Compassion in World Farming

Friday, 31 July 2009

Smiling through my tears

Well the RSPB have got back to me about the rescued Mallard ducklings. They have said that they will be able to fly at 7 weeks old & that it will be fine to let them go when they are ready.

So I am sat looking out at them with tears in my eyes but a smile on my face. It is good news that despite, or even because of my human intervention they will be free to live life as the wild birds they were born to be. But I will miss my little ones dearly. Having hand reared them I have an almost maternal bond with them. Hubby tried to cheer me up by suggesting that they might choose not to fly away, or maybe stay close & come back & visit us. But I'm sure they will want to find other mallards & a bigger expanse of water than the ponds we can offer. So I'm going to have to be brave. By my reckoning they are about 5 weeks old now, so I'm going to make the most of the remaining time whilst also somehow trying to gently break the tie with them. My selfish heart is heavy but my soul is joyful.

mallard-ducksHappy wild adult Mallards

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Weaver of Grass whose blog I enjoy immensely suggested an 'Inspiration' themed Wednesday blog day for her 'followers' & I have thought long & hard about what or who is my greatest inspiration. Readers of my blog will know that I am animal mad, I always have been for as long as I can remember. So I tried to think what inspired this love of creatures & Nature.
My first pet was a budgie that I named Rupert, but I was only a small girl & I don't remember that much about him, except that I taught him to say 'pretty boy' & that when he died I was given another budgie that I named Rupert II! One was bright green & one was bright blue but I don't remember which was which. My dear Nan had a cat Dinky who I loved to pieces. She was a tortoiseshell cat & I used to sit still for ages so that she could enjoy my lap. She smelled a little & dribbled when you fussed her, but I did love her so. Finally, after lots of pleading I remember, we got a cat of our own, & then followed a procession of cats through the years. When I left home I surrounded myself with as many pets as I could get away with! Some of my first pets arrived quite by accident, homeless or unwanted creatures who I didn't have the heart to turn away. My first dog was one such unwanted soul & I discovered that oh so special dog / owner bond that I can't ever imagine being without now. Our move into the countryside 6 years ago was just an open invitation for me to fill our new home with a greater variety of creatures!

I have always enjoyed animal programmes on telly, from Blue Peter's pets, to the wonderful Animal Magic with Johnny Morris, to the various epic David Attenborough documentaries. But I can't say that these have been my inspiration.

Mum will say that I have always had a 'way' with animals. I don't know what people mean exactly when they say that, but I guess it means you have a certain empathy with animals & they are maybe more drawn to you than other people. So following this thought trail I hit the nail on the head. I know what my inspiration is! I know it's going to sound a little crazy perhaps! But my inspiration isn't a person, an object or a piece of writing. It is a feeling! It is the feeling I have always felt when surrounded by Nature. From living in London when I was young & enjoying trips to the local park to feed the ducks, to yearning to live in the countryside as I got older. It's all to do with a feeling. An inspirational, tangible feeling. It's calming, yet heart pounding. Mellowing, yet intoxicating. It's like a narcotic. I can breathe it in & it courses through my veins. It's there in my heart when I watch my hens free ranging in the field, or see my little mallard ducklings grow day-by-day, or stroke my dogs as they cuddle up to me. It's there in a rainbow, in a breathtaking country view, in a butterfly's dance or the sound of geese overhead. It moves me to the core. I hope that I will never, ever lose sight of my inspiration or forget to take pleasure in the simple beauty in the Natural World around me.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A tale of two gardens...

At last I've recovered from the Swine Flu & not a moment too soon because my Mum & Dad's dog Jane arrived on Friday for a week's stay while they are away on holiday. She is a gorgeous black greyhound that they adopted from Perry Barr Retired Greyhound Trust. She had been to visit us on three previous occasions so that we could get our four dogs Polo, Meggie, Maggie & Mabel accustomed to her. Each visit had become progressively less stressful for all involved so we were hoping all would go well!
Mum & Dad's dog Jane

A lovely greeting at the garden gate from Meggie, our lurcher. Polo, our Westie, is in the background
On Saturday it was so nice to have a day of sunshine after all the miserable wet weather we've had lately. In the front garden all five dogs were enjoying the sunshine peacefully together. Well, four of them were relaxing in the sunshine. I don't think Mabel knows the meaning of the words 'peace' & 'quiet'! She was playing with the tortoise, or was it the tortoise playing with her? It was so funny to watch!

