow up with the baby chicks. And so it happened that the duckings were allowed to live and feed with the chickens. However, eventually it became a problem. Ducks love water. They would always make a huge mess of the water feeders with the chickens. Eventually they had to live somewhere else, or we had to constantly deal with the water mess. Eventually, I managed a make-shift structure of straw and hay bales. We always had plenty of bales around.

The ducks grew into adulthood, but had a sad ending. They were always treated as pets and so they pretty much had the freedom to go wherever they wanted to go. But early the next spring when Dad was getting ready to plant corn, he was testing the planter and checking to see if all the boxes were dropping kernels of corn. Some of the inoculated corn was allowed to lay on the ground. Dad also had a box on the planter that would drop granular fertilizer into the ground while planting the corn at the same time. It is poisonous! And so, yes, the ducks found this corn and decided it would be an extra meal for them. They also had some granules of the fertilizer.

They often would sit with heads folded in their feathers under an Ash tree in the house yard. This particular day, they were noticed sitting very serenely under this Ash tree, but they had been there for an unusually long time. When Dad approached them to check to see what was up, he noticed that rigor mortis had already set in. Although being sensitive to me, Dad did not remove the ducks. They sat there in the permanent position of that graceful pose with their heads folded in their feathers. There was something beautiful about it. I was at school when this had happened. I remember that Dad was so very gentle in letting me know about it. I was saddened, but started over again. I even got different types of ducks from my Aunt Gertrude--Muscovy ducks.

Below is a website of someone who raises muscovies. This type of duck eats lots of bugs!!! Check them out!

There is a funny story about one of those Muscovy ducks. I thought I would test to see if it could fly one day. So I caught one and held it in both hands and tossed it into the air. It was incredible. All the time I had this duck, I had never seen it fly -- never, mind you. Well it took to the air like an airplane. It flew away and I never did see it again. I was the laughing stock of my sibilings! And again, I must admit, I was saddened!

Lots of lessons in all of this stuff! You can figure them out for yourselves!! You've all become good students by now. More animal stories will develop in the future.

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