Restocking

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When you get used to having 30+ birds in your flock, being brought back down to less than ten is quite a shock. In some ways there is relief at having less beaks to feed and less birds underfoot. It solved the ongoing problem of ducks bathing in the back troughs. But it also puts gaps in the group, and this absence of birds and the gaps it creates lead to new problems.

I was left with no mature rooster, no drake and no gander. And four flighty Muscovy hens, very keen to sit on eggs. At entirely the wrong time of year for purchasing a new drake. Most breeders either had their main working drakes who they did not want to part with, or recently hatched boys a long way off being able to work. I advertised a few times, scoured the poultry sales pages, and nothing came up. Meanwhile I was having to evict cranky Muscovy hens from beautifully crafted nests to save them the bother of sitting on eggs that would never hatch.

While Debussy the gander was not particularly aggressive as far as ganders go, his presence did lead to Agnes the goose displaying a dogged determination to create a nest, lay some eggs in it and defend it, which was a nuisance. But without her mate, Agnes was clearly lonely, and took up attempting to mate with the Muscovy ducks, who were unfortunately happy to let her. A goose has a serrated beak, and a longer neck than a duck. Agnes’ misplaced breeding instincts led to ducks being bitten around the head by that serrated beak. They lost skin and feathers, and one duck nearly lost her eye.

I tried keeping the goose separate from the ducks, but the ducks would fly into the pen with the goose. I had decided to replace the gander with another female goose to avoid the problems associated with a breeding pair of geese, and as my poor ducks were repeatedly mauled, this became more and more urgent. Again, wrong time of year, most female geese were sat on eggs or raising goslings, and I could not find any for sale.

We took a trailer load of goats the Bendigo Show, where Titania was awarded Champion goatling and received a cash prize. After the judging was completed, we went for a walk around the show and wandered into a shed full of poultry accessories and various birds for sale, including a pen of young female geese. So that is the story of how Titania the goat bought a goose.

I selected a bird, and after a bit of a fuss where a couple of bantam pullets escaped and had to be retrieved from under tables of bird cages, Matt carried our new goose to the goat trailer, where she traveled home in the kid cage. Gertrude, aka Gertie Goose, soon became friends with Agnes and within a few days the duck maulings ceased and my goose quota was back in balance.

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Matt carrying Gertrude through the Bendigo Showgrounds.

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Agnes and Gertrude

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Don’t mess with Gertie Goose.

After some months of asking around and searching sale pages, I finally stumbled on a Muscovy drake. I was willing to travel up to 90 minutes to buy one, so insistent were my ducks that it was hatching season, but in the end I only had to travel to the next town. I picked up a scruffy two-year-old drake from a fairly large flock. He had no name, so in keeping with the M names for Muscovies, I named him Murray.

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Murray the Muscovy

I have heard repeatedly that Muscovy drakes are aggressive, and always thought I had hit the jackpot with my old drake Muscles, who had been hand raised and was a wonderfully friendly bird. But after a little over a month, Murray has proven also to be quiet and friendly, and while he is not quite confident to eat out of my hand, he does follow me quite closely to make sure I am bringing the food and to see if I have anything edible about my person.

Once Murray had arrived, my black and white duck Moana was quick to set herself up with a nest and start putting eggs in it. I had to take the first few because it takes about a week for a duck to lay fertile eggs once you introduce a drake to the flock, and she ended up sitting on only two. They have both hatched, and are perfect. I have another duck sat on 13 eggs, tucked securely behind several pieces of wire mesh, and these are due to hatch in about a fortnight.

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Murray’s first ducklings, hatched by Moana.

But from loss there can also be opportunities. Through pure chance, I was left with only a pair of related buff Silkies. I have always wanted to breed buff Silkies, but only ever had the occasional one pop up in a clutch. So with no mature rooster, Prince Harry the buff Silkie was allowed to grow up into the position of boss chook. I bought an unrelated buff hen, which gave me a buff trio consisting of Prince Harry, his sister Citrine, and the new hen Fanta. Citrine soon got to laying, and I let her sit on six eggs, of which five were fertile and hatched. Of those chicks four were buff (the other is white), and it looks like I will have two buff pullets to run on. This gives me a fairly stable little family of buff Silkies to breed on with.

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Prince Harry

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New girl Fanta, with her epic pompom.

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Citrine with some of her chicks.

I also picked up a couple more red laying hens to back up old Josie whose eggs have poor shell quality these days and don’t make it back to the house without breaking. One hen, Summer, lays an egg every day in a well-concealed abandoned duck nest. The other hen, Sandy, is suspected of stashing her eggs out behind the shed somewhere and while we found one nest a little while ago, I have not been able to find where she is laying now.

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Sandy’s nest is in there… somewhere.