Mabel & Jenny the tortoise
I patted the dogs & tried to imagine how the garden will look when our little project is finished. Our 'Home Sweet Home' for the last six years has been our lovely single storey barn conversion. Our bedroom window is coming out & will be replaced by french doors, which will eventually lead out onto a rustic decked area with pergola over, draped with lovely, scented climbing plants. That's my vision anyway. So far, the radiator underneath the current window has been ripped out & a new one installed on the adjacent wall. So three months on we have one very messed up wall in the bedroom (which is what you can see in my previous blog about the Mallard ducklings)!
Talking of the little Mallard ducklings, they were doing so well that it was time to think about moving them outside. But in the back garden was a scene of carnage. Who had broken my plant pot? Who had ransacked my raised bed & eaten all my beetroot, french bean, spring onion & radish seedlings? Who had shredded the leaves of my rhubarb plants?

Was it (much recovered) injured hen Jessica? Surely not. Was it mild mannered Lottie? No way.

Injured hen Jessica with a purple neck from the antiseptic spray (left) & the lovely Lottie (right)

Who could it have been?.......

It was all the work of Kitty, Molly, Norah & Oprah our other four ex-battery hens who had recouped their health & strength a lot more quickly than expected & had run riot in my poor garden while I was sick with 'flu! Still, it has been absolutely fantastic watching them go from very sorry looking birds to hens with all the lust for a free ranging life that they should have. The garden can wait until next year. Because they had done so well & the ducklings needed a place to live outside I took the brave decision to try integrating the four vandals into the rest of the flock, leaving just the injured hen & a friend with the freedom of the garden & shed. This would mean the old rabbit hutch was no longer needed as a hen hospital & would be available as a home for the ducklings. So on Thursday Operation Brown Hen commenced & we sneaked Norah & Oprah into the hen house under the cover of darkness. The next day it seemed that the stealth mission had gone unnoticed & they looked, apart from their missing feathers & ragged appearance, as though they had always been part of the flock! So on Friday night we sneaked Molly & Kitty up. That introduction didn't go quite so unnoticed by the rest of the chickens, four new house mates was obviously pushing our luck, but thankfully no serious fighting broke out & the next day, after a few squabbles, all was peace & harmony again. I took a moment to sit & enjoy the scene. Our little field is full of happy looking birds now & is such a pleasant place to be. Just enough room left now for four little Mallards if needs be.

Oprah (left), Kitty (middle), Norah & Molly (right) join the rest of the flock

Happy birds!

I have emailed the R.S.P.B. to get their advice on what I should do with the rescued Mallards. Should I leave them to them fly away when their wings grow? Will they survive in the wild now? Or are they vulnerable because of their tameness? Should I clip their wings & give them a permanent home? A part of me dearly wants to keep them, but really I just want to do what's best for them. I keep checking my emails in trepidation, but so far no response. So I have just got on with the day to day care of my little charges. Weaning them from chick crumbs onto growers pellets with the occasional treat of shredded lettuce. Giving them a daily splash about in a tray of warm water. Cleaning their bedding daily in a never ending cycle of towel washing & drying. Watching them develop playful little characters. Boo, the smallest, in particular had become rather fond of the game of creeping up behind one of her siblings & pecking them up the backside before retreating rapidly! I have cared for them while I've had 'flu & they have cheeped away to me while I've been lying poorly in bed. So maybe you can imagine now just how attached I have become to them.

My little 'flu buddies

On Saturday, in the sunshine, it was time for them to move into their new home in the back garden.

They were a little scared at first, but only for a short time.

Before long they were exploring their new environment excitedly, cheeping away & foraging in the grass for tasty morsels. I filled two trays of water up for them & soon they were enjoying a splash about & setting about giving their new feathers a good preen. Of the three sets of ducklings we have raised recently they have feathered the quickest. I guess they need to in the wild. They now look like some strange kind of duckling / duck morphed creature, with fuzzy duckling faces attached to mini adult bodies! Their plumage looks to be female, but I have read that the drake only gets his colourful feathers to attract the hen for mating, then moults when the hen is busy laying & goes back to looking brown like her. So I don't think it's possible to sex them just yet. However, two are bigger & their feathering is slightly more advanced than the other two. Are they drakelets? It's exciting trying to guess!

