Making Hay

Week of July 20th, 2008 | The weather was absolutely perfect.

Prolific Ducks and a persistent Chicken

By Sarah Holm

Mama duck hiding in the grass.

Mama duck hiding in the grass.

From the bluebirds' babies in my garden, to the new calves, kittens, chicks and ducklings, there is a whirlwind of baby activity on our farm in June.

In April, our six ducks began laying eggs in the goat pen. The highest count was forty eggs! I was worried because I had already convinced my sisters to order ten ducklings from a hatchery and I was afraid we would have too many ducks. The eggs must not have been fertilized though because a few weeks ago they all mysteriously disappeared. One mother duck named Daffy, undeterred by the loss of those eggs, immediately started another nest in a patch of stinging nettles.

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Then, one of our Barred Rock chickens decided that she wanted to be a mother. She snuck into our calf barn, laid an egg, and refused to let me have it. Usually if a chicken gets stubborn I just poke them a little bit and after a few angry clucks and some hateful glares, they get up and leave. Not this time! She had decided that she was going to be a mother, with or without my consent! For a few days there was a bit of a circus every time I tried to get the Barred Rock's egg. At first, I would distract her with one hand while reaching under her with the other, but she caught on and began pecking both hands. Then I tried picking her up, setting her down, grabbing the egg and jumping away before she flew at me, pecking with her beak and trying to claw me with her talons. This didn't work very well. The only time I actually got an egg before she ran on top of it again; I dropped it in my haste to get away from her.

After a few days of this, I began to feel sorry for the black and white striped chicken. It was rather pitiful to see her blustering about trying to get back into the calf barn (I kept shooing her outside), so she could squat on the little wisp of hay she called a nest. With a change of heart, I announced to my family, and to the chicken, that she was to be left alone to try her luck hatching a family. I was so nice to the chicken that she learned to come up to me so I could politely open the door to the (previously banned) calf barn for her. I began to enjoy her company, every time I went into the calf barn, she was sure to be there. I even made her a real nest with a cardboard box and some straw. She was always ready to scare me by strutting around and sticking her tail feathers out like a tom turkey on parade. Secretly, I named her "Turkey", and I always stopped to have a few friendly words with her. I was the only one with friendly feelings during these conversations; she just muttered threats, alternated with murderous screams for my blood.

During one of these brief conversations, it dawned on me that we didn't have a rooster so Turkey's eggs would never hatch! Horrified at my lack of insight, I came up with a plan. I went out to the goat pen and after maneuvering through the nettles and braving the angry hisses of Daffy the duck, I returned triumphantly with four of her many eggs for Turkey. I know she will be confused if they ever do hatch, but at least they will be babies!

Yesterday morning, I was in the barn getting ready for the cows to come in, when Laura and Mary started yelling for me from outside.

I went outside and found Laura and Mary tumbling over each other trying to tell their story to me first. Laura's voice overpowered Mary's so she broke the news.

"Sarah, we were standing here sorting the cows and Mary looked in the goat pen, and she's like, 'Laura! Why'd they let the baby chicks in the goat pen? They'll get eaten by somethin' ', and I was looking over there and I'm like, ?Those aren't chicks, those are ducklings!' "

"Yeah, Sarah!" Mary said, beaming from ear to ear, "There are four of them."

So after we let the cows in the barn, Laura and I went out to the goat pen to catch the new arrivals. The four little babies were so funny; even the short grass was like a jungle to them! They are all different shades of gray, with jet-black beaks and feet. They are tiny, perfect and breathtakingly beautiful. There is nothing better than a baby duck.

Looking at the ducklings as I carried them to the old water tank and the heat lamp, I decided that Turkey should be very happy that she is hatching ducklings. I'm sure she will be very proud of them.

Farm Fact: Chickens can lay one egg a day, but their eggs have to be fertilized by a rooster in order for chicks to hatch from them. One rooster will take care of many hens.

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