There is one vacancy I would still like to fill, and that is a friend for dear old Ramona the Silver Appleyard, whose sister was killed. Ramona is going on six years old and is currently our only quacky duck. She doesn’t fit in with the Muscovies, and doesn’t fit in with the geese. Although she does seem quite happy, I hope to find her a quacky duck friend.

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Ramona Appleyard, all alone in the middle of the flock.

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Your Argument is Invalid Because… DUCKS!

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I can hardly believe there was a time when I wasn’t allowed to have ducks.

I wrote a couple of years ago about going to buy my first Muscovy, Alice, and how great it felt to be able to make my own decision and act on it, even the simple act of buying a duck.

Well, now I have… *counts*… 39 ducks. Thanks to the efforts of my Muscovy girls Martha and Millie.

Last year Martha hatched a clutch of Pekin and Appleyard ducklings, right in the midst of us moving house. These ducklings were by my lovely rescue drake Derek from the RSPCA, and their mothers were my blue egg-laying Appleyard Ramona and two Pekin ducks I had been given by a friend who was battling cancer.

These first ducklings now make up my entire population of white ducks, since Derek and his lady friends have been devoured by eagles over the past 12 months. So we now have DJ the drake, Poppy, Polly and Skinny Duck, as well as my original Appleyard sisters Roberta and Ramona. Ramona is currently limping around with a broken foot, which she obtained by getting in under goats to steal their food. She is a lot better now than she was, but doesn’t seem to have learned anything from her misadventure. Every morning she gets in the goat pens excitedly waiting to take her life into her hands (wings? flippers?) by stealing breakfast from my big, bossy milkers. You can’t give them ten points for brains no matter how enthusiastic they are…

Roberta had it in her head to sit on some eggs this year, for the first time in four years, but Martha wanted to take over. With the right pedigree for the job, plus proven skills, giving the gig to Martha was kind of a no-brainer. Meanwhile Millie had got cozy in a corner on 13 eggs. Between them they hatched 13 Muscovies and seven Pekin/Appleyard crosses.

So now I have 20 rapidly-growing ducklings running around. Interestingly, the Pekin/Appleyard ducklings, including the one-eyed token brown duckling, have started hanging out with the adult Pekins and Appleyards.

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The white ducklings seem to be drawn to their own kind.

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Leela the one-eyed Appleyard duckling, who I think may need to have his name changed to Lee Lemon…

I was never going to get Muscovies, for years I was put off by their appearance, their red caruncled faces, and I had heard that the drakes were aggressive. But since I wanted to hatch and raise some ducklings, I bought Alice who was fresh from hatching and raising a clutch of 21. I was soon converted by the funny blue duck with her hissy little voice an waggy tail. She was sadly taken by a fox one night, but a little while later I bought Millie and Martha. I had a bad run for a while after that, losing my sweet pet duck Monica and bronze drake Maverick. After moving I decided to have another go at breeding Muscovies, adding the big blue drake Muscles to the flock. We had some problems at first, but Muscles is now a big, strong, good-natured bird, secure in his place in the pecking order.

And finally this year we have Muscovy ducklings.

They are hilarious, from their morning feeding frenzy to their evening waddle back up the paddock to the night pen. All stampy feet, hissy-squeaky voices and waggy tails. They flap their stubby little featherless wings and bob their heads, looking at you intently. I think I’ve got six females and seven males, so there will be some boys for the freezer, but there are a couple of really nice girls who will get to stay on. They are starting to feather up and go exploring. They are a range of colours, black, blue, self and pied, with what looks like a barred female. It will be interesting to see how they mature in their colours and patterns.

I could watch them all day, and their little faces make me smile. Millie loves to fly, and I really should clip her wing to keep her out of trouble, but I can’t bear to leave her grounded.

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Millie addressing her duckling minions.

Ducks can be messy, but they are so much fun, such characters, with such complex social lives and happy in any weather. They lay like crazy from July to December and then shut up shop for six months, with the occasional bout of eggs from one of the Muscovies. They can be savage with each other in the breeding season, but in the off season they are as casual as anything.

If you have ever considered ducks, as pets or as production birds, I can absolutely recommend them as long as you have a bit of space for them to forage and somewhere for them to splash about. Their eggs are the ‘whiter whites and brighter colours’ version of a chook egg, with yolks tending to almost red-orange on plenty of green feed. They are huge, up to 100g for a Pekin or Muscovy egg, and are better than chook eggs, in my opinion, for pretty much anything. Their shells are tough, and the eggs themselves will stay fresh for at least a month on the bench, as they are designed to spend a month under a duck at 37 degrees.

I love my fluffy, comical Silkies and my docile and reliable red hens, but since I don’t have to choose any more I am happy to have a yard full of ducks as well.