So, that's my news brought up to date & as I enjoy a welcome day's pre-booked holiday from work to recover my strength after the 'flu it's hard to decide which garden to spend the most time in. Five dogs & one fast tortoise, or four ducklings & two hens (not to meantion the 2 rabbits & 3 ferrets!) - never the two shall meet me thinks!!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Mallard ducklings update!

The little Mallard ducklings that my neighbour & I rescued are growing up fast. As they were trying to splash themselves with water from their drinker so that they could preen their feathers properly, it was time to let them have a shallow tray of lukewarm water & see what their reaction would be. Here's what happened!

As you can see they clearly loved having the water! It made them quite skittish & playful. Hubby & I spent several minutes utterly transfixed by them. Afterwards we made sure they were nice & dry & put a lamp over them to warm them up before bed time. (Excuse the state of the wall behind the ducklings in the video. This is part of an on-going project which is one reason why we aren't too precious about them being in the bedroom with us! No doubt it will be the subject of a later Blog)
It frustrates me sometimes when I read care information for ducks which says that ducks don't necessarily need more than a tray of water. Most especially when I was reading up on Muscovies it seemed that a shallow tray would be all they needed, as Muscovies have less developed oil glands than other ducks. As the picture of Seymour shows, ducks will make do with whatever water source is available! But when you see the sheer pleasure they get when they are able to swim & dabble properly it really is worth while installing a pond for them if at all possible. Even my Muscovies regularly get into the water & have a jolly good old splash - so much for under developed oil glands!

Seymour the Aylesbury duck still gets into this little tray of water despite having 3 ponds to choose from!

We have three 'ponds' in our little field & will install another one when the little Mallards are ready to join the rest of the flock. None of them are very fancy or expensive. One is a recycled fibreglass fish pond & the other two are actually 120 litre plasterer's mortar mixing baths bought cheaply from Ebay. But they do the job rather nicely. To stop the water going stagnant I add Bokashi mud balls to the ponds, which release lots of friendly bacteria to gobble up any sludge at the bottom.

A mortar mixing bath makes a 'pond' big enough for 2 geese to enjoy

If you are wondering how the injured hen is doing, she is eating & drinking but is quite subdued. I hope she will be OK. When she recovers I think I will put her straight up with the rest of my hens rather than back with the other Duracell girls. My other hens aren't likely to bully her in quite such a nasty way. The other Duracell girls are out in the garden again today, still not venturing too far from the shed & still chewing up my rose plants! They all have proper names now, injured hen being Jess, the others being Kitty, Lottie, Molly, Norah & Oprah. With 27 chooks in total now, naming them alphabetically helps me remember all their names!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The loveliness of ducks & the darker side of hens

This weekend started off very well. Hubby & I were up early for a Saturday as we wanted to get the new goose house built. All the panels had been standing in the garage waiting for the weather to be good enough for the job. After all the rain we've had recently it also seemed like a nice day to move Tom & Cherry, our Cherry Valley ducklings, up to the field to join the rest of the ducks. Tom was relatively easy to catch, but it took a while to catch hold of Cherry & in the process I managed to give my head a good whack against the edge of the ferret's big cage - OUCH! However, when we finally had hold of the two of them they were as good as gold & were very calm as we carefully clipped their wings & then carried them up to our little field. We set them down on the grass close to the other ducks & then stood back to see what would happen. Well, Tom & Cherry are talkative little ducks at the best of times & certainly made enough noise to let the others know they had arrived! Straight away my sweet little Chalk, the female Muscovy ducklet, ran over to greet them hotly pursued by Cheese the male. She made a very peculiar noise - it wasn't a quack, more like an excited little crying sound. At first Tom & Cherry were a little alarmed at these slightly odd looking ducks & the noise level increased even more! But as tends to be the way with ducks their friendly & inquisitive natures soon took over & before you knew it they looked like best buddies who had always been together. Chalk & Cheese seemed to take them on a tour of their new surroundings, introducing them to the other birds as they went. It was very sweet! Daisy & Seymour the Aylesbury ducks took to them especially well, maybe because they are so similar looking. When they came across the ponds Tom & Cherry couldn't resist diving straight in & having a good old dabble. All -in- all it was a very successful introduction & we had two happy looking ducklings enjoying their new surroundings & new found friends. (Of course I had a few tears, I always find these moments very emotional!)

