I mentioned in a recent post that we had a mother duck on a nest in the barn. She’d hunkered down fairly high up in the hay bales, and could sit very still. We didn’t even know she was there for a couple of weeks, at which point we began keeping an eye on her.
This past Saturday, the eggs began cracking open and little black-and-yellow ducklings began emerging! We could hear them, and occasionally could catch a glimpse of one or two, but she wouldn’t let us get a good look. We decided to let her stay on the nest, and continue hatching as many as she could hatch, until the initial hatchlings got adventurous and began wandering off the nest. Because the nest was so high off the ground, if a duckling fell from the surrounding hay bales there would be no way for it to get back to the nest. It would be certain to get picked off by a cat, if it didn’t starve or freeze to death first.
Sunday morning, we decided it was time for Mother Duck to move. Ducklings were emerging from under her, and running around on the hay bales. It would be only a matter of time before one took a tumble. The problem was what to do with her and the brood. As fun as it would be to watch her lead them around the yard, that would surely end in disaster. She had a total of eight ducklings, which is a lot to keep track of. And ducks are not nearly as attentive to their broods — or as good at keeping them in line, or frightening off the barn cats — as hens are (at least in our experience). Every time we’ve let a mother duck free-range with a brood, the ducklings have rapidly disappeared.
I’d just butchered the last of the meat chickens, so we had a tractor pen free in the garden. Homeschooled Farm Girl helped me move it to a new place with lots of weeds. We made sure the waterer was full, and that there was grain in the feeder. We then went back in the barn, found a box with a good lid, and grabbed Mother Duck (who was very displeased, and tried to nibble me to death). Once we secured her in the box, I scooped up the eight ducklings and put them in with her. We then carefully carried the box out to the garden pen, and turned them all loose.
She’s been doing a great job with them. All eight were still alive this morning. We definitely want her to brood them, raise them, and teach them how to be ducks — but it’s best for all involved that this happen in a controlled environment.
BTW, Mother Hen has continued to be outstanding. Her five chicks have been thriving. Visitors to the farm have been having a blast watching them do their thing. I wish we could give Mother Duck the same freedom, and perhaps we will at some point. But for now, it’s critical that the little brood get firmly established in a safe place.