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Guinea Fowl:
Fat Cat:

In 2020, someone in our community found a domesticated duckling wandering on the roadside soon after Easter. She brought the duckling to us as a rescue, and we fell in love with the gentle and trusting nature of the adorable little bird. We decided to expand our farm to include ducks and bought a half-dozen Peking ducks, a standard duck breed mainly utilized as meat birds.

Each breed of poultry has different requirements. Ducks are quite different than chickens in how they live, eat, and take care of themselves. Ducks tend to stay together and are easily herded, unlike chickens that go in all directions when you try to corral them. Ducks need a considerable amount of water but not necessarily a pond, even though our small pond has been a delight for our ducks.

When we bought our half-dozen ducklings at the feed store, we also bought a half-dozen Australorp chicks, but didn’t get all of them home – a man we had talked to in the feed store wanted only two of each and the feed store was only selling them by the half dozen, so we stood in the parking lot like drug dealers and hustled the two chicks and two ducklings over to his vehicle, stuffed his money in our pocket and left, never to see each other again.

If you’ve only seen pictures of ducklings, you really haven’t experienced the total cuteness of this animal. The adorableness of their large, webbed feet, the way their heads bob to look at you with their coal-black eyes, the way they cuddle into you for warmth and connection, all make it really hard to think about eating them as they get older. We didn’t name them when we got them home.

We had gotten a few chicks because several of our hens were so broody that they wouldn’t let the other hens on the nests and it was getting really loud in the hen house with all the screeching of the frustrated and mad hens. Without a rooster, setting on eggs is a futile mission. We figured we’d do the little trick of gently tucking a chick under the sleeping hen on her eggs so she’d think the peeping chick was hers and she’d leave the nest with her baby after a few days. It had worked before in years past, but didn’t work with the first three chicks, which we did over three nights under three different hens.

By the fourth night, we didn’t want to consign another chick to its death, but even more compelling was the way the last chick and the ducklings had bonded. That coal-black chick would climb over the ducklings and burrow into the soft pile of yellow feathers. The ducks would move slightly to accommodate her and there they would sleep – a single mound of yellow with a little black head popping out from the middle. We started to discuss maybe only eating one or two of the ducks and building a duck house for the others.

It was remarkable, even to our neighbors who are used to farms, how the four white ducks and the one black chicken moved together like a unit, how the big ducks just accepted the little chicken, as different as she was, as one of them, to protect and be one of them. As the ducks got older, and they were exploring the meadow where their duck house eventually ended up, the chick was always with them, even gamely trying a dunk in the pond once or twice, to her dismay. She finally decided waiting on the banks for the ducks to finish their baths was the way to go.

We’d had a lot of trouble free-ranging our flock of chickens – one summer feeding two beautiful foxes, one red and one grey, almost daily. We finally had to paddock them, the first time we’d not let our birds wood-range in more than ten years. But a hen or more a day is a lot of money to spend on fox food. However, the little black hen, whom we soon named Olive, the ducks, Jago and Noddy, Jemima and Puddly, and spent the spring and summer wandering the big meadow and woods without a problem. We were in the garden in the meadow often and all the birds would circle around us as we worked, to see what we were doing and make loud comments, probably about how we were messing up their field.

When we weren’t in the meadow, we worried about them, and wondered how they could survive so long while Rob was building the duck paddock, until one day we saw the four shining white ducks wildly chasing the fox across the field, with alpha duck Jago in the lead, honking and flapping their wings like crazy drunkard knights. Olive stayed behind, making odd noises that weren’t clucks, but more like a…like a hen quacking like a duck. So, mystery solved. We never saw foxes on our field since.

After our successful first year of working with ducks – who have enjoyed their winter home but quack with annoyance at us about the snow – and the joy they bring to us and to our neighbors, we plan to expand our operation to include heritage-breed ducks.