Tom & Cherry with new friend Chalk

Although it was the duckling's day, I couldn't resist taking this picture of Cheese. He is starting to get the trademark Muscovy caruncling around his eyes now & I think he looks gorgeous!

My handsome boy Cheese

The new goose house flew up a treat. We bought it from Steve Fisher Woodworking, the same place we got our large hen house from. I'd definately recommend him for well thought out, well made, good value for money poultry / waterfowl housing.

So the weekend continued in the same successful vein.

Until it came to the ex-battery hens. I knew they had been squabbling a bit, but they hadn't seemed to be hurting one another so I had let them be to establish their pecking order as hens must. I had tried letting them out into the garden each evening to give them more space, but they hadn't been brave enough to venture out. However, when I checked on them this afternoon, one poor girl had a nasty wound on the back of her neck where one of the others had obviously had a go at her. Because the wound was bleeding the hen had to be separated to prevent further bullying. I was so upset! I have only witnessed the odd squabble with hens - nothing like this! It does warn on the BHWT care sheet that they can be quite savage to one another, perhaps due to the savage conditions they have spent their lives in, but I still felt responsible for this hen's suffering. Fortunately, with the Cherry Valley ducklings up in the field the old rabbit hutch was free again so the injured hen is in there while we treat the wound. She seems quite OK in herself, considering the nastiness of the wound, so I'm hoping she will recover well.

On a more positive note, the rest of the ex-battery hens finally ventured out of the shed today. I can't be angry with them for what has happened. It's just a darker side to hens.

They didn't venture very far, they stayed within about a five foot square area just in front of the shed, but it was enough for them to wreak havoc! The totally stripped the leaves off some raspberry canes I had growing in a large pot & then set about shredding the leaves of my rose bushes! Oh, those naughty hens! If only they would venture a bit further onto the grass they would have all the grazing they could possibly ask for without destroying my garden. But I have to say it a joyous thing to watch them. They had very wide open, blinking eyes as they enjoyed all the new sights, sounds & sensations of being out in the fresh air. They looked so contented as they trashed my rose bed that there was no way I could get cross. They really are coming along very well & their feathers are even starting to re-grow. I'm hoping with the whole garden to explore they will now have enough to distract them from any further nasty bickering.

So, if it hadn't been for poor injured hen it would have been a perfect Saturday really. Let's hope she makes a full recovery soon.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

One small step for hen-kind!

I opened the shed door for my lovely ex-battery hens again this evening. As you can see we are making progress - SLOW progress, but progress none-the-less! You can clearly see a brave little hen's foot over the threshold. Then they retreated again. The relative freedom of the garden shed is obviously still more than enough for now.

The happy world of Blog Land!

I have to say that I have always been quite a private person & a sceptic of so-called 'social networking'. But since joining 'Blog Land' I have come across so many lovely people that I just wanted to say to all those who are thinking of maybe starting a Blog - go on, you'll love it!
I started mine as a personal way of documenting my animal adventures & keeping my family up to date in pictures as well as words. But soon you find that other like minded people drop by & read your ramblings & you can't help but get a warm fuzzy feeling inside when they start 'following' your Blog. Then you check out what's going on in their world & what they are reading & before you know it you are part of a little network of people whose ideals & passions you share.
I'm a busy person what with work, family, my lovely animals & my humble attempts at gardening. I'm very happy with my lot - not one for going out drinking or partying (although I've certainly done my share in the past!!). But it only takes a few seconds to log on & catch up with new found Blog friends. You'll laugh with them, maybe cry with them & they'll always be there with helpful advice if you want it. It's a very uplifting experience.
So, I just want to send a BIG hug to the wonderful people I've met so far. Thank you for taking time out to share your thoughts & wisdom with me. May we all Blog happily ever after.......

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Introducing the ex-battery hens

I love my hens. They are very homely creatures, who don't demand a lot in life & in return deliver lovely fresh eggs each day. If you take time to sit with hens they really become very tame & will come & sit with you or 'talk' to you about their day. To be in the presence of hens is to instantly feel more at one with the Mother Earth somehow. (Yes, it's ok to say it - I am a bit nuts!)

I wanted to somehow give a bit back to these wonderful birds who have given me many happy hours, so what better way than to adopt some ex-battery hens. I can't talk about the suffering of these hens without weeping buckets, not good when you're trying to type, but please take time to read about them at Battery Hen Welfare Trust. It's important that we are educated about the unseen suffering of animals behind the food we eat. I'm sure a lot of us really do care about it, but might not realise how much we are perpetuating the cruelty in our shopping habits.

