Duck Game

Day 22 of 365

We have seven Indian Runner ducks (six females and one male), and they are magnificent. We have had them for over four years now, and every night for four years, we all play a game. It starts with peas and ends with a tail shake and many circles around the duck house. I call it our “duck game.”

Before I explain the duck game, I feel I should explain Runner ducks for those who do not know. Runner ducks are suspicious of EVERYTHING. And I do mean everything. We raised these babies by hand, but if I am wearing the hood on my robe on cold days, I cannot be identified and must be feared. They will run, quack, and just in general make me feel like a horrible person who is surely an eater of ducks.

Our male duck, Antonio, falls in love with me every spring and summer. When he hears my voice, he comes running from across the field to see me. He gets pets and snuggles. He stands on my shoes and tells me he loves me. He does this every single time–until I try to video him. Then, there’s the phone–a foreign object that cannot be trusted and may, in fact, eat ducks.

And, of course, there’s the peas. Every single night of my life, I warm up one pound of frozen peas in a medium-sized white bowl, add warm water, and deliver said peas to said ducks before they go to bed. Every single night. Rain, sleet, or snow. When the pandemic first started and everyone else was scrambling to buy toilet paper, yeast, and flour, I was trying to secure frozen peas.

One time, I accidentally ran out of peas. I tried frozen blueberries. Ducks love blueberries. But, no, before bed, it’s only frozen peas. One night, I tried fresh peas from our garden. Hard no. Only frozen peas. Early on, I used a different bowl one night. Hard no. All bowls other than the medium-sized white bowl are suspect. One cold winter night, when there had been a snowstorm and the ducks had been hunkered down all day without eating much, I tried to bring them TWO medium-sized white bowls full of peas. Hard pass. Two was scary.

So, yeah, routine is important.

After the peas are devoured, it’s time for the game to begin. We start slowly. We go around the duck house one time, two times, three times. Usually, after round one or two, our one chocolate Runner duck we rehabilitated heads into the duck house. She doesn’t trust me. It’s been three years, but you never know when I might try again to give her medicine. You just never know. (I will have to write more about her soon. Her name is Anna Maria, and she’s a little miracle to me.)

The rest keep going. We go around and around the duck house a few more times. As we go, a few more ducks will peel off and head into the duck house. Sometimes, Boudica helps me, and we can get the ducks into the house in just maybe six or so rounds. There have been times, however, on my own, that I have made over twenty circles around the duck house. I remember feeling dizzy from the circles as I leaned into the duck house to say goodnight and close the door.

Antonio tries to help every single night. His raspy little quack tries to boss the girls around, but there are two girls who like to play way too much. No matter how much he tries to help (and he tries everything, from standing at the duck house door rasping at them to coming back out of the house himself and trying to herd them in on the next round), two girls refuse to be bossed around by him.

They are the last ones up every single night, and one, our smallest duck who is full of personality, is almost always the very last. The first time I realized this might be fun for her was one night, after everyone else had gone into the house, she stood at the door. “I might go in,” she seemed to say. “But I might not.”

I froze. She froze. I was hopeful. Maybe she was going in. But then, she wagged her little tail and took off again around the duck house. “This duck is messing with me,” I said to myself.

Now, after so many nights of this same scene with her, I realize it is absolutely a game. I also realized the tail wag was a good thing for sure when I saw my husband feeding grubs and worms to the ducks as he was breaking new ground for more garden area. The ducks would come when he called for them, grab a snack, and then wag their tails with delight. It’s just about the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Most nights, I love to play the duck game with this little duck. Every now and then, in the rain, I am begging her to please just go to bed. Of course, she loves the rain. Just loves it.

I have thought that I might not know what to do with myself without the duck game. It has become this fantastic part of my life, my routine, and I feel pretty fortunate to know these ducks. I love that I do this every night of my life. In fact, it’s bedtime for ducks. I need to go play duck game.

***

I have a quick Ruby and Kate update. Kate is still broody and doing well. I find out tomorrow if there will be babies for me to pick up for her. And Ms. Ruby is a VERY good mama! I can see there are six babies for sure. There might be seven, as there were seven eggs under her, but all I can see right now is a sea of little legs when I lift Ruby. I hate to bother them too much, but I figure we will know for sure very soon how many babies she has hatched. In a few days, she will be taking her babies on field trips. I love the field trips!

Night Moves

Day 19 of 365

Well, dear readers, it worked! Kate remains broody and has accepted being broody in her new digs!

Late last night, I snuck into the coop where she was sleeping in the nest box. I bird-napped the poor girl but took her warm eggs with her. Well, most of the eggs.

I had left three eggs under her, but when I scooped her up, I could find just two eggs. I have had broody hens hang onto the eggs, so I kept feeling around her the best I could. I finally had to give up and just accept the two eggs and Kate. Just as we made it to the garage, from some Kate crevice, out popped the egg onto the garage floor. No matter though. The two eggs did the trick.

Look at Kate in her new chicken mama house! She’s so cute in there I almost can’t stand it.

When I went to check on her this morning, she was on her eggs! She had even built up a little nook of a nest with the straw and seemed quite content. Phase 1 of operation Copper Maran complete. Next week will be the most stressful part, but I’m thankful for finally convincing Kate the dog crate will be a safer starter home for her baby chicks.

