By Lori Fontanes – If there’s one thing most waterfowl experts agree on when discussing raising ducklings and how to introduce ducklings to older ducks, it might be this: AIEEEEEEEEEEE!
No, wait. Actually, that’s just me, shrieking like a banshee and chasing what only yesterday looked like bitty balls of fluff that fit easily into a tiny cardboard mailer. And now, yeah, by the sound of that squeal, I’m guessing Day 14 of what turned out to be such a complex dance of diplomacy, I may be considered for the next open seat at the U.N.
Ladies and gentlemen, the esteemed representative from Duckovia!
Right, so there are a lot of reasons why my backyard turned into the set of a Marx Brothers movie this past summer. I’ll lay them all out and maybe you can help me figure where I went, um, a foul.
It began in late April when evidently we decided we were getting too much sleep, and we missed the joys of cleaning up after web-footed youngsters. Time to start raising ducklings again! A quick (okay, hasty) bit of web surfing about buying ducks and I ordered up three more hens just like Puff, our calm and majestic Buff Orpington. It seemed like a reasonable choice since Puff, our first and only Buff, has been the sanest, smartest, quietest of backyard birds. I mean, how wrong could it get?
Okay. So, let’s go back to that whole waterfowl meet-‘n-greet thing. Most online searches for information about ducks and how to raise ducks in your backyard turn up some pretty scary tales of outrageous hen-pecking and I don’t mean the marital kind. Older birds can be really hard on poultry tykes and all the websites about raising ducklings suggest keeping them separated until the new kids can fend for themselves. Of course, you don’t want to foist the youngsters onto the flock all at once either. But how could I get a bunch of free-rangers to see but not harass three peeping newbies toddling around in the clover?
At first, I considered a video feed from garage-to-garden but my husband probably wouldn’t want to give up his flat-screen in the interests of duck diplomacy. Instead, I commandeered the previously mothballed starter pen, cleaned it up and plopped it next to the swanky new one. The new one the adult ducks enjoyed all by themselves.
Insert ominous music here.
Meanwhile, back at Poultry Ranch, we started the ducktroduction very slowly. Once it got balmy enough for the babies to be outside, I popped them into a repurposed cat carrier and set it next to the grown-ups’ pen. The Cayugas and Welsh Harlequin took one look and turned disdainful tail but, lo and behold, Puff seemed to discern some genetic connection and stared at the adorable peepers with what might be construed as actual maternal concern. The ducklings, for their part, appeared to share the same interest and as they grew, vociferously proclaimed it every time the Big Girls came along.
“Wait for us!” they chirped, “wanna play?”
Naturally, the grown-ups just ignored them.
Weeks passed and eventually the newbies reached the critical milestone that announces their entry into teenage duckhood: The Quack. In case you didn’t know, ducks don’t start out with the ability to sound like a duck. Hatchlings peep and ducklings peep louder but a real quack evolves and that buys the duck owner some time in the decibel department.
And here’s where my plan began to fall apart.
Once quacking commences, quacking or even potential quacking never really quits. Determined to keep the noise down and our neighbors happy, I found myself constantly running between pens, letting ducks out, then ducklings, then ducks, then ducklings. Look, I’m not really a diplomat but I think the situation called for a one-flock solution.
Time to let the no-longer-little ones negotiate their own peace treaty.
Pushing aside my lingering doubts, I waited for a moment when Puff & Co. happened to be nearby then flipped down the junior pen door. It took a bit for the baby Buffs to see their opening but soon enough they waddled into freedom and…
Bam! The battle was on.
But wait, not the battle I thought they’d be battling. That’s right, not only did the big ducks not go after the little ducks, the little ducks did all the going after and continued to do so for several weeks hence. I spent the next 15 days playing poultry referee, trying to get the Teenage Mutant Ninja Ducklings to settle down and play videogames or something.
Cut to the chase, it took hours each day and years off my life but the two flocks did eventually become one. Today, I’m the proud owner of seven mostly ruly ducks who live in feathered harmony with only the occasional moment of high-strung quacking.
Now, if I can just figure out which one keeps ordering the sausage-and-jelly bean pizza. Good luck raising ducklings of your own!
From suburban lawn to backyard homestead…with ducks. A journal by Lori Fontanes at http://whattheducks.com