After registering with BHWT & being vetted to check that we were suitable rehomers it was off to Farrington Gurney, south of Bristol, to collect our 6 girls. I had seen pictures of the ex-batts on the website & knew they can be in quite a sorry state but nothing quite prepared me for my first sight of the rescued hens all gathered in a barn. Some were in better condition than others, but others were in such a sorry state that the wretchedness of their lives was all too obvious. It broke my heart to think that after such a wretched life these girls would normally be going off to slaughter - the only respite from their suffering. I'm sure death is a relief to some of them!

On with our story, before I get carried away on my soap box. The collection was a very well organised affair & before we know it we had 6 of the more feathered hens safely in boxes & were on our way home with them. Hubby had to keep reminding me that all the hens we'd seen were the lucky ones & how ours were going to have a lovely new life to try & stop my tears falling. As we got nearer to home I pulled myself together & started imagining what our girls were going to make of their new home. As these hens have been in small cages all their lives they are very unfit & unable to roost, so I had emptied our garden shed out & converted in into a 'hen hospital' where the girls could recover themselves & start to learn to behave like all hens should. They had wood shavings on the floor, water & a feeder full of layers mash (this is all they have used to during their lives so has to be fed to them to begin with) all ready & waiting so when we arrived it was a case of gently lifting them out of their boxes & letting them shakily find their feet. We left their boxes, turned on their sides & filled with straw as make shift next boxes. Here are our lovely girls:

Our bewildered girls arrive at the 'hospital wing'

Middle son had decided before we collected them that they should be collectively known as the Duracell Girls until we got to know them! So here they were. Completely bewildered. Absolutely amazed at all the new sights & sounds they were experiencing. Nervous. Weak. But do you know what, within a couple of hours or so those girls were starting to scratch & 'dust bath' in the sawdust. Their natural instincts were all still there it seemed, they just had been unable to follow them. One of the girls was a lot quieter than the rest & had a very pale floppy comb. I talked to her gently & she sat at my feet looking up at me. I gently stroked her feathers & she seemed to take comfort in the kindness that was being shown to her. Kindness that she'd never known before. Well that was it - the tears started flowing again! I sat in the sawdust amongst my new girls & made a solemn promise to them that I would do everything to make their lives as happy & comfortable as it was in my power to do so!

So far so good with the Duracell Girls to date. I'm happy to say they are eating well, are more inquisitive & animated & I dare say a whole lot happier already. They are such friendly girls & despite everything they have been through have such a lot of living left to do. They have even been laying eggs for me - bless them!

Looking a lot perkier already!

This morning when I did my rounds I noticed that the Duracell Girls were just starting to bicker a little bit. This is quite normal as they have to establish a pecking order between themselves. So I decided that perhaps it was time to let them have their first visit out into the back garden to give them a bit more room to move about in.

Having a peek at the outside world

Were they going to be brave enough to venture out?

That's a 'no' then!

I guess they are just not quite ready yet! So I'll try each evening & let them take their time. They aren't hurting each other during their squabbles so if they are happiest being in the shed that is where they will remain until they are ready to take the next step to becoming proper free-ranging hens. Watch this space!

Monday, 13 July 2009

A week on...

The little rescued Mallards continue to amaze me with their progress & fortitude. They have almost doubled in size I reckon & they are beginning to develop little characters. One is bigger than the rest, so maybe we have 3 ducks & 1 drake? Who can say - we'll just to have wait & see on that front! Here is an up to date picture of the little munchkins:

Ibbity, Bibbity, Bobbity & Boo approx 2-3wks old
They are so cute!
Fortunately long suffering hubby is completely smitten with them too, because at the moment they are living in a run in our bedroom. I must admit it is rather pleasant waking up to the sound of their cheery little cheeps in the morning, but not so pleasant having a constant whiff of duck poop in the air! But to see these little ones flourish when their story could so easily have been a very tragic one is more than compensation for that They are absolute darlings & quite happily let me climb into the run with them & 'chat' to them as they go about the business of feeding & stretching & preening. They are still on chick crumbs which they moisten with water before guzzling up this sort of duckling porridge. They have also enjoyed a limited amount of freshly picked grass & finely chopped lettuce.

