This post is Part II of my pet saga. Part I is here.
Our nickname for my middle son, Devin, has for a long time been Devy Ducks and later "The Duck." He is so into this that, two years ago, he actually dressed as a duck for Halloween with a homemade shirt that said, on the front, "Does the Duck Ever Stop?" and on the back, "No!"
Given this, I guess it is natural that a year and a half ago, a bit before Easter, he approached me and asked if perhaps he could have a pet duck this springtime. I dismissed this out of hand. Keep in mind that we live in a suburban area, in half a duplex in fact. Granted, we do have a large backyard, but this still seemed like sort of a bad idea. However, a couple of factors worked in his favor. The first of these is that my husband, who is usually very reluctant to acquire new animals, has always wanted a duck. He just thinks they are cute. The second thing was that someone offered an adult male duck on Freecycle a few days later. It seemed to me, faithless as I am, that the Universe wanted for us to have this duck. (Kind of like the aforementioned baby mouse, I guess.)
So, naturally, my husband went out, bought fencing materials and a gate, a smallish pond and chicken feed, and spent a day or two and several hundred dollars preparing our back yard for Duck William Aflac the Third―Aflac for short. Apparently Aflac's previous living arrangements, with a group of hens, did not work out due to his tendency to corner and sexually assault them, which, for some reason, stressed them out. We really enjoyed Aflac, but he seemed lonely, always waiting outside for some attention from us, so later that summer, we acquired a Crested White Drake, whom we call Q-Tip. He has what appears to be either an afro or a small turban on the top of his head. He hated and feared us, and the turban of silly feathers is really his most pleasing quality. But he and Aflac loved each other. So that was all well and good. We built them a coop heaped with warm straw and enjoyed taking care of them. Their antics would provide hours of free entertainment for us.
And then winter came, with its attendant 7 a.m. sojourns to the duck coop to bring in their frozen-over water full of disgusting mud and poo, clean same in the kitchen sink and return this to our yard. The path to their coop became a sort of unnecessary slalom and this occasionally resulted in an unintended trip into the fence with great force. Given the real drag that this situation had become, the only logical course of action was to acquire three more ducks the following spring, and so we did that.
The thinking went like this: These ducks are really a pain in the ass to take care of in winter and they are both male, so they don't provide any real benefit in terms of natural resources, unless you like copious quantities of pond-scummy vile green poop (and who doesn't?). So, since we have them, what we really need is some females to produce eggs, thereby justifying this project and turning us from idiots with strange ideas of fun into something else―urban farmers. We would in fact become part of a movement that may well save humanity, by encouraging all of us to provide food for our families humanely and ethically and teaching our children to appreciate their connection to nature and the earth, to re-invest themselves in the ancient wisdom of small-scale food production. We agreed that we would buy three ducklings and cull any males that we happened to end up with, thereby increasing immeasurably our total coolness and environmental street cred. Then we would begin harvesting eggs.
|Photo by Chris Sharratt|
So, we went to a feed store in Santa Fe, and after doing hours of internet research on what would be the very best kind of duck to acquire, keeping in mind noise level, egg production, size relative to our existing males, and general temperament, we got three yellow ducklings of enigmatic lineage, which was the only kind that they had. We sort of assumed they might be Pekins, which is what Aflac is, so at least they would fit in. They were just about the cutest thing you had ever seen and would cuddle up right against us or walk around on a towel on the living room floor, peeping and generally being adorable. For eight weeks, it was necessary to keep them inside, in a fenced-in baby pool in the corner of my kitchen, so that the outside weather could get warm enough and they could grow thick enough feathers to survive outside in Northern New Mexico. During this time, they ballooned in size to ungainly creatures approximately ten times their original stature and proved that, indeed, ducks are the grossest animals alive. Upon returning home from work to check on them, I would discover their makeshift brooder smeared entirely with duck feces from end to end, their waterer turned over and food scattered throughout the area, intermingled with crap. It smelled like a barn no matter how many times a day I cleaned it, and by the end of the eight-week period, I had resolved never ever to undertake this project again.
Ultimately, we were able to move them outside to a brand new coop my husband had built, whereupon it turned out that Aflac and Q-Tip hated them with an animus heretofore unknown in the avian world. The new ducks were found trapped in a tiny corner of cement walkway, away from food and water, and quacking away with bewildered panic, while my two oafish male ducks patrolled the rest of the yard to assure their sovereignty over this entire area. I was advised by the online duck community to a) allow this matter to resolve itself over time b) house them separately or c) cull at least one of the now three male ducks, if not two, and allow peace to reign in the back yard.
Unfortunately, it became clear at this point that my two youngest boys would suffer lifelong PTSD if we were to proceed with our plan to kill even one single duck. I must also admit to certain maternal feelings toward each of them myself, so we installed Siren (the new male) and his female cohorts, Sweet Pea and Nibbles, in the backyard outside the fenced duck area until another solution became apparent. My husband then commenced extended sulking about the loss of his agreed-upon duck dinner and made it clear that this had been a case of bait-and-switch, for which he would not fall again. Somehow, however, our marriage survived.
In the end, Siren swelled to become an ungainly creature twice Aflac's weight and, when reintroduced into the duck yard with his female minions, proved that he remembered how Aflac had treated him and was ready to kick some ass. This began a period during which Aflac was put in his place―almost all of his back neck feathers pulled out and free reign of the back yard now denied to him, he was consigned to a life of lonely repentance, while Q-Tip was accepted into the newly dominant duck colony.
Finally, at great length, relative peace has been restored to the duck yard, and each duck now has his or her rightful place in the consortium of waterfowl, Aflac now being allowed amnesty in return for the understanding that he is to eat last and have only provisional access to any female partner.
These ducks, which we have tenderly raised by hand, regard us, naturally, as maniacal axe murderers and avoid contact with us as much as possible. It amuses my husband to pass through their yard with his bicycle on the way from the storage area to the front, in order to watch them quack in prolonged dread and race, as fast as their little webbed feet can carry them, to the gate to escape this monstrosity. Unfortunately for them, the gate is of course where he is heading anyway, to their total shock and dismay. Discovering that the beast with two wheels and a man attached is headed directly toward them, they attempt to fly away, crashing repeatedly into our juniper bush, the lilac, and the fence.
So, in the end, they are wonderful pets, and they say that a playful, close relationship with such a pet can lower your risk of depression, diabetes, Ebola, and diarrhea. And we have lots of eggs.
Don't think I don't know what I’m doing.
Tune in next time for the true story of how we murdered one of our ducks, and why. Please don't call PETA before I can explain.