I have discovered, over the years, that you can get away with a lot at night when it comes to chickens. That’s why I decided to move Kate at night. It also has to be at night when we switch out her eggs with baby chicks. When I have to do any kind of health check on chickens, I do that at night as well.

I don’t know exactly what happens to chickens at night, but I guess they sleep hard. I may have to research this. In fact, I will have to research this. One of the best tricks of chicken keeping is learning to do the stuff you need to do at night. In fact, when you introduce new chickens to your flock, it’s best to do it at night. I mean, you do some minor daytime introduction, but you make the big move at night. This is considered a chicken keeping best practice.

If the chickens wake up together, they are more likely to accept each other. It’s like, “oh, I guess you’ve been here all along. I’ll go with this.”

There are many ways chickens are like humans. Chickens are curious, brave, stubborn, social, petty, mean, and they definitely have cliques. Temple Grandin, scientist and animal behaviorist, has said that animal emotions are like human emotions, only simpler. Not that she needs confirmation, but I can definitely confirm this through my observations. I am forever amazed at basic similarities between us, I guess because chickens are also social animals.

One of the cutest things is that my flock conveys hope and disappointment so obviously. My wonderful neighbor feeds our chickens healthy scraps at the garden gate all the time. The chickens know her very well, so every time she comes out to her garden, they come running–so hopefully! I will see her sometimes say something to them, something along the lines of “I don’t have any treats today.” Those chickens will slowly turn around, heads dropped, and gradually head back to what they were doing with such an air of disappointment. It’s the cutest thing ever.

But chickens and humans differ in some key ways, of course. If I woke up in the morning to find five or six new people in my house, there would be some freaking out.

***

And I have to add a quick Ruby update, of course. She’s doing well. She had watermelon for a treat today, and she has just three to four days to go! Babies should start hatching on Tuesday or so.

Ruby Loves Eggs, Too

Day 2 of 365

Last night, I put eight hatching eggs under our first broody hen of the season. Her name is Ruby.

One day per week, we drive an hour and a half to Augusta for our son’s orchestra rehearsals. It just so happened that the breeder I contacted about getting some Salmon Faverolle hatching eggs is based outside of Augusta. So, last evening, right before rehearsals, I met the breeder in a grocery store parking lot and got this carton of eggs full of potential for adding a fantastic breed of chicken to our flock. I have been interested in this breed for some time, and I am excited to get these hatching eggs from a reputable breeder, Why Not Farms.

But the best story in all of this is about Ruby. Ruby looks almost like a red version of a Salmon Faverolle, but she is simply a barnyard mix. She is part Easter Egger, part Welsummer, and part Rhode Island Red, and somehow she is just magnificent to look at. She’s so unique–inside and out.

Ruby is a talker. She’s one of the most vocal chickens I have ever met, and as near as I can tell, she likes to complain. She’s low in the pecking order, and I’m pretty sure she complains about the injustice of this. I think she might also complain about wanting treats. She wants to be treated fairly, and Juliet, my most favorite misfit chicken gets treats every day when she flies over the fence from the chicken yard. Ruby, observing this, started doing the same and then complaining loudly until she got treats too. After all, fair is fair.

The most interesting thing about Ruby is that I just happened to be out in the coop this February when Ruby laid her first egg ever! Hatched last summer, without artificial light in the coop, Ruby was later to start laying eggs, so I was so excited when I went out to the coop one day this winter and found her in the nest box for the first time. She was standing up, so I knew an egg was coming soon. I watched and waited, and sure enough, a beautiful pale olive green egg landed in the nest box under her.

And what happened next was like nothing I have ever seen: Ruby turned around to observe what had just plopped out of her and had a look on her face of love. She stared a bit at her egg, like it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. And, truly, it was beautiful. The color of her eggs is beautiful.

Eggs are magnificent to me. Part complete nutrition and part work of art, I think eggs are gorgeous. I am not alone in this love for eggs. Chicken people spend a good deal of time taking pictures of eggs and sharing them on Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest. The eggs are posed in baskets, on tables, and if you have a variety of colors, well, then that’s something extra special. Books have been written on eggs. I own two of them. Somehow, Ruby was the first chicken I have ever met who seemed to get how magnificent eggs are. Most of my hens lay an egg and move on.

The way Ruby looked at those eggs was so interesting to me. I came inside and told Ron, “I am betting right now Ruby goes broody this summer.” I posted this prediction on social media. Sure enough, a few weeks ago, Ruby was the first of the flock to go broody.

Of course, once she went broody as I had predicted, I started to question how exactly I knew this was going to happen. I think it’s just from being observant. I can’t tell you for sure if chickens have facial expressions or if I am reading them in a different way, but chickens do express emotions in a way that seems fairly clear to me. Most people I talk to do not seem to grasp this, but it’s true. I see contentment, frustration, concern, hopefulness, and thanks to Ruby, I saw what adoration looks like in a chicken. Temple Grandin, the scientist and animal behaviorist famous for her efforts in changing the way livestock animals are treated, said that animals have emotions just like human animals. It’s just that these emotions are simpler. This makes perfect sense to me.

This morning, Ruby is still on her eggs. When I put the eight hatching eggs under her last night, she attacked me pretty solidly. This morning, I am bruised, but I don’t mind at all. When I finished putting the eggs under her, I watched her wiggle her little self onto that big clutch of eggs with contentment. Hopefully, her love of eggs will mean she’s a good mother. Hopefully, she will love what comes out of the eggs, too.

We have 21 days until we find out.