This evening they have been splashing water from the mushroom drinker all over themselves & having a good old rub down. I think they are ready to have some shallow water to splash about in. As they are indoors I don't think a shallow dish of luke warm water will hurt for a few minutes. I know it's important not to let ducklings get wet & chilled, but as they are indoors & can be towel dried if necessary it seems important to let them fulfil their instinctive need for water.

The ducklings have been trying to wet themselves so they can preen properly

I gave my neighbour Mary a photo of them to pin up in her kitchen so that when they are big enough to join the rest of our ducks (which she can see from her window) she can remember just how tiny & vulnerable they were when we rescued them. That will be a happy day!

My biggest ducklings have seemed rather over shadowed in my blogging by the tiniest, but Tom & Cherry are also coming along just fine. They are very well feathered now, so hopefully they will be going to join the rest of the flock in our little field just as the rescued ducklings are able to go out into the garden. We have gone from having 3 ducks to 17 in a very short space of time & things have been a little hectic! I haven't spent nearly as much time with Tom & Cherry as I did with my Muscovy ducklings, but this hasn't stopped them being just as friendly, entertaining & lovable.

Tom & Cherry the Cherry Valley ducklings

So it's ducks, ducks & more ducks here ....... and then came along 6 ex battery hens! But that's for another blog.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Mallard ducklings

I have been reading up a bit about my new little charges & apparently the mother can make her nest up to a couple of miles away from the nearest water source. When the ducklings hatch mother waits until their feathers are dry & then heads off with her tiny family to the water. Once in the water the ducklings are quite self sufficient, but obviously that journey can be very perilous! The babies cannot fend for themselves unless they reach water so I feel vindicated in rescuing them.

Although the ducklings (named Ibbity, Bibbity, Bobbity, Boo!) will not have the most natural of upbringings they will certainly be safe & sound.

PS. They are gobbling up their chick crumbs & doing very well. I'm sure they have grown already!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The rescued ducklings!

I'm relieved to say that although there is still no sign whatsoever of a mummy duck, the ducklings are doing fine. They are eating & drinking & are a lot less frightened. You can see just how small they are, easily fitting into the palm of one hand.
I have been told that a family of ducks wandered across the garden of the farmhouse by us the other day & unfortunately mum & eight ducklings were killed by the farm dogs. So sad! I just wonder if these little ones were part of that same family & escaped? Wherever they have come from I am determined that their story will have a much happier ending.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Duckling SOS!

