Duck Mama

I’m all for devoted mothers but this was special. Mama Bear kind of special.

We live on a hobby farm and at one time had a brace of Moscovy ducks. I had to look this up but did you know that a group of ducks can be called a brace, badelynge, bunch or a flock?

Story_squareWhile we’re discussing names, a male duck is a drake and a female duck is a …. duck.

The females are blessed with the job of keeping the eggs warm for a month while staring at the blank wall of a barn that never talks back but they don’t even get a special name. That seems wrong, somehow.

Our ducks were wonderful mothers. If you’ve read Make Way for Ducklings you have the right idea. If you haven’t, go read it. It’s short.

One day we stumbled onto a nest of eggs. Maybe this was a whole brace of eggs. I’m not sure. I’m talking dozens. I’m talking a sea of white orbs. I’m talking Egg Mountain.

We couldn’t count them all.

We couldn’t count them all partly because there were two ducks sitting on them. Yeah, weird.

At least they had someone to talk to while waiting for the coming ducklings.

Twenty-one ducklings hatched.

But there aren’t DNA tests for ducklings (well, not on our farm for sure) and we had two ducks with all these babies. Who belonged to whom?

Neither mama was giving up the babies so they worked together. Both lead the way with a long winding line of yellow fuzzy ducklings waddling behind. Twenty-one ducklings makes a long line.

We added more than a bunch to our duck flock. We’d collected a whole badelynge.

Don’t you think those mamas deserved a more amazing name than duck?

About those eggs

I know you know where chocolate milk comes from and that red cows don’t produce strawberry shakes.

But rural people often laugh at the misconceptions that non-rural people have. Some of the simpler wrong notions include the idea that black cows give chocolate milk or that bulls have horns and cows don’t.

Story_squareAnd it is frustrating to hear people comment that we don’t need to have all those dairy cows because people can get their milk from Safeway instead.

I once had a college roommate mock me because I didn’t know that buttermilk came from melting butter into milk. The fact that I had seen buttermilk come from the actually making of butter in a churn didn’t impact her at all.

But one of my favorite stories came when a non-rural family came to visit.

“Can we come over this evening and watch you milk your goats?” This phone call came from our neighbor who had weekend guests wanting to experience some rural flavor.

So they came. The neighbor brought a dad with two teenage boys. The dad, Jim, had experienced a slice of farm life from his days visiting his grandparents on their farm. This was warm nostalgia for him.

Not so much for the teenage boys.

They were willing to wander around outside pestering the ducks before Dad ordered them into the milking room.

“This is cool,” he said. “Get in here and watch.”

So I milked and answered questions from Jim while the boys leaned against the far wall with their hands in their pockets. Then they all went home.

My neighbor called me the next morning. “Jim said thanks for letting them come over.” And she laughed. “And the boys came back here to announce that, after seeing where milk came from, they are never drinking milk again.”

“Whew,” I said. “Good thing they don’t know where eggs come from, then. They might never eat again.”

Defending ducks

These six ducks were to be the start of our duck herd and we were thrilled when three mamas crafted downy nests in the lean-to of our old barn.

We counted down the days until the fuzzy ducklings would emerge from those eggs.

Five days before hatching, we found all three nests empty with just a few egg shells scattered around the edges to reassure us we hadn’t dreamt the whole thing.

After the second time we lost eggs, we decided to set a humane trap.

It took five days or re-setting the trap every night before we caught our varmint because we were rookies at the trapping game.

But early on a Saturday morning, we crept into the lean-to to see the trap had done its work.

We were sure we’d find a raccoon but not so. Instead, a skunk was pacing inside the wire.

My husband was unimpressed. He’d planned to spend the day working on the lean-to. It needed some propping up or the duck nests would be pancakes soon.

The last thing he wanted was a skunk to discharge its displeasure in his work area.

We were not only rookies at the trapping game, but also at the catching game. We didn’t know what to do with a skunk.

Fortunately, a savvy neighbor gave us a hint. The skunk, she claimed, wouldn’t spray if it couldn’t see so cover the trap with a blanket and carry the cage away.

My husband is not ordinarily a delicate man but his care in laying that blanket over the wire rivaled a mother with a newborn. Once he had the cage covered, he summoned our older son.

Armed with a .22 rifle, my husband carried the blanketed cage a quarter mile away into our grassy pasture with our son, who was 8 at the time, trailing badly. Like you’d do if you were following a skunk.

He had no problems with idea of shooting a skunk that had been eating duck eggs. But he did have a problem with what came next.

My husband set the trap on the ground and turned to our son. “You pull the blanket off slowly and then I’ll just shoot the skunk while it’s in the cage.”

Our son walked toward that trap like his shoes were in cold honey. He stopped, leaned forward and grabbed a corner of the blanket with the tip of his fingers. His pull lasted as long as the last 15 minutes of school on a Friday. Then the cage was clear. He took off like he could outrun skunk stink.

Dad took care of the rest.

A month later, three nests full of ducklings hatched. We burned the blanket and left the trap in the pasture to air out.

But the best part was that our son really did outrun the skunk stink.