Another Day in the Country
The duck pond dream
© Another Day in the Country
Like all new mothers, I’m exhausted — even though my young babies are feathered fowl.
Like all young things, they need to be kept warm, well fed, and clean. Keeping the duck nursery clean is my nemesis.
When my neighbor warned me ducks were messy, I should have asked more questions. I thought I knew what messy was because I’d taken care of lots of young things. But young ducks — or maybe just ducks period — are something new.
These ducklings have nothing to do but make messes, and they’ve grown from 3 inches tall to 10 inches overnight. Who knew?
I’ve never tried raising ducklings and baby chicks at the same time — never tried ducks period. This was my new, advanced age adventure, but I thought it would be a snap.
First, the ducklings would go into the old wash tub to get acclimated. Then I’d put them into the stock tank for more room. Eventually, I would put the “swimming pool” into one end of the stock tank, food and warmth at the other end. In my head, this made sense.
My learning curve began immediately.
I couldn’t have even a shallow swimming pool without a life guard present for young duckling safety. My solution was a half-gallon watering container I’d used for chickens — plenty of water, but can’t get into it.
I very quickly learned something I probably should have known: For ducks, water at any depth, anywhere, is completely irresistible.
If they can’t get in it, they’ll play with it, spill it, tip it over, track it around, and go back for more until the water is out of where it’s supposed to be contained and the floor of the stock tank is sopping wet, standing in water.
I tried limiting how much water I’d put in the container to hopefully limit how quickly the ducklings’ bedding material was sopping wet. It didn’t matter.
Ducks eventually have to have water to drink, and any water in their vicinity will splash around, one way or another, and become fouled with excrement — and there you have it: a mess on your hands.
A realization hit me: These babies aren’t even 3 weeks old. This mess probably is going to get bigger as they grow. Could I even put them in the little chicken house, as I had planned, when they were older?
I have a problem on my hands, a problem that will soon outgrow the back porch.
Then the baby chicks arrived. Three-day-old baby chicks are about as big as a fluffy egg. They looked so fragile, so tiny in comparison to 2-week-old ducks. These chicks could not be anywhere near my ducklings, who towered up like mini-dinosaurs. What was I thinking?
In my planning, I’d briefly considered that the ducks eventually would need their own place, ideally near the pond.
I do have a little “brooder house” that Jakie Brunner made, probably a century ago, to house setting hens.
It was quaint, cute, and a little worse for wear, but it could work — for when the ducks were small, I thought.
We could put it close to the pond, but then I learned of the cautions of exposing young ducks to water and how would I contain them. When could I let them onto the pond unsupervised?
I had a hundred questions, but now that I’ve actually experienced ducks, I have three times as many.
To top it all off, I caught some bug somewhere. Or maybe it’s allergies. Whatever! I began sneezing my head off. I am miserable, not having enough energy to do everything I need to do. But a mother just keeps on moving, right?
I don’t want the nursery on the back porch to be contaminated with my germs, just in case this could make them sick, too. So, I have to be cautious.
I take care of them but don’t handle them. It’s like filling up a baby bottle, and propping it on a pillow to let the infant drink. I’m hands off, smiling benevolently as I change their bedding, give them more food and water, adjust the heat lamp, and wish them well.
The baby chicks are old hat, so easy to care for. I can foresee the trajectory of their life. The ducks are where my inexperience shows. This duckling business is an unexpected challenge and whole new chapter in the book about spending another day in the country.