At about 10pm yesterday evening we were disturbed by my next door neighbour Mary shouting loudly for me, obviously in some distress. Thinking something had happened to either her or her husband I went running out to her. She told me she had seen 4 tiny ducklings in her garden with no mummy in sight & didn't know what to do with them. Now Mary loves birds & used to keep ducks & hens at her old farmhouse but bizarrely she has a feather phobia. She can't stand to touch feathers at all! She apologised for disturbing me, but said she knew that I would be able to do something for them. So there were the two of us searching her garden trying to find said ducklings in the rain & rapidly failing light. I was just beginning to wonder if my neighbour had been at the wine again & whether said ducklings even existed, when we found them shivering behind a flowerpot. They were very tiny! I'm guessing not even a week old. I know that very often the best advice is to leave baby birds alone if you find them, but it was clear that these little ducklings with no mother duck in sight needed our intervention if they were to survive the night. I gathered them up into my arms & hugged them to me to give them some warmth. Two of them immediately calmed down & seemed to snug into me, but the other two were very frightened & were so squirmy that unfortunately I dropped one little fellow! What a disaster! How were we going to find one little duckling in amongst all the plants & pots in the gloom? I rushed the three I had hold of home & hubby helped me get one of the cardboard hen carrying cases that we bought from the Domestic Fowl Trust out of the garage & rather unceremoniously plopped them in, left them in hubby's care & went back to search for the lost duckling. Well if you didn't know what was going on it must have been quite a sight to see Mary & I crawling around her garden on our hand & knees, peering into every nook & cranny, looking behind every plant pot & under every bush! Mary's husband Mike was in charge of keeping their dog safely indoors! Finally, thankfully, we heard pitiful duckling pips coming from the general direction of the decking steps. So there I was in the wet on my belly trying to crawl under the first step to see if I could find it. Hurray! There it was right in the far corner, so with a bit more wriggling & some cursing & wishing I hadn't eaten quite so much chocolate recently I finally managed to get hold of one very frightened duckling. Well I hugged Mary & she hugged me & Mike hugged the both of us. It was such a relief! We were very emotional!
Mary asked if I would be able to look after them & I reassured her I would take good care of them. I reunited lost duckling with its siblings who greeted it with loud cheeps. I knew it would be pointless trying to feed or water them while they were still frightened & at such a late hour so I left them to settle in the cardboard carrier with some chopped straw as bedding. Our four dogs, although bursting with curiosity as to what was in the box, were incredibly good. It reminded me that somewhere I still had Mabel's old heatable bean cushion that she had for comfort as a puppy. After some rummaging I found it, heated it just for a few seconds in the microwave & put it in the box with the babies. I wondered what an earth had befallen the mother duck. We do have foxes & stoats about in the local area, also a big tabby farm cat who prowls menacingly across the fields. So I guess the little family must have been disturbed in some way with the result that the four ducklings had got separated. I praised my dogs for being so good, collapsed in a heap on the settee for a bit of a wind down, then hubby & I carried the box of precious cargo down to our bedroom with us for the night. I don't think either of us got much sleep!
This morning I filled a little mushroom drinker for them & ground some of Tom & Cherry's duck grower pellets down in a pestle & mortar. I telephoned work & asked if I could have an emergency day's holiday (they are quite used to how mad I am about animals!) & then scratched my head as to best house them. In the meantime, two of the ducklings had somehow managed to scale the cardboard walls of the box & were loose in the bedroom! This wasn't going to be an easy job! Having caught the escapees I devised some secure housing for them out of an old guinea pig run with our dog / rabbit / hen / duck cage laid over the top of it to prevent further escapes (very useful that cage has been!). I placed this in our utility room as the boiler in there makes it quite cosy. I put an old towel down on the floor of the run to stop their feet splaying on our tiled floor. I boiled an egg & mashed it up very finely for them, popped a teddy bear in for them to cuddle up to & left them to settle.
They seem to be OK. They are quite active, have drunk some water & have eaten a little food so I think they will be just fine. It's off to Countrywide now to buy some unmedicated chick crumbs & a chick feeder to stop them trampling in their food. I don't think there's much else I can do for them, except hope they will survive their trauma & adapt to their new home. I'm guessing they are mallards - I'll post some pictures when they have settled in a little bit. In the meantime if anyone has any suggestions or advice I'd be very grateful.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Amazing little ducks

It's funny how different breeds of ducks have totally different personalities. Chalk & Cheese, our Muscovy ducklings, were pondering & inquisitive creatures who just absorbed every little thing about the world around them with a rise & fall of their crest feathers. Tom & Cherry, our new Cherry Valley ducklings, are a different kettle of fish altogether. They are very animated, talkative & cheeky little characters. For the first couple of days they appeared quite nervous & I wondered if I would have as close a relationship with them as I had with my lovely Muscovies. But with patience, a lot of time spent quietly talking to them & with a bit of bribery with titbits such as the trusted old meal worms I have quickly gained their trust. Now they seem to love my company, come trotting over to see me whenever I appear & will happily eat from my hands.
We kept them in the old rabbit hutch with a ramp down to a caged off patch of garden to begin with, so that when they felt confident enough they could venture out in safety. They have had a shallow trough of water to paddle & splash about in from day one as it's been so hot. (I don't think this would be so advisable normally as they still have a fair amount of baby down left, which in cooler weather may have got soaked & led to them getting chilled.) Then yesterday I let them out of the run for the first time. Here are their first few tentative steps - you can hear the way they constantly 'chat' to one another:

A few minutes later you would have thought they owned the garden space! They grubbed about excitedly in the longer grass, fought over a feather they found & then discovered the wild bird seed on the ground table & pilfered it. They had a peck at the toes peeping out of my sandals & decided they didn't taste so good, then they came & tugged on my t-shirt as much to say come & play too mum! They reminded me of toddlers - tearing around & having to poke their beaks in to anything they found. It was lovely to see the transformation in them. Of course I am totally crazy about them, but whereas it was relaxing to spend time in the garden with Chalk & Cheese it is quite exhausting watching the two of them!

Tom & Cherry pilfering wild bird seed

Grubbing about in the longer grass (a good excuse for hubby not to mow it !)

They are amazing little ducks!