The ducks and I are having issues. They aren’t feeling cared for and I am resenting their apparently wanton destruction of my gardening attempts. To be fair, it has been building for a while. Our big ducky adventure began with six Aylesburys called Crispy Nos. 1-6 (to keep us focused). It was a beautifully idyllic honeymoon. They pottered about and laid eggs, I fed them and opened the windows when there was classical music on the radio. Turns out they were quite partial to a bit of classical music. Who knew?
There were a few encounters with the friendly neighbourhood fox. Some more traumatic than others. We got more ducks. They turned out to be great layers. I started rethinking the big picture. Originally it was just ducks for meat and hens for eggs. But the ducks were proving more reliable layers than the hens. Maybe I needed my ducks to be more multi-purpose and get my hens for table birds to provide a bit of variety. Which would be easier for me to dispatch? Because at the end of the day, if we are going to eat meat, then we should rear it ourselves and face up to where it comes from and all the processes involved. We killed a couple of our own ducks. They were delicious. The process was certainly an eye-opener. But I really felt for the first time that we could make a go of this smallholding lark. We weren’t just backyard hobbyists. Our smallholding may be teeny but it could be the dream. One day.
The following spring we decided to change it up a bit. We got a dozen Aylesburys purely for the freezer. And after a bit of reading, I opted for Khaki Campbells for eggs and possibly meat later on. We decided that with everything going on, dispatching a dozen ducks was beyond our time and capabilities. So with that, the Aylesburys were shipped off at 14 weeks to a small-scale local poultry abattoir. We packed them off one evening and they were ready for collection two days later prepped for the freezer and a big bag of necks for stock making.
All was going well but the pen was looking tired. It had been a tough summer and the ground was almost grazed bare. Then disaster threatened as the Khaki Campbells discovered that they could fly out over the fencing. The Aylesburys had been a heavier bird and couldn’t take off. So the fact that part of the fencing had been trampled down by a friendly Malamute who lived here briefly and then further demolished by the guard dog in her pursuit of foxes hadn’t mattered too much. Not so with the Campbells. There was a bit of bullying and “hen-pecking”. The bullied duck would escape out over the top of the fence and eventually be picked off by the fox. I needed new fencing but had no funds. The Campbells all escaped and went half wild. They set up camp in the garden at night close to the guard dog for protection. It worked for a while. Then they started to go broody. Some even hatched out ducklings. But there is a reason that “a sitting duck” is a phrase. One by one they would disappear. And as for the ducklings…the “top dog” mamma duck killed off her rivals babies before she too became fox feed. The fox population seemed to have exploded around here. The neighbours were all raided. In the middle of the day. They dispatched two foxes in a day and still lost more hens. She hasn’t been able to bring herself to buy any more hens.
But if all that weren’t bad enough, the ducks took to turning up their beaks at the grain we offered them and instead went stripping my calabreses and pulling down my peas. They sat on every courgette flower and baby courgette they could find and took to almost nesting on top of my cosmos. If I could direct them and their rooting and searching, it wouldn’t be too bad. But to heap insult on to injury, they became deviously clever at hiding their eggs.
A patch up job has been done on the pen. The ducks (two drakes and three ducks) are back in the pen. They are released only at certain times. My vegetable beds are recovering although it may be too late for my courgettes. Even the cosmos are making a comeback. And I can find eggs again without having to root through thistles and nettles.
I don’t think I am put off ducks just yet. Some bits I know can work well. A few Aylesbury each year to stock the freezer. Khakis are great layers and my baking is never better than when they are laying. But I really need to get better fencing and a bigger pen so they might have a bit more room to roam. Why get more birds just to feed the foxes? Maybe while I am getting new fencing I should look at the possibility of dividing the pen in two so they can be moved from one to another to give each pen a bit of a rest…. But this fencing costs money. In fact, this smallholding lark needs money to make it work, even if you are doing it on a shoestring budget. And I didn’t marry rich. We are just going to have to keep doing the Lotto. Because my freezer is looking bare and really there is nothing cuter than baby ducklings splashing about in the summer.