We had a notable passing last night: our ancient Muscovy drake finally succumbed to old age. “Drake” is of course the word for a male duck, and for lack of creativity we simply called him that as his proper name.
Drake was special because he was among the first birds we ever got. Muscovies are weird ducks; unlike pretty much every other breed, they are not descended from Mallards. They’re a South American tree bird, and can fly. They also tend to be good mothers, and are highly self-sufficient.
Soon after moving to Illinois, we got word from a friend that another farmer was looking to get rid of all her Muscovies. Being new to the whole farming thing, we were willing to try nearly anything. The idea was to experiment with a variety of livestock before settling on something. So, we gladly took the dozen or so Muscovies off this person’s hands. This must’ve been nearly ten years ago.
I liked the Muscovies, but was pretty much alone in that opinion. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer found their odd rituals and noises to be a little strange, and she especially disliked how ugly these birds could be. Especially the males. I agreed that they weren’t exactly beautiful, but sort of endearing in their own way. Still, I assured MYF that we’d focus on more conventional duck breeds going forward.
As the years passed, the Muscovies gradually died off one by one. They never did prove themselves to be very good mothers, and I don’t think we ever got more than a handful of ducklings to survive to adulthood. By the time we moved to Michigan four years ago, we were down to just a couple of Muscovies…including Drake. They stuck to themselves, and did not even interact with the other ducks.
The last females died of something or other, and then it was just Drake. He seemed kind of lonely, being the only Muscovy, and still didn’t interact with any other birds. He simply kept to himself, minded his own business, and carried on.
I didn’t have the heart to butcher him. Not only would the meat have been terribly tough, but it just didn’t seem right. No, he wasn’t a pet. But he was a fixture. One of our first birds, and easily the oldest on the property. The grand old man. A survivor. One who’d made the big interstate trip in our Noah’s Ark On Wheels. One who, even in his old age, the other male birds stayed out of the way of and showed respect to. Who could butcher a creature like that?
In recent months, it was clear that Drake was slowing down. Then, last night, Big Little Brother came to my office and said he was worried, because Drake could hardly walk. I asked him to bring Drake inside, and I held the bird in my arms. He’d definitely lost weight. I set him down, and he indeed could barely walk.
I thanked BLB for being so attentive, then cuddled Drake a little and talked to him as I carried him back to the barn for what I knew might be the last time. I told him what a good Drake he’d been, and that we’d appreciated having him on our farm for so long.
When I opened the barn this morning, I immediately looked for Drake. There was no sign of him with the other birds, so I looked all over the barn as I did my chores. At last, I found the spot where he’d finally run out of gas — in the sheep area, not far from the door where he used to go out to play in the rain puddles.
No, I didn’t shed any tears. And we didn’t give him a special burial. But I did think about him a lot today, and I will miss him. It’s the odd creatures like Drake which make a small farm so much fun.