Last summer and the summer before, we diversified our farm with lambs and piglets. These animals made our summers a little more interesting and our winters a little more tasty. We opted not to get lambs this year, because their pasture needs some time to rehabilitate. I'm hoping to raise another set of pigs this summer, but I haven't taken the time to get their pen ready yet.
But that doesn't mean our summer has been any less interesting. I'm going to remember this season as the summer of ducks.
About a month ago, I was walking out to get the cows from the pasture when I noticed something strange by the pond. In the shallow water by the shore, a dozen or so ducklings were flapping around in the water. And some of them were white. It didn't take too long to figure out how they ended up in our pond, but I don't have enough room in this column to tell that story.
What is important to know, is that the ducklings had been raised inside and this was their first introduction to water. Which means that their feathers were not yet oiled and they were not yet waterproof. This concerned me, because, as most of you know, during the last week of May it was raining just about nonstop.
So, since it was supposed to rain again that night and our new little duck friends didn't have a mama to shield them (or protect them from the rest of the pond critters), I brought an empty calf hutch down to the pond to put the ducklings in for the night.
Moving the hutch was the easy part. Getting the ducks into the hutch proved to be quite a challenge. We tried herding the ducks over to the hutch; that didn't work. But we could catch the ducks. So I got a cardboard box and we put the ducks in the box. But when I tried to carry the box to the hutch, the bottom gave out because the ducks' wet little bodies had soaked the cardboard. Finally, Monika had an idea: Let's just carry the ducks to the hutch, one by one. Monika kept the box shut while Dan and I carried the ducks to the hutch.
I let the ducks out of the hutch the next morning and they happily waddled into the water. All was well in their world - and ours - until later that afternoon. Black clouds blocked out the sun and the wind picked up. We put our project supplies away and closed shed doors.
As the first fat raindrops started falling, Dan and Monika sprinted to the pond the put the ducks back in hutch. Glen sprinted after them to help. Daphne and I watched from the dry safety of the house while they tried to herd the ducks toward the hutch in the now pouring rain. Two things became apparent: ducks don't herd well without a leader and Dan and Monika still have a lot to learn about the geometry and pressure required to herd animals, especially animals who don't know where they're supposed to be going. I have to credit Glen's patience, because they did eventually get the ducks into the hutch.
By the time Glen, Dan and Monika got back to the house, you could pour the water out of their barn boots. But the kids were beaming with pride because the ducks were safe. I was proud, too, of their concern for the ducks and their willingness to do what needed to be done in rather adverse conditions.
Every day after that, Dan and Monika ventured down to the pond to count the ducks. This is the first time I've let them even go near the pond without an adult. It worried me at first (and still does a little), but I'm gradually accepting this new independence.
Now, the ducks have figured out that there are bits of corn under the feeder wagons in the cow yard where we feed the TMR. So they spend most of their time in the cow yard, waddling in between the cows and quacking to make their presence known.
I'm not sure yet what we're going to do with the ducks come winter. Maybe the chickens will welcome more feathered friends into their corner of the shed.