This time of year on a farm is filled with many different experiences. There are vegetables to harvest, winter prep to focus on, animals to kill, and cooler weather to greet. Among all of the death that comes with this time of year, we have also been blessed with a lot of birth. We have had a variety of baby chicks born on the farm this past summer, along with some surprise ducklings! Seeing a Momma hen with her clutch of fuzzy little chicks running around her is such a sweet sight. And ducklings, oh my goodness, are they ever cute!
It was not our intention to have our ducks produce offspring as they are siblings, yet this one female duck, after being intent on hatching out a clutch of eggs in the farthest corner beneath our cabin, found success on her second attempt. I awoke one morning to the very sweet peeping of baby ducklings right under our bedroom floor…I was excited! Upon further exploration of looking under the cabin, I could in fact see at least two teeny ducklings fumbling for their footings beside their momma. Such darlings.
The nest of fuzzy babies!
Watching eggs hatch is an experience that requires a great deal of patience as it can take a long time for all of the ducklings or chicks to hatch. So over the period of the next day or so, more and more ducklings emerged from their shells until there was quite the symphony of newborn sounds bubbling from beneath the floorboards. In the wee hours of the morning, a few days after they began hatching, Momma duck decided it was time to bring them out from under the house for the first time. I of course, in my ‘I will be a child forever’ curiosity, had to go outside to witness the excitement…all of this occurring at around 5:00 am. And there they were, five yellow baby fuzz balls all fumbling their way along behind her, out into the light of day for the very first time.
Baby ducklings exploring the world beyond the dark recesses beneath the cabin for the very first time!
When I looked back underneath the cabin though, there was still an unhatched egg, one duckling that looked like it had just been born and was still soaking wet, one upside down duckling that couldn’t right itself, along with another fuzz ball that just wasn’t following mom. Knowing that if she left the nest now with the remaining ducklings and the last hatching egg in their current state, they would very likely all die without her precious body heat. So off I went to do what I could, which entailed moving a deep freeze away from the wall on the opposite side of the cabin and unscrewing a few boards of siding as the corner that her nest was in was not reachable from the backside of the house. Great spot to keep a nest safe. Shitty spot to have to get to said safe nest.
After gaining access to the nest, I was also very fashionably dressed at this point in my prettiest duckling saving dressing gown by the way – obviously a great outfit for such events, I was able to reach the one upside down duckling as well as the remaining egg and the newly hatched baby, which looked extremely lethargic and weak and I was unsure if he/she would even survive. One of the newly hatched duckling’s eyes wouldn’t open and I wondered if that was because they had been left out to dry too quickly without the protection of Momma’s body. So I brought the two hatched ducklings into the house and set them up in a tote on a hot water bottle covered in a towel.
I then set off to figure out what to do with the unhatched but pipping egg and to try and reunite the last remaining duckling under the cabin with Momma. I may have also changed my clothes at this point into something more suitable, but far less catching. Now luckily, at that time, we had a whole bunch of broody hens who wanted nothing more than to be Mommas themselves and would have cared less if their eggs contained ducklings or chicks. So I placed the egg under a broody hen and went to retrieve the duckling still under the cabin as well as give the Momma duck some food and water as brooding Mommas do not come off the nest very often and she would have been hungry and thirsty.
By this point in time, I needed some backup to get the duckling out from under the cabin. Will was already curious about what I was doing unscrewing the side of the cabin and rummaging around at such an early hour, so he was awake and I asked him for some help. He loves my rescue/nurse/Momma adventures! It took Will and I a few attempts to get the straggler duckling out, but we did, and then we put Momma and her ducklings into a coop so they would all be safe and wouldn’t go back under the cabin.
The ducklings in the tote in the house were beginning to look a little better with the extra warmth and one another to cuddle. The newly hatched one was drying off and starting to come around. Very exciting! A while later I went to check on the status of the peeping egg and it was still in a similar state. Like I said earlier, it can be a long process from the time that a chick/duckling makes the first hole in the egg shell to actually hatching, but I was beginning to worry about the time frame when all of the other ducklings had already hatched and this one was taking her time.
So I made that hard decision to help her out a little, which can go wrong, meaning death, if the duckling isn’t ready to come out yet and you pull off too much of the shell. I gingerly removed a tiny piece of shell and then another tiny piece…and then I saw blood. That’s not a good sign. That can mean that the process by which they break out of the membrane that surrounds them in order to slowly absorb the yolk and blood could have happened too fast and the blood and membrane could dry out, therefore killing them. So I immediately stopped, put the egg back under the hen, and spent the next long while worrying that I had killed this sweet little duckling that I was so wanting to help. So that was a fun time.
After what seemed like forever, I came back to check on the egg again. This waiting thing when you are a 5 year old trapped in a 43 year old’s body can be very challenging! The excitement and anticipation and desire to help is strong. However, when I went back to check, the duckling was actually beginning to make her own way out of the shell. Yay! The duckling ended up hatching, happily nuzzled under the fluffy and warm hen. I didn’t kill her…woot woot!
Later that day I went out to milk the goats and was going to check on the duckling, for only the millionth time because I am that kid, and as I was walking by the chicken coop something bright yellow caught the corner of my eye. The duckling! By some miraculous means she made her way out from under the Momma hen (who obviously didn’t give a shit about her newborn baby since she was nowhere to be seen and was still acting all broody in her nest box – so much for that plan), over the three inch board in the nest box, dropping down to the floor of the coop, which would have been about a four inch drop, scrambling through the whole length of the coop, over the lip at the door, and out around the corner into the chicken run! Do not ask me how she did it. The chickens were all just standing around looking at her like what the heck is this thing?! And can I eat it?!
So I quickly scooped her up and brought her into the house with the other two fuzz balls to warm up. Once they all seemed sturdy and strong enough, I reunited them with their Momma. They seemed to be doing well. The next day I went to check on them, of course, and the miracle hatch duckling was just laying on the floor of the coop breathing very slowly. Shit! I scooped her up, put her down my shirt to warm her up, and hurried to the house. I set up the little hot box again with the hot water bottle and kept a very close eye on her. This was one precious little duckling!
And you might be thinking, how out of 10 little yellow ducklings who all look alike could I possibly know that this was the same one?! Well, the power of observation, in life and especially on a farm, is an amazing skill to develop. Taking notice of the most subtle changes and patterns can mean the difference between life and death, health and illness, success and failure (although what is failure anyways but just another successful lesson.) So in my earlier observations I noticed that this little duckling had a red mark on her right leg, and sure enough, so did this little sick duckling.
The sweet little duckling enjoying the warmth of the hot water bottle. (Notice the little red spot on her right leg.)
Once in the house with some warmth and attention, the duckling began to get better. She wasn’t able to go back in with her family though as she had something wrong with her left leg, a dislocated hip we figured, so she couldn’t stand very well but would instead run at mock-a-million in this wild dervish sort of way, bobbing quickly back and forth, and then plop right down on her belly. I felt that she wouldn’t be strong enough to be in with the other ducklings and that she’d have a better chance of getting stronger on her own. All seemed good with her. And then I learned a hard lesson.
Back in the main duckling coop I had put a small dish of water in for the momma duck so she could wash her beak, as ducks require a deep amount of water to rinse out their nostrils. Thinking I was being cautious, I had placed the water dish up on a 2×6 board so the ducklings wouldn’t be able to climb into it. This turned out to not be the case. At some point when I went out for my usual duckling check, one of them had somehow made his/her way into the dish of water and drowned. I felt horrible. These lessons can be very hard to take. We also had one of the apprentices notice that another one of the ducklings wasn’t looking good, so I brought the duckling in the house in a separate tote with a hot water bottle right beside the other little miracle duckling, who by this point was eating and drinking up a storm and looked really healthy. This newly found sick duckling didn’t; she proceeded to continue declining that evening and later died in my hands.
The excitement of new birth can be so closely caressed by the heartbreak of death. They are so little these babies, so excited about this new adventure called life, and yet their time seems so short. Yet how could their life be anything less than what it was meant to be? That is another topic for another time. This writing is really supposed to be about the little duckling in the tote in the house who was almost left for dead trying to emerge from her shell to then almost be killed by my helping hands to then take a wild journey through a chicken coop to be healthy and reunited with mom and siblings then to almost die again to come full circle and just rock life. This little duckling’s name became Molly, and from the time I brought her into the house to revive her, she hasn’t left.
We are now mom and dad. She has been around us so much from the beginning that she has imprinted on us as her kin. And some of you smart cookies might be wondering, how do you know that she’s a she? Well, we didn’t. It was just a guess, as all of the ducklings are until they get old enough to tell. Yet it somehow feels so very demeaning to me to call any being an “it”. Should Molly have turned out to be male, we still loved the name Molly, or maybe Mr. Molls, or just Molls, or whatever!
So we have a house duck. Many people might think that’s ridiculous. Many people might think that we should have just let her die, let nature take its course. All the while, we are also part of nature and we will always have an impact on life, no matter how little we try not to intervene. It isn’t possible. She is the happiest little duck I have ever seen. She loves being around us. When she was little, she slept in a tote with a hot water bottle beside our bed. Before going to sleep she would cry out, as she was meant to be snuggled up with her Momma and siblings, so I would wrap her up in a towel and snuggle with her. Usually I would be drifting off to sleep to have Will remind me that I had Molly in my arms and to put her back before squishing her to death in my sleep. Molly would just snuggle right in under my chin, happy as could be. This ritual would repeat itself each night and each morning, until she got so big that she outgrew her little tote and moved into a bigger tote in the kitchen. I would still sneak in a cuddle here and there though 😉
Once Molly was more comfortable with being outside, she started following us around the farm and just like Howard, our sweet old poochie who died last April used to do, she would often be found sitting at the front door just waiting to get inside instead of being out in the glory of the day. Silly little duck. She still loves her cuddles though and can be found in many different cuddle positions….
As we are her kin, Molly is not sure what to make of her duck mom and siblings, although they are very curious about her. Thankfully though, as Molly got bigger and more courageous, she, and we know now that she is a she, began wandering further from the safety of our presence and even started wandering all by herself out to the pond for a swim! The first time that happened I had one of those Momma moments of being so proud of her courage to go that far on her own combined with the sadness that she’s getting older and won’t need me in the same way anymore. She is becoming more and more interested in her own duck family, as they are about her, and can be found standing near them, preening herself alongside them after a nice dip in the pond. It is so lovely to see. She is such a brave little duck!
So this is my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t rather kill a being because it doesn’t fit into some prefabricated expectation of life on the farm. We have many special birds who as far as I am concerned, can continue to live out their days here. We have a hen named YoYo who came to us a sickly looking laying hen who we didn’t think would make it through the night. Yet with some love from an apprentice and some special care, she is thriving. She has this funky hop-walk thing that she’s in the process of trademarking and she can never quite make it into her coop at night, yet she often gets so very close. But that’s okay, I don’t mind picking her up every night and tucking her into bed. Then there is YaYa, another laying hen that arrived with YoYo looking just as sickly. She too, with some extra love, has flourished and went on to hatch out her own clutch of eggs this summer and has proven to be just the most loving of mothers. Her boyfriend, Chip Chip, is also a very special character here on the farm and for them, it was love at first sight. Chip Chip is a nova ranger meat bird that we got as a chick last year. When he was young he got sick and we thought he was going to die. So into a tote in the house he went to be lovingly cared for. Miraculously he recovered, and although his legs are a little funky (he too has his own particular style of walking), he has gone on to do great things…like becoming a father! As well as famous.
When Chip Chip was little and began to get better, I started putting him on my shoulder and taking him around the farm with me. He loved it. He would just sit on my shoulder, happily bobbing along with me wherever I went! I would even bring him in with me to milk the goats and he would zestfully scratch away at the goat nuggets, picking out every last grain seed that had passed through their systems. He was adorable and won the heart of every volunteer here on the farm. He could often be found sitting on the lap of one of our volunteers, enjoying the sunshine and love. He is so famous in fact, that he has made his way into the facebook profile picture of a past volunteer. Thankfully, this has not gone to his head.
I absolutely adore this montage of photos of me and Chip Chip when he was little. But now…back to Molly the sweet house duck. Once the weather started getting cooler and she started getting bigger, we moved her from the tote in the kitchen into a large dog kennel in the glass room in front of our kitchen. This was to acclimate her body to being outside so she can eventually move into her own coop. Will actually suggested at one point that we could build her a duck house near the house with a duck door that she could come inside! I was not excited about that prospect at all 😉 I would literally have all of the beings in the house with me if I could. If we could only house train all of them! Molly is very smart though and if she is sitting out on the front step and you open the door, she will hop right in the house and wander around quite comfortably. This is her home after all. Every day she is becoming more and more comfortable with her siblings and seems to be fully embracing her own duck-ness. She is doing so well that she actually began flying awhile ago, as all muscovy ducks can, and in the morning when I let her out of her kennel she will walk over to the door and once I open it she just hops on out and will eventually fly over to the pond all on her own. It’s incredible to see her doing so well. And lucky for me, whenever I pick her up, she is still quite happy to cuddle up under my chin or nuzzle into my neck. I am in love.
Molly in her comfort zone, either on my lap or in my arms. I love that she looks GINORMOUS in this photo.
It is wonderful to know that Molly is doing well, happily becoming more duck than human, bringing a smile to my face every day. She has won the heart of everyone who’s met her and is a true testament to the fact that love knows no bounds and that you do not need to speak the same language to be in deep